For some reason my Grandmother was on my mind the other day. Maymie Shell Chambliss kept us all hoppin' until the age of 93. A rural school teacher by trade and a farmer's wife by design, my Grandmother cooked with real lard, butter and salt, used fresh eggs right from under the chicken, milked cows and goats (unpasteurized of course), and shared a lot of chocolate candy and real Cokes in glass bottles with us kids. She was a strong woman with a big faith and a catchy laugh. We always enjoyed hanging out on the farm helping Grandaddy harvest his crops (peanuts mostly), peddle vegetables off the back of his Chevy pick-up (biggest and most sought-after cat head tomatoes in Butler County), and playing with the cows, goats, chickens, ducks, pigs and various yard dogs that were always wondering around. And my Grandmother LOVED watching it all.
Later on in her life one of my Grandmother's guilty pleasures was getting a fish dinner at Captain D's in Greenville. Back then it was a long drive from Brushy Creek to town, but a trip to Captain D's was always special. So on a recent trip up Opelika Road in Auburn, Alabama, with "Granny" on my mind for some reason, I passed by a Captain D's I had been to before but had not eaten at in a while. In honor of Maymie Shell Chambliss I decided this would be my lunch stop.
Now I know a greezy plate of fried fish is not the healthiest choice, but I can afford a few calories - and it tastes a WHOLE lot better than rice cakes.
When I walked in the front door of this Captain D's (same front door I remember from a while back...door handles were always a little slippery) I knew I was someplace special. Everyone greeted me sincerely, really, like they honestly were happy I had come in - not just because the manual said they had to greet me. The place was pretty full for after 1pm on a week day and just about every diner who could see me turned a little and smiled as if to welcome me into the club. It was not an odd look or stare, just a "welcome" smile that was very inviting. The lady at the counter greeted me affectionately as "hun" just like she did everyone else who walked through the door. The cooks in the back nodded "hello," the lady making the tea asked how many lemons I wanted, and everyone seemed naturally nice. "Why does this seem so odd," I'm thinking.
There were conversations across the counter and into the dining room - asking about the days' events, weekend plans, children, grandchildren, car trouble, hospital stays. I began to realize that this crowd comes in a LOT. People came and went and each one was a family member. There was nothing special about this particular Captain D's except that, whether they knew it or not, these particular employees had created something we don't see much of and all of us crave:
Every diner felt like this was THEIR place. They were welcome. They were appreciated. They were important. And this crew made it happen for me in just one visit!
So what does local marketing have to do with Captain D's? Well, I will argue with you all day that online marketing, social media marketing and big money advertising will NEVER fix a bad product or service. The one thing that will is COMMUNITY. Community will cover up a bad mood, dirty tables and trash that needs to be taken out. That's not to say that Captain D's has a bad product. It was really good. My Grandmother liked it and I do too. But really - is Captain D's on your list of places to dine this week? This month? This year? They spend a lot of money on TV advertising on WSFA and WTVM. Do the ads make you want to go and eat there?
What makes people want to eat at Captain D's in Auburn, Alabama - and keeps them coming back - is COMMUNITY. And therein lies the challenge: what type of COMMUNITY have you created in your business? Is it worthy of people coming home too?
Tim Chambliss is a local business advocate and Owner of Modern Media Consulting, LLC, in Auburn, AL. Tim helps local businesses harness the power of local search, social media and online/offline advertising.