This is an important post from Seth Godin last week:
One of my favorite restaurants is a little Mexican place in Utah called El Chubasco. I’ve often eaten there twice in a day, and once (it’s true) ate there three times.
It’s always crowded. Sometimes people wait outside, in the cold, even though there are plenty of alternatives within walking distance. So, what’s the secret? Why is it worth a drive and a wait?
No specific reason. The energy of owners Jill and Craig is certainly part of it, but most customers never encounter them. I think it’s the hand-fitted gestalt of thousands of little decisions made by caring management out to make a difference. Usually, when a business like this gets bigger or turns into a chain, marketers make what feel like smart compromises. The MBAs collide with the mystical, and the place gets boring. “Why do we need 14 free salsas when we can get away with six?” or “Perhaps we ought to stop handing out huge tumblers of water for free–our bottled water sales will go up.”
This turns out to be the secret of just about every really successful enterprise. Sure, you can copy one or two or even three of their competitive advantages and unique remarkable attributes, but no, it’s going to be really difficult to recreate the magic of countless little decisions. The scarcity happens because so many businesses don’t care enough or are too scared to invest the energy in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary.
Here’s the main thing to focus on: much of the time, the things that appear to create more work or be less “economical” are what actually create the magic.
That’s why a cost-cutting focus, while having an appearance of wisdom, is actually deadly.
Tom Peters makes the same point in his landmark book In Search of Excellence. There is this notion to think that good business sense (and bringing good business sense to the world of ministry) means optimizing and creating efficiencies.
But that’s wrong. Good business sense is about making a great product or service — something people will love, rather than just put up with. Efficiency only becomes important after that, and as a result of it.
There might be a reason to have only six versions of salsa instead of 14. But that reason needs to be based in the fact that fewer options will somehow serve people better (Apple exemplifies this in many ways), rather than in the fact that it will be less work for you or “save money.”