By Bruce Hodes, CEO of CMI Teamwork Chicago and author of “Front Line Heroes“
The New Mexican light is sharply bright with deep dark shadows at three in the afternoon on this June day. After a moderate hike in the foot hills of Sandilla Mountain I was famished. So was my niece Linda and her friend Denise. “I have heard of a good burger place with green Chile burgers but not I’m sure where it is”, Denise said. We’re not sure what a green Chile burger is and all agree to go find one. We begin our journey back to Albuquerque.
Eyes peeled we pass modern gas stations and Navajo type malls. Very touristy. Then there was this place – standing by itself, all alone. A faded dirty pink stucco building with a flat roof. I did not even see the unlit neon sign off to the side which read: Burger Boy.
There were a lot of cars parked to the side and out front in a dusty dirt lot. Cars were parked every which way a disorganized fashion. The five Harleys by the front door caught my eye. Bikers always know the good places to eat. It was hot and there were lots of people placidly sitting out front. Nobody had any food. ‘Not a good sign’, I thought.
This place had not been touched since 1959. It was diner awful. A faded ugly pink, off-white tile and linoleum covered counters and chairs that were antiques from the fifties. I looked around, saw the inside is almost full and we take the next to last table. It’s a diverse crowd that dines at Burger Boy. The bald biker, the native New Mexican family with two boys. An Anglo mom and teen daughter dressed to the nines took the last table by the door. Not a lot of people eating though. Hmmm…
We join the line at the counter where you order and then they bring your food to you. In front of us in line is a buff looking white guy, wearing the dark green uniform of the Forestry Service. He has military haircut, Kevlar vest and a gun. A Smokey the bear with a Kevlar vest and a gun. It is the day of the Orlando Massacre and I reflect on the state of the country.
A classic diner wall sign complete with the classic Coca Cola brand displays the menu. Some of the menu items have no price listed. The woman taking the order looked like a crone witch from Macbeth. Instead of casting a spell she engaged us in witty conversation. She was so nice and chatty. She had all the time in the world.
Burger Boy indeed has a green Chile burger. Yes, please, we order and take our seat back with the rest of the diners. I had a view of the kitchen. The cooks and servers were diverse. Two teen boys, a guy in his seventies and then a bunch of bustling farm wife looking women were all behind the linoleum counter. It was all slow – very slowww. I resigned myself to a long and tedious wait for lunch.
“How can I make it up to you?” The woman standing to my left asked. That caught my attention. Here was another Macbeth crone witch addressing the New Mexican family. She must be a great grandmother in her eighties. Something had apparently gone awry with the service. I never did find out what it was but it caused this woman to show up. She then continued, “Please let me make it up to you. How about an ice cream or malt?” The parents demurred and said they were fine but the teen boy’s faces noticeably brightened. They settled on a couple of milk shakes.
If you think about it, this was a pretty sophisticated customer service approach. Instead of insisting on a free dessert or something else she asked the customers to decide and ponder how she could make it up to them. This genius then asked for the customers input so that she could really provide what mattered and would make a difference. At the same time, she also insured that she did not over-deliver or waste product or services. Pretty smooth.
Our food arrived and looked and smelled delicious. It was delicious we discover and all agree on as we dig in. The Grandmother in her bright turquoise blouse returns and ask us how our food is. We all enthusiastically say great. I engage with her. She is the owner, her name is Kathy and she has been doing this for thirty years. When I asked her about the interaction with the table next to us Kathy’s first sentence is; “We are very blessed.” This was followed by; “You have to treat people right and we grind our own meat, everything is prepared fresh and to order.” Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Kathy continues: “We have put many children and grandchildren through college from this place. They have all worked here. Over there is our minister’s son who just said to me, ‘Grandma thanks for the job’.” As she reflects on the success of the restaurant she repeats her mantra; “We are very blessed.”
Kathy goes on to relate that Burger Boy is at odds with the federal authorities. It is built too close to the road, the fans aren’t right and the parking lot is out of regulation. “I am grandfathered in,” she says, “but there are still problems. I am not sure anyone will be able to take it over – we will see,” she says, and her eyes twinkle.
Here we are, in a restaurant that has differentiated itself with good food, friendly and responsive customer service and an owner that cares and is involved. All this took me by surprise. I had been fooled by my presuppositions. My thoughts were, dilapidated place, lots of people, no food and it is going to be a bad experience.
Burger Boy rocks and is a success. Kathy has taken things that I have been preaching for years and demonstrates the power of having a good product, surrounded by attention and attentive service. Yes, you wait for your meal, but everything is made to order. That is part of the deal. With that said Kathy is concerned that her customers have a good experience. She walks her talk and has clearly built a following and a reputation.
So the take away for small business is BE THE REAL DEAL. You do not have to have the fanciest décor – old dilapidated coke signs will do. Your parking lot can be dusty. You do not have to have the quickest food turnaround – but you do have to have good food. Have a product that people want – green Chile burgers.
If things go wrong make it right for your customer. Have a culture that employees want to be a part of. At Burger Boy people who work there have been there for thirty years and still loving it. Build your business this way using the “Kathy Method” and they, the customers, will come.
Since growing up in his family’s boating business to founding his company CMI, Bruce Hodes has dedicated himself to helping companies grow by developing executive leadership teams, business leaders and executives into powerful performers. Bruce’s adaptable Breakthrough Strategic Business Planning methodology has been specifically designed for small-to-mid-sized companies and is especially valuable for family company challenges. In February of 2012 Bruce published his first book “Front Line Heroes“.