Seemingly there are several very good examples of introduction stage products from which to draw. A couple I can think of, and it was difficult to not take time to fully describe them here, are the Twinkie (making its anticipated resurgence soon), Pizza Rev, a fast-food, build your own (Subway or Chipotle style), 800 degree stone-oven personal pizza delivered to your table in less than 3 minutes and Fiat’s recent introduction back into the United States (although I think the Fiat is now beginning its growth stage).
I have, however, selected a new start-up food service operation near the area where I live. The young Chef, Niko, had recently opened up an “express” Italian sandwich shop inside the back (previously a fast-food Mexican take-out) of a gas station. The Mexican food thing inside the back of gas stations is somewhat popular here in Southern California. Overall, the Mexican take-out is super popular here in Southern California.
I have to tell just a bit about Niko. Niko is a young Chef that has already held somewhat impressive positions in a couple of fine dining establishments including Sushi Chef at 333 in Oceanside, CA and Sous Chef at The Four Seasons in Philadelphia, PA. Niko was notified of the very low-overhead opportunity to move back to a neighboring city near his home town in Vista, CA and open his own eatery. Niko has been at it now for about 2 months.
Niko’s menu includes several sandwiches with an Italian flair, named appropriately with some Italian slang or common words. Niko was also told by his initial start-up helpers (family and friends) that if he’s going to do Italian, then he has to have a couple of selections of pasta. Niko is currently relying on his location (a very busy gas station) to provide opportunities for sales to curious commuters, and his food being the basis for word of mouth return customers. Niko is on a very tight budget but has made efforts to advertise his service by means of fresh signage to include his new illuminated marquee that adorns the gas station’s drive entrance. I’m not quite sure if the marquee signage will drive more customers. I think the real purpose of the marquee is kind of like a dog marking its territory, since Niko’s hours are restricted to the gas station’s hours of operation. None the less, if you buy gas at this station, you will have most assuredly seen the signage on the side of the building that used to hail ” . . . Mexican Food”.
Niko’s food is pretty good . . . in fact, I praise his sandwiches, even attempting a home rendition of his Sausage, Pepper and Egg breakfast sandwich ensemble. Niko also uses social media for his advertisements of “specials” and other start-up information like announcing his menu. Niko doesn’t yet have his own website domain but rather uses Facebook to keep in touch with his followers http://www.facebook.com/NikosItalianExpress?fref=ts. I have noticed over the last couple of years, if I have a curiosity about a food establishment that I have yet to explore, I try to find their website; and if they don’t have a website (domain), I somewhat feel more inclined to discount their operation. I also notice that many (most) food businesses have Facebook pages, especially the rapidly growing (fad) gourmet food truck enterprises. These food trucks send out messages via Facebook as to their intended daily location and any special information they may want to report (e.g. menu change). This daily “Tweeting” not only informs the potential customer, but also maintains daily communication with those potential customers . . . even if it’s one way communication. What it does is “advertise daily” to a wide range of potential customers, even if that potential customer is located in Sri Lanka. Niko recently added Cannoli to his menu in response to a couple of customer’s (I was one of them) requests. I didn’t see a Facebook post announcing that seemingly critical menu addition. Niko merely announced the menu addition in a personal message to me, since I previously wrote about his operation https://critdicks.com/2013/03/29/niko-and-the-creepy-lady-nikos-express-italian-deli-vista-ca/.
Another marketing opportunity Niko could explore is surveying the customers arriving at his counter. Niko recently added the Cannoli based on a customer recommendation. Why not conduct a quick survey of his guests about the offerings on his menu while their waiting for their food to be prepared. This quick survey could ask if there was anything the customer was hoping to see on his menu. The survey could also ask about the amount of time the customer would like to not exceed while stopping for gas and ordering from his menu. This survey could be administered even before the food is tasted. Now, I hate surveys because they take up my time. But wait, I am now waiting for food, so it might make the wait seem even less. Perhaps I would actually be glad to take the survey because it means, as a customer, I have immediate input to the outcome of my food and its preparation.
Niko could also slip a small piece of paper into the customer’s food bag upon leaving, briefly announce to them that he put it there and that the paper encourages customers to provide feedback about their food and dining experience through a post on his Facebook page. Niko can always monitor and moderate their posts and use the information to enhance the customer experience, and to meet or exceed their expectations in the future. Niko could also somehow give them a discount for providing the Facebook feedback. This interaction with the customer could prove to be very beneficial because it also tags the post to the additional “friends” linked to that particular customer’s Facebook page. Social media is very powerful if used properly.