What’s the Goal?

Seth Godin posted this yesterday. It’s an interesting take on what happens when companies get big.

“100 Little Things”

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.

Seth is right, the magic happens in the magic of the countless little decisions. But, the scarcity doesn’t happen because so many business don’t care enough or are too scared to invest in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary. The scarcity happens because being extraordinary is no longer the goal.

When companies get “big” or become a chain the goal is no longer being extraordinary, it’s to be as profitable as possible. It’s not that businesses don’t care enough, or are too scared to invest, it’s they have a different goal. Carrying 22 free salsa’s will rarely be as profitable as carrying six. Does 22 salsa’s make for an extraordinary experience? Yes. But it also creates a lot of waste.

There is a curve to extraordinary user experience and profitability. At some point the return on investment of being extraordinary diminishes. (which I am not smart enough to demonstrate here, but I’m sure the MBA’s and the mystical can help. If any one in this community can help illustrate please share) Is being extraordinary profitable? Yes! Is it the most profitable? At some point, no. And that is why things change.

I love the small restaurant my self. I love the boutique ski clothing brands. I love the special attention of the extraordinary. But being extraordinary means targeting a passionate group, and moving away from the middle. When we move away from the middle, we reduce the pool of customers. Growth and expansion come from appealing to as many people as possible and 22 free salsas isn’t extraordinary to most people. They just want one good one.

When great restaurants like El Chubasco get big or become a chain, they haven’t stopped caring, they just change their goal from being as extraordinary as possible to being as profitable as possible and there is nothing wrong with that.


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