Perspectives has been creating, building and growing value-added businesses for over thirty-five years for both our clients and ourselves. Oddly enough, it is not always a single big idea, but several smaller ideas coupled together that turn out to be the biggest opportunities that can protect you from a big company’s encroachment.
At Choclatique, our own premium chocolate company, we have built a sizeable following and substantial sales in just a short 10 year span. How did we do it?
Follow the money… be strategic in your thinking and planning. Understanding where the money is and how to get the money is a good way to start planning a successful business. It is essential to understand what the customer will buy and how to drive the customer purchase. In other words... defining the “battle plan.” Post-audit research to understand whether you are getting the money is
crucial in keeping the product lines or services offered relevant. Using the graphic posted at the end of this blog can mean the difference between success and failure.
Do your homework… learn everything you can about the business and the products in the segments you are entering. In our case, it was to study what others were doing with chocolate from “bean to bar to piece.” Reading both current and non-current publications was a great insight. Going to food, candy and packaging expos in the US, Europe and Asia was also very informative. Eating lots of chocolate was very rewarding, but also very fattening.
Break the paradigm… don’t copy others. Our culinary research and development department, not at all familiar with chocolate, was given no special education or classes in chocolate manufacturing.
We struggled on our own. We wanted chocolate confections that were very different from any others in the marketplace, positioning our products in the premium category. If we had sent our R&D chefs to chocolate school in the very beginning we would have developed chocolate just
like everyone else was selling. We felt that this was not market-wise.
Today, it is amazing to hear from well-established candy and chocolate makers, “You can’t do that with chocolate!” “How are you doing it?” Not being confined to standard processes, we didn’t know all that we “couldn’t” do,” and felt totally unrestrained. This is where … chocolates out of the box comes from. It was our out-of-the-box thinking that created the brand, the name, the products offered, the packaging, the sales approach, the distribution/delivery system and the marketing of the products.
Don’t just stay one step ahead… leap-frog over the competition. Try to envision where your competitors might be in the next 5-7 years and get out in front of the market as quickly as you can—years before your competition. In the food and confection businesses (as in all businesses today), “Speed is Life.”
Develop “Strategic Alliances” with vendors… suppliers can be your greatest intelligence tool. They can tell you what is going on in the industry and your specific marketplace. They can help you understand the technical aspects of a new product and/or technology. In some cases, they are willing to invest in your dream for the opportunity to secure the business of a sharp and savvy group of strategic-thinking entrepreneurs who are going to be the next Apple, Microsoft, Google or Hershey.
Use vendors who are compatible to your style of management and are flexible enough to think out of the box.
Test it, before you launch it... all of the planning in the world won’t totally prepare you the reality of live customers. Test all the elements of the sales chain. How does the order-taking chain function… in our case how was our website designed and how did it behave? How did the product pack out… how easy was it to fulfill the order? Did the packaging protect the item… how did the customer receive the product? When the package was received did it look as good when ordered? There are two important “touch points” … when the product is first ordered from the website and when the product is
received a day or so later. The customer shouldn’t have to ask, “Why did I order that anyway?”
Launch it when you’re ready… not a moment before. Make sure all of the tested elements are ready to go and that you are prepared to fulfill all orders, as you will only get one chance to make a good first impression. If the order comes in and you are not ready, you will be disappointing customers. At Choclatique we understood from day one that we were not just selling chocolate... we were selling memories. Imagine an anniversary or Valentine’s Day gift that doesn’t arrive on time or as expected. How will you be remembered?
Understand the sales matrix… there are only four ways to build and increase sales — increase reach... attract new customers; increase frequency... bring customers back more often; increase party size... encourage customers to bring “in” additional family members or friends; and increase check size... sell more items per order or trade up customers to premium products (size or quality).
Embrace and harness technology… get ahead of the game. EPKs, Facebook, keywords, and websites are just the tip of the iceberg for keeping up on your customers' interests and communicating with your "community".
Create the BUZZZZZ… get the biggest bang for your buck. When looking for an ad or PR agency look for the best that you can afford. And if you can’t afford the best, put it on your credit card.
In our case, we wanted agencies who could get the brand the buzz. None of the traditional food or
restaurant agencies were attractive to us. We wanted an agency who may have handled a Brittney Spears, Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian… agencies who were getting their clients in the news on a daily basis to create the buzz.
Surround yourself with the best… only work with the best people that you can find. You are looking for out-of-the-box thinkers; not stinkers. Learn to recruit, train, retain and reward only the best.
There I was, sitting on the patio in Malibu overlooking the beautiful blue Pacific watching whales, dolphins, sea lions and pelicans and searching for the inspiration and words to tell a prospective client and his project designer what I do. “I’m a consultant,” I started. I went through the general explanation I usually used… “I’m a strategic planner, a concept developer,” I offered. I always struggle with this. I much prefer to offer solutions to clients’ problems than to talk about myself.
The truth is, I haven’t even been able to explain to my own family what I have done for a living for the last 35 years. With a background in motion picture and television design and direction, a degree in architecture and PhD in psychology, having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and opening hundreds of my own restaurants, it's sometimes challenging to put into just a few words exactly what I do for my clients.
“I help people look at their business in new ways. I stimulate creativity. I design new products. I, I , I," I stammered feebly struggling to find the words. “I am a food architect,” I finally blurted out hoping to put this test to rest.
“Oh, I get it,” my client finally said. “A Food Architect! Why didn’t you just say so from the beginning?”
Was it the salt air, the sun or the ocean view that finally brought these words to the tip of my tongue? Ultimately, it is a search for the right words to address a potential client’s concern for justifying engaging in our services. Believe me, if I could have found the words earlier, I would have.
Here were two well-educated businessmen planning the design and construction of a major multi-million dollar sports arena. The client and his very able team of designers and architects were worrying about the look of the inspirational arena, the seating plans for different events, the colors, logos, private boxes, dressing rooms, training facilities, parking, marketing, advertising, promotion and oh yes, the food—how to feed thousands of people foods they like, rapidly, at a price-point that offers a real value, yet still has the margins to pay for this modern-day Coliseum. “We don’t want food to be just another amenity, but an additional draw to the arena,” my client
I added, “It must be an extension of the entertainment experience, not just and interruption.”
I was told that they had spoken to several foodservice contractors who specialize in sports arena or stadium feeding. Each had come in with their “standard” package, claiming this is what worked in St. Louis, Dallas or Buffalo. No one took into consideration the flavor and tastes of the locale.
“I’m not an operating company,” I explained, “but if you want to have something that is a draw and truly unique, you’re going to have to understand the foods that are important to the local community.”
“Listen,” I quickly followed, “The anthropology of man can be traced more accurately through the foods and beverages of time rather than just the richness of art, the prose of literature, the rhythm of music or the structure of architecture.”
We talked about The Varsity in Atlanta, County Line Barbecue in Austin,
Pinks in Los Angeles, street corner cart pretzels in New York City, Farmer
John’s famous Dodger Dogs, Vienna Beef’s Chicago Dogs, Geno’s or Pat’s Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches and the sushi and Starbucks Coffee in Orange County’s arena.
“What are the most-visited and beloved restaurants in your area?” I inquired, switching the subject quickly away from what I am to what I do.
I continued. “Now all of the contractors you are talking to can do the job— they’re all capable, but you and your team have to be the major part of the planning process. You wouldn’t just turn over all of the architectural planning of the stadium to your building contractor and hope the sight lines were correct and there were adequate restrooms, would you? Of course not,” I insisted, I was on a roll. “That’s why you hire architects. And...,” I continued, not trying to be too pushy, “...I am The Food Architect!”
We all agreed after just 45 minutes of talking, that I was to be their Food Architect!
Over the next couple of days, I thought about the various degrees of success of the projects that we had been associated with over the last several years. There was the government cafeteria that had the potential to served over 4000 building co-workers.
Over the last eleven years they had no less than 6 operators with none doing more than about 200 covers a day. We sat on the review boards and heard the same old story about the “canned” programs they were willing to provide. After the last vendor was in and out in less than two months, the client finally agreed to have a proprietary program developed to reflect the tastes of the population of the building.
They agreed to hire me as their Food Architect and, working with the foodservice contractor and the government building taskforce, we came up with a plan that is now providing breakfasts and lunches to over 900 people a day at a check average 20% higher than ever before. This plan called for a complete hot breakfast, fresh-baked morning pastries and muffins, lunch
entrees with an ethnic twist, Asian (including sushi), Italian (including pizza) Hispanic and American comfort foods, salad, grain and sandwich bars, home-baked pies and cookies, pre-wrapped ice cream novelties and a fantastic catering menu which within the first 2 weeks, was able to attract a 600-person outside event.
All thanks to The Food Architect, you ask? Hardly! It was the collaboration of a team of knowledgeable and caring professionals with a passion for food—a client wanting to provide the best food possible for a reasonable price, a design architect who made the environment a most pleasant experience, a foodservice contractor who was keyed on great food and exemplary service and, yes, The Food Architect, who engineered the program and menus and also made sure that everyone delivered in a timely manner.
So, the next time that question is posed by a potential client, “Just who are you and what do you do?”, I won’t need the inspiration of the sun, surf and sand. Just four little words say it all… “I’m The Food Architect.”