Yes, you can beat the best in your field of business.
First, you must understand that the businesses that get labeled as the best seldom are the best. Those best-in-class businesses usually have some novel draw that causes people to perceive them as the best. The $25,000 dessert pictured at left ought to be pretty good, right?
Or maybe they are the best choice without actually being the best. Microsoft is an example of that. They don’t produce the best operating system or the best word processing software. Ever try to produce a large important document in Word? It’ll drive you to tears. But Word is your best choice because you need compatibility.
So how do you beat the best?
First, look for weakness. See the picture I used for this post? That’s a dessert from a Manhattan restaurant (Serendipity 3). The pictured dessert used to cost $25,000 and people used to line up outside on the street to eat at Serendipity 3. I say “used to” because the New York Department of Health shut the place down last week because it was too filthy to serve food to the public. They found roaches, rat droppings, flies and live mice in the kitchen.
So if you own a restaurant in Manhattan you can do a couple things to try to capture that vacant number one spot. You can offer a $30,000 dessert. You can clean your restaurant and then shout about it.
But if you are really smart, you’ll go absolutely bonkers about clean in your restaurant. You want it spotless. Invite guests to see the kitchen (gasp!). Invite guests to report anything they feel is unclean to the shift manager. Ask your employees for suggestions about how they all can project clean. Clean the windows, clean the carpet, clean everything.
Listen. I don’t care if you’re running a diner that serves $2 chili dogs or fancy-schmanzy eatery with a $75,000 salad. Clean wins.
I’d love to manage a failing restaurant for two months. People HAVE to eat, how can you fail? Really. How?
When I was 15 I worked in a very dumpy fast food burger independently-owned crap hole. I’m putting a little lipstick on the pig. It actually wasn’t that nice. The place raked in a whopping $40-$75 per day selling 10 for $1 burgers (fake meat in 1972 wasn’t soy) and various other grilled and deep-fried delectables.
I changed the grease in the fryer on Saturday nights. By week’s end it was so black and saturated that dropping frozen fries into the oil bath would barely warm them up though it would turn them brown very quickly. Gettin’ a picture yet?
I worked alone. I came in at 4:00 after school and worked, solo, until 11:00 p.m. closing. Then I was paid for thirty minutes of cleaning—no matter how long it took to complete the nightly list. I was good and the cleaning always took longer than thirty minutes.
The inside was really dirty. I didn’t wear gloves and I handled everything. I wore a very dirty apron like you’d see on “Cookie” at a very bad diner. There were some nights so many bugs came—remember those horrible yellow lights?—that I couldn’t open the little sliding window to take orders or the bugs would swarm in. I’d just yell through the glass. Classy place.
The owner was tired. She really wanted to sell the place.
I liked the customers, especially the regulars. They didn’t care about how bad the place was. Some were usually drunk. Some just came to see me because I’d make their burger a little better or put less ice in their drinks. I never gave anything away—never. And I never undercharged. But I built a little following. Pretty soon I was bringing in $50-$75 alone at night. Think about that. $50 selling burgers at 10 for a dollar! Full compliment too—lettuce, special sauce, grilled bun, pickle and fake meat. Hand wrapped in waxed paper.
One night a guy who had been in a few times started talking to me about the potential of the business. He wanted to know if I thought the business could grow. I was 15, remember.
Yes, I believed the place could easily do $300-$500 per day. It would need a few improvements but nothing too crazy.
When I came to work the next day the boss was beside herself. A guy came in and bought the place that morning. He wrote her a check. If the check cleared, Saturday would be her last day at Frosty Dog.
The check cleared. The new owner was totally clueless. He had never even cooked a meal for himself. One of those “wouldn’t it be fun to have a family business” morons. He offered me a raise to $1.65 per hour to stay on and teach him. I was getting $1.35. I never cared about that. I was working for Noreen and my regulars, not $1.35/hr.
I stayed on. And I made a list of things to do. We did a massive clean up and then applied a lot of paint and changed those horrid yellow lights for bright white ones. McDonalds was just getting started and I noticed how they did things. I was no “kid genius” but I was smart enough to see the obvious. McDonalds was doing very well.
Then, I recommended raising prices. The new owner was scared. “But it’s a poor neighborhood!” Look dummy, they’re buying booze, they can afford 15 cents for a hamburger!
It took me less than 60 days to get the business up to $400 per day. The profits were higher too because I raised the prices. Then I quit. I had other things to do.
Okay…simple story about me. But I didn’t make progress graphs. I didn’t make new processes. I didn’t look for added value or maximized efficiencies. I didn’t deal with constraints. I didn’t shoot for total quality. And I never proposed a $25,000 burger. I’ve been doing the same thing all my life with many businesses and I’ve never missed.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog