Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Make It Personal

I love Jimmy John’s.

For those who haven’t been blessed with a shop in your area, Jimmy John's is a franchise sandwich restaurant founded by Jimmy John Liautaud in 1983. According to Wikipedia, Liautaud founded Jimmy John’s after graduating second to last in his class from Elgin Academy and receiving the choice from his father to either join the military, go to college or start a business. You can guess what he chose.

19 year-old Jimmy John borrowed start up money from his father, retaining a 52% stake, figuring he would open a hot dog shop in Charleston, Illinois. Quickly realizing that hot dogs would cost more than he originally figured, he shifted to sandwiches. His initial strategy included passing out free sandwich samples all around town. This resulted in building his business to the point where he could buy out his father’s interest after two years.

Today, Jimmy John’s has over 1,200 stores and is the envy of the franchise restaurant world. In an environment with a gazillion Subway’s and Quiznos’, why was there room for another sandwich place? First of all the product is great. Liautaud figured out that it’s all about the bread. According to his website, with a handful of cookbooks checked out from his local library, he perfected his bread recipe. This bread is baked in-house every day and served fresh.

But I think JJ’s has taken it a step further than simply a great product. From the moment you walk through the door it is as if you are in the company of friends. Do you ever get that feeling from the mumbling 18 year-old behind the counter of any other fast food joint? And no one gets out the door without one of their employees calling out, “Thanks for coming in guys!” And I mean no one.

Corny? I don’t think so. Is it an element included in Jimmy John’s training? I don’t know but even if it is a unique quirk of my local Jimmy John’s there is a lesson for fundraisers. We preach how relationships are key but then build up walls with stuffy prose and over-formalized processes. Drop your “airs”, be real, write conversationally and connect with your donor. Make it personal.

And oh, btw, check out their Facebook page if you want to see some interesting corporate to customer interaction.

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