Tag Archives: Strategic management

The Buffet Bill

Happy Foodie Friday and a Happy Easter and a Zissen Pesach to those of you who celebrate one or the other (or both!). I spent much of this week in Las Vegas, one of this country’s great food cities. I know – how can I say that about a town that’s built pretty much just to separate you from your money? Well, you gotta eat in between all of that spending and it seems as if every big name chef has a place in Vegas. There is also an awful lot of great local places too.

While the food is very good at most places in town, it’s pretty expensive. Obviously, the high-end, big-name chef places are pricey but even some of the small local joints I patronized ended up costing quite a bit of change. While I realize that the prices I pay in my little North Carolina town aren’t “big city”, I’m quite used to NYC pricing since that’s what I paid my entire life. The prices in Vegas are beyond that when you total up all of the ala carte items you order.

One thing that’s a real tradition is the Vegas buffet. Every hotel has one and there are many stand-alone buffets in town as well. They’re not inexpensive either. The one at my hotel was $31 including the tip. Yes, even bottomless mimosas! As I was running through the massive food service area (for the third time), I realized that I’m very much a buffet guy and I think most consumers are too.

What I mean by that is that we seem to be living in an age where everything is ala carte. Your airline ticket may be your protein, but you might want some veggies (an assigned seat), a salad (a checked bag), and a starch (fuel surcharges, booking fees, etc.) which will make up the real cost of your meal.  Sure, your hotel room is $139/night, but the “resort fees” and fees for things like having a safe in your room or built-in tips for the housekeeper can inflate your bill quite a bit.

Everyone complains about what most ticket services tack on to the base price of a concert ticket. Look at your cable or telephone bill and I’m sure you can find quite a bit of dough you’re being charged that takes your monthly tab beyond the advertised price that drew you in as a customer in the first place. I’m a buffet-pricing guy. Tell me the entire price upfront and let me decide. Sure, the lower price might get me in the door once, but the anger I feel when I see the final bill will assure that I won’t be back.

You might be fine with ala carte pricing. In theory, I am too because why pay for something you won’t use? The problem is that you really don’t have the option. When an airline charges you for carry-on bags or for checked bags, there is no “option” unless it’s a day trip without luggage. You’re paying the fee. why not include it in the price?

Enjoy your buffet this weekend!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Overdoing It

It’s Foodie Friday and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve all lost our collective minds, at least with respect to some of the food trends I see out there. Everywhere one looks you see food that seems to echo one of the favorite phrases from my youth:

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing!

Let me give you a few examples. The dozens of flavors of Oreos, ranging from candy corn to Swedish fish to watermelon, and hot chicken wing and wasabi Oreos have hit stores in China. Buffalo Fried Cornish Hens. Kimchi Salsa. Jerk Chicken Pizza. All the different flavors of chips (because who doesn’t want a chip that tastes like a lobster roll?), and of course, Strawberry Lemonade Beer. Now I’ll admit that I actually liked a cucumber beer that I had last summer but at some point, don’t we need to draw a line? It’s bad enough that most people drink “coffee” that’s flavored with everything from hazelnuts to birthday cake. It may be a lovely morning pick me up but it’s not coffee.

This kind of thinking is how we got some of the great food fails. Bacon soda. Coca-Cola Blak. Orbitz Drink. It’s instructional no matter what business you’re in. Let’s say you make a pain-relieving cream and you say to yourself “Hey! We can fix the pain in other ways!” Voila! Ben-Gay Aspirin. Maybe you own the women’s magazine market and think “hmm…women eat yogurt, maybe while they’re reading. Let’s make yogurt!” Cosmopolitan Yogurt was off the shelves in 18 months. Coors Spring Water? No thanks. Each is an example of overdoing something that not only is worth doing but is something you’re doing quite well. Right up until you decided to do more.

There are some things you can’t overdo. Great customer service. Being grateful to customers, vendors, partners, and staff. Taking most good products and blurring that goodness with too many things that too few people want isn’t helping. Don’t overdo it!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Timed Out

I’m exhausted and I bet you are too. It seems as if there is just too many things screaming for my attention and it makes my brain hurt. More importantly, I and many others have maxed out on our ability to spend time with various things. This is important and has ramifications across many businesses, including maybe yours.

There are only 24 hours in a day. While many of us would like to follow the old Warren Zevon line about “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” (he is, by the way), we do need sleep and that cuts into those 24 hours. But the rest of the day is one demand for our attention after another. In fact, many businesses are built entirely around their ability to grab and hold our attention. Any advertising-based business certainly is. So are many subscription businesses such as Netflix or HBO. Video game studios need to hold us to justify the $50 price tag.

So what happens when we all are maxed out and have no more attention to give? It then becomes a land grab for share. We can’t make more “attention hours” during the day. This is from a media research firm called Midia:

Engagement has declined throughout the sector, suggesting that the attention economy has peaked. Consumers simply do not have any more free time to allocate to new attention seeking digital entertainment propositions, which means they have to start prioritizing between them.

They’re writing specifically about video games but it really applies across the spectrum of attention-based businesses. Attention does not scale. There is only so much time in the day and only so many ads one can see much less pay attention to. Yet ads are everywhere and that’s why they’re becoming less and less effective. We’re ad blind because it’s all noise. 99.5%+ of people don’t respond to banner ads and I’m willing to bet that some of those who do click do so by mistake.

So let’s start the week by asking ourselves how we get beyond the attention economy. Better service does. Better products too. Fortnight has by being a great experience that’s free. It’s not just a game – it’s become like the old virtual worlds we thought would be big back in the 1990s. E-sports are taking away from real sports, maybe because anyone can dunk in virtual basketball. We often see more fans watching people play videogames in person than we do attending real games. How are they winning the time-suck game?

Thanks for giving me some of your attention today. Who else is earning it and why? More importantly, how can your business do the same?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

By Any Standard

I have to admit it – I’m a sucker for the major award shows. Watching the Oscars last night made me think about some of the “awards” many companies give themselves. You can usually find them talking about them as they sell themselves. You know the drill:

    • We have world-class customer service
    • Our employee benefits are the best in our field
    • Our products are cutting-edge

And on and on. Now, having come from the sales world I’m not necessarily averse to a little hyperbole, but there is a line, one which is often crossed because there aren’t any standards. It’s an issue that affects businesses in a lot of ways, some small and some pretty egregious. It’s often the small ways – the little white lies we tell ourselves in planning or product meetings – that lead to the big ways – the hyperbole we broadcast in our marketing and set false expectations among customers, partners, vendors, and others.

Think about the differences between Consumer Reports and Amazon reviews. Consumer Reports has rigorous testing standards. It maintains editorial independence and accepts no advertising in the magazine. It buys the products it reviews and pays retail prices for them. While they’ve been sued over bad reviews they’ve never lost a case. Their reviews are objective and all products in a category are held to the same standards.

Compare that to Amazon or Yelp or Google reviews. The reviewer has no objective standards for the most part. They have no idea if common standards for a product category exist nor how to measure or apply them. The JD Power surveys try to aggregate the consumer point of view in a way that reduces personal bias which is better than pure subjective reviews. After all, who hasn’t felt like broadcasting a bad review of something to the world? Maybe the product was fine but you had a nasty experience with customer service so you trash the product as well on your review.

Many businesses do the same thing in their marketing. They don’t use objective standards and end up setting false expectations. I think many industries would do themselves a favor by objectively assessing how well individual brands meet reasonable performance expectations. I remember we used to take an annual survey of media buyers in the TV industry. On the face of it, we did a good job of assessing ourselves and our competitors objectively. The truth was many of the sales guys knew when the survey was being fielded and would wine and dine the buyers to make sure we got good reviews. Subjective standards don’t work.

How do you market yourself? Do you have enough information about your performance on an objective basis? Can you get some?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Grinding Your Own

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic is ground beef. I try, whenever possible, to grind my own beef and the thinking behind that is also thinking that can be used in business decision-making.

You can walk into any supermarket and purchase ground beef. In fact, you can be very specific about chuck vs. sirloin, the percentage of fat in the mix and often grass-fed vs. non. That’s great in my mind when you are making chili or meatballs or some other dish requiring that the beef cooks for quite a while. For burgers, however, I’m grinding my own. I’ll generally grind a mix of chuck, brisket, and short rib and I’ll usually grind some parboiled bacon into the meat both for fat and for flavor. The biggest reason I take the time to do this, however, isn’t the flavor. It’s food safety. I like to eat my burgers on the rare side and ground beef from a store is generally not safe to eat unless it’s cooked more than I like it to be. I know what’s in my mix and that it’s safe to eat when cooked to less than 165 degrees.

Is it a pain to clean the grinder? Yes. Does it take more time than just opening a package from the store? Of course. But the results are much better and exactly what I want even if it costs a bit more and take more time. That’s exactly the process any business goes through when making a “build vs. buy” decision. Let me run you through the steps.

First, you need to validate that you actually need the technology you’re considering. In burger terms, I’m hungry so I need food. I have a legitimate need. In considering tech, you need to figure out if you’re finding a solution without a problem existing. Next, you need to pull together core business requirements. My burger must be safe to eat when rare, it must hold together on a grill, etc. You need to involve anyone whose business is affected by the proposed tech to be sure all constituents weigh in on requirements.

The technical architecture requirements come next. If you’re looking outside, can the product fit in with your existing infrastructure? Does it meet whatever standards your business has already? It’s only after the above steps have been taken that you can start to evaluate build vs. buy. In my case, I have a need, my requirements are clear, I’ve asked my dinner guests if they like burgers, how they want them cooked, and what they put on them. I figured out I’m building the beef but buying the rolls, mayo, pickles, onions, and tomatoes even though I could also build them.

The final steps in the evaluation concern costs and support but you get the point. Some managers start evaluation solutions before they pull together requirements and the overview of the environment in which the solution will live. While it was an easy decision for me to grind my own beef, few business decisions are as easy and require planning and forethought. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food

Taking The Beaten Path

One of the questions that has come up often in my newish role as a franchise consultant has been why one should look to invest in a franchise to begin with rather than starting a business from scratch. After all, there are generally fairly substantial franchise fees associated with a franchise along with the other expenses one might expect when starting a business plus you usually have on-going royalties. You’ll still have to pay to incorporate, you still often need insurance, licenses, equipment, space, and people. Why incur the extra fees on top of the ordinary expenses? It’s a good question and I have what I think are some good answers. If you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe changing the nature of the business you’re running, here are my thoughts.

First, the biggest advantage of buying into a franchise is that it’s a business in a box. It’s a proven business model, one that comes with built-in support. Almost every franchise I work with has some form of training and on-going mentoring. I think about that in terms of the businesses that have hired me to consult in the past. Much of what I did would have been covered by that sort of support, negating the need for an outside consultant. The franchise will have research and the business results of all the other franchisees. That’s invaluable and beats the heck out of going it alone.

Another consequence of that is you’ll probably experience much faster growth. You won’t be spending time formulating a business plan. Instead, you’ll be getting trained and executing one that has been time-tested. Something as simple as logo design, which can take time and several iterations, is not really a concern. You’ll generally be presented with operations manuals and marketing materials. Your time to market is greatly decreased.

One thing that is much easier is financing your business. Franchises are less risky in lenders’ minds since they’re known brands and proven businesses. While banks aren’t the best source for franchise ending, there are many lenders who specialize in that (I work with 6 of them) and SBA loans are easier to come by as well. Finally, your potential customers will already know who you are. Most franchises have good brand recognition, and even those that don’t have a current local presence can often benefit from being seen as part of a bigger entity.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that roughly 1 in 5 of all businesses in the U.S. close after the first two years of operation and a little over a third shut their doors after four years. You can beat those odds by taking the beaten path and investing the franchise fee to gain the above benefits. In my mind, and why I added this to my consulting portfolio, that investment yields as good or better returns than blazing your own new trail. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting

The One True Holiday

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s the eve of the annual national holiday called the Super Bowl. It’s America’s only true national holiday in my book. Oh sure – most Americans celebrate Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Veteran’s Day and even Thanksgiving, but none of those have the vast majority of the country focused on exactly the same thing at the same time. Only the Super Bowl does that.

Along with the game goes the food. Or, rather, THE FOOD, since inevitably there is a lot of it. Even those years in which I’ve watched the game by myself rather than at a party or a bar, I’ve managed to have copious amounts of generally not very healthy food by my side. Try to find a food site without a Super Bowl menu on it. Try to find a bar or a non-fine dining place that isn’t throwing a party.

Here was my take 8 years ago. Nothing has changed off the field (we won’t go into how the on-field experience has changed):

The Super Bowl is unlike any other sporting event from just about any perspective.  It’s watched by more people and is even covered by media people who wouldn’t know an H-back from Preparation H.  Hundreds of marketers, both authorized and unauthorized, try to tie in with “The Big Game” (for you ambushers) whether they’re selling food, TV’s, or anything else along the durable to non-durable scale.

So what do you do as a marketer? Do you try and fight city hall and run your own campaign not related to The Big Game? Do you pay the NFL’s or the broadcaster’s price tag (if your category is available) and use the marks or even just buy TV time in or around the game? Do you just stay quiet and begin your Valentine’s Day promotion after the game?

Tough question. If you’re in the food business, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most popular takeout days of the year (1 in 7 Americans order takeout food for the game!). A third of Americans consume some sort of dip. Are you staffed properly if you’re a restaurant? Have you ordered extra dip and sour cream if you’re a market? If you’re not a food business, you need to account for this holiday – especially this holiday – in your marketing and content plans. Unlike any other sports championship, people watch The Super Bowl even when they don’t have a favorite team playing. They actually watch the ads. They generally participate in word of mouth and social media conversations. It is America’s holiday and if you market behind the others, maybe you need, as it says on many pizza boxes, to try the best since you’ve tried the rest. Make sense?

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Filed under food, sports business, What's Going On