Hello and good day!
It was beautiful here in the pacific northwest over the weekend.
We had clear blue skies and biting cold clean air.
A longtime friend of our family is in town staying with us for a week.
When you have a friend in town, you feel compelled to get out and see the sites, and this is a good thing, because it allows you to see old things through new eyes.
As such, we took our friend to the nearest big city, the city of Bellevue, which is about fifteen minutes west of the small town we live in.
I had worked in our chocolate shop most of the day and while I was away, my wife promised the kids that she'd buy them ice cream in the big city.
We walked through the city's downtown park, which is a very lovely park.
The air was so brisk, and the sky was so pretty, and the people were smiling, and the lights sparkled on the trees when you walked down the lane around the park's big grass fields.
High rises all around had yellow lighted windows that glowed against the darkening sky.
When you walk out of the park towards Lake Washington, you quickly end up in a charming little enclave called old downtown.
This is a several block strip that has small, locally owned restaurants and shops, away from the high rises and the bustle of the city.
There was a jazz bar on the strip, and they had their door open. We could hear the soft drumming and the bass player plucking and the romantic call of the sax.
There were lights wrapped around the trees up and down the strip and light from the windows of shops and bars and light from the neon signs on the marquees threw blurred light onto the sidewalks.
Down at one end of the strip, we could see the dark blue lake, under the pink sky, through a tunnel of lights on the street, all the while jazz was playing, and the air was cold and clear.
It doesn't get much better than that.
The children grew tired of walking and looking and made a claim on the ice cream they had been promised.
There is a place two blocks off of old downtown that has a great reputation. In the past, we've seen a line out the door and down the sidewalk at this place.
On this lovely evening, the place was dead, which should have been a good thing for us. We'd have a shorter wait. The employees could dedicate more attention to us.
I must admit, now that I own chocolate shops, I am a very tough judge of places like this. I really want to see the employees trying their hardest to run a clean operation and provide outstanding customer service.
That is what I ask of our team and of myself, and while nobody is perfect, to a large extent we achieve our goal, because it is important to us as an organization, and we make the requisite effort.
Also, I am rooting for a place like this to live up to my expectations. It would make me very happy to find a likeminded business having success.
The experience began well, as they have ovens on site to bake fresh waffle cones. It smells like waffles when you walk in and there is a big glass window where you can see the oven room. That glass window is a dangerous gambit.
It can either be the coolest thing in the world, or it can showcase carelessness.
On this occasion, there were several teenagers gathered around making jokes and laughing while customers were in the shop and the floor was not swept.
There were bits of waffle cones all over the floor and there was also a pile of flour laying inexplicably on the corner of a metal worktable.
That's a harbinger. I already knew what would come next.
We walked straight through the line to the counter.
"Yes?" said the server, a young lady in a visor, with her cell phone tucked into her waist.
"We'd like some ice cream please," said my beautiful wife.
"Your options are on the board."
The server pointed to the board and waited for us to figure it out.
The prices were very expensive, and since I refuse to spend top dollar on ice cream for children, we had no choice but to go for the least expensive option, which was a small scoop in a small cup.
"Here you go," said the server. No smile. No thank you. No nothing.
"You can pay over here," called the cashier from down the counter.
My wife paid and as soon as we were done paying, the young man who rung us up punched a button on the screen and turned around to cut ingredients without thanking us or saying goodbye.
I couldn't help but sneak a peek behind the counter. I knew what I'd see. The floor was a mess. Debris all over the place.
We stumbled out onto the street in a daze.
The transaction had been so quick, and the ice cream servings were so small.
What just happened?
The ice cream was delicious. But the experience was really bad, and we won't be going back.
I can imagine the entire arc of this business.
The founder opened with high standards, great ice cream, and fresh baked waffle cones. She gained a following and started opening locations all over the place.
I see online that there are 40 locations now.
The strength of her well-deserved reputation preceded her, and each new location thrived as a result.
The brand image was strong. But brand images can decay as well.
That place should not have been empty on a Saturday night. There were a ton of people walking around.
And if you start losing money on your 40 locations, it is a lot rougher than losing money on just one location.
I have a few take aways from this experience that I will apply to my own business.
First, care is holistic. If you care, you care about everything having to do with the operation.
If the floor isn't swept, it is a safe bet that the customer service won't be enthusiastic. The same people are supposed to do both. If they are lazy about one, they'll be lazy about the other.
Two, I couldn't handle the idea of owning a location where this type of service and presentation are a possibility.
I'm not cut out to run a large chain of locations.
It would hurt me too badly to know that this was happening in the name of our family business.
I'd rather run just two small shops very well and focus on growing and nurturing our online business.
This way, the growth of our team will be in our production kitchen where new team members can be molded by the pre-existing wonderful culture and team.
In this scenario, most of our time and energy can be dedicated to maintaining the quality of our products, rather than having to manage a widely dispersed work force.
Third, creating a great customer experience is akin to a work of art.
Concept, skill, and execution must all be aligned.
A bad song isn't worth singing in the first place.
But even a good song doesn't mean much if you can't sing a lick.
And even if you can sing, the performance will stink if you don't try your best.
The product, the care, and the execution must all be there for a customer to walk away thrilled.
Thank you so much for time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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