"A How (Not) to on Marketing"
After the storm cleared and the community started going back to work, our business was developing and we were learning some positive lessons, mainly in marketing. I am certain there were other educational opportunities based on the negative feedback but we were not at all concerned with that just yet. Although we would listen to many of the negatives, we certainly were not going to act on them too quickly.
I ran into a woman the other day that recognized me from the early days. She was quite friendly and she surprised me with her memory. It reminded me of the some of our antics and successful bumbles. “Laura” told me she had been working in the area and recalled three specific things: that we opened during the ice storm of 1991, that she was curious about how the name "o'Bagelo's" came about, and that we wouldn't let her have a Reuben on a raisin bagel. This was twenty plus years later and she had not been in the area for at least 15 years. There were quite a few things my old partner and I did that seem to have challenged some of the traditional practices of a retail business. Some of our idiosyncrasies were planned. Others were ideas that we hashed around and we realized the minute it came out of one of our mouths that we had to follow through. And others were just a result of personalities that we could not control, especially considering we were 20 something’s and had no idea of the things we did not know.
There was no real marketing program in our business but many of the decisions we made ended up providing such inadvertent positive feedback that we thought we may not need to market our business. One of the first things we had decided was as simple as the ‘bagel with cream cheese’ order. This had two elements: The first is that we would not toast the bagel. Customers thought we were rude (and we probably were) and just not smart enough to know the customer is king. Our theory was that we were baking fresh bagels all day and we were not going to make them stale and old as quickly as possible. We wanted the consumer to experience all the wonders of a fresh bagel, whether they wanted to or not. The second aspect involved cream cheese. We put about 4 oz of cream cheese on every bagel. No warning, few exceptions. The amount of cream cheese was often as thick as the bagel itself. The bagel would be placed in a small bag and they usually didn’t notice until they arrived at their desk and unwrapped. As I am sure you can imagine not all customers were happy about either one of these actions and some would buy an extra bagel just to share the schmear. But what they were doing was talking about it. Word was spreading about both issues and others wanted to see it for themselves. So simple and all for the cost of a little extra cream cheese. The bagel shops I now go to in the area will barely provide you with 1 oz and most are happy with that.
The other little marketing tidbit that we stumbled on was our hours. I can barely remember when most places I frequent open or close unless it is dictated by law. Frankly, we did not have a plan even the week before we opened. We had bought a small sign with those stick on letters (in was the early 90’s) and on the day after our Saturday trial run we sat down to set the parameters. We reluctantly realized we needed to be open early in the morning and decided on 6:30 am for the weekdays. I had to convince my partner that Saturday’s would be a good idea, and we shortened the hours from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. Deciding on our closing time is what led to the one of our better passive marketing moments. On a very small sign in the doorway it stated we closed at 5:12 pm. Not everyone noticed at first and we never talked about it unless asked. We always waited until exactly 5:12 to lock the doors and some people even tested us on this. Years later I shortened the hours but left the concept in place. 3:12 seemed to be more realistic for business. It took many more years before I started relaying the real reason for the hours. Customers would ask, offer up their opinion on the subject, tell us what their coworkers thought, and would walk away without an answer. I started to tell customers after a few years when the interest started to wane and I thought it wouldn't harm our reputation.
On that Saturday before we opened we had thought we would test the afternoon hours for business as people were heading home. Perhaps they would buy bagels for the family breakfast the next morning and we could sell what was left from the day. This never worked out and that is why we scaled it back a few hours. But originally we thought we would test it out. We didn’t want to push it too long so we decided on 5:00. The problem was we had no more zero’s left on our sheet of stickers. We had plenty of ones and twos for the Monday through Friday part, but that was it. Being too tired and lazy at this point on a Saturday afternoon to go the store and buy another sheet of numbers, 5:12 it was.
This was one of the most successful marketing accidents we ever had and it was all due to our interest in going for a beer rather than shopping after our first attempt at this retail bakery. I know this will annoy many of my friends in the marketing field (sorry John R.) but it was without a doubt the best piece of advertising we engaged in and it didn't cost us the extra $1.29 for the second set of numbers.