The most difficult career achievement in baseball, it’s often said, is to hit 500 home runs. It’s about consistently hitting baseballs thrown at over 90 mph beyond distant outfield walls.
In retailing, a far different playing field, the most difficult achievement is to consistently resonate with customers so that your business is their frequent destination.
Our sister publication, Sarasota Magazine, recently featured its annual “Best Of” competition. The Best of 2007 highlighted this year’s winners and finalists in over 70 categories as voted by their customers and our readers. At an event honoring them, held at the Van Wezel, it hit me this year, as it has in the past, that I was in the presence of outstanding businesspeople. They’re all experts in their respective fields with close bonds to their customers. Nothing accidental here. To a person, the people in that room are smart, hard-working, focused and customer-centric pros. Many of them are repeat winners, demonstrating long-term distinction.
When we go to their shops, stores and restaurants, it may take a few minutes, but we’ll soon sense the distinctive aura of excellence. There’ll be the visuals: décor that is just right for what that business is about, merchandise, cleanliness and essentially superb taste. Sometimes there’ll be an attractive fragrance we pick up that says someone thought about this. Or, if it’s a restaurant, the enticing aroma of food prepared to perfection, be it fine cuisine or simple offerings. And there may be soft, appropriate music. Ultimately and maybe most importantly, it’ll be the people. We’ll come into contact with someone with a smile who’ll engage us and help us to our destination.
What we’ll feel is still just an aura of excellence, not yet the full realization of its existence. That can only come with the completion of that visit. And it can only be solidified after returning several more times. That concrete realization can also be unrealized after one or two bad experiences. Therein lies the challenge to these businesses: to consistently perform at the highest levels.
Aristotle nailed it when he wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." He made that observation around 350 B. C. and, while he most assuredly didn’t have retail or baseball in mind, it still holds up and continues to be the performance mantra for us all.