It’s Foodie Friday and the local farmer’s market opened up here a couple of weeks ago. Of course, the state farmer’s market is open year-round but it’s huge and a 25-minute drive. The one here in town is more intimate, less-crowded, and only 6 minutes away.
I like farmer’s markets for a few reasons. The first is that the quality of food – mostly produce – is generally higher than what you can get from the supermarket. It’s likely it was picked either that morning or the day prior. It certainly didn’t have to travel from Mexico or South America. Most importantly, these markets are inherently seasonal. You don’t get watermelons until late summer (OK, earlier here in the South) and there aren’t red things masquerading as tomatoes in March.
As a cook, the farmer’s market presents both an opportunity and a challenge, one that actually is mirrored in most businesses. The opportunity is to find ingredients that are in peak form, and because they’re plentiful, at a lower cost (that whole supply/demand thing, you know). The challenge is that to take real advantage of the market, you have to be willing to work with what’s available and that can be limiting. You might want to make a peach cobbler for dessert this week but it’s blueberry season now so that’s dessert.
Businesses face the same challenges as cooks. There is a seasonality involved in almost every business and the opportunity in season is to maximize profits. I think there’s a real opportunity outside of your prime season as well. This is when you can experiment with new products or promotions. You can look for niche audiences (what’s available!).
There’s also the challenge that my little market faces each week. It’s 15 miles from a much bigger market. How can it attract high-quality vendors and draw from surrounding communities? Obviously, most businesses face similar issues to distinguish themselves if they’re realistic about the choices consumers have these days. When I was working in TV we worried about the other networks. Broadcasters today have to consider anything with a screen as competitive.
Mostly I like farmer’s markets because they force me to be thoughtful and creative. How can I plan out a menu that’s the best within the limitations of what’s available? You might ask yourself the same thing about your business. Every business has limitations, whether financial, supply chain, or even people. How do you get the best out of what’s available?
One thing I’ve done over my decade in consulting is to go to tech events. Many of these attract dozens of budding entrepreneurs as well as we consultant types who are always on the lookout for a new client. Inevitably, as you’re making small talk and new connections, someone will tell you about their earth-shattering, world-changing brilliant idea. All they need is some seed money. Most of the time, their ideas…well…suck. Let me explain why.
First of all, they can’t explain the problem that they’re solving. They have a vague idea of who might have the problem but they can’t really explain what the problem is since they’re not the customer. Then they can’t exactly explain how they’ll scale – how they will attract a large enough customer base to get them to positive cash-flow and profitability. Lastly, they can’t explain the revenue model – how they will monetize the enterprise.
Major suckitude, in other words.
If you can’t explain how your idea takes in someone’s money – an investor’s or a customer’s – and spits profit out the other end, you’re in big trouble. An idea isn’t a business, you see.
One thing I’ve learned in consulting on franchises is that a lot of food franchises want you to have some food experience. While specific industry experience is less of a requirement in other categories, having relevant experience is a huge help everywhere, even if it’s just demonstrating skills that can help in your new business. If you don’t have the basic skills you need to germinate your idea – leadership skills, sales skills among them – or relevant industry experience, you are going to fail. Was that mean? OK, it was mean, but your idea still sucks because you are hanging it out there all on its own with nothing to support it. No money. No experience. No skills.
By the way. Most people who have been around for a while (your potential investors and others) can figure out very quickly if your buzzword-laden pitch is BS. Dressing up your sucky idea with a fancy presentation laden with jargon is lipstick on a pig.
What ideas don’t suck? The best businesses come from someone trying to solve their own problem and having the business acumen to grow that solution into something that can benefit others if the problem is a big enough one. There is a plan to make money, acquire customers, and generate a profit. Got an idea with those things? THAT doesn’t suck!
This Foodie Friday, we are most of the way through the period during which observant Jews don’t eat leavened goods. That means no bread or anything else that involves flour or anything that could make the baked good rise. Think about anything that you bake. I’m guessing that it has flour or baking powder or baking soda or yeast. All of those things are big no-nos to those that observe Passover.
I’m not a baker, as I’ve written before, but since I’m often tasked with preparing the food for Passover I’ve learned quite a bit about baking during this time of the year. Oddly, it doesn’t really require a huge shift in your thinking these days since many people are on some sort of gluten-free diet. That accounts for shifting away from flour and into things such as finely ground nuts, which are totally fine for Passover. In fact, my Aunt Ileen’s nut cake was always in demand and it wasn’t until recently that I realized it was gluten-free. Who knew 30 years ago when I got the recipe from her!
How do you make cakes rise with no leavening agents? Whipped egg whites will get the job done. Everything becomes a sort of chiffon cake (or a tart of sorts). Then, of course, there are things such as macaroons (not the delicate French kind) that are just scoops of coconut or almonds held together with sugar syrup and often dipped in chocolate.
What does this have to do with business? While the easiest thing to do at this time of the year is not to bake due to the conditions having changed, instead people learned to adapt. If you have anyone with gluten intolerance in your life, you may have already begun to make that change, not realizing that it would come in handy in other situations. Businesses need to be prepared to do this sort of thing as well. Markets and business conditions are constantly shifting, and the ability to adapt and change is one of the most important things a business can have. Maybe it’s a supply-chain disruption. Maybe it’s the loss of key personnel or of an important client. Continuing on in your business, even if you have to make product changes to serve the customer, is paramount at all times of the year, unlike Passover.
I’m very much looking forward to getting back to leavened bread but I’ve come to appreciate what we can learn from how the rules shifted this week. You?
One thing I deal with constantly these days is getting people on the telephone. I will often make 20 calls in an hour or two and only get a few people – all of whom have requested that someone call them – to answer the phone. Sometimes when I reach them they’re at work or driving and they ask if they can call me back. They hardly ever do, even when we set up a specific time. They don’t call me so I’ll call them at the appointed hour. They rarely answer.
It sounds awful, right? They claim to want information about new opportunities yet they won’t answer when opportunity comes knocking. My question to you concerns your business doing the same thing. No, not having customers hang up on you, but the opposite. Are you hanging up on them?
When was the last time you looked at your inbound customer service metrics? Do you even have such things? Research shows that consumers value efficient service and knowledgeable staff when they call a business. They find being kept on hold, rude service, and automated phone menus frustrating. You can measure on-hold time and you can test the customer service reps to be sure they’re knowledgeable and personable. You can check when call volume peaks and schedule more reps during that time.
One thing I’ve come to like quite a bit is the “let me call you back” option when there is going to be an on-hold time of more than a few minutes. You know what I mean – “press 5 to get a call back when there is an available representative or press 6 to schedule a time to be called back.” That’s customer-friendly and shows them that you respect their time and have empathy for their problem. When I hear “your call is important to us,” I always think “if it’s so damn important, why aren’t you answering?” Calling back shows it really is important.
It’s the little things we do in business that say a lot about how we run our firms. What messages are you sending? Are they the kind that will get customers to return?
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!
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!
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?