Feel the love–Carlo’s part 2

karaandbuddyFollowing up on last week’s post, Fran the man, my two-hour wait at Carlo’s Bakery was rife with examples of good business. If you’ll indulge me one more time, I promise this will be my last Carlo’s story.

This is a tale of customer service.

When my kids and I first arrived at Carlo’s, we saw a long line in front of a CVS on the other side of the cross street. The line in front of Carlos’s itself, however, looked fairly reasonable. Given that there were about half a block of open space and a cross street between the two lines, I shrugged off the disconnected tail and hopped into the part in front of the bakery itself.

My kids and I stood quietly for a few minutes and snapped a few pictures before we started talking to the people in front of us. That’s when we learned that we needed to go to the end of the other part of the line, the part that wasn’t disconnected after all. We made our way unfazed down the block; we figured it had been too good to be true.

Once we settled into our rightful spot at the back of the line, we learned how it worked. Periodically, a Carlo’s employee would make his way down the line, handing numbered tickets to each person or group who would be purchasing something. (For example, I received one ticket for my kids and me, since the pocketbook was mine-all-mine. We would have gotten individual tickets if they had intended to make separate purchases. Fat chance of that.) We couldn’t get into the store without these tickets, and we had to wait our turn until our number appeared on the “Now Serving” message board.

Besides keeping things orderly, what this really accomplished was to eliminate line jumpers. If we had stayed in our original location, we wouldn’t have gotten into the store anyway. No ticket, no entry. Once we understood how it worked, I could let down my hyper vigilant sense of righteousness and not worry about people getting in front of me; it wouldn’t do them any good.

The guys who handed out the tickets were very pleasant and especially patient. They tirelessly answered the same questions over and over again. They never stopped smiling, and their enthusiasm seemed genuine. They knew that our collective desire to wait in line, crowd into the store, and make outrageous purchases of pastries meant job security for them.

So did the people behind the counter. Questions such as, How often does Buddy come in? Is Buddy here? Where are the sisters? Is it always this busy? pummeled them from open to close. They answered every one and never seemed to melt in frustration. They clearly understood that they were there because we were there. The small bake shop may have been crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people, but the overall mood was good, perhaps because we all felt appreciated and valued.

I found some outstanding object lessons here: make customers comfortable, address their concerns, answer their questions, act happy to see them. WIthout their Cake Boss fans, Carlo’s becomes just another local bakery.

In any business, we NEED our customers. Spending more time making them comfortable, addressing their concerns, answering their questions, and acting happy to see them shows that we appreciate them–and helps keep them as customers. What strikes me as odd is that intuitive as this seems, I’m always amazed when it actually happens. That tells me it doesn’t happen enough.

Fran the man

cake bossLast week was spring break, and despite my daughter’s protests that “it didn’t sound exotic enough” (that’s a quote), I took my kids to New York City to get a taste of the Big Apple. My son, a huge fan of the TLC show Cake Boss, immediately recognized the city’s proximity to New Jersey and campaigned for a jaunt to Hoboken as part of our adventure. Two trains and a short walk later, we stood in front of Carlo’s Bakery, home of Buddy Valastro the Cake Boss.

A few hundred other people stood in front of Carlo’s, too. Enough to make for a two-hour wait on the sidewalk. Even so, my kids enthusiastically confirmed that they indeed wanted to wait for the chance to get inside the shop; seeing it from the street wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, the weather was good and the people around us were pleasant, so we settled in to wait.

Not long into our confectionery odyssey, I looked up to see a man methodically working his way down the line, group by group. When he got to us, he explained that he worked for Fran’s Italian Deli, a local establishment that offered great sandwiches on the world’s best homemade Italian bread, cold drinks, and free delivery. In fact, he said as he handed us a menu on which he had written his cell number, he would be happy to deliver to us in line. As incentive, he added a discount code to the menu. I thanked him and told him I appreciated his inventiveness, and he moved to the next group of people.

Shortly after he left, I saw this man come back, this time with food. As the line progressed–the wait really was two hours long–I saw him several more times, passing out menus and delivering snacks, sandwiches, and cold drinks to my fellow Carlo’s groupies.

I loved it.

Here was a guy who didn’t bemoan a long line of people waiting to go to somewhere else. He didn’t begrudge the success of a fellow businessman and grumble, Why can’t this be me? Instead, he saw an opportunity, and he capitalized on it. He got creative, and instead of bringing people to his business, he brought his business to them. He assessed their needs and figured out how to address them in a way that meant success for everyone. It gave the people in line something to do, satisfied hungry bellies and thirsty mouths without forcing people to lose their places in line, and it gave the cash coffers of Fran’s Italian Deli an upward bump.

Now contrast this scene with a couple of the other storefronts along the same sidewalk. Employees from those businesses periodically came outside to shoo us waiters away from their doors to accommodate customers who might want to come in. Instead of seeing a potential audience, they saw a definite nuisance. What a missed opportunity.

As the guy from Fran’s realized, opportunities abound. Go out and get them.