By Rick Hendrie, President & Chief Experience Officer of Remarkable Branding
“Companies used to focus on making new, better or cheaper products and services – and then selling them in the marketplace. Now, the game is to create wonderful and emotional experiences for consumers around whatever is being sold. It’s the experience that counts, not the product…The Goal: to build communities of passionate and loyal consumers…”
The Best Ideas of 2005, Business Week
The Experience Era has gone mainstream, acknowledged by no less a traditional expert than Business Week in it’s “Best of 2005…” issue. There is no longer an excuse to avoid the inevitable. We are in the experience creation business and those who ignore that fact do so at their own peril. So, what’s a destination/hotel/restaurant/retail shop/service entity/business to do? Gnash teeth? Howl at the moon? No, although both are in the spirit of ‘experience creation”.
Follow the example of the World’s Largest Laundromat. Here’s what the press release said when the company broke ground on its ‘new and improved’ facility:
The new facility will offer improvements upon the former business including a more open floor plan, an increased amount of high-efficiency machines that will save customer's time and money, additional bathroom facilities, a new snack area and lounge, and a play area for children. One thing that will stay the same is Benson's fun and quirky ways of letting his customers know he appreciates them.
They were being modest. Here’s what Jodi Wilgoren said 0n December 26th in the New York Times, “The birds arrived Wednesday, 15 feathered members of the finch family fluttering around a wood-and-glass sanctuary. Thursday brought the sand table and magnet games for the children's play area. And when the doors of the World's Largest Laundromat reopen this week, dozens of free doughnuts will be doled out daily, as reliable as the rinse cycle in the spanking-new washing machines.
Oh, yes, the machines. There are 301 of them now, row upon gleaming silver row, including a dozen washers ready to whirl a whopping 75 pounds (for a whopping $6.50) and the Chicago area's first high-powered express models that more than double the G-force in the spin cycle to cut dryer time nearly in half.”
What makes this interesting and important to anyone doing business in the Experience Era? A local businessman, Tom Benson, took the most utilitarian kind of business, one associated with drudgery and time misspent and created a refuge, a community center, the Grand Central of Berwyn Illinois, where citizens congregate and commune. Doing laundry is the club scene of the 21st Century, a prime family activity and cultural happening contained under its 13,500 square foot roof. The impetus for this was Benson’s decision to make laundry day fun. It came from the dreary experience of doing the wash as a divorced man. Everything about it was deadly, life negating. Not anymore. Here are some of the things you can expect beyond the birds and the donuts at The World’s Largest Laundromat:
Spanish-language soap operas.
A Saturday-afternoon carnival with magicians, jugglers, face painters, even a unicyclist.
Santa Claus posing for pictures at Christmas
The Easter Bunny handing out chocolate in April.
Free pizza Wednesday nights
Free wireless Internet access 24/7
Diner-style booths by the vending machines with candy and chips, White Castle hamburgers and other microwaveable products
Neon signs blaring "Welcome" in 20 languages
Open 24 hours, every day of the year
And the central truth is revealed here, "It's a community center," said Joel Rhea, assistant principal of nearby Havlicek Elementary school, who said he kept going to the Laundromat - often with his wife and two children - for pizza and play even after buying a house with a washer and dryer. "It's family-oriented. There's stuff to do. Even though it's a Laundromat, it's not just a Laundromat."
Benson claims he is just being a smart business man, looking for more quarter via free donuts and pizza. What he’s accomplished is to offer state of the art machinery (the price of entry, if you will) and then added the experience to make it distinctive. He’s not selling high capacity dryers, but high capacity community. In the Experience Era, we all crave a place to congregate and be, where others know us and we all can feel safe. Businesses of the 21st Century may well be the new houses of fellowship. Certainly, anyone in the hospitality, destination or foodservice worlds have a greater opportunity than most to take advantage of the built in nature of the services they provide – offering a space for all us weary travelers looking, not just for sustenance or a place to put our head, but an experiential refuge from the sort of global warming which arises from too much data and too little soul satisfaction. We are tired of living at Def Con 4 all the time. A little free pizza and a flock of finches as neighbors may be just the right elixir.
About the Author:
Rick Hendrie is President & Chief Experience Officer of Remarkable Branding, Inc. a Cambridge MA based consultancy which helps clients create memorable brand experiences. For a complimentary newsletter go to www.remarkablebranding.com