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Lessons learned from 'Kitchen Nightmares': Passive businesses fail

Business Lessons I Learned from Kitchen Nightmares
Business Lessons I Learned from Kitchen Nightmares

It's a silent but deadly business killer that I've watched numerous businesses, and even myself and my own company succumb to. Passiveness. While it may be commonplace that does not mean you shouldn't identify it and put in check immediately. Take the steps now to pinpoint your weaknesses because if you don't your passiveness will slowly and silently destroy your motivation, drive, success, and ultimately—your company's survival. This is key, because perfecting the advertising of a dying business is like straightening the chairs on the titanic.

Be like the ant—not the frog.

Ever heard of the tale about the frog in boiling water? The saying goes that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will sense the heat and immediately jump out of the pot. But if you put a frog in luke warm water he will just casually swim around and enjoy himself. As you slowly and gradually increase the heat the frog adapts to the new heat. If you were to gradually increase the temperature to boiling the frog wouldn't sense the change and is actually lured to his own death by his own inability to notice the gradual change! We can relate to the frog. We take our businesses, our relationships, our health for granted sometimes. Things may be slowly and gradually getting worse and we don't realize that we're being boiled alive without even realizing it. Instead, we should be like the ant. Identify what needs to be done and then work hard every single day, focused on the most important goals at hand with enthusiasm, persistence, and diligence.

"Kitchen Nightmares" TV show—I found inspiration where I least expected it.

While not a big reality TV junkie, I will admit that lately I have been addicted to the reality TV show Kitchen Nightmares. It's actually an older show, but I'm also addicted to DVR and not watching commercials too (funny and ironic since my specialty is advertising.) The premise of the show is that professional chef and successful restauranteer Gordon Ramsay visits restaurants around the country on their last leg struggling to survive to help them pinpoint why their restaurant is failing and helps to repair the problems to keep these owners from losing their businesses.

I like the fact that I'm able to gain valuable insight and reinforce my core customer service and business values while also being entertained by the "unique" way he's able to communicate with and reach people. Often he has to get to their emotions and make them hate him first before they are willing to look at their situation objectively and realize they have a problem.

Where I come in, where advertising and marketing plays a part, the show also embraces that you need to have something first worth advertising. Your advertising is only as effective as the product! While I've seen dozens of shows, for all different kinds of restaurants all over the country, there are several key things he changes at every single place! He always changes the crappy menu (good food = better than bad food, fresh = better than frozen), changes the decor (vibrant and exciting = better than boring and turn-of-the-century), motivates the owners and managers (good leadership and management focusing on making customers happy = better than bad leadership and management focusing on the bottom-line only). Sound too simple to be worth putting in writing? It is, but yet apparently it still has to be beaten in.

Here's the take-away point: Business is actually quite simple. Deliver a quality product or service that meets either the needs or the wants of your customers. Offer something different or be better than your competition. Hire people that actually do the work properly. Market/advertise the company aggressively (i.e. tell people about it). Seems simple enough, right?

Would you be on Gordon Ramsay's hit list?

Ok, time to bring it all together. Passiveness. It is likely the culprit behind why all of these restaurant businesses started out strong and then declined. Be honest with yourself—are you consistently keeping an eye on everything? In a restaurant, it's easy to tell if you have no people inside, but you may have to work a little harder. Look at your company objectively—are you growing? If you are, are you doing it the right way or are you re-packaging frozen food to save a buck? Remember the goose and the golden egg principle. For more detail on how to apply that I recommend learning about the P-PC Balance (production/production-capability) outlined in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Provide polls and customer surveys (with a prize incentive) for honest feedback from your customers. Take a look at your company's books, is more going out every month than coming in? Find out if there's a problem with your employees, your management, or something immediately in your control like the current system. Work together with your R&D department if your products aren't up to par anymore, tighten up your accounting and bookkeeping system, or your invoicing system, or perform a decor remodeling. If everything else is great, market the heck out of your company like your company's life depends on it—because it does!

Would you be on MY hit list?

Gordon Ramsay might analyze and beat you up about the way you run your company, but would I beat you up about the way you advertise your company? Compare your identity, branding, advertising, and promotional efforts to your primary competitors. How do you compare? Install website analytics to find out how your website is performing and check it regularly so you can optimize your website to increase visitors, visitor loyalty, and direct website leads. This will help tell you how your online marketing is performing. SEO is trackable. Pay-per-click advertising is trackable. Email marketing is also trackable.

Is your print, direct, TV, radio and other types of advertising working? Effective advertising always allows for some type of conversion tracking. Custom trackable phone numbers that forward to your company number, custom trackable promotional website links, trackable coupons or promo codes. Even the good ole' fashioned having the receptionist ask all customers how they found you or what reminded them to stop by can work wonders. Of course, an organized system and a willing, diligent receptionist are key to that working. Regardless, the power is within your control. Do not let your company run without personally paying attention to all of these factors—or you can watch it run away from you.


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