Thursday, October 07, 2004

Business Philosophy 101

I have long held the belief that most businesses that succeed are successful IN SPITE of what they do, not because of it.

Take Wendy's for instance. I worked for Wendy's for about a year right out of high school. They had a pretty simple plan and executed it well. There was only one register on the front counter, but that wasn't a problem, since the goal was that by the time the customer had ordered and paid and walked to the other end of the counter, their order would be ready. And the majority of the time that was the case. On the drive through, the goal was to not have any car at the window longer than 30 seconds. The menu consisted of burgers, fries, chili, frosties and drinks. (The only reason chili was on the menu is that's how they used the meat that had either been on the grill too long and was too dry or meat that had been cooked but not served at the time the restaurant closed. The meat was boiled, chopped and made into chili, keeping the losses from spoilage low.) It was simple and it worked. They had a good reputation for delivering hot burgers fast and their employees were proud that they could meet the high service standards set by the company. So, naturally, they began expanding the menu, first with a salad bar, then chicken sandwiches, then chicken nuggets. Until finally, they were just like every other "fast" food joint trying to have something for everyone and doing none of it well. Today Wendy's have multiple registers on the front counter, are as slow as Christmas, and seem to employee people with that ever-popular "I hate working here" attitude. It still bothers me (just a little) when I go there to see what Wendy's has become. No question that it is a much bigger and more successful chain than when I worked there, but I contend that the original concept was too good to mess up and was resilient enough to survive management's efforts to drive it into the ditch.

Case two is Marconi Hut (not the real name), which I will not say too much about (for several reasons), but will say that it also was too good of a concept to have fail in spite of everything that's been done to it.

And now, I may have discovered case three. Our home ISP is CompuServe (an off-brand of AOL, by the way - same company). We had been using AOL (happily, I might add), but when we went to purchase a new PC some years back, discovered we could get $300 off by signing up with CompuServe instead, even though it's the same company. Hmmmm. That was a tough decision...where do I sign? And so we've been with CompuServe ever since - even though the last year or so, they've been hot and heavy to have us switch over to AOL (I think they're trying to retire the CS brand), but I've resisted because I don't want to switch email addy's again (well that, plus I just have a little bit of "stick it to the man" in me that makes me naturally resist doing what they want - too many "in order to serve you better" lies over the years to fall for another one). Anyway, CS has been hitting my charge card religiously every month for years. So consistent were they, that a while back, I ceased paying attention and so didn't notice that they haven't charged me for service since last December.

My credit card account had not changed in any way. For some mysterious reason the folks at CS just stopped taking their money. Now, what do you think a big company like CS (AOL) would do with an account that all of a sudden stopped paying (even though I hadn't really stopped, they did)? Maybe send them an EMAIL asking what the problem was or asking for new credit card info or something like that? I mean, they ARE my ISP and should have my email address handy, after all. But no, of course not. Instead, you wait nine or ten months and then just TURN THE ACCOUNT OFF WITHOUT NOTICE.

Naturally.

Anyway, they didn't delete our account, just suspended it. Mrs. A called them on Tuesday and gave them the new credit card info and now everything's fine. But it doesn't seem to me to be a smart way to run a business.

I'm just sayin'.

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