Tag Archives: Reality checks

Pumpkin Spice

This Foodie Friday, we’re taking a leap ahead into Fall, and if Fall means one thing to most people, it’s pumpkin spice. I know – you were thinking football, but no, my guess is that far more people are affected by the pumpkin spice thing than the pigskin thing. It’s a relatively recent development as spice companies didn’t actually make “pumpkin pie spice” until the 1950s and that became “pumpkin spice” in the 1960s. Some candle company began marketing a pumpkin spice candle in 1995, Starbucks picked up the flavor after many small coffee shops did, and the rest is food history.

Today, I saw what might be the last straw in the craze: Pumpkin Spice Spam. This is not a joke – it will be available only online and there are already cans of it out in the wild. Apparently, it doesn’t taste too bad – kind of like breakfast sausage. While I’m generally a believer in the “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” philosophy, I think we just might have hit our limits here, although one might wonder where that limit lies after pumpkin spice hummus, Four Loko, Pringles, gum, and vodka, to name only a few of the products that are out there.

There is a serious business point to be made here. Pumpkin spice is a flavor and a scent, and of course, you can add either of those things to a product to make it seasonally relevant, at least to some people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should which is the broader business point. There are often moments in business when we’re confronted with what some might call opportunities while others might see them as dilemmas. A bank might be able to make more money if it charges its own customers a fee to use their own ATMs or to have a debit card. That’s a bad idea.

There was a great piece published years ago called “Companies and the Customers Who Hate Them.” It talked about charging penalties and fees especially in the cell phone, cable, and banking industries. It concluded:

One of the most influential propositions in marketing is that customer satisfaction begets loyalty, and loyalty begets profits. Why, then, do so many companies infuriate their customers by binding them with contracts, bleeding them with fees, confounding them with fine print, and otherwise penalizing them for their business? Because, unfortunately, it pays. Companies have found that confused and ill-informed customers, who often end up making poor purchasing decisions, can be highly profitable indeed.

I don’t think that adding pumpkin spice to an already good product is on a level with some of the outrageous fees we’re charged as consumers but it illustrates the point that just because we can do something in business doesn’t mean that we should. Not only do you run the risk of having seasonal merchandise go unsold (unhappy retailers!) but also of having customers question your sanity. Neither is good business in my book. Yours?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

Looking In The Horse’s Mouth

As you might have read the other day, I had a birthday. It was lovely, thank you, and in addition to numerous phone calls, texts, and social media shout-outs, I received a bunch of emails from companies sending me “gifts.” Yes, in quotes.

I’ve written before (in fact, just a couple of months ago) about the gifts many companies “give” us. I also wrote about how nothing is free several years ago, so my rant today isn’t exactly new ground. However, I think it’s an important enough thought for those of us in business that it bears repeating. I also am happy to point out how two companies got it right.

The vast majority of the emailed birthday greetings contained an offer that generally read “Happy Birthday! He’s a gift of $15 off on your next order.” Sometimes it was a percentage discount but you get the idea. I had to spend money to take advantage of the offer, and I had a limited window in which to do so, generally 30 days.

Let’s unpack that. First, what if I don’t need your product or service in the next month? I mean, a discount on an oil change is fine but I just had my oil changed (at your shop, by the way – you should know that). You’re revoking my gift because I was just in? Second, what if my typical order is a lot more than your general average order value, something else you should know if you’re actually on top of your data and not just auto sending something based on a birthday you have on file. Shouldn’t I get a bigger “gift” since I’m a more valuable customer? I got one restaurant that I go to infrequently sending me a $15 “reward” on my birthday that I could redeem only by installing and using their app and dining there. That would be in the next 30 days, of course. To which party is that a gift?

I’m a believer that gifts need to be unconditional. You should be giving because you want to and not because you expect something in return. Two offers I received actually met this criterion. The good folks at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema sent me a free movie ticket. That’s it. I’m not obligated to buy food or drinks, I don’t have to bring a friend. I can redeem it via their app but I don’t have to – just present some ID and my account information at the box office. The gas chain I use frequently sent me a coupon for 200 bonus rewards points. I just have to have it scanned the next time I visit and they will be added to my account. I can redeem those points along with the others in my account for free stuff – gift cards, food, etc. And 200 points is significant – it’s what you’d get from spending about $25 with them. No strings attached. Happy Birthday!

It’s nice (and important) that we surprise our customers with gifts, whether that’s content, discounts, or something else. We need to do so without strings because those strings are quite visible and will harm the customer’s opinion of us, not enhance it. As I wrote in June, A gift involves altruism. If there is an ulterior motive lying within, it’s not a gift, right?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

When I’m…

Most of the time, this blog is about you, or at least about something that I think could be helpful to you. Today, if you’ll indulge me since it’s my birthday, it’s mostly about me, although maybe there’s something you could take away as well.

When I was 12, The Beatles put out the Sgt. Pepper album. It had a little ditty called “When I’m 64” on it. While to most of us the song was brand-new, it turns out it was one of the first songs Paul ever wrote and was in The Beatles performance repertoire quite early on (they played it when their amps went out). It seemed kind of hokey to 12-year-old me and the lyrics about being old and losing my hair seemed very far off.

Well, that was in 1967, and if you can do the math, it’s 52 years later. So let’s see – I was 12 and if add 52 that’s OMFG – I’m 64! Well, happy frickin’ birthday, old man. Yep, the future is now. My hair is mostly gone too. I don’t, however, ask myself if I’m still needed (nor do I have Vera, Chuck or Dave as grandchildren). I also realize the song is about getting old together and is sung by a young person. 64, by the way, is still pretty young. That said, may I impart a little wisdom from this almost-aged one?

I try to live in the moment. I’ve made an effort to stop looking back and wanting things to have been different and I try not to look too far forward because things happen each day that affect what the future might hold. That’s not as easy as it sounds, at least not for me. When I do look back, I try not to think of things I would do differently as mistakes but as lessons. I’ve always been a pretty good student and have never had to repeat a class so learning those lessons thoroughly prevents the outcomes I might change from happening again.

Like most of us, I’ve experienced unbelievable joy and unbearable sadness. The trick isn’t, as some folks say, not to get too caught up in either. I think experiencing them fully is the best (and worst) part of being human. It’s when we stop feeling and are emotionally dead to the world that we have problems. I just try to remember that the highs and lows will pass and while each of those extremes affects us in some way, the changes they bring make each day more interesting than the last.

Mostly, what I’ve learned is exactly that: it’s about constant curiosity and learning. Growth and wisdom come from that learning and we’re all in this together, like it or not. Helping others to grow and to learn, as I set out to do as a teacher 40 years ago and still do now in a different way, assures that the world answers the “will you still need me” question in the affirmative. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Symptoms, Diseases, And The Long Term

We’re into that time of the year when corporations are reporting their results for the last quarter. I tend to look at any single quarter’s results as a data point and since I’m a believer in watching things through the lens of the long-term, I mostly ignore anything strongly negative or positive unless it’s part of a long-term trend.

I’m sure it’s not a shock to any of you that the cable TV provider business is in a downward trend. I’ve written about this before and you might be one of the millions of folks who have cut their cable cord and gone pure streaming or supplement your streaming with an HD antenna to get your local TV over the air (everything old is new again!). Charter Communications is one of those cable TV providers who is watching their user base deteriorate. This last quarter, the company’s video customers sank by 150,000 subscribers, now totaling 15.8 million. At the same time, their Internet customers grew 221,000 to a total of 24.2 million, which also mirrors what’s going on elsewhere and the aforementioned trends. At the same time, these distributors are getting hit with increased costs for programming – what the cable networks charge the delivery guys to carry their programming (and in theory, the availability of which is why people pay for cable in the first place).

What the CEO said in making the results announcement, however, doesn’t mirror other CEO’s thinking and that’s what I want to highlight today:

Asked why the company doesn’t raise prices to cover increased programming costs, CEO Tom Rutledge said, “If you do a 10% programming price increase and lose 10% of your customers, you don’t really get anywhere and yet you’ve alienated a lot of people. In fact, that’s actually happening and has been happening. I expect continuous fighting for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Rutledge gets it.  He is not confusing a symptom (customer loss amid increasing costs) with the disease (a rapidly changing business model reflecting consumer resentment at the high monthly out of pocket costs). Rasing prices would, in my opinion, accelerate the negative trend. It would stabilize earnings and make investors happy in the short term, but it’s not sustainable and would ultimately result in disaster.

More of us in business need to think that way. What’s a symptom and what’s the disease it reflects? What’s the right play for the long term even if it hurts in the short term? Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

Too Much Cabbage

I’m in South Florida this Foodie Friday celebrating my mom’s 90th birthday. While my mother is hardly a “foodie”, one food group that we both love is deli, and Jewish deli specifically. Living in North Carolina as I do has many wonderful food aspects but the availability of a good pastrami sandwich is NOT one of them. Because of that as well as my mom’s love of the genre, I’ve taken her (and my dad) out for lunch the last couple of days to get Jewish deli.

Yesterday I ordered a Reuben sandwich, having had my pastrami the day before. One thing really good deli is known for is overstuffed sandwiches. Even if you choose not to overeat and finish the thing, you always have something to bring home. The photo of the Reuben on the menu showed a typically large offering (the photo here is not the one from the menu since that’s probably copyrighted). What showed up reminded me of a great business point.

The photo isn’t my sandwich but it’s one from the same deli. As you can see, the Reuben was made by rolling the corned beef around the sauerkraut. The thing is served on toasted rye bread with Russian dressing. It’s hard to tell but when I picked the thing up it was immediately obvious that the bread was smaller than a typical loaf of rye which meant that there was less “there” there. More importantly, while rolling the meat around the sauerkraut like a meat and cabbage jelly roll was clever, it also meant quite a bit less meat was used in the sandwich. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that unrolling the thing would yield about a half a dozen thin slices of corned beef, hardly something a proper deli would serve as an “overstuffed” sandwich. The meat in my sandwich didn’t fill the bread either – the roll stopped about halfway back on the bread. Most Reubens (or Rachels – a version of the sandwich made with pastrami) pile the sauerkraut on top of a stack of meat.  Is this presentation designed to hide the fact that there is far less meat than one would expect?

What does this have to do with your business? Customers do “unroll” the filling.  When they come up with too much cabbage and not enough meat they’ll find a competitor that really does deliver what they promise. I think overpromising and underdelivering is the biggest mistake any business can make. While this chain of delis does quite well (most of their other food is terrific and does deliver), they need to revisit the Reuben or delete the photo from the menu since it sets expectations that are not met. None of us can afford to do that, not if we want repeat business.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Why Doesn’t Everything Have An FDD?

Have you ever heard of a Franchise Disclosure Document? I hadn’t either until I became involved in matching people up with franchise opportunities. You can read about what the FDD entails here but in a nutshell, it’s meant to be a document that provides enough information to someone thinking about investing in a franchise so that that person can make an educated decision about the investment. It’s sort of like a prospectus you would receive before you invested in a mutual fund or a stock.

If you’re someone who is looking at franchises, putting the FDD’s of a couple of brands in which you’re interested side by side can be enlightening. You will see the differences in the ongoing fees you’re going to be paying as well as the estimated start-up costs you’ll incur. You can look at how many franchisees have joined the system over the years and where they’re located. You can see if any have left the system as well as if there are any bankruptcies or legal actions. You’ll see any differences in how they define the territory to which you’re getting exclusive rights (and if the rights you’re getting are, in fact, exclusive). In short, you’re being given a document that provides the bulk of the information you would probably have to spend weeks researching on your own if you could even find it.  In fact, the FDD even gives you a list of current franchisee so you can “validate” the franchise by calling them and asking them to tell you even more information.

My first thought when I read my first FDD was “wouldn’t it be nice if EVERYTHING had an FDD?” I mean, who wouldn’t want to be handed this kind of information by law? Not only that, once you get the FDD there is a mandatory waiting period before the franchisor can take your money, even if you’re ready to sign up on the spot. Wouldn’t THAT be nice when you’re being pressured into making a quick decision about a big purchase such as a car or a house?

Come to think of it, if you’ve ever bought a car or a house, have you remotely thought that you had complete information? Maybe you got a mechanic or a building inspector to look at them but wouldn’t it be great to have an FDD?

That’s something any business should keep in mind. While we might not want to make up a 250+ page document, we should strive to disclose as much important information as we can throughout the decision-making process to potential customers and partners. Not only does it make them feel more secure in their decision to sign up with you but it also prevents a lot of surprises down the road. Just because we’re not legally obligated to provide something that’s the equivalent of an FDD doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, don’t you think?

And if you’re ready to change your life and look at a new opportunity, click here and I’ll help you make that happen. With an FDD too!

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Filed under Consulting, Franchises, Thinking Aloud

The Fear Barrier

I spent last week at a conference of franchise consultants and franchisors. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that one of the recurring themes is the need to be learning constantly and going to meetings like that one is one of the best ways to educate yourself. After all, who knows more about that challenges that you face in your business than other folks who are dealing with the same issues?

One issue that came up a lot in my conversations with my peers is the issue of fear. We’re in the business of helping people realize their dream of business ownership. We find out their “why” and then find businesses – franchises – that match their goals and their budgets. In the process, we end up sending them a lot of very specific information about potential investments and it’s at that point that the fear barrier sometimes kicks in.

Imagine that you’re looking at several opportunities that could make your dream come true. You have the resources to make it happen. The next step is for you to speak directly to the development people at the brand and to continue your investigation. What often happens at this point is that people “go dark.” They don’t respond to phone calls or emails. I suspect that it isn’t that they’re not interested but, rather, that they’re TOO interested and suddenly things are VERY real. The notion of quitting your job and investing your savings in something completely new can be terrifying.

The people with whom we’re having these discussions identified themselves. They filled out a request to chat with someone about franchise opportunities. They WANT to make this happen, or at least they want enough information to see if that’s what they want. I’ve had people say they’ve reviewed the information and a company I’ve found for them isn’t quite right. That’s fine: we keep looking (I represent over 500 different brands). They’re not unafraid but they’re not letting the fear paralyze them. They use it as motivation. They believe that they can change their lives for the better and 94% of the time they will be right (that’s the percentage of franchisees that consider themselves successful).

No matter whether you’re looking at franchises or at changing companies or jobs or careers, the fear barrier will be there. The people who are truly successful – the ones who realize their dream and find self-fulfillment – are the ones that break through the fear barrier, not waiting for the “right time” or accepting the things in their lives that are really unacceptable to them when they step back and think about it. Is that person you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks