Another 5 Lessons From the Grocery Store

    This is a supplement to an article I wrote titled "What I Learned at the Grocery Store". These additional "lessons" occurred about a month after the first article I wrote, on another trip to our favorite grocery store, which has twelve competitors closer to us and yet we drive past all twelve other grocery stores to get to this one.

    Conveying Your Passion Increases Sales - The guy who sells coffee gave me a free sample (always a good idea on many levels) then he started describing his favorite coffees that had arrived. True coffee connoisseurs (I'm told) don't drink flavored coffee. But I like hazelnut coffee and that's what I always buy. I like the smell and flavor of the coffee. I don't add cream, sweetener, or any flavoring. I drink it straight from the pot so I prefer a gourmet, flavored coffee.

    I'm a little bit embarrassed to tell the guy this because I've read "Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time" by Howard Schultz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks. I know that "real" coffee drinkers can discern the difference between beans grown in various regions of the world and find flavorings that I enjoy to be a sign of a novice.

    But the kid never bats an eye, never even grins. He just enthusiastically rushes to the flavored section and asks "Have you tried Taste of San Antonio? It has a nutty flavor like Hazelnut, but it's flavored with pecans. And there's a slight hint of cinnamon." Well, I had tried it before and liked it, but wasn't interested in that. I wanted my hazelnut. But the guy wasn't trying to SELL me something. He was just passionately sharing something he loved.

    So we sat there and talked about a few different flavors for a while and then I started to measure out some hazelnut.

    "I'll be happy to grind that for you, but just so you know, we have bags of Hazelnut pre-ground and ready to go. They're right here. So next time you come in, you don't have to wait if you don't want to. It's the same price either way."

    He wasn't trying to sell me something. He was legitimately trying to help me with what I already wanted and to show me new ways of making my life easier and more efficient; new ways of purchasing from him and his company.

    But before leaving I saw a coffee called Taste of Houston (yeah, I know, made with real motor oil and flavored with a hint of smog and mosquito poison, and the extra caffeine has your heart pounding just like you've been car-jacked). I read the real description and it actually sounded rather interesting. So I measured out a little bit to get a good smell of the beans. It also had a hint of pecans (that's our state tree in Texas) but also had other flavors that recognized our almost 600 miles of seashore including a hint of coconut.

    Why not? So I bought a pound and a half of this, in addition to my pound of Hazelnut. Why? In retrospect, I think it had something to do with this kid's passion for coffee. He shook me out of my routine with our conversation and it opened my mind to trying something new. And the coffee is really good, by the way.

    Price is ALWAYS relative - When our production company sells a birthday party (our least expensive offering), our fee might be expensive compared to other magicians or puppeteers, or it might be very cheap compared to taking every kid at the party to a live theater. A good trade show magician might be expensive compared to a flashing sign, but it might be very cheap compared to the five multi-million-dollar deals that walk past the booth because nothing grabbed their attention and made them listen to the pitch you had to offer.

    This was brought home on this visit to my store when I noticed a jar of caviar. Of course, caviar is very expensive. Only rich people eat caviar. This tiny jar, I'm sure must have cost $50 or $100.

    But in fact, caviar is only expensive when you compare it to something like spaghetti sauce, beans, or peanut butter. For what it is (a condiment that actually goes a long way) it is really rather cheap. The 2 oz. jar I saw cost less than $8. And for eight dollars I decided to take it home and eat it. Every night for the past week I've been eating caviar on crackers with a nice (but relatively inexpensive) glass of merlot. It's amazing what that can do for a person's self-image. Try it. It's less than fifty cents a night. You really CAN afford caviar!

    Of course, the real lesson is that you can probably raise your prices with very little resistance as long as you don't compare yourself or your prices to your direct competitors, but rather to other replacement options. Let's face it: there are MANY parents who don't hire entertainment for a birthday party because it is much cheaper to play "Pin the Tail on the Donkey". Likewise, there are event planners who won't pay for a speaker because they can get someone in-house to speak for free. But when the real costs are examined, most serious planners (whether for a child's birthday party or a major convention) will opt for a more expensive alternative when the real value is made clear.

     Attitude Makes ALL the Difference - The store I write about has a café where you can get all sorts of really nice foods and eat right there in the store. We decided to eat lunch there but there was quite a line. Still, we were enjoying ourselves and so the line didn't bother us. The two people behind the counter were busy, quickly filling orders and graciously thanking patrons as they left. There was a bounce in their step and they both acted as if they really enjoyed the hectic pace, like it was a game to see how quickly they could serve everyone.

    But not in a rushed way. They were not on a mission to clear the line. They were on a mission to serve everyone in the line in a way that made everyone happy. So they answered questions, provided descriptions of food items, listed options, and anything else that was asked of them, even offering taste samples of various items. The wait was long, but enjoyable.

    While I was there, standing in line, I suddenly remembered an incident that happened two weeks prior when I went into a corner market to get breakfast. This is a place that I've stopped before, but on this particular morning there was a long line of people. My first thought was "You can tell this place is good, because they have people waiting in line to get served."

    But I wasn't in line very long at all before I realized that neither of the people behind the counter was actually serving anyone. Instead they were very slowly moving food items from one area to another, carefully retying apron strings, slowly walking to check cash register receipt-tape feeds, and other tasks that had nothing to do with service and everything to do with ignoring the line of people with money in their hand who wanted the food behind the counter. I can only assume that the people behind the counter would like to exchange the food and get the money instead, but you couldn't tell it by their lack of enthusiasm.

    So I left, and I vowed never to eat there again.

    But here I was waiting in a line for MUCH longer than I stood in that line and I was enjoying it, while the other line caused me so much resentment that I vowed off eating there ever again. What was the difference? Clearly it was the attitude of the staff.

    I pondered that it might be better to act fast and be slow, than to act slow even if you are really fast. The perceived attitude makes all the difference.

    People Prefer to do Business with those they Know, Like and Trust - Okay, this one I didn't actually learn at the grocery store. I've been speaking and writing about this reality for a very long time. But it was driven home to me when we were checking out. The clerk was making small talk with us. The topics were mundane, but it was interesting that he was taking the time to talk with us at all. Most clerks go through their daily routines with an eye on the clock.

    But this guy struck up a conversation about some of the things we were buying, then asked if we were going to go somewhere for the weekend and on with this sort of small-talk chatter.

    Then, just before ringing up the last few items, almost as if it were an after thought, and even a little bit like he was joking, he pointed to a display of toothbrushes and asked "You want a toothbrush. They're on sale for just 99¢". And my wife bought one!

    Which leads me to the next lesson learned...

    They'll never say "Yes" if you don't ASK!" - Dress it up as a joke. Mention it casually. Work it into the conversation. But for goodness sake: ASK! If you want the booking ASK! "Can I go ahead and put you down for next Saturday at 6 PM?". If you want the sale ASK! "Are you ready to bring this boat home and start spending weekends on the lake making lifetime memories with the family?"

    There are a thousand ways to ask, from the obvious, to strategic sales techniques like the "Two Options Close" where you ask "Would you prefer Saturday at 6 PM or would Sunday afternoon work better for you?"

    But the real key is to ask.

About the Author: Julian Franklin is one of America's leading marketing consultants, a top behavior modification specialist, and author who develops creative ways to stimulate growth in your business. He has authored more than 20 books on human behavior, marketing, professional development, and personal accomplishment. He is frequently invited to speak on these topics as well. For more information, including the opportunity to subscribe to his free monthly e-newsletter, you can visit

© 2009 Julian Franklin Productions, Inc.