To build a great company, you need passion and focus. A smart way to get both is for people to have some skin in the game. We’re talking about people who invest their own money into the enterprise. They are owners. The franchising model is a fantastic example.
A few weeks back, I talked to Boston Pizza’s annual franchisee conference in San Diego. In front of me was a room full of people who had made their own business decision to be part of the Boston Pizza franchise and were reaping the rewards. Sales for 2008 were up 9 percent over 2007. Boston Pizza is No. 1 in Canada with 325 casual dining restaurants and counting. It’s also making headway in the U.S. This is a substantial business built restaurant by restaurant, community by community. The founders, Jim Treliving and George Melville, were at the heart of the conference. They seemed to know everyone and everyone certainly knew them. There was a great sense of family inspiring the event, with partners' kids and grandkids in the front rows. Sometimes conference themes can seem imposed from the outside. This one came straight out of what matters most to Boston Pizza: how to be the best you can be. Immediately I felt at home. Malcolm Gladwell was on the bill too, and it was great to meet up and share a lively Q&A session talking about his new book, Outliers, and to listen to his great stories.
The restaurant business is competitive but it can flourish in tough times if it has true empathy with what customers want from the experience. I said to the franchisees that the Lovemarks challenge is to discover motivating and relevant insights so they can connect more effectively, more deeply, and more emotionally with their customers. One of the big challenges is right at the frontline. Service. How do you coach your people to not just deliver efficient service (the right food and drink to the right people in the timeframe they expect), but how to make people feel welcome, talk to them, anticipate their needs, make your service part of a bigger and more meaningful experience. It's the environment, menu, atmosphere, and people - elements that make a restaurant popular – and popular is good!
The Boston Pizza family care about their customers, they care about tangibles that win Respect like distribution and process, they care about the intangibles – Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy. Those three may seem out of left field for a pizza company, but left field is where ideas and passion are.