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Sushi at 38,000 Feet, Please

June 29, 2011

California RollWhy don’t they sell sushi on the airplane?  Flying home from Chicago, at dinner time, the only thing they could offer me was a snackbox of raisins and cheese. But it was packaged in one of those little plastic boxes that you see supermarket sushi in.  And it got me thinking about packaging and offerings and listening to your customer.

How complicated would it be to sell California Rolls on a flight?  They have decent shelf life (everything in them is cooked) and I would have gladly paid $10 for an 8 piece tray.  The airline would have made a nice profit and I would have had a decent dinner. And then I was reading an article in Wired Magazine on feedback loops.

Now, I fly a lot. Not as much as I used to, but over the last 9 years I have probably been on over 150 flights.  And I don’t ever think I have gotten a survey or comment card from an airline. There is no feedback loop between the airline and the typical flyer (though they do a great job of listening to their frequent flyers). Think about all those ideas – money making ideas like sushi as a buy-on-board – that they are missing if they just asked those of us sitting in back.  So how do you listen to your customers?

What opportunities are you missing to sell them what they want versus what you have?  You don’t have to be Procter & Gamble with a huge market research budget to figure out what to offer your customers – you just have to ask (part of the reason P&G has the huge research budget is because they aren’t close enough to the end-purchase to ask the question directly) or be close enough to your customers to listen.

A really great example of listening can be seen at the Mendon (MA) Twin Drive In.  Yes, there are still drive-in movies and my family and I went there last weekend to see Cars 2 (how appropriate to see Cars at a drive-in).  Now here is a group that has listened to their customers.

For starters, you can bring your dog.  My family loves it when we can bring our pet with us.  Then, they let you bring in all your own food – no need to sneak in snacks like the mall movie house makes you do.  They are structured for family social hour - $20 per car, doesn’t matter how many people.  And they have rules that encourage courtesy to those around you – set up your chairs and daylite entertainment behind your car (you get there at about 6:30 but the movie doesn’t start till dark) and please keep your tailgate at the level of your roof – they even drive around in golf carts to give you twine to hold it down a bit so others can see (and they ask that the really big vans stay in the back rows). Finally, the food they do sell there has a level of quality to it – not gourmet, but better than I expected.  The ice cream is great and there are sandwiches as well as the typical burger fair (though I wish they sold sushi).

So take advantage of your local, small business, close to the customer, stature. Your clients and customers have great ideas for you to carve out profitable niches - if you listen to them and don’t leave them wanting sushi at 38,000 feet.

Dan Kraus
Written by Dan Kraus

With more than two decades of experience in sales, marketing, and go-to-market strategies, Dan Kraus has developed a deep portfolio of experiences that he now uses to help small businesses profitably grow their businesses. As an entrepreneur, Dan understands the challenges of growing a business with limited capital and human resources. As a line of business manager in larger companies such as SAP America and Great Plains Software (now part of Microsoft), his experience launching new business ventures inside reputable organizations established his reputation as a creative and effective executive that could both plan and execute within corporate confines.

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