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“Content” versus “Awesome”

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How do you get on Fox News, Huffington Post, Orlando Sentinel and the United Kingdom’s Telegraph?

Simple. Just do something remarkable.

That is exactly what Mira Winery did when they released a wine aged 60 ft. under the surface of the ocean. Based on the surprising quality of wines discovered in sunken ships, Mira set out to test the power of the ocean to improve their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

A much less interesting approach to publicity was on display at a session I attended for the wine industry. Well-paid professionals shared well-meaning opinions on the impact of PR calendars, social media posting frequency, and “content creation” in general. Only one of them suggested creating REAL content, stories that matter, stuff people will share with friends because it’s just that interesting.

What might you create that people won’t be able to stop sharing?

Christian

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Death of an Advertiser?

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This year, Rachel and I took the kids to a Christmas tree farm. I wasn’t familiar with the local options, so I turned to Facebook for recommendations. After a half dozen responses, several friends pointed to the same establishment, and we went on our way to cut a tree.

From the viewpoint of a small business owner, that’s a significant story. Why did we choose that specific Christmas tree farm? It was purely based on recommendations from friends. I had never heard of the place, or seen any advertisements for it. But I trusted that it was a good choice, and wasn’t disappointed.

Now, why did several people recommend the same place? It seems simplistic to say it, but it must be because they themselves were happy with the experience. And they were confident enough in the establishment to recommend it.

With that in mind, where would a small business in agriculture best put its customer-acquisition efforts? I don’t think the answer is yellow pages or advertising anymore. I would venture to say that the product (whether its bacon, apples or a tree-felling experience) is the key, now more than ever. I would suggest sampling ones own products (and the competition’s products), and surveying all the guests who do the same thing. (Most important survey question: Would you recommend us to a friend?)

Figure out how your products (experience) impact your customers (the good and the bad), and make them better. Once your brand clicks with your guests, it will spread like wildfire.

Christian

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The Farm in Alsted Mark

My great grandfather founded his family farm in the 1920’s in Alsted Mark, just outside Vonge, Denmark. There, 20 miles from Billund (later the birthplace of Lego Group in 1932), he and my great grandmother raised 7 of their children and an adopted son on 23 acres.

A few things strike me as interesting about this family-based case study:

First of all, the farm fed and financed the rearing of 8 children, meanwhile employing the two proprietors plus 2 male and 2 female apprentices, all on 23 acres. That’s 14 total people, or 1.6 acres per person.

Secondly, it was farmed according to organic principles, by default. (Nobody had considered chemical fertilizer until it became a by-product of bomb manufacturing during the Second World War.) Thus, fertility and bug control must have been supplied by the resident pigs, chickens and milk cows. In the same fashion, the operation never included a tractor; horsepower came from two Belgian beasts, obviously powered by grass. It’s fair to assume that the operation was also “carbon neutral.”

And lastly, little money was spent on education. That’s not to say that education wasn’t happening, only that it had a positive impact on cash flow instead of a negative one. Through a formal system of apprenticeship, young men and women could learn the trade under the guidance of a “master,” while performing valuable work.

The farm in Alsted Mark operated profitably this way at least until 1955, when my father remembers visiting as a youth. After that, my great grandfather sold it at a nice profit and retired to a job in town, brokering hogs at the Vejle Export Market.

While these observations obviously don’t translate directly to American culture in 2014, I find them interesting to dwell upon.

Christian

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Great Expectations

I had an enlightening incident with a major retailer last month. Let’s call them Walmart, and let’s say I placed an order for a children’s swimming pool using their site-to-store shipping option.

The confirmation email said the pool would arrive at my local Walmart after two weeks. That’s longer than Amazon. But, Walmart offered the item much cheaper, and that made it worth the wait. I was happy with the promise.

But, after two weeks, it hadn’t arrived. When I called customer service (an epic maze of phone robots), they said it hadn’t left yet. They promised instead to deliver it to my house in another two weeks. But, after two weeks, it again hadn’t arrived. It took an additional two days.

At first, I found all that very irritating. Then I began to consider why it was frustrating me. I thought, what if the retailer had promised delivery in five weeks, and then delivered in four? Would I have been angry then? Much less so. Why? Because it wasn’t really a matter of the time. It was a matter of trust. They made a promise, and they broke it.

Zappos.com, the world’s biggest shoe retailer, has learned this concept and flipped it around. Instead of promising a bit too much and then coming up short, they intentionally over-deliver. If you order a pair of shoes from Zappos.com, they will likely arrive faster than promised, by design. The result? Customers rave to their friends about the over-performance.

I think the lesson here is that meeting expectations builds trust, and trust keeps customers. Exceeding expectations builds trust even faster, and makes customers rave to all their friends.

Christian

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The Finest Burger in the World?

If you visit Queenstown, the self-proclaimed Outdoor Adventure Capital of New Zealand’s South Island, it won’t be long before a local or fellow visitor suggests that you eat at Fergburger.  Image

The person recommending the establishment will likely include the fact that Fergburger claims to serve the world’s finest hamburger, and the recommender will likely submit his or her opinion as to whether or not the claim is true: “yes they do,” or “no they do not” actually serve the world’s finest hamburger.  In my experience, there is no correlation between the likelihood of the dinner recommendation and the recommender’s personal opinion of the quality of the burger;  lovers and haters will both point you in the right direction to try it for yourself.

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Queenstown attracts 1.9 million visitors per year for skiing, biking and hiking in the mountains surrounding a giant, beautiful lake.  That’s not bad for a city of 16,000 people.  And most of the visitors seem to visit Fergburger.  Needless to say, the city and the burger place  do very well for themselves.

So how do the owners of Fergburger do such a fantastic job?  I don’t know them, so this is speculation, but here are a few observations from my own visit:

1.  Location. Fergburger is in a fabulous location in a fabulous town.  And why not?  If I were to start a burger joint, (or berry farm, or brew pub or equestrian center), shouldn’t I put it where the people are?  With 1.9 million tourists, its likely Fergburger would get some guests by pure chance.  And they increased the odds by setting up shop at the bottom of the gondola leading to Ben Lomond, Queenstown’s most significant hiking, skiing and biking trail.

2.  Basics.  Fergburger has a great staff, great ingredients and a classy interior.  They get you in and out in a hurry.  The restrooms are clean and the cook is smiling.  No failures on the basics inhibit the experience.

3.  Focus.  The moment Fergburger claims to have the world’s finest burger, something happens.  Hint: This is often what makes the difference between a good company and an extraordinary one.  Suddenly the staff has a focus.  The guests have a reason to visit.  The owners know where to invest.  “Do we spend money experimenting with new salads, or displaying modern art on the walls?  NO!  We make the world’s finest burger!”  And the only purpose of the restaurant is to connect the world with that magnificent fact.

Now for the burning question:  Does Fergburger actually serve the finest burger in the world?  That is a very personal matter, really.  In this humble farmer’s opinion, after scaling Ben Lomond to 5,300 ft. and landing back down at Ferg’s front door, the answer was definitely yes.

Christian

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Dream. Big.

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I was admittedly surprised when Ken Grossman called my cell phone.  I had sent him a few bottles of wine, with a polite letter asking for his input on a school assignment.  But I knew very well that the founding owner and CEO of America’s second largest craft brewery wouldn’t have time to connect with every college student who wanted his attention.  And yet, there he was:  “This is Ken at Sierra Nevada.  What did you want to talk about?”

The assignment for class was to profile a “sustainable business.”  Sierra Nevada is certainly that, with everything from solar panels and fuel cells to a hybrid Peterbilt, but what I really wanted to know was this:  How did Sierra Nevada, founded in 1980 along with hundreds of breweries during the same decade, create a mob-like following of consumers who now support production of one million barrels per year?  Fortunately for me, Mr. Grossman withheld little information on that topic.

What followed was a great business leader’s humble recollection of starting a company in a barn, and growing it into a national brand.  It included all the expected, the focus on hiring and retaining great people (the brewmaster is the original, the company’s second employee) and a quest for quality over profits and growth.  It included being at the right place at the right time.  (Have you ever noticed how great leaders take very little credit for success, almost as if they stumbled upon thousands of great decisions by pure luck?)

And then came the most interesting answer to a question I had hesitated to include.  “What would you do differently, Ken, if you were starting again with a small brewery at age 30?”  (He must have guessed that I had a personal connection with the question.)  “What would I do differently?”  He repeated the question.  “I would have dared to believe that Sierra Nevada could become what it is.  From the start, I didn’t believe it.  And so I didn’t plan for it.  If I had dared to dream it from the start, imagined that we would physically outgrow the block with buildings for the brewery, I would have planned it better from the start.”

Christian

http://www.SierraNevada.com

 

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4 Steps to a Second Career (Without Going Broke!)

Its a lot of fun to run a winery.  Its so much fun, in fact, that many are willing to run one at a loss.  The same goes for other industries, like hobby farms, breweries and coffee houses.  But most confess that living the dream is more fun if it doesn’t drain the retirement fund, and on that topic I learned some good wisdom from the owner of an excellent coffee house.  

Steve Hines had built a successful event-planning company by the time he and his wife Beth decided to start a coffee shop near their home in Gardner, Kansas.  I’ve known Steve for a long time, and know the idea behind Groundhouse Coffee was to unite the community (i.e., no profit motive).  But, as often happens when a company serves customers selflessly, it turned into a decent little business.  Naturally, I interrogated Steve over a cup of coffee.  

Here are the lessons learned on launching a second career:

1.  Scale according to your resources.  The Hines’ built the shop within their means, and left some cash available for operating expenses.  If they’d had less cash, they would have built it smaller.  There’s no reason to stretch; if the idea won’t work when its small, it likely won’t work when it gets bigger. 

2.  Plan.  Groundhouse Coffee existed on paper well before the couple bought the building and hired the staff.  Even if you’re self-funded, it’s a great idea to build a business plan on paper as if it were being offered to investors.  The process forces you to think it through, and paper is a lot cheaper than bricks. 

3.  Learn.  Steve read a lot about running a coffee shop.  He had visited a lot of coffee shops.  And when the place opened, he spent a lot of time in his own coffee shop.  Its also a good idea to take a part-time job or volunteer position in the industry you want to join.  It’s easy to get a job when you offer to work for free, and the lessons learned from the “inside” are well worth the effort. 

4.  Borrow some talent.  Knowing that he didn’t know everything about running a coffee shop, Steve recruited somebody that did: a former manager from Starbucks.  He wisely got her on board from the beginning, so the plan could take shape with her input.  

If you ever find yourself visiting Kansas City, stop by Groundhouse.  It is, in my humble opinion, the finest coffee house atmosphere available in the United States.   http://www.groundhousecoffee.com

Image  Christian   

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