“The Wow Factor!”

Frequent readers know that I am constantly stating that we learn our best marketing lessons when we look outside our own industry. I was reminded of this again this week when reading of the passing of Allen Bernstein, former CEO of Morton’s Steakhouse. He was the chief architect of their expansion from one Chicago location to 77 locations worldwide with sales of nearly $300 million last year.

Morton’s became famous for bringing raw steaks, live lobsters and giant vegetables to the table for the customer to pick their own meal. Mr. Bernstein called this the “wow factor!” “The food business to me is like show business”, he once told Newsday. Anyone who’s ever eaten at Morton’s understands. What I was surprised to learn was that he was also involved in other more pedestrian food franchises as varied as Long John Silver’s and Wendy’s.

The lesson here is that he knew that there was money to be made at each end of the spectrum – just not under the same roof. Attempting to do so would only serve to devalue his top of the line offerings while confusing the customer. It seems almost laughable to sell a 16 oz. filet on the same menu as a Frosty, or a freakishly large baked potato alongside a fish filet sandwich. Yet isn’t that exactly what many flooring retailers attempt to accomplish? They will display wool carpet within only a few feet of an olefin berber. You want vinyl tile? We’ve got it. Prefer cork flooring? Just turn around! Is it any wonder that many customers seem confused?

In many ways, the food business is not that dissimilar from our own. They are both highly competitive. Their successes both hinge on preparation (cook vs. installer) and presentation (dining room vs. showroom). A box of tile is no more a beautiful floor than a bag of flour is a loaf of bread!

Take a good look around your showroom as if you had never been in the store before. Does it look like you’re in “show business”? Does your staff both look and act as if they were “on stage”? Can you easily find your store’s “wow factor”? If you can, congratulations! If not, it’s a good bet that your customer can’t either!

Tom Jennings

Tuesday, November 8, 2011