Friday, January 29, 2010

Shop Local, Eat Fresh

I prefer summer fruit and vegetables. Nothing against apples, pears and squash, but give me strawberries, nectarines, tomatoes and cantaloupe any day, everyday. Fresh is always better and locally grown is best. That’s why I enjoy Farmers Markets, but don’t go as often as I’d like.

A couple of years ago, Donna discovered Rutiz Family Farms, not far from our house in Arroyo Grande. It is open for just a few hours each week, so you have to work around that if you’re typical 8-to-5 working stiffs like us. But the slight inconvenience is worth it. As you’d expect, the fruit and vegetables they offer are as fresh as can be – we’ve been at the produce stand when a box of new lettuce heads comes in, just harvested a few yards away.

The Rutiz family does things which pique my marketing instincts. In addition to selling produce ala carte, they assemble a “Harvest Box” of assorted popular fruit and vegetables bundled together for pick up; it’s a convenient way to have produce ready and waiting for you, and I would think offers customers a chance to try vegetables they might not otherwise purchase individually. On the website, you may sign up for a weekly eNewsletter that tells you what’s being harvested along with recipes.

Early each fall, kids can go out into the pumpkin patch, select their favorite, and etch their names and designs while it’s growing in the field; then refine their artwork each week as the pumpkin matures. During the berry growing season, you may buy the fruit in baskets at the stand or go out and pick your own. Family friendly fun.

Their brand positioning is strong, too: “A family farm with 20 years experience growing quality, pesticide-free vegetables, berries and flowers.” A compelling message in an era of tainted-food scares and ever-higher gasoline prices. At Rutiz Family Farms ( we get to shop local, eat fresh and feel good about it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Save Money, Live Better?

It’s easy to pick on Wal-Mart. The 800-pound gorilla of retailing. From social issues like claims of sexual discrimination and not providing healthcare for its workers, to community issues like the accusations that it crushes local mom-and-pop businesses when it moves into town, Wal-Mart has been portrayed as the poster child for the sins of “big business.”

But Wal-Mart’s marketing position is clear: Low prices. Especially in the current economic environment, a solid appeal. Add to that an extensive breadth and depth of product selection, an expansive distribution network of stores and lots of money to spend on promotion, and their marketing success is impressive.

Donna and I bought a TV this weekend. The last time we did that – probably 10 years ago – we went to Circuit City in Santa Maria, now a casualty of the Great Recession. So, off to Wal-Mart we went. Lots of TVs from which to choose. Well known brands. Low prices. But customer service – not so much.

Granted, we don’t shop at Wal-Mart very often – maybe a handful of times a year. But what happened to the senior-citizen “greeter” that I always remember bellowing “Welcome to Wal-Mart!” as I stepped inside the store? From what I can tell – at least at the store in Arroyo Grande – the smiling, cheerful “greeter” has been replaced by a less enthusiastic “exit door checker” who asks to see your receipt as you cart your TV out of the store.

No one offered to provide any sort of help in the Electronics department, where TVs of every size were competing for attention, turned on and mounted to the wall. Checkers at the cash registers seemed cheerless. Kind of made me want to use the self-service kiosks which now occupy prime spots in the middle of the check-out area.

My overall buying experience: functional and efficient. But I didn’t want to linger in the aisles. Get in, find what I need and get out. Did I pay less? Yes, almost certainly. Will I return in the future? Probably, but just for the items I perceive Wal-Mart ( offers at a steep discount. However, it is not a retail experience which I look forward to fondly.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Loan Guy

It all started with a “Happy 4th of July” email message. It was from the home loan consultant who had financed our house when we moved back to the Central Coast in 2006. Jim Smith had stayed in touch with low key communications – sometimes by email and sometimes by snail mail – that included just enough information about the housing market to be useful.

This time, it got me thinking. I had a home loan that would adjust in 6 more years, but rates were low right now. I sent Jim a return email, he responded and I determined that the time was not quite right for me to refinance.

But then Thanksgiving rolled around, and in the mail came a holiday card from Jim, a few more nuggets of real estate news and a 2010 calendar. I just had to contact him again – by phone. And this time, the stars seemed to align – rates, the right loan, etc. Donna and I signed all the paperwork for our new 30-year fixed loan on December 28, and the loan funded before year end.

Two loans with Smith Lending Group – on the same house – in four years. Why? Because Jim stayed in touch. He offered real value in his marketing communications. And because I trusted him. He earned that trust the first time we worked together. I felt that he was on my side – he did what he said he’d do, he didn’t take short-cuts and he let me know what was happening every step of the way. That earned him a second opportunity. And he was just as good this time around.

Jim Smith ( finished with a thank you card and gift. And I’d work with him again – the next time I buy a home.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A New Year's Eve Marketing Lesson

My in-laws from Colorado were in town for the holidays, and we were planning a New Year’s Eve dinner. I suggested McPhee’s Grill. My wife and I have eaten at McPhee’s in Templeton, but we’d yet to try the newer Avila Beach location. Since we live in Arroyo Grande, the short drive to Avila seemed perfect for New Year’s.

In my first marketing course at UCLA, the professor warned the 300+ future captains of industry in attendance to avoid careers in food service: grocery stores (because of razor thin margins) and restaurants (because of their significant business failure rate). So, as I sat down for dinner and reviewed the menu, I thought about why patrons choose (and choose to return to) one restaurant over others.

Positive word of mouth is crucial. Friends telling friends, face-to-face, voice-to-voice, and increasingly via digital social networks, quickly share personal experiences – both good and bad. But what impresses people enough to recommend or pan a restaurant? If you ask restaurateurs, I’d bet you’d get fairly consistent responses: good food, attentive service, pleasant environment, etc.

As with other service industries, my experience is that it’s often the little things at restaurants that leave lasting impressions – like keeping the water glasses filled and presenting the check promptly when it’s evident the diners are ready to wrap it up.

Since it was my suggestion of where to eat, my reputation was on the line. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. Attentive service? Yes. Pleasant environment? Yes. Water glasses filled? Yes. Good food? Yes – each of us had an excellent meal, served hot and to our liking.

When I asked my wife later what impressed her most about our dinner, she focused on the menu choices and how the food was prepared and presented. In other words the “product” McPhee’s offers. For me, it was more about the meal as the centerpiece of an experience – having a good time – which included attentive service and a pleasant environment; the quality of food was a given for me, but not the most memorable aspect of the evening.

So here’s my New Year’s Eve marketing lesson: different consumers weigh the importance of different factors when choosing to purchase, and whether to come back to purchase again. My wife and I are likely to return for dinner, but for at least slightly different reasons. Businesses need to understand what attracts their customers and what brings them back or turns them off. McPhee’s Grill ( seems to have a good handle on what their patrons want. And my father-in-law seemed impressed with my choice for New Year’s Eve dinner.