Thursday, September 10, 2009

What You Can Learn From A Homeless Guy, A Crowded Italian Restaurant, And Some Red Wine

For those thinking that you are diving head first into the depths of a story detailing drunken debauchery involving a homeless transgendered prostitute named Colombia, I am sorry to disappoint. You are wrong. Even without shock value and Hollywood story lines there are plenty of day to day experiences we can learn from, and I am making an effort to do a better job of being aware of my surroundings and committed to learning from my experiences and others. Last night was my wife's birthday so we thought it fitting to head into the North End of Boston to indulge in some authentic Italian food, drink some wine, and celebrate.

On the way down we were stopped at a busy intersection of Mass Ave and 16. There was a homeless guy with a sign trying to collect change from the windows of the cars. In Portland, Oregon these homeless guys typically sit on the corner with signs awaiting to be flagged over. In Philly these guys walk up and down the different lanes providing a guilt inducing death stare in hopes of some change. I guess it has something to do with the social demeanor of the state or city at large. People in Portland are generally less confrontational and edgy than people in Philly. This homeless guy was more on the Philly end of the spectrum and was weaving in and out of traffic as cars edged their way through the busy intersection. But this guy was different than most homeless guys I have seen. He held a sign like most other homeless guys but it told a different story, it had a different angle to it. Most homeless guys go for the standard "Will work for food" or the "Need change to feed my children" lines. Or if you are lucky you might run into the token brutally honest homeless guy who writes something along the lines of "Need money for beer. Hey at least I'm honest." Good for a laugh but not terribly inspiring. Mass Ave homeless guy had a sign that simply read "If you have no change, JUST SMILE!" Wow. That's awesome. If I was homeless that would definitely be one of those 'why didn't I think of that' moments. And it wasn't just the sign, this dude lived it. He was smiling wide as can be and dancing with his sign as a badge of honor over his chest. One of my friends rolled down the window and yelled to the guy to come over for some change. As he approached he continued grinning and asked us to turn up the tunes. As my other buddy stumbled through country radio stations and random talk shows to eventually land on Jack Johnson (not exactly the most danceable music I can think of) the guy just kept on laughing and dancing for the rest of the traffic/audience. It was pretty hilarious. As we drove off and rolled up the window my buddy said his breath smelled like "10 gallons of stale beer," or something to that effect.

We drove into the North End and jumped to the front of the line at the restaurant called Giacomo's. My friend's wife was waiting for us there and had been there for a little while. Yes, there is a line outside. And yes we waited to get in. Yes it was a Wednesday night at 6 pm in a neighborhood with probably a hundred other authentic Italian restaurants. Why? Well because our friends said that is what you do when it comes to Giacomo's. For those of you who don’t know what Giacomo’s is all about (like me until yesterday), it is basically a restaurant in the North End of Boston that is about the size of your kitchen. It has a reputation as being one of the better Italian restaurants in the area, which is saying a lot given the concentration of Italian restaurants. And there is consistently a line waiting to get in that often wraps around the corner onto the next block. We got in and got seated, and one of the first things I noticed was how easily my chair slid across the olive oil soaked wood floors. We sat down and honestly I must say it was some of the best service I had ever had. Everything was full speed ahead but it was personable and friendly at the same time. We had bread in seconds, the guy came back and mixed up some fresh ground Parmesan and garlic in the back for our oil. The plate of calamari was there in what seemed like minutes, steaming hot. It was great. What was surprising from a place that has such a solid reputation and a constant line to get in, was that it was very reasonably priced. The majority of the generous sized entrees range from 12 to 16 bucks and the bottles of wine are about $15. Most restaurants, especially those deemed as nice trendy ones, charge almost that much for a glass of wine. I had the shrimp and scallop linguine in a giacomo sauce which was a lobster red sauce. It was delicious and my water and wine glass never stayed empty for long. As soon as a plate was done it was gone. When all the plates were gone the bill was on the table. It was fast. They were churning and burning people through that place. But you didn’t feel rushed. Our waiter told us to take our time finishing our wine and we did. It was a beauty place.

Why I am recounting these stories on BadskiBlog? Well truthfully I want to immortalize my experiences in cyberspace so my grandkids can know what I did when I was drunk at 27….just kidding. I am setting the scene to describe what I learned from theses events.

1. Differentiation is a powerful thing – In order to be successful you must be different. I mean I guess you can be successful by your own standards and live a fairly uneventful content life, but I don't live my life that way. The Mass Ave homeless guy was different than other homeless guys. He told a story that made you want to give him money. He could have been like everyone else or even pulled the honest homeless guy approach judging by the smell of his breath, but he didn't. And I would venture to say he benefits greatly from being different. My friends remembered him and talked about him like he was more of a landmark than a mark on the neighborhood, and I am talking about him on my blog so he is obviously doing something right. Giacomo's follows a similar path. It would be quite easy to be just one of the many good Italian restaurants in the neighborhood. All those good Italian restaurants probably make a pretty good living just by being a good Italian restaurant in that neighborhood. But Giacomo's is different. They are a great restaurant in that neighborhood and they have established a demand for what they have to offer that consistently has people lined up down the street every day of the week. Whether you are starting a business or applying for a job it pays to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

2. If you believe in your strategy stick to it no matter what conventional wisdom says – This kind of goes hand in hand with differentiation but its a little different. I may be way off on this, but I imagine Mass Ave homeless guy chatting with some of his buddies and describing his new sign. I imagine them making fun of his approach and telling him how it won't work and that the best way get change is "strategy X". Judging by how this guy put on a show in the middle of a busy Boston street, he believed in his message. Like I said I could be way off and none of that was remotely close to ever taking place but you get the idea. Where this concept really manifests itself is with Giacomo's. Conventional wisdom would say that if you have a restaurant that has built a reputation for having great food and people are waiting outside you should either expand to allow supply to meet demand or you should raise your prices to maximize profits with the existing amount of people you can serve. However, Giacomo's didn't and doesn't do that. In fact by most standards their food is actually cheap. They have not expanded, and it seems like the line out front is almost part of the experience. What Giacomo's has done is create scarcity. They let their reputation for great food and great prices spread their message. Then they go for an increased throughput approach combined with great service. Their place of business seems like a collection of contradictions, but they believe in it and they have created an experience worth talking about which in turn has differentiated them from the masses. If they listened to conventional wisdom who knows where they would be right now. With the competitive nature of the restaurant business quite possibly out of business.

3. Create an ethos around your business and love what you are doing- Tell your story and live it. Both the homeless guy and Giacomo's created a living concept that embodies what they are all about. Those who come into contact with both entities know instantly that this isn't just an average corporate mission statement. They believed in it. Mission statements are boring. Living out an ethos is more exciting. Mission statements feel bureaucratic and structured. An ethos feels alive and carries an aura of what you or your company is all about. You can't fake an ethos, because if you fake it then it really isn't an ethos, its just a marketing strategy that you are doing a horseshit job of selling. Customers, employers, co workers, friends, people, etc. all instantly sense insincerity and inevitably will gravitate towards another entity that lives it.

I am sure I could probably dig for a few more lessons from the night, but I am trying to become naturally observant of the lessons surrounding me. If you have any other lessons based on my tales or life education lessons of your own please post them up!


Anonymous said...

good entry.

-Ward H-

Matt Bader said...

Thanks dude.