Can watching a 30-minute television program about “saving failing restaurants” make a difference at your dealership? I’m betting it can. Let me take my “advertising” hat off for a few minutes and don my ‘marketing’ cape to share some thoughts on one of the best business improvement programs I’ve seen on television in the past 20 years. The program title is “Restaurant: Impossible,” starring Master Chef Robert Irvine. The show is on at 10 p.m. EST on the The Food Channel every Wednesday.
Marketing encompasses product “conception to consumption” and Chef Irvine does just that each week on “Restaurant: Impossible.” The concept of the program is Chef Irvine visiting various failing restaurants in a reality based setting. Armed with only $10,000 for a physical makeover and all the energy, enthusiasm and brass of General Patton, Chef Irvine dissects every aspect of the operation and whiteboards the reasons it is failing. With brutal honesty Mr. Irvine assails ownership, management and employees with fix-it or fail strategies. If the food is bad, Mr. Irvine will say so. If the service is lousy, Mr. Irvine will corner the culprit and get in their face. But the reason I really like this program so much is, that unlike Donald Trump’s “you’re fired,” Chef Irvine, despite his incredibly sharp, frank criticism, is also a master at getting employees fired-up, rather than fired.
Although he is a master chef with an impressive list of achievements including his current restaurant at Hilton Head Island, (Robert Irvine’s EAT, The Village at Wexford, Hilton Head, South Carolina) Mr. Irvine greatest strength is in his people skills, not only getting people to “do it right,” but getting them excited and self-motivated about doing it right. His fiery challenges quickly turn to kudos and cheers as team members hit their pace and start performing as star-players.
Chef Robert is a true leader who dares everyone to achieve greatness, a man who understands that most people really do want to be the best they can be.
Aside from masterful leadership, Robert Irvine brings a heaping helping of common sense to the struggling businesses he helps save. Here are some examples of the problems he put on a whiteboard for some of his challenged businesses:
- Who’s in charge? Isn’t it amazing that even in a small owner-operator business the employees often don’t know who is in charge! Everyone has to have specific duties and responsibilities. In one of the restaurants Chef Irvine helped save, the owner was sleeping in until 1pm each day. The head cook was working 70 hours a week answering phones, ordering supplies, taking reservations and neglecting his most important task… prepare good food! In another restaurant the manager was afraid to discipline a waitress because she happened to be the granddaughter of the owner. Employees desperately want and need good leadership. Who do they look to in your organization?
- The food stinks. In one establishment Chef Irvine ordered a number of items from the menu then did a taste test. He then called the owner over to sample some of the food. Even the owner was repulsed. “And you wonder why people aren’t coming back here?” quipped Chef Robert! Do you know how the quality of the used vehicles you sell is perceived? I mean…do you REALLY know? How about your service? One page questionnaires may not reveal the truth. Do you personally review survey responses? Do you ever call your customers to follow up on delivery, vehicle quality, service experience? Have you had your dealership ‘shopped’ by an objective third party?
- The place is dirty and outdated. One of the first things Chef Irvine focuses on is clutter, dirt and outdated styling. You don’t need to spend a fortune to make the place look better. The chef and his design team freshen up the look of their clients with a budget of $10,000. Take a critical look around your dealership. What things could you do to make the physical setting more attractive? It could be as simple as a good cleaning and a coat of paint. A successful dealer in Michigan has a set designer for a local department store come in three times a year to sharpen up the showroom. The cost is minimal. The results are outstanding.
- The menu is too large. In one restaurant Chef Irvine’s recommend changes including cutting a 40 item menu back to just a handful of items and focusing on doing each of those items right. How are you ordering vehicles? Do you have a hodge-podge of packages and colors that confuse both salespeople and customers? Many years ago I learned from a successful dealer in New England that limiting the color selection and equipment packages in stock not only made it easier for everyone, but it sped up the entire sales process. What about your used car selection? Would limiting your selection to fewer models and vehicle categories improve your sales and aging?
- Smile. What impact does a smile and a great attitude have on your customers? Why aren’t your people smiling? What affect are the long faces and crappy attitudes having on customers and fellow team members? In Chef Robert’s restaurant successes, smiles became contagious, tips became bigger, people began to enjoy their work and customers caught on to the excitement. Study after study shows a pleasant personality and a warm, sincere smile make cash registers ring, and customers come back.
Set your DVR to record “Restaurant: Impossible” this Wednesday on The Food Channel. Show it to your managers and sales team. Get a conversation going about the lessons that could apply to your own situation. This is one of the best business improvement, leadership excellence programs I’ve ever experienced on television. I watch it every Wednesday night. If you love what you do and only want to get better, I’m betting you’ll get hooked on it too.
I’ve asked the The Food Channel about the possibility of buying DVDs of the program because every single one has some inspirational ideas. I’ll let you know where you can get copies as soon as I hear back.