My daughter’s social studies teacher hosted a cultural fair last spring where the kids could present their year-end country projects. The kids had worked in groups to create elaborate displays, learn facts and anecdotes, and even whip up samples of local cuisines. The teacher expected the cafetorium to be packed, so she asked parents to sign up to bring a variety of international dishes to feed the masses, potluck style. I volunteered to make cannoli.
Okay, stop right there. Before I go any further, let’s all agree to ignore the notion that I shouldn’t have waited till the last day to get things done. This story won’t be any good if you won’t at least give me that much. Deal?
On the day of the fair, I assembled my ingredients and made something close to a vat of cannoli filling. I had planned to buy the shells rather than make them myself, so around 3pm I took off for the grocery store.
My usual store didn’t carry them anymore. And neither did the next one. Or the next one. Or the next one. With three hours left till the cultural fair, I was out of luck and out of time.
No problem, I thought. I’m a resourceful person. I can figure this out.
And I did. Spying filled cannolis in the pastry case at my local Fresh Market, I asked the clerk if she would be willing to sell me some of the empty shells I knew they had in reserve.
I don’t know, she said. I wouldn’t know what to charge you.
Is there someone you can ask? I persisted.
Well, one bakery manager is at lunch, and the other one is on vacation, she replied, as if that were the end of the discussion.
Surely, I said, we can figure this out. There has to be someone in the store who can help. Please.
With a groan and a sigh, the clerk retreated. Several minutes later she picked up the phone and placed a call. After a round of hushed voices and furtive glances, she hung up the phone and returned to the counter.
Sorry, she said breezily, I can’t. And just like that, with no further explanation, she turned around and walked away.
I doubt the clerk has any idea what really transpired. Even in refusing to sell me the empty shells–I don’t believe she made anything resembling a valiant attempt on my behalf–and in purveying a haughty attitude about it, she wasn’t the one I resented. I resented Fresh Market. Perhaps she didn’t realize that everything she says and does while wearing her bakery duds and name tag represents the company. So how did she affect the store?
- Fresh Market lost a sale. They had the goods and I was willing to pay for them. A win-win turned into a lose-lose.
- Fresh Market ticked off a customer. I not only felt mistreated by the clerk by her annoyed demeanor and lack of concern, but I also felt as if I were being strong-armed into buying the filled cannoli. Which, by the way, I did not do.
- Other people heard of my dissatisfaction with Fresh Market. While I refrained from taking a scorched earth approach, I definitely shared my frustration with several of my friends. Negative word-of-mouth is not helpful to any business.
- Fresh Market lost future sales. Oh, I’ve shopped at Fresh Market several times since that day, but I have yet to pull out my wallet at the bakery case. I’ll get my sweet treats elsewhere for a bit longer.
Truthfully, I don’t really care about the cannoli shells (anymore), but I love the branding lesson here. It’s a great reminder that most often it isn’t the people in marketing who have the most impact on a brand–it’s the people talking to customers.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, I trashed the cannoli filling. The cultural fair got mini eclairs as my contribution, and my daughter got an A+ on her project.