When Employees Outshine the Brand

Unexpected News

Today, we left our local Starbucks full of complicated and mixed emotions. We were told that this store will be closing mid-January due to low traffic volume and uncharacteristically high rent. Sigh.

I’ve been bringing my daughter to this Starbucks since she was 15 months old. She’ll be turning three years old this week. She asks for the baristas by name. She gets upset if we visit a different location. She misses the people. She loves them. They are as much a part of her life as the members of our church.

But that local business family will evaporate from our lives in less than thirty days. I don’t blame Starbucks, really. I understand the principle of ROI. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Each employee we’ve come to know and love will be scattered to different corners of the mid-cities. We might see one or two of them a couple times a year going forward. But it saddens me to know my daughter will have one less home away from home as she gets older.

Before you suggest that we pick the next closest Starbucks as our new home, save your breath. I’ve visited every store multiple times within a ten mile radius and none of them come close to having the same level of friendliness and personality.

So while my children will likely hold a special place for Starbucks in their hearts, our local store cannot be replaced.

Unexpected Kindness

EXHIBIT A: We just received a Christmas  card this morning from the Starbucks staff. One of them drew a very cute snowman on the front and they all wished my daughter a happy birthday as well. What can I say? These are people every company wants to hire.

EXHIBIT B: Looking back, it was obvious that they were made of a different ilk. From Day One, I saw Erica (spelling?) intentionally remembering the names of her customers. By the third weekend we visited, she knew my name, my daughter’s name, and what I like to drink. That’s impressive.

EXHIBIT C: Did I mention the time we hadn’t been to “our” Starbucks in a month and Katie cried because she missed Erica and Brian? She begged me to go back to see them. I dropped in one day without her and told Brian what she said. He volunteered to come in early in the morning ON HIS DAY OFF just to see her. And he did. He sat down and talked with me, my dad, and my daughter for at least an hour.

Now, I realize that these aren’t company policies, and most nationwide organizations aren’t going to ask their employees to invest in their customers’ lives. But these people have, and they make a difference. I feel rich, knowing that every Saturday morning I can take my daughter somewhere safe where she will not be considered a pest. In fact, they’ll fuss over her and compliment her clothing and engage her in conversation.

Yeah… I have no idea what I’m going to do when they close this store. I may have to track them down at their respective stores just to keep my baby girl happy. She loves her people.

The Moral of the Story

I want to see these people rewarded for the way they give and care about others. And since I can’t depend on a corporation to take note, I will do something about it myself. I will show them in some small way that I appreciate the fact that they did far more than cast a charming spotlight upon their brand and their employer. They became a part of our community.

And that, my friends, is how you win. At business, and at life.

Toyota and Ford: A Tale of Two Automakers

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Toyota is unsurprisingly in some seriously hot water.

But in the 2010 study, Toyota was rated below average, falling to 21st place from seventh the year before, and trailed several U.S. nameplates it has traditionally bested, including Ford, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Lincoln.

Toyota’s reputation was damaged when some of their cars were found to have dangerous defects, including gas pedals that stick and cause cars to uncontrollably accelerate. The company was slow to act, thus causing even greater damage to a previously blameless name. Eight million recalled cars later, you might have guessed that Toyota is no longer the bastion of quality.

The #1 complaint that will stick against Toyota is that executives knew about the problems and did nothing about it because to recall wouldn’t be profitable. Any time a company chooses profitability over customer safety, they WILL fail. I don’t think all Toyota cars are poorly made. In fact, I would still drive one. But I certainly don’t esteem the company as I once did. My sentiment has shifted back towards my old faithful but less publicized love, Honda.

Ford, on the other hand, has taken a major leap forward in public opinion. By refusing to accept government bailout money, Ford differentiated itself among American automakers as one willing to risk failure without spending the people’s money. Speaking from personal experience, I know that this decision caused me to look much more favorably upon Ford and caused a greater mark of distinction in my mind between Ford and GM.

I’ve bought Hondas and Toyotas and Nissans exclusively since my 2nd car. While I certainly understand the public outcry against Toyota, I think they will recover if they play their cards well.

But kudos to Ford for finding a way to stand head and shoulders above other American car companies, certainly earning them the moniker: the choice of the common man.

Lesson Learned

The best defense is a good offense. In other words, good companies have good reputations.