This is the story of Jose and Maria and their pursuit of the American Dream. A middle aged couple from Latin America, taking all their life savings (and borrowing some more) to invest in a little breakfast and lunch restaurant in Miami, Florida called “Casa Maria”. By all accounts they are honest, hardworking and ambitious middle class small business owners.
What are the chances they will succeed in business?
Well, according to the SBA (the Small Business Administration): 30% of small business owner will fail in the first two years. 50% will fail by the 5 year. And 70% by the 10th year. There are various reason of course but most of them can be traced back to the lack of sales. To make matters more interesting, within 2 miles of Casa Maria Restaurant you will find a Denny’s, a Panera, two Starbucks, a McDonalds and an iHop restaurant. All offering breakfast and lunch menus.
Now, what do you think are the chances of Jose and Maria succeeding with their little restaurant will be?
You might think they are at a disadvantage, competing with major franchises offering the same meals at competitive prices. Facts are; these franchises have huge marketing budgets and spend thousands of dollars on market research to get you to buy from their breakfast menu. At first glance it would seem Jose and Maria don’t stand a chance, they are doomed to failure.
In the first few weeks Jose and Maria were struggling with word of mouth referrals, local handouts, mailers and walk in customers. The future looked bleak for our entrepreneurs. Casa Maria Restaurant could not afford major advertising, fancy technology or costly marketing programs. They created a very simple loyalty program.
“Eat breakfast with us 5 times and the 6th time be our guest and enjoy breakfast for free.”
Using Word of Mouth Marketing and promoting their Loyalty Program the business slowly grew. As customers would came in; Jose made the breakfast, while Maria attended to the service. They made it a point to learn the customers names, remember their faces. They shared theirs stories and struggles. Soon they learn more about their customer, their children’s names, their hopes, struggles and dreams. Not all the customers returned, but those that did grew to form friendships and close meaningful relationships. Jose and Maria grew their little tribe of loyal customers to over 700 that have breakfast at least once or twice a week. Some every day, Monday through Friday!
Casa Maria Restaurant is actually doing very well because they have figured out the key to success in today’s high paced, technology driven world. They have something the big franchises could never have with their efficient purchase quick and get out and on your way, business models. Where the big franchises train employees to greet customer with “Good morning, what is you order today?” Casa Maria uses the customer’s name and says “Good morning, nice to see you again, how are you?” and then they actually listen to your reply! Then serves your coffee they way you like it, because they already know you.
In reality, Jose and Maria have a huge advantage over the big franchises. They are building solid friendships and personal relationships with their customers. They get to know their customers, they provide a loyalty program to show appreciation to the loyal tribe. The customer are made to feel like they are visiting friends or family while having breakfast. Something that has been lost in the fast paced breakfast drive through with the cookie cutter menu franchises.
What we learn from Casa Maria’s Restaurant is that one key to success for small business owners is to build strong personal relationships using loyalty programs to show appreciation for continued business. It’s a win-win for the customer and the small business owners.
We would like to know what your think? How do you want to be treated? Do you prefer the franchise method of serving you breakfast or Casa Maria’s Restaurants way of treating its customers.
If you are a successful small business owner share with us your story. How did you succeed? What can your story teach us?