The Not-So-Subtle Art of Being Weird: How to Be Successful by Standing Out

Great leaders know the best way to beat their competition is not just to be better, but to be different. They understand that weird often wins.

The Power of Being Different

I was listening to Mike Dillard’s podcast the other day about a remarkable leader who turned around a failing organization. His name is Jesse Cole and if you don’t know him yet, you should. He is the owner and operator of a summer college baseball team located in Savannah, Georgia. But more than that, he’s a man who understands the power of being different.

Jesse came to Grayson Stadium in Savannah after a minor league team left the area. He owned a small collegiate summer baseball team and decided to bring them to the city with a goal of bringing baseball back to this historic 4,000-seat stadium. He knew he was in a city with a long tradition of baseball but he learned quickly that it was going to be very difficult to attract people to a sport that was dying in America. People found baseball was boring and Jesse soon found his dreams were bigger than his cash flow.

Jesse decided to take a different approach, to think differently. Instead of just being in the baseball business, he thought of himself as running an entertainment company. He wanted to create a fun place for families to go and enjoy a memorable time together. So, taking cues from P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney, he decided to create something special and it started with naming the team.

The Critics

Like most team owners, he went to the community to find a name. After reviewing hundreds of submitted ideas, one really stood out. It was weird, it was quirky, and it fit Jesse’s vision of being a fun entertainment company. That name was ultimately chosen. His team became the Savannah Bananas – and the reviews were terrible.

The community was in shock. The critics thought it was outrageous. City leaders were upset. How could this upstart baseball owner choose a disrespectful name for such an important and historic baseball park? What was he doing?

Embracing the Weirdness

But Jesse went all in with the Savannah Banana theme. He had a unique logo created featuring a banana baseball player and he purchased bright yellow uniforms for the team. Jesse even bought a yellow tuxedo so he could act as master of ceremonies for the games. But it didn’t end there.

He and his associates looked at what other teams were doing and they did the opposite. They introduced a simple pricing structure to make it affordable for families: $15 got you into the game and included an all-you-can-eat pass. The players greeted fans as they came into the stadium and danced between innings. They had a breakdancing first base coach and a pep band. They even had a group of elderly ladies as a dance team called the Savannah Nanas.

The Result

The fans loved it because it was so different from anything they had ever seen before and the critics embraced it as well.

Jesse went from having only a handful of season ticket holders to selling out their stadium for two years straight. Even now there’s a waiting list to buy tickets. The Savannah Bananas became a sensation in Savannah and around the country. Jesse’s little team caught the attention of national media. He had created a fun place for families and a great place to work. The energy and excitement of being a part of this organization brought the team together as well. The atmosphere was good for baseball. The Bananas became so good they won the championship for their league.

Jesse credits his success to being weird, different, and standing out from the crowd. It began by thinking differently about his business and acknowledging he was in the entertainment business, not the baseball business.

Valuable Lessons

As business leaders, what can we learn from Jesse’s approach? What are we doing to be weird and different? How are we standing out from the crowd? What are our competitors doing and how can we do the opposite?

We are doing some of this right now in my business, Peak Demand. For example, my competitors are all big corporations. They have poor customer service and ship their products in six to eight weeks – so, as a small business, we chose a different model. We build-to-stock to ship our products in just 24 hours and make it easy for customers to do business with us. We even include a small “prize” with each of our products for the person who opens the box. It might be a sticker, a koozie, a pen, or a screwdriver – just something small to thank the users of our products, not just the person who buys them. We want our customers to feel special. As CEO, I also follow up with every customer 30 days after the sale to ask how their experience was and how we could do better.

After hearing the story of Jesse Cole and the Savannah Bananas, however, I think I could be doing a lot more!

How about your business? What are you doing to stand out? Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you are doing that’s weird and different.

If you want to learn more about how Jesse Cole turned things around for the Bananas, I suggest reading Find Your Yellow Tux: How to Be Successful by Standing Out.

Photo Credit: Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

Great Leaders Look for Opportunities to Show This

Great leaders know that success is the result of extra efforts by amazing employees. These leaders look for opportunities to show their appreciation.

Looking for Opportunities

Last week, I was out in the factory and saw my company’s top mechanical engineer working on a drill press. He was modifying parts so they could be used in production. I knew he had been there all morning reworking these parts because we had a big customer order that had to go out. It wasn’t his job but he did it anyway because he cares deeply about the success of our company.

As a leader, I couldn’t just walk by and ignore his efforts. I stopped and talked to him. I told him how much I appreciated him and the work he was doing. He didn’t have to be standing at a drill press all morning working on these production parts but there he was. I had to acknowledge his extra efforts.

The Problem with Most Leaders

The problem with most leaders, however, is they miss these opportunities. Most leaders are sequestered in their offices and oblivious to what’s happening with their teams. They are unaware of the extra efforts their best employees are doing every day. These employees are left feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.

One of the most frustrating things I see in leaders is a negative or indifferent attitude towards people. Many choose a career in leadership who don’t have an appreciation for the impact they have on their teams. Unfortunately, these leaders usually find they are less effective when they lack a people-focused mindset. The reason is that leadership is inherently a people business.

“Leadership is a people business.” Jon S. Rennie

The entire role of a leader is to motivate a team of people towards accomplishing an objective. Great leaders know this and they know it’s important to show appreciation. They also know people are messy. People have issues, problems, emotions, quirks, hang-ups, baggage, and can be unpredictable. A great leader can see past the flaws, love their people, and motivate them to do great things. In my opinion, you can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

“Great leaders aren’t afraid to love their teams.” Donald Miller

A CEO who Cares

Donald Miller, founder and CEO of Storybrand, sees it the same way. I like his thoughts on this subject as he reflects on the culture he built at his company. One of the core values he put in place was to “make his employees’ dreams come true by serving clients faithfully.”  I thought it was interesting that he purposely intertwined serving customers with the dreams of his employees. In his view, loving your employees and showing appreciation means helping them reach their full potential.

“Great leaders can see the greatness in others when they can’t see it themselves and lead them to their highest potential they don’t even know.” Roy T. Bennett

Miller credits the growth of his company to the “secret ingredient” of love. Things changed at his company when they started to live out these core values. As he loved and respected his employees, they loved each other, and they worked as a team to better serve customers. He built a culture of respect with a foundation in love.

He has two fundamental rules which have helped him create a culture of love and respect:

  1. Hire people who are better, smarter and faster than you.
  2. Never mess with their hearts.

Make a Positive Impact

If you’re a leader, you have a deep impact on the lives and careers of the people working for you. You need to be patient with their flaws and take time to truly appreciate their contributions. The biggest problem with employee engagement in most companies today is that employees feel their bosses don’t appreciate them.

Imagine how they will react when they see their boss truly cares!

Reach out to me a Twitter and let me what you do to show appreciation for your team members.

The Real Cost of Poor Quality

It’s one thing to have a quality problem but the way you address it can make all the difference in the world.

You may have heard that Wal-Mart is trying to compete with Amazon in online shopping. They are offering features like in-store pickup, short lead-times and free shipping. I thought I would take a chance and try them out. I found a set of two acacia wood outdoor chairs with a five-star rating and I ordered them. I assumed the chairs would require assembly and I was ready for it.

The package arrived ahead of schedule and I was impressed. I was also impressed with the quality of the chairs. The wood was finished to perfection, the cushions were well-made and the construction of the chairs was substantial and sturdy. The assembly instructions were clear and written in perfect English. I was ready to go.

This is when the problems began.

Each chair was missing one critical structural part which made it impossible to complete the assembly. Fortunately, there was a phone number for the manufacturer and instructions to call if there were any problems. I called them right away and they picked up.

The call center was off-shore, but that was OK. What wasn’t OK was that they required all the Wal-Mart ordering details before they would even help me. This was frustrating but after searching through e-mails and paperwork, I finally found the number they needed and reported the problem.

After being placed on hold for what seemed like an eternity, the support associate told me that they didn’t have the parts and they couldn’t send them to me. I was surprised by the response and suggested that they go to the warehouse and open a complete box and send me the missing parts. I was placed on hold again. When he came back he said they would not be able to do that. I asked him what I should do with these chairs and I was placed on hold again.

After another long delay, he offered me a $20 discount if I just bought the parts on my own. I was confused and asked him where I could buy these parts. He suggested going to Home Depot and buying a piece of wood to manufacture the replacement parts myself.

I was shocked by this answer and I offered the following observations to the young man on the phone. First, I wasn’t sure if Home Depot sells acacia wood. Second, I have no idea what these parts actually look like. Third, if I could carve chair parts out of solid wood, I probably wouldn’t be buying chairs from Wal-Mart. I asked him for another option and I was placed on hold again.

After another long delay, the associate offered me a $40 discount if I just “made” the parts on my own. This just seemed like a desperate response from a company that didn’t really have a plan for a missing part. I told them their options were unacceptable. I was placed on hold again.

This was the longest delay of the phone call. Eventually, he returned and told me they would send two replacement chairs and I could keep the other chairs. Yes, that is correct. They couldn’t send me the replacement parts from a box in the warehouse but they could send me the complete box.

This was probably one of the most bizarre support calls I had ever made and there are some interesting lessons here about the real cost of quality.

Make sure your quality is right. Getting things wrong costs money and a loss of goodwill with your customers. It is mission critical to do whatever it takes to make sure your products are right the first time, every time.

“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” – John Ruskin

Have a plan when things go wrong. If things go wrong, have a plan to take care of the customers. Make things easy for them because they are already frustrated. Make sure your processes don’t create more irritations. Be genuine, apologetic and generous in your solutions to fix the problem.

“Quality is free. It is not a gift, but it is free. What costs money are the ‘un-quality’ things – all the actions that involve not doing jobs right the first time.” – Phillip Crosby

Listen to your customer’s suggestions for solving the problem. Your customer may have a solution to fix the problem that is better than your plan. Listen to them and do what you can to accommodate their requests. Give your support teams the authority and flexibility to go above and beyond for customers.

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” – Donald Porter

In the end, the combination of poor quality, poor planning and poor support is deadly. The real cost of poor quality is leaving your customers feeling confused and frustrated. And frustrated customers look to your competitors for their next purchase. I don’t think Wal-Mart is ready to compete with Amazon yet. In my opinion, they still have a lot of work to do. I think I’ll stick with Amazon for the time being.

If you are looking to improve quality and create a workplace culture where employees are absolutely obsessed with customer service, I recommend this book: The Service Culture Handbook by Jeff Toister.

{Photo credit: IKEA}