NEW ORLEANS-Wouldn't it be nice to go to bed knowing every one of your next day's customers was going to be treated the same way? Greeted with the same friendly smile; their cars left spotless; sent on their way with a pleasant handshake?
If that were the case, your dealership would be, in the words of former Burger King CEO Barry Gibbons, ``ho-hum.''
It's not that those are bad goals to strive for. But in order to succeed in the 21st century, tire dealerships have to plan and work at keeping their dealerships different and exciting, Mr. Gibbons said during the opening session of the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association's convention Oct. 12 in New Orleans.
``Nothing has to be mundane-even the most boring stuff in business,'' he emphasized.
Rapid change is a fact of life in today's business world, said the animated, 49-year-old native of Liverpool, England, offering the rapid political changes in Europe as examples.
The problem is, too many businesses are afraid to change with the times.
``Fear! Fear! Fear is in everything we do,'' he said emphatically. ``We must develop an understanding of the difference between fear of mistakes and fear of failure. If you don't make mistakes, you will fail.''
Working around fear isn't easy. But entrepreneurs can do it if they keep focused on the only business concept that has never changed: ``Do more-and better-with less.''
Mr. Gibbons is no stranger to change. The wonders he performed as the head of Burger King in the late 1980s-including adding a broiled chicken sandwich without months of market tests-turned around the struggling fast food chain and prompted Fortune magazine to name him one of the ``New Turnaround Champs'' in 1990.
It was at Burger King that Mr. Gibbons formed his passion for stirring things up a bit.
He told dealers he had once had a conversation with an inspirational speaker he was about to introduce to a collection of his Burger King managers.
The speaker told him he had just eaten at a Burger King outlet.
``What did you think,'' Mr. Gibbons asked somewhat anxiously.
``Ho-hum,'' was the reply.
The words were crushing, Mr. Gibbons said.
``I said, `I'm trying my hardest in my life to get 7,000 restaurants to be ho-hum?'' Mr. Gibbons said during his convention speech. ``But America is a sea of ho-hum. That will not get your boat through the white water.''
He began creating a ``challenge culture'' throughout the Burger King organization-one in which employees were encouraged to think for themselves, propose their own ideas and challenge the ideas of others.
``Knock out `empowerment' and just think `trust,'*'' he said.
Trusted employees feel good about the company, and that comes across in customer relations, Mr. Gibbons said, adding 70 to 90 percent of customer decisions not to return to a business are because of service problems.
Problems like the time one customer left a Burger King drive-through with his lunch minus the Whopper he had ordered.
It could have been the kind of event that would make a customer eat elsewhere. But when the hungry man called to complain, the store manager promptly drove another Whopper-and an apology-to his office.
Ho-hum, you say? Maybe. But the manager went one step further.
The next day, he showed up again at the customer's office with a free lunch.
That night the customer and his family talked about Burger King over dinner, Mr. Gibbons said.
``What can you do in your own dealership to get your customers talking about your dealership over dinner?'' he asked. ``The winners in the next century will have their customers talking with their families over dinner.''