Friday, March 14, 2014

One Smart Cookie by Debbi Fields

 When Debbi Fields was growing up, she had the feeling that all of her siblings were more special, more skilled, than she was, and it left her wanting to accomplish something that was truly her own. She had an underlying need to be a people pleaser, and she spent hours perfecting her own chocolate chip cookie recipe. As a young married woman, she would hand them out at social events to her husband, Randy's business associates, and eventually the crazy idea was born that maybe other people would pay good money to enjoy her cookies.

It wasn't easy, and convincing the bankers to loan them the money for Debbi's dream was tough, but she opened her first store in a shopping mall in Palo Alto in 1977 and her business eventually grew beyond her wildest dreams.

At one of Randy's meetings, she relates a story about a group of business executives who had asked ahead of time if Debbi was going to bake cookies for their meeting.

"Who better to ask? So I said to them, 'What would you think about my starting a business to sell these cookies to the public?'
'Bad idea,' they said, their mouths full of cookies, what had been a plateful only minutes earlier now reduced to crumbs they were artfully dabbing up with genteel thumbs. 'Never work,' they said. 'Forget it.'"

There are plenty of important points about customer service and business ethics one can learn from reading her book.

She worked at a Mervyn's as a teen, and was very well-liked and productive there. She says,
"At Mervyn's, I just kept pushing and striving, and they kept noticing. The more they acknowledged my efforts, the harder I tried to make things perfect. Some employees - I know from personal and sad experience - do not see the world in this way. I am making x amount per hour,  they figure, and therefore I will give them x percent of my effort. Why do people who think that way even bother to go to work in the first place?"

I always found that Debbi's philosophy of always working to make things better, of giving your entire effort, and not just the effort you feel your wage buys, to be very effective.

Like so many of us, Debbie was already experiencing, back in the 70s, the depersonalization of the shopping experience in the big box stores, and reminiscing fondly about spending time and money in an establishment where people really wanted to help you, and would likely know your name, and your family's history - not like the creepy big brother thing we've got going on now.

"...Randy's clients and my friends and both our families and lots of bankers were right in their belief that you didn't sell cookies in order to get rich. I didn't care about the money. It was an experience I wanted to create, some kind of gift to people - a lot of whom I felt were exactly like me, cheated of the emotional value of their money by big stores, fast food, systems without affection."

While still in her first location, Debby hired her first employee when she found someone at another business who "had a knack for engaging strangers in brief but delightful conversations".

"We had a terrific thing together, working side by side in the store. And as others joined us, they were brought into what amounted to a conspiracy to have a good time, to turn a job into play and make it at least a small joy to come to work every morning."

What a great corporate culture!

Debby relates to us a great governing principle, put simply, "The more we did for our customers, the more they did for us. I had always been taught that life was the other way around - that you had to make sure you got what was coming to you - but in practice the opposite was true."

In contrast to the way many franchises do business, Mrs. Fields doesn't just give employees the rote task of putting together a pre-portioned, bulk produced, assembly line style cookie.

"What we do is teach people all over the world, on four continents, how to be excellent, artful, instinctive bakers."

Her company's motto, "Good enough never is", encourages people to go above and beyond, to produce an excellent product, and never to settle for just good enough.

This book is chock full of not just chocolate chips, but tasty morsels of savvy business advice for anyone who really truly wants to chase their dreams of excellence.

No comments: