Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Opening Soon - Are You Crazy?

There is a restaurant on my daily running route that I have noticed under construction for the last six months or so.  It’s a new build, from what I have seen, which is to say that it isn’t one of those oh so typical situations where someone is going in to take over the location of the last restaurant that failed, minimizing their investment, given the presumption that there is already a kitchen, a bar, etc…

Any of you that have been involved in construction know that the cost to take a shell of a building, and then add everything required, to turn it into a functioning restaurant (or Hotel) is considerable.  It’s probably 10 times more expensive than taking over a failed location, throwing a fresh coat of paint on the walls, making a few other improvements, slapping on some signage and announcing your new concept to the world.

For months now I have been running past this location, taking note of the construction, the various trade vehicles coming and going, and like many others, I have been wondering what is coming, and, when it would open.

Just to put this into further perspective, I should tell you that this restaurant is not located in the heart of the business or tourist district.  It is on a busy street with strong vehicular traffic, and I would guess, little foot traffic on an ongoing basis. 

A couple of months ago now I noticed that they had placed several large banners on the building that said “opening soon,” leaving me to wonder just how soon they would be opening.  I’ve seen instances where owners have erected signage such as this six months or even a year before the location was scheduled to open, hoping to create awareness in the community, a curiosity, a level of anticipation.

My question was answered, at least partially, today, when I ran passed the restaurant and saw that the brown paper was down from the windows, the interior appeared to be largely completed, and, the most telling sign – the bar was fully stocked.  

Presumably, this restaurant will open within days, in the latter half of December, which leads me to wonder one thing about the owner – is he or she rich, or crazy, or both? 

Why, in heavens name, would you open a restaurant just after everyone has done their pre-Christmas entertaining, and spending, and just as those same people are about to go into their annual self-imposed freeze on spending, while they assess the damage from Christmas and sit around calculating how long it is going to take to get their credit cards back under control.

No one is spending money in January, or at least not on discretionary items like dinner out with family and friends.  How could someone not know that?

I was involved with a company once; where I was brought on to open a Hotel, among other things.  When I first arrived I was told by the owner that he wanted to open the Hotel in November of that same year, and my immediate question was why?

Why would you want to open at a time when business is historically slow for the destination and remains slow until probably April or May when things traditionally pick-up?

Why would you want to endure months of negative cash flow, high labour costs, made even higher by the fact that you would be open over Christmas and New Year’s, requiring you to pay additional statutory wage costs, and on and on? 

It made no sense – a point that I was able to make clear after producing several budgets for the owner, based on opening at different times, and of course taking into account that there were still financing costs that needed to be taken into consideration, if we delayed opening as I was suggesting.  Regardless, it was clear that the right answer was to delay opening, which we did, resulting in a very successful, and appropriately profitable, first year of operations.

So, back to the new restaurant opening in my neighbourhood.  Do they know something that I don’t?  Have they found the secret to opening in a mediocre location, at a time of year when everyone is curtailing their spending? 

Or, has the owner got deep pockets?  I sure hope so, because in as much as I do not want to see anyone go out of business, I cannot help but think that these people have set themselves up with a significant challenge as they open their doors and try to make it in the fiercely competitive restaurant business.

Statistics show that 80% of all new restaurants do not survive past their second anniversary.  In North America, restaurant failure rates are much higher simply because most are under-capitalized and in many instances owners or managers fail to understand all aspects of the business. 

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Happiest Place in the World

I know what you’re probably expecting, based on that headline, but no, this is not a story about Disneyland or Disney World – but admittedly this is my pre-Christmas “feel good” article.

Granted, that Walt Disney was no dummy, and most people, if asked, would say that Disneyland or Disney World are the happiest places on earth.

I’m not here to try and argue the point – Disneyland and Disney World are unique products with unprecedented levels of success.

However, for me, my personal happy place is a Hotel, most any full-service Hotel in most any major city around the world.

I love everything thing about a Hotel, and it makes me happy, instantly I might add, to step inside of a busy full-service Hotel and come face-to-face with everything that makes for a great Hotel experience.

I’ve known for a very long time now that I was destined to work in the Hospitality business, and specifically, in Hotels, and that point is never clearer to me than when I walk into a Hotel that I have not been in before for the first time.

I can feel a warm smile cross my face and I have an almost overwhelming sensation that I am home again, no matter where I might actually be in the world. 

At that point, I become aware of the cleanliness of the lobby, the attention to detail in the layout, the furnishings, all things physical.

Simultaneously, I become aware of the many conversations taking place, between staff and guests, guest to guest, and amongst the staff.

There is a steady and consistent buzz in the lobby as everyone is set on their individual course, they all have their own priorities, and for the most part, all are indifferent to the activities and conversations of the other groups, but it all works.

To the lay person it must look like controlled chaos at times, but I see it for what it is; a symphony, where everyone in the orchestra knows their respective part and instinctively goes about their tasks with a harmony and efficiency that is rarely seen in other business environments.

A Hotel is a truly special place.

And the only thing that makes me happier than being in a Hotel that creates that positive environment that you sense as soon as you cross the threshold, is being the “orchestra leader” in that scenario.

I’m always so proud of my team when I can see them in action, sense their confidence as they each do what they do and know best, and support each other in pursuit of a common goal – to create consistently exceptional guest experiences, different, special and unique to each and every guest that we have the privilege to come in contact with, but exceptional nonetheless.

It may not be Disneyland, but Disneyland is not for everyone.  

Everyone should be so lucky as to find their true calling – to live their dream.  

It reminds me of a great quote that I was recently exposed to – regrettably I do not know the author.

“A person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labour and their leisure, their mind and their body, their education and their recreation, their love and their religion.  They hardly know which is which and simply pursue their vision of excellence and grace, whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing.  To them, they are always doing both.”

When you do what you love, you do not think of it as “work.” 

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Value - One of "the" Buzz Words of 2010

Value became one of “the” buzz words for 2010 and I suspect that it is with us for a while yet.

It seems that every Hotel company came to recognize the importance of value to their customers in 2010 and worked to position themselves against their competitors as providing better, or more, value than their competitors.

It certainly served to ramp up competition, and I suspect, get many Hoteliers to examine what their value proposition was, and once they figured that out, how to creatively and effectively communicate that point to their prospective customers.

The big winner in the chase for customer dominance has to be the customer themselves.

Every time they turn around, another company is trying to court them and to entice them with yet another perk for choosing to stay with them over their competitor.

But I believe something has gotten lost in this fast-paced race between Hoteliers.

As they have been busy trying to one up each other, many of them have somehow managed to (incorrectly) translate value into “cheaper is better” and they have devalued their product and experience, along with their competitors, along the way.

Value can be an elusive target, and it means something different to everyone.

I have found myself paying $300.00 or more for a dinner for two and left feeling very happy, very satisfied, and, feeling like I got great value for my dollar, based on my expectations, and, my overall positive experience.  

How much it cost never crossed my mind, because my expectations were exceeded and I had an exceptional experience.

Conversely, I have gone out for lunch for two and spent $50.00 and left feeling entirely ripped off.  Food was mediocre, service was largely the same, and my overall experience was one of aggravation and frustration.

How much it didn’t cost was not the issue.

What was the issue was the impact of the overall negative experience.

Therein lies my point; you can’t put a price on value.

And if you can’t put a price on value, then it’s entirely possible that all you are doing is unnecessarily discounting on your product and experience, and, you’re leaving money on the table.

The one, and only, company that I have seen that seems to truly understand this is Four Seasons Hotels.

They have remained steadfast in their support of, and commitment to, the value of their brand and what it means to stay at a Four Seasons Hotel and to have a Four Seasons experience, and it’s not for sale.

You won’t find Four Seasons Hotels on Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz or any of the other on-line discount channels – they flatly refuse to get into the discount wars with other Hotels of their caliber in their various markets.

I won’t pretend to know the level of business that Four Seasons has been able to maintain during these tough economic times, but I will speculate that if this was a losing proposition, they wouldn’t still be holding out.

Also, when the economy improves, Four Seasons won’t be faced with the same challenge that other companies will face – how to now significantly increase their rate from the depths to which they have sunk, and, how to convince their guests that their increased rates are suddenly justified again.

Hotel companies that are out there teaching consumers, by their actions, that there is always a better deal to be had, are going to face a long and hard return to profitability as and when the economy returns into positive territory. 

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Asking for the Business

If you don’t ask for the business, then you shouldn’t be surprised when you don’t get it.

It’s been my experience over the years that the difference between a good Sales person and a great Sales person often lies in their ability to ask for the sale, and, to a lesser degree, to know how to deal with “no” and not get paralyzed in the face of “no.”

There are lots of great sales people out there, who do a great job in many facets of their role in sales, they know their value proposition, your property’s points of differentiation, they research potential clients, and their prep work and attention to detail are second to none.

Those are all strong and admirable attributes.

But are they closers?

After it’s all been said and done, and the (potential) client has taken the bait, can they reel them in?

If not, you may find if you tag along on a few sales calls that they are stopping short of actually asking for the sale.

They assume, albeit unconsciously, that if they have done a god job in making their case, the client will book with them, and on many occasions that has probably worked out for them, and for you.

But I can guarantee you that if you actually ask for the sale, your chances of securing the business go up exponentially.  

It’s long been a practice of mine to do two things, in particular, when it comes to supporting the sales effort in my Hotels:

      1)      Telling clients that I want their business.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  You’d be surprised how many people don’t actually, clearly and with conviction, tell clients that they want their business.

I used to do this in particular when we had a client on site for a site inspection and/or property review.  

I would introduce myself, and then I would tell the (potential) client that one of the reasons that I wanted to personally meet them, among other reasons of course, was that I wanted to tell them personally that we wanted their business and that each and every one of us was keenly aware of what it meant to get this piece of business, and we were committed to working with them to secure their business, and to delivering a program or event that would leave no doubt as to why we were chosen. 

       2)      Asking for the business.

On a similar vein, I would always conclude a site visit or a sales call by asking for the business.

Again, I would make a point of being direct and specific, leaving no doubt that I was asking for the business, and in the event that I ran into any hesitation or reluctance, I would simply ask what the obstacles were that was preventing them from committing.

I know I said this before, but I will say it again; I know full well that what I am saying sounds obvious.

But I’ll tell you this too; I had clients tell me time and time again that other Hotels were not telling them that they wanted their business, not directly anyway, and, that virtually no one was asking for their business. 

And on more than a few occasions, I had clients tell me that was why they were going with us for their conference, event, etc…

Sure, our product and service were important factors, but when it came down to comparing a number of seemingly similar properties in a single destination, what put them over the edge, and differentiated us from our competitors, was our commitment to getting the business, to servicing the client from this day forward, and, the fact that we asked for the business, further demonstrating our level of commitment. 

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Learning and Development – The Gift You Give Yourself and Others

How committed are you to continuous learning, both for yourself, and for those who work with you?

I, for one, love to learn, to see and be exposed to new ways of looking at the many and varied components that make up our dynamic industry, which arguably, is always changing.

As I write this entry today, I am awaiting the final grade, on my final assignment, for my last subject, to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management.

For a variety of reasons, I had to leave home when I was 15 years old, and started working shortly thereafter.

As a result, I was unable to complete high school, at the time, let alone pursue any post-secondary education.

I tried to continue my schooling, for as long as possible, but I simply couldn’t manage the demands of working, full-time, with a full course load at high school, and since I had to eat and keep a roof over my head, the choice was fairly clear – I had to quit school.

I worked at a number of entry-level jobs for the next several years until I began what I thought would be my career, as an electrician – a job that I worked at, as well as several others in construction, for the next several years.

But, as I have written before, it was, quite by chance, a few years later, that I landed a job in a Hotel as a bellman and came to realize that I had found my calling.

I knew as I began to progress into Supervisory positions that I was going to need to complete my high school education at some point, and so, a few years later I applied to take my grade 12 equivalency test.

I obtained the study materials and spent as much time as I could reviewing the material before taking the exam, which I did, and for which I passed and obtained my GED.

I would have loved to have then pursued post-secondary education, but now I was enjoying continuous advancement in an industry that I loved and had a natural ability for.

I was far too excited and enjoying myself far too much to have even considered leaving the Hotel business long enough to obtain my degree at that time.

And so I worked, and as I worked I participated in any and all of the training and personal development that I could along the way, both from within my respective companies at the time, as well as through outside sources, such as local Colleges and Universities.

Ironically, in spite of enjoying an enviable level of success over the years, including hosting world leaders in the first G8 Summit post 9/11, among other significant accomplishments, I always felt that there was something left unfinished.

And so it was that I was fortunate enough to find the Executive Cohort Degree Program – Bachelor of Hospitality Management, being offered at Vancouver Community College and specifically geared towards people just like myself.   

I applied as soon as I became aware of the program and I have spent the last 2 years enjoying the company of many senior Hospitality executives who had a similar history to my own.

Although I was no stranger to any of the topics that we studied, I have enjoyed being exposed to new points of view, and perhaps in particular, how the many developments in technology and social media have drastically changed the Hospitality landscape forever.

And when I “officially” receive my degree, which I will shortly, it will indeed be a proud day for me, having achieved my goal of obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management, a testament to my passion for continuous learning, personal growth and development, and a commitment to excellence that can only be achieved by constantly challenging yourself, and the status quo.

What are you doing to challenge yourself, and as importantly, what kind of an environment are you creating at your Hotel when it comes to training and development?

Our industry is always changing, always evolving, and as a result, if we hope not only to keep up, but rather to stay one step ahead of our many competitors, we too need to be open to change and the continuing evolution of the Hospitality industry.

You can be a leader in this area, an example to others, or, you can spend your career playing catch-up to those leaders that are changing and shaping our industry for the future.  

Which will you choose to be? 

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Importance of a Genuine Apology

People don’t know how to apologize.

They think that if you say you’re “sorry” that magically makes everything better.

But haven’t we all been on the receiving end of an insincere apology, when you knew that there was no meaning behind the words, they were, just words.

Often reminds me of when we were kids, and you’d get into a fight with your Brother, and your Mother would grab you and tell you; “apologize to your Brother.”

I don’t know about you, but when that happened to me, and I subsequently apologized to my Brother, it didn’t mean a thing, not to me, and certainly not to him.   
He knew I was just going through the motions.  

We weren’t fooling anyone.

Or, someone sets out to apologize and approaches you under the premise that they want to apologize, but instead of apologizing, they attempt to justify or explain what happened, instead of taking responsibility for the situation.

Drives me crazy.

And I’m not someone who judges an apology by how much time and effort that they spend falling all over me, quite the contrary, sometimes, “thou doth protest too much.”

All I want, when the situation calls for it, is a genuine apology.

For me, a genuine apology involves someone taking responsibility for their action, and recognizing the impact they have had on another, and with that in mind, apologizing for the situation – period.

Don’t embellish, don’t try to get in my shoes or in my head, resist the urge, and just say “I’m sorry.”

The only other thing I might add is, and again, when appropriate, to take the necessary action to correct the situation, or, to simply ask; “what can I do to make this right?”

Sometimes, rather than assuming what a disgruntled guest might want when something is in order, it’s just more appropriate and more effective to ask them what they feel would be fair.

These circumstances, although they often start out as a negative, if handled correctly, can be turned around and generate a positive outcome, and can in fact enhance your reputation.

When things go wrong, and invariably they will go wrong from time to time, what makes the difference is how the situation is handled.

In effective crisis management we see this time and time again.

The story starts out with a problem that has occurred, but then, the rest of the story turns to how quickly the company got out in front of the problem, took immediate responsibility for the situation, and took action.

I can think of many instances where something has gone wrong during a visit to a restaurant or a Hotel, and instead of choosing never to go there again, (and telling everyone I know not to go there either), they have turned me into a loyal customer based on their handling of the situation.

Things go wrong, it’s inevitable, but it’s what we do about it that makes the difference. 

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