Archives For Business

If you are going to disrupt an industry, it makes sense to challenge a service that doesn’t provide a good customer experience. Most people who I know have had a negative experience in a taxicab at one time or another. Hailing a cab, rude drivers, cabs that are late and never show up, dirty and poorly maintained vehicles are just some of the problems people encounter. The best innovations identify and solve a customer problem in a new and unique way. Brand Storyteller, Blogger and author Bernadette Jiwa says that “the job of every single business on the planet is to do just one thing – to make people happy. When you find ways to do that you win”.

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Uber is startup ride sharing service based in San Francisco. Uber was launched in 2010.  Uber utilizes mobile apps to connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire. Uber arranges pickups in over 200 cities worldwide. Consumers reserve a car by using a mobile app to request a car. The mobile app can be used to track the reserved car’s location, make, model, driver’s name, license plate number and estimated pick up time.

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I started using Uber as a result of a promo code that a friend shared with me this summer. A key lesson for content marketers is that good and useful content is easy to share. I downloaded the app on my iPhone, requested a ride and the driver arrived within 5 minutes. I had dinner that night with a friend in the Fells Point section of Baltimore. After dinner, I requested my ride from Uber and the driver again arrived in five minutes. The driver was polite and the during the 20 minute ride home we discussed basketball and the Baltimore Bullets. My experience was great. Following that experience, I have recommended Uber to several friends. I love Uber’s tagline “Everyone’s Private Driver”. In 2013, the USA Today named Uber its tech company of the year.

For me, Uber, is more than a tech company. Uber is a brand that utilizes technology and data to create a great customer experience. Startup’s like Uber are very unique. They connect buyers and sellers through a unique business model. They use data to make sure users have a great experience. Data is also used to continually learn and improve the service. Consumers are able to rate their experience with drivers building trust in the Uber Brand. Uber is powered by technology but delivers a unique, human experience.

Have you used Uber and if so how was your experience?

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I am always on the lookout for entrepreneurs who are creating new businesses and unique independent brands. If it involves food it is even better. Last week I attended a reception for Shoot Out For Soldiers, a 24 hour lacrosse game benefitting wounded soldiers. More on Shoot Out For Soldiers in another post.

The Shoot Out For Soldiers event was catered by a company called MISSION BBQ. The food was donated. The barbecue dinner was outstanding. I instantly asked the question, What’s the story?

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MISSION BBQ was founded by Steve Newton and Bill Krauss, a couple of 50 something friends who shared a passion for great barbecue and a desire to build a business with meaning and purpose. The pair opened their first store on September 11, 2011 in Glen Burnie, Maryland, ten years after 9/11. Their idea was to serve good old-fashioned American barbecue while giving back to the community. A portion of their profits go to the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps veterans and their families. It was a way to thank soldiers for their service.

MISSION BBQ and its employees are inspired by the following beliefs which are posted on their website. “We believe there is nothing more American than BBQ. And nobody more American than the brave men and women who have sworn to protect and serve our communities and our country. We do what we do for the love of our soldiers, firefighters, police officers, first responders – all our loved ones in service”. What a great focus. Mission BBQ knows who their customer is and who they want to serve. Each day at noon, they stop for a minute and play the national anthem through the loudspeakers at each location. They have create a unique brand and customer experience.

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MISSION BBQ is an inspiring story of two entrepreneurs who followed their passion and created a business with a purpose of giving back and thanking the hard-working people who serve our community.  I wish them will.

Have you eaten at MISSION BBQ?

 

 

My parents took our family to Ogunquit, Maine for vacation when I was a child. Some of my best childhood memories occurred on the rocky coast of Maine. Fortunately, my wife and children share my love of Maine. We try to visit southern Maine every 12-24 months for a long weekend. It seems that every trip we discover a special place that we can’t wait to visit again.

One of our favorite traditions on our trips to Ogunquit is starting our day at Amore Breakfast on Shore Road. It is easily the best breakfast I have ever had. The food is excellent and the service is outstanding.  At Amore, “Love is the Maine ingredient”.

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Leanne Cusimano opened Amore in 1994. Leanne’s background was in teaching and furniture sales. When she founded Amore, her goal was to create a place of her own where people could enjoy good food and feel at home. Leanne believed that “food is love”, thus “Amore”.  This year, Amore is celebrating its 20th year in business.

The menu features a number of signature egg and omelette dishes.The home fries are the best I have ever had. Each item is uniquely prepared with a slight twist that makes it special. The coffee is also excellent. The black and white interior creates a warm and friendly environment that reminds you of the 50’s.

In addition to great food, Amore has a warm and friendly atmosphere. This starts when you are greeted by Leanne and continues throughout your meal. Many of the waiters and waitresses have worked at Amore for several years. It is obvious that they love what they do. Amore Breakfast provides great service and the employees create a great and memorable customer experience. Amore creates an emotional connection with every customer who walks in the door. We eagerly await our next visit to Amore and are never disappointed.

The Amore Breakfast story has spread through word of mouth and positive reviews on Trip Advisor, a feature on Rachel Rays “Tasty Travels” and part of a New York Times article on “36 Hours/Ogunquit Maine”.

Amore has created a branded experience that customers crave. There are some great branding lessons to be learned from Amore Breakfast:

  • Great Brands start by building a culture first, the culture and employees drives the business and the brand experience
  • Make the product great and distinctive
  • Create an emotional experience that builds a long-term relationship
  • Sweat the details and create a great customer experience where people feel at home

Have you eaten at Amore Breakfast in Ogunquit Beach Maine?

Fast food is changing for the better. Every other Friday, I fly through Baltimore Airport, known to many as BWI, around 6PM after a long week of work. When I land, I am extremely hungry and ready for something good to eat. At most airports, I grab a granola bar and wait till I get home to eat because of the bad food.  BWI has the typical fast food choices: McDonalds, Quiznos, Subway, a sports bar with an overpriced burger, Dunkin Donuts, a tasteless pizza place and, of course, a Starbucks. BWI has something that most airports don’t have: a Chipotle. Chipotle is the only restaurant in the airport with any customers. Last Friday, I patiently waited in a 15 minute line for my usual, a steak burrito. There was no line at McDonalds.

Chipotle has changed the way consumers think about fast food. Chipotle has elevated the fast food experience through good food and natural ingredients at a fair price. As Joe from Chipotle tweeted “Its not easy to find good food in airports”. He’s right, but that shouldn’t be the case. Chipotle has successfully challenged many of the rules in the fast food industry. Consumers are willing to wait 15-20 minutes in line and risk missing their flight for the good food at a fair value that Chipotle is offering. Chipotle asked the question, “Why shouldn’t fast food and airport food be good and good for you?” They have changed the game and other fast food restaurants will need to change or risk major sales decreases.

Have you eaten at Chipotle?  

John Lewis has built one of the most loved retail brands in the United Kingdom. People are attracted to the John Lewis Brand because of its purpose, core values, unique business model, emotional advertising and employees (partners) who deliver a great customer experience.

The John Lewis Partnership is an employee-owned company which operates John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets. The company is owned by a trust on behalf of all its employees — known as Partners – who have a say in the running of the business and receive a share of annual profits. John Lewis is one of the largest private companies in the United Kingdom.

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The John Lewis Partnership puts the happiness of Partners at the center of everything it does. The goal was to create a different type of company owned by Partners dedicated to providing customers with great service. Happy empowered employees with ownership in the company who have a vested interest in providing high levels of customer service.

John Spedan Lewis formed the partnership in 1929 and began distributing profits to employees. His goal was to create a company that gave every Partner a voice in the business they co-own. His combination of business acumen and corporate conscience was ahead of its time.

The Partnership’s ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business. The Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards profit, knowledge and power.

They have won a number of awards as Britain’s favorite retailer because they provide a better customer service experience than their competition. Their advertising including this years holiday campaign builds a strong emotional connection with consumers.

The success of the John Lewis Partnership retail operations can be attributed to a focus on the following:

1. Partners Who Care About Providing Great Customer Service
None of the 70,000 people who work at John Lewis is an employee. They are “Partners” who jointly own the business. They earn profit-sharing based on how much profit is generated by the business. This encourages them to give great service because they feel a sense of ownership. John Lewis believes that if you treat your partners well, it will lead to good customer service.

2.  Providing Great Training For Their Partners – But Empowering People to Make Decisions
Allowing Partners to think for themselves gives them a sense of responsibility – which, as a rule of thumb, they tend to want to live up to.

3. Encouraging Feedback from Customer Facing Staff on what Customers Really Want
John Lewis involves customer facing staff in improving the way things are done. They leverage their unique insights to improve service.

4. Be Exceptional
Partners at John Lewis have strong product knowledge and embrace every opportunity to provide great service.

5. Provide Great Customer Service Levels Online
John Lewis has a user-friendly website. They also make it easy for customers to contact a real person as soon as they want to.

Can you think of another retail brand where employees “live the brand” and create a great customer experience?

Restoration Hardware has repositioned itself to be a luxury lifestyle brand. It has a great story.  The brand was founded by Stephen Gordon in 1980 in Eureka, California. The idea for the company came while Gordon was restoring his Queen Anne style house. He had great difficulty finding period hardware. He recognized a need in the marketplace. The brand was initially about addressing the need for authentic period hardware. The initial store was founded in Gordon’s house in Eureka. Over time, Restoration Hardware expanded product offerings to include 1920s-themed lighting, bathware, curtains and furniture. Fifty percent of the business was novelty type items. The company expanded rapidly and went public in 1998. By 2001 Restoration Hardware was close to bankruptcy. Its stock had gone from $37 a share to $.50. It problems could be blamed on the lack of a focused merchandise assortment. In 2001, Restoration Hardware did not have a clear point of view.

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Gary Friedman, former President of Williams Sonoma, stepped in and over time saved the company. He spent six years remaking the business, slowly and methodically getting rid of the novelty items and bringing in furniture, linens and lighting. He made Restoration Hardware relevant. Restoration Hardware repositioned itself as a retailer of luxury home furnishings. Restoration Hardware’s sofas, chairs, tables, bureaus and other products are largely modern updates of classical designs. Its target market: households with incomes above $200,000 or “aspirational” customers trading up from department stores and other retailers.

The company struggled when the housing bubble burst in 2008. The company was forced to restructure, close stores and went private in 2008. The company lost money from 2008 to 2011. The company went public again in 2012.

This year it announced plans to transform itself from a high-end brand in home furnishings to a luxury lifestyle brand. The brand has evolved to become RH, which is positioned to curate a lifestyle beyond the four walls of home.

Not only is the company branching into “curated” collections of contemporary art, antiques and kitchen ware, it also plans to launch RH Atelier, a luxury brand of apparel, accessories, footwear and jewelry. Key to Restoration Hardware’s ongoing transformation will be the opening of much larger stores called Design Galleries to better showcase all of its products.

Five full-line Design Galleries have opened since 2011 in Los Angeles, Houston, Scottsdale, Ariz., and most recently Boston and Indianapolis. With an average of 21,600 square feet of selling space, they are about three times the size of the company’s legacy stores, not to mention more productive.

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The Boston outlet is the largest at 40,000 square feet. Besides displaying new product categories such as tabletop goods and “objects of curiosity,” the four-story historic building features a wine bar, beer pub, billiard lounge, library, club rooms and conservatory.

One strong point is the brand’s positioning. It’s above mass-market players such as Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn, but below top-end designer showrooms used by decorators.

The jury is still out whether the company can make a go of all of its ambitious undertakings. However recent results have been very positive. In the last quarter same store sales increased 26% and earnings jumped 48%. Its stock price has more than doubled since its IPO last year.

Have you shopped at a Restoration Hardware Store?

Michael Kors is one of the hottest fashion brands in the world. It is an overnight sensation that has been 30 years in the making. Persistence pays off. Michael Kors was founded in 1981. Michael Kors has become a  strong global lifestyle brand with a broad appeal. The brand’s products have a “jet-set” aesthetic that is both stylish and sporty. Michael Kors sells affordable luxury. The affordable luxury segment has bounced back strong in 2013. The company sells accessories, footwear and apparel in upscale department stores and its own stores. Michael Kors is the “it” brand in this segment of the market. Michael Kors has surpassed Coach as the number one luxury fashion brand.

Success in the fashion industry is often fleeting. However Michael Kors is currently enjoying fame and success. The brand has done a great job connecting with the American fashion consumer. The brand has excelled because it has stayed focused on the market’s sweet spot — people with money who aren’t rich yet. Michael Kors has a strong understanding of the consumer he is designing for.

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Michael Kors has generated a strong buzz in the market. Kors was a judge on “Project Runway” since it first aired in 2004. The exposure has been very important for the brand. It has built brand awareness with young fashion consumers. When Project Runway started in 2004, the Michael Kors Brand had brand awareness that was under 20%. Today over 70% of Americans are aware of the brand.

Michael Kors is also one of the fastest growing stocks in 2013. The stock price is up over 50% year this year. The brand went public in 2011. It had already surpassed Ralph Lauren in market value. The company has delivered impressive earnings growth the last few quarters and a recent pullback to its 50 day moving average may represent a buying opportunity for aggressive investors. Strong brands that understand their target audience continue to be a good investment.

It will be interesting to see if Michael Kors can continue its rapid growth. It is difficult to maintain that competitive edge. The key will be designing relevant products that meet the lifestyle needs of his target consumer and continuing to market in innovative ways. There is always a market for great design. In the short-term, I wouldn’t bet against Michael Kors.

Do you think the Michael Kors Brand can continue its explosive growth?