Tips and Hints

The Carrot Cake and The Dog Pound

I’m feeling allegorical tonight.

The Carrot Cake

As you know by now I have several brick and mortar businesses. The biggest one is my wine shop, Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT. Running a wine shop is a lot of fun — people are here to buy their liquor, not get their tooth extracted or buy a part for their broken down car — when they leave they’re usually happy.

Mondays are my busiest day at Yankee. I get here at 9:30 and work until 8:00, meeting with salesmen and getting the orders done for the week. I also come in on Wednesday nights to spend time with my customers and close the store. Every Wednesday my wife Ingrid and I go to Sal e Pepe, a local restaurant, for dinner.

We run into people everywhere we go who stop us and wish us well. We’ve become quite popular, as I own the largest wine shop in the area, and everyone wants to be pals with the guy who sells the booze. In fact, we need to go five or six towns over so we can enjoy a quiet dinner.

The people at Sal e Pepe are very good to us. They are very professional, and they take pride in their professional, courteous and customer-friendly atmosphere. They always have the same table ready for us each Wednesday, they know what we drink (Ingrid gets a glass of wine and I’m usually too tired for anything but club soda), and one of the partners who owns the place always comes over to chat for a few minutes.

I absolutely love their carrot cake. It is moist and luscious, with an incredibly tasty cream cheese frosting that is just delectable. They don’t have it all the time, but we always try to order it when we’re there.

I’ve done many things in my life, and one of them happens to have been partners in owning a restaurant. While I don’t tolerate poor service very well, I am exceptionally generous in rewarding good service. And in the town where I am a prominent business owner I am especially conscious of not being known as a bad tipper. I try very hard to be nice to everyone, project a positive attitude and image wherever possible and help anyone I possibly can.

The other day when I was doing some paperwork at my desk in the store, our favorite Sal e Pepe waitress dropped in with a surprise for us — a freshly made carrot cake. She dropped it on my desk and said I thought you might like this. See you on Wednesday. Then she smiled and walked out.

As I’m enjoying my delicious, moist, rich carrot cake I have these questions for you:

1. Does your site reward return visitors?
2. Do your return visitors and valuable customers feel like you have gone out of your way to take care of their exact needs, requests and preferences? Do they get personalized service?
3. Do your customers know that you appreciate them? What is your carrot cake, and who should get it?

There is no greater viral marketing than making your customers feel like they are appreciated and special.

The Dog Pound

We have a pretty substantial promotional budget at Yankee Wine. I have been creative with it, including traditional media, tchochkes like corkscrews, refreshments for the customers during the holiday season (much appreciated), and sponsorship of local sports teams, bazaars, raffles and the other things that small business in America contribute to their communities.

Our local dog pound is in pretty sad shape. It is next to the garbage dump. It’s old, it stinks, and the atmosphere is very jarring to the poor unfortunate animals who end up there.

Last year the lady who runs the local animal assistance organization approached me about the possibility of building a new shelter in town. She asked for my advice, which I was happy to provide. She then asked if I would help. Since one of my golden rules is to help anyone who asks, I said yes. I even offered to make the kickoff donation and accept donations on her behalf at the store.

Six months later she came back to take me up on the offer, and I made a substantial contribution to the Dog Pound Fund. About a week later she asked if I would take a picture with her for the local paper. I said no. She said it would help her get donations. I agreed. The next week a picture of her, Ingrid, me and Bandit (our recently passed away Shepherd/Collie mix who was stricken with cancer at the time) appeared in our local paper, the Newtown Bee.

She saw a flurry of new donations as a result. That wasn’t surprising. I saw a flurry of new customers, which was. Here are some of the things they said:

I just wanted you to know how terrific it was that you gave that donation for the pound. I’m going to start shopping here.

That was a very nice thing that you did. We’re new in town and were looking for a place to buy our wine. We’re going to come here exclusively.

We love dogs and we want to support local businesses who give back to the community.

There was a tremendous outpouring of affection and thanks from my regular customers as well. I even got a call from one of my competitors congratulating me for what I had done.

What are the conclusions here?

1. There are always rewards for being generous and giving back.
2. You never know what will end up resonating with your prospects and customers. There are natural methods of promotion that will work without your thinking about them or tinkering with them, and all have to do with being generous, not expecting anything in return and not doing something just for the publicity.

I have to run downstairs now because I think I left the carrot cake on the counter, which means that Pooh, our 77 pound Staffordshire Terrier has probably eaten it.


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