Happy Foodie Friday! Have you recovered from last week’s massive food fest? If you were the host of the festivities, at some point you hauled out some pots and pans. Cookware is the most basic kitchen equipment besides a great chef’s knife (you have one of those, right?) Other than when you’re outdoors cooking on a grill or smoker, you pretty much need a pan or a pot or several of each to get the job done.
This isn’t going to be a “how to equip your kitchen with cookware” screed. The reality is that my favorite sizes and types of cookware may not be at all appropriate for you. I mean, I cook on a gas cooktop which means that I like cookware that can handle high heat and distribute it evenly. You may cook on an induction stove which means your pots and pans need to be a “ferrous” metal – meaning a magnet needs to cling to them to work properly on an induction cooktop or range.
I often will start something on the stove and then move it to the oven. That means I want pans that have handles that can go in the oven without melting as well as pans that won’t warp in the oven heat. In fact, thin, insubstantial pans may be less costly but single-ply cookware does not heat evenly nor does it retain heat well. This means that you are likely to burn things. Thin pans warp easily as well and if you’ve ever tried to maintain a thin layer of oil or butter for sautéing in a warped pan, you know it’s damn near impossible to get it right in that case.
You might insist on everything being non-stick or you might have concerns about the surface leaching into food. You might love ceramic pans while I don’t like how they discolor over time. To each his own, right? But what’s important is that you THINK about what you cook and how you cook before you invest in cookware. Ideally, it’s something you’re only going to do once for each pot or pan you buy.
The same holds true in business. What’s right for my business may be totally wrong for yours and, like a non-ferrous pan on your induction cooktop, might not work at all. You need to do requirements planning with input from all constituencies (all cooks weigh in!). You need to evaluate all the options and costs, while always important, can’t be the primary criterion. I generally buy my stuff at a restaurant supply place that sells to the public – it’s high-quality, will stand up to my home use since it’s made for much heavier use than I give it, and it’s less expensive than the stuff you find in the “consumer” stores. That is a great guideline for anything you’re doing in business as well. Plan, research, evaluate and buy for the long-term. You’d be surprised where the best solutions can be found!
The topic for this Foodie Friday is the grocery store. Think for a minute about where you do the bulk of your grocery shopping. Is the merchandise that it carries substantially different from one of its competitors? My guess is that it probably isn’t. All the national brands are there and the same person who stocks the snack or bread aisle at your store might have left a competitor twenty minutes earlier. So why do you go?
We had a Wegman’s open here. The lines to get in were HOURS long. I’ve never shopped at a Wegman’s but those who have proclaimed their undying loyalty. There’s been a rumor floating around my neighborhood (since confirmed!) that a Publix will be opening in the not too distant future. People who’ve missed their sandwiches and service are swooning. In the case of these two stores, they separate themselves from everyone else in very clever ways; Wegman’s via setting themselves up to feel like a European marketplace and Publix via their signature subs.
Some of it is just smart branding. While my local Harris Teeter and Lowe’s Foods both make various types of sausages in-house, Lowe’s brands the entire operation as The Sausage Works and gives each type of sausage a clever name. They even sell “My Sauageworks” tee-shirts (and you can imagine the looks I get when I wear mine in public). They pride themselves as being the Best Of The Wurst and are constantly inventing new flavors such as their newest, The #63 Philly, which they describe as a brotherly love blend of chicken sausage, mozzarella, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and spices. No commodities here but while both stores sell the same basic sausages, Lowe’s goes the extra mile and can market behind it.
I think may business sectors have become quite commoditized. When I was running a sports site, we would often remind ourselves that people can get a game score or most statistics anywhere. The only way we could compete was to provide something unique, better, and in-demand. I think every business needs to think of itself in terms similar to that, even if you really do have unique aspects baked in. It won’t be long before someone has what you have and maybe is offering it on better terms.
Why do you shop where you shop? If “better prices” is the only answer, that store might have trouble the minute a competitor decides to price match. It’s much harder to match a better experience or unique merchandise, no matter what business you’re in. Don’t you agree?
Let’s go to the movies this Foodie Friday. I did the other day. If you’ve been spending time at home streaming your entertainment and none at the theaters, you might not be aware that things have changed dramatically at the old cineplex with respect to food. I happened to go to my local Alamo Drafthouse, which features recliners as well as a large menu of food and beverage.
You are probably aware that theater owners make more money from concessions than they do from admissions. You might have noticed that most movie concessions are high-margin items such as popcorn and soda. Still, I generally didn’t spend much more than $10 on food and beverage. Boy did THAT change at the Alamo. Even factoring in the additional labor costs for the servers bringing the food to my seat, I’m pretty sure that the theater owner netted a heck of a lot more from me than they might have in the past.
The Alamo overall is an interesting model. There are fewer seats in the theater but that really only reduces the take from admissions. My guess is that the concession net more than makes up for the fact that there are fewer bodies in the seats. Of course, my Alamo also has 10 theaters under one roof, ranging from 50 to 100 seats. What I like about this from a business perspective is how they’ve rethought the business model and focused on the part of the business that makes an owner money. The concessions are a significant upgrade. There are craft beers, top-shelf cocktails, and even a vegan menu. Sure there is popcorn but it’s served with real clarified butter. It’s also a bottomless bowl. There is also an herb popcorn that is tossed with that same butter and fresh herbs. Do I give a second thought to paying $8.50 for it? Nope – it’s delicious. So are the sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. $45 on drinks and food? Even at a 20% margin, my concession purchases yield the business owner as much as my previous bill might have been in total.
Any business can learn from what the Alamo and other theaters are doing as they transform their business models in the face of unlimited streaming options. It’s the Wille Sutton Rule – go where the money is.
This Foodie Friday I’m writing to you from a condo in Myrtle Beach. It’s a place I used to come to only once a year with my golf outing but now that I only live a couple of hours away I’m down here more often. I’d be lying if I said that Myrtle Beach is one of my favorite places to go. Honestly, except for the golf (and there is LOTS of that here), there really isn’t much about it to love. The beaches further north on the coast are way better – less crowded, prettier, and less touristy.
Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo
One thing my golf group learned about Myrtle Beach long ago was that there really isn’t a lot of great food here. Oh sure, damn near every chain restaurant has one (or more) iterations and there are local executions of generic food types that one can find anywhere: Italian, sushi, burgers, etc. There are, however, a handful (OK, a couple of handfuls) of places that do their damndest to capture the local flavor and that’s our topic today.
I wrote about Mr. Fish 10 years ago and I still visit when I’m here. His success at capturing the local seafood flavors of the Carolina Coast has enabled him to build a much larger place. There is a huge local supermarket here – Boulineau’s – that has a great kitchen serving local specialties and taking out the fried chicken to the beach is a local tradition.
I’m not going to run down all of the local places that do similar things but it’s instructive to any of us in business. Sure, the national chains are mobbed by tourists that love the notion of eating the same meal here as they can get at home. Those aren’t the loyal customer base though. Any business should be trying to be a local business even if the local outpost is one of many. I represent a national coffee franchise that insists that each local cafe be decorated in a local style, using photos of the town in which it’s located. That’s smart in my book.
People look for the local flavor. You can see it in the push to patronize local small businesses. How can your business be “small” and capture the local flavor even as you grow? Something to think about!
I went to one of the warehouse club stores yesterday to make some bulk purchases. If you’ve ever been in one of them – Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, etc. – you know that one feature of walking around the place is that there are usually free samples. You can taste the latest and greatest in meats, cheeses, and frozen things to cook while you’re too busy to make something yourself. That got me thinking about the fact that you really don’t see a lot of sampling elsewhere.
I’m a fan of the free trial. It gets customers walking through your door and using your product. What I don’t particularly like are those “free” trials that require you to fork over your credit card. Free means without strings, right? In particular, if you’re a business that is built around what I think is the gold standard – recurring revenues – you ought to be spending a good chunk of your marketing dollars on free trials.
It’s relatively simple math, right? What’s the lifetime value of a customer? What does it cost you to offer up a free trial – a visit, a free month, whatever? What is the conversion rate of those freebies – how many of the trials become regular customers? Recurring revenues are predictable and generally pretty stable. I bet you’ve signed up for subscriptions of some sort and forgotten you’ve done so or don’t use them as often as you thought you would. For a business, that’s a customer without costs, and that’s a nice margin!
When I talk to people who are looking at franchise opportunities and who don’t have a particular brand or industry in mind, I usually talk to them about the businesses with recurring revenue models. Things like cleaning services. Not a sexy business, but very profitable and that, in part, is because of the recurring revenues. Same thing with spa businesses or some hair salons that feature memberships. Are those businesses that can offer a free trial? Maybe if you’re an out-of-the-box thinker. Giving a converted customer the ability to give away a free trial to a friend is another great way to expand your base at very little cost.
Here is the thing about free trials leading to recurring revenues. As with any business, you have to maintain a high level of customer service. After all, when someone’s credit card is getting dinged each month and your business appears on their statement, it’s an opportunity for them to reconsider. If they walk away, no amount of free sampling will get them back most of the time. Everyone loves something for nothing. The opposite – nothing for something – is very much NOT true!
The big news this Foodie Friday is the return of the McRib sandwich. It’s only going to be around for a limited time and only at select McDonald’s stores (which is about 10,000 of them). If you’ve never had one of these babies, it’s a pork patty formed to look like pork ribs (but boneless) on a bun with pickles and onions and a fair amount fo a sweet barbeque sauce.
I’d be very dishonest if I said this concoction appalls me since I’m a fan of the thing, or at least I was before I both quit eating a lot of carbs (45g in this baby) and lived in a place where real BBQ pork sandwiches are easier to find than a decent deli. When it hit the market back in 1981, it was a dud. It’s been released every so often since into a limited number of outlets and it sells out.
There is something any business can learn from the McRib or the pumpkin spice craze at Starbucks or Dunkin’. It’s the smart tactic of giving customers a reason to come back. There is a restaurant here in town that I patronize on a regular basis. The food is quite good but there are rarely any specials. It gets boring, frankly. I’ve tried pretty much everything on the menu. Something special might get me to make a special trip as opposed to the every 10 days or so when I want a really good burger.
There is something else. Here is a quote from a marketing professor at Northwestern:
For fast-food chains in particular, which rely on familiarity, holiday items can offer consumers some variety. “You need consistency because that’s the brand mantra,” said Chernev. “But no matter how much you like something, consuming something different … increases the enjoyment of what you consumed before.” Chernev says it’s a neat marketing ploy: Although a specialty item may be exciting on its own, it can also remind consumers how much they like the basics.
In my mind, it’s like how being on vacation often reminds you of how much you like being home if that makes any sense. In any event, every business needs to think about how a special product promotion (vs. a sale price promotion) can provide an overall lift to the business. Got it?
You just can’t be too careful these days, can you? It seems that we hear every day about another data breach involving stolen credit card numbers or passwords or anything from your search history to your online shopping list. If you don’t pay much attention to your data security you are definitely, as my Dad used to say, cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Since I try to make it a habit to practice what I preach, I’m quite careful about security. I use a password manager and I don’t generally store credit card numbers online, preferring to use that password manager to fill in the number as needed. It was quite disturbing, therefore, when my phone buzzed like a tornado was imminent yesterday. It was American Express notifying me of what they thought might be a fraudulent charge at the Microsoft online store. An email arrived simultaneously, telling me about the charge and asking me to click if I had knowledge of it. I didn’t and told them so, which immediately canceled my Amex card (and to their credit, Amex immediately generated a new number and I’ll have a new card today – why I’ve been a member since 1979).
Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an email from Microsoft telling me they “tried to charge your Xbox Live Gold subscription on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, but the charge of $60.59 to American Express was unsuccessful.” Well, no kidding. I told Amex not to pay it because I didn’t know that it was the renewal of something I very much did want to renew. Maybe if Microsoft gave me a little advance notice, which is what many other companies whose products I auto-renew to a credit card do, I wouldn’t have clicked the button that will now result in my having to change credit card numbers on several other things – my cell phone bill, two newspaper subscriptions and several magazines, and a streaming service among them. Every one of them notifies me before charging my card so that I’m expecting the charge. I guess Microsoft hasn’t figured out that when it comes to charges on a credit card people do NOT like to be surprised.
Had Microsoft put on their customer-focused thinking caps, they would have recognized that. Instead, I’m sure someone thought “let’s not give them the chance to cancel and go ahead and charge the auto-renew without telling them ahead of time.” That’s bad customer communication and bad strategy. By keeping the customer’s needs and perspective front and center, we won’t make mistakes like this. Agreed?
Filed under Consulting, Huh?