Thursday, July 6, 2017

Walking a Mile in a Grouch's Shoes

"Hell is other people." That's the famous, oft-quoted and oft-misunderstood line from existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre's play "No Exit."

It's usually thought to mean that the company of others invariably will grate on your nerves and drive you crazy. There is some truth to that (and if you don't believe me, try going on vacation with your in-laws.) But as Sartre himself explained, "That does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us."


Reality is a subjective thing. As Obi-Wan Kenobi's wise ghost explains to Luke Skywalker upon being accused of lying, "Many of the truths we cling to depend up on a certain point of view."


It's entirely possible that in a given scenario, you can be 100% in the right, yet someone who disagrees with you may not necessarily be wrong. I once worked on a project for an artist who was once part of a band with a hit record. The band fractured when it split into two camps and a party who outwardly exhibited every sign that they no longer wanted any part of the band filed a lawsuit against remaining parties over a document they never signed.

From point of view of the party I knew, they didn't feel they needed the consent of someone who had completely withdrawn from the entity and no longer wanted any part of it. From the other party's point of view, they were miffed an agreement that could affect their intellectual property would be negotiated without their input. Much bitterness ensued and the end result amounted to both camps essentially losing a bunch of money to a bunch of lawyers. Who was right? Both parties felt they had a point. But neither ultimately accomplished anything except making all parties involved financially poorer while fattening the pockets of litigators. It was an unfortunate state of affairs that probably got chalked up in the music rags as the old cliché of "creative differences."


Perception is reality. If you have done your best to provide quality service and product to a customer who still has a complaint - you have done your part and you may be 100% right. However, that customer has a grievance whether real or perceived. If they perceive a grievance, it's real to them. It's worth time investigating the nature of their complaint and understanding how they are seeing the situation. Even if you ultimately find there is nothing you could've done better, there may be something you find you can change about the way your customers perceive your quality of service or food.

I can't count how many pizza operators feel they have the best pizza out there. And they may all be right.....from a certain point of view. After all, taste is completely subjective. I'll give you an example: For a variety of factors, I believe Queen's Brian May is the best guitarist of all time....but you probably have your own opinion on the matter. (Feel free to comment why I'm wrong.)


The more often you can put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand differing points of view, the more you get out of your own bubble. The wider perspective you have on the world, the better. Knowledge is power. But beware of going TOO far down the rabbit hole of appeasing cranky customers. You can only please SOME of the people SOME of the time, after all.

Ultimately, this is all marketing really is: communicating the right message to the right people at the right time. And recognizing you might be right, but still be wrong in someone else's eyes can help you refine your message, or deliver it in a different way.






Thursday, May 25, 2017

This Was NOT Part of the Plan! (feat. Kenny G)






Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in a crowded but quiet airport lounge in Portugal (Lisbon, to be precise). Dan Uccello has passed out on a chair. His brother, Davide, indicates Dan is not feeling well. Their associate, Alex Garcia, just looks happy to be out of an airplane momentarily. Meanwhile, Michael LaMarca is concerned about our baggage. As well he should be. Even 12 hours prior, none of the five of us had the slightest idea we would be sitting together in a foreign country we had never been to. I never thought when I left the house that I’d end up in Portugal (which is beautiful, by the way). This was NOT part of the plan.
There’s greater concern about our baggage than if we were just on vacation. For me, the contents of my suitcase could mean the difference between doing my job effectively or possibly not at all. For them, the entire purpose of their visit is in jeopardy. Everyone in this party is part of the United States Pizza Team. They have entered themselves as competitors in the 26th annual World Pizza Championship in Parma, Italy. A town we’re having a great deal of difficulty getting to. If the baggage is lost, it means they don’t have many of their primary ingredients and none of their tools, with only one day prior to the start of competition. Currently, in this scenario, I am in good shape. On a whim, I packed most of my clothes in carry-on bags. LaMarca did not. He has no underwear for tomorrow.




The primary cause of our dilemma is one of those things that cannot be controlled (nor adequately predicted, despite all our technology). Weather. Due to inclement weather in New York, all our flights have been delayed and diverted, resulting in us meeting in Atlanta and collectively missing our flight to Milan. So we remain in Lisbon, waiting for a flight.


A post shared by Daniel Lee Perea (@elbebopkid) on


Dan doesn’t know it yet, but he will eventually rally from these setbacks to end up being honored at the World Pizza Championship awards ceremony. I will switch my coverage to a DSLR camera for the cheese factory tour that I do not at this point know I will even be going on. Alex will continue to look just happy to be wherever he is. And LaMarca will buy some underwear at a street market. (They may not fit right. He’s built like a Maytag washing machine.)

And, ultimately, that is the point of this week’s Pizza Perspective. If I’ve learned one thing in my almost four decades on planet earth, it’s that nothing EVER goes 100% according to plan. What is most often the differentiator between success and failure in any venture is how you handle the adversity that is created when things go off track. 




Just like LeBron James in last year’s NBA Finals, Dan Uccello of Flo’s Pizzeria in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had to dig his team out of a hole and find a way to win. That’s exactly what he did, coming back from an ingredient and tools deficit to take the top score of any U.S. competitor at the World Pizza Championship. 


Photo: Sarah Beth Wiley Smith


How did he do it? Not alone. Several of his additional U.S. Pizza teammates, already on the ground in Parma, obtained a list of the ingredients he had packed and lost. They took it upon themselves to go to the markets to get them. By the time Dan finally arrived in Parma, he found he had almost everything he needed. When the U.S. Pizza Team said his win was a team win, it wasn’t just hyperbole. Mr. Rogers once said that when times get tough, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” If there’s a cheat code for getting out of a jam, that might just be it. After all, no man is an island. 




As an added bonus, sharing the situation as a collective actually gave me a chance to get to know the Uccello brothers and Alex and served as a bonding experience. It also gave Dan time to pick LaMarca’s brain for marketing advice. This served as another reminder in my many life lessons that there’s always a silver lining to every cloud. (Additionally, I decided to create one of my own silver linings by lining my messenger bag with beers from the airport lounge. Sshhh.)




As an added bonus, we even got to meet legendary saxophonist Kenny G in an airport! Really!


Kenny G!


And what of LaMarca’s underpants? Well…  some questions are probably better left unanswered.




video


With age and wisdom, I’ve gotten a lot better over the years at handling the times things don’t go according to plan (although admittedly, I’m a slow learner.) There’s certainly always room for more improvement, however. There's an old prayer that goes something like this: “Grant me the ability to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


I’m not a religious person, but I have found this to hold a great deal of truth. And somebody once said, “The truth shall set you free.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Mother Road

©All photos unless otherwise noted by Daniel Lee Perea. 

I'm sitting in a motel room that dates back to the late 30s. There's a period bakelite rotary phone on the nightstand that looks as though it may ring at any moment with a Raymond Chandler mystery plot on the other end. (It even still works. So I'm told.) I'm merely one of countless thousands that have stayed in The Blue Swallow Motel on their quest to chase a slice of Americana. It is a well-preserved piece of history along Route 66.




I spoke to the proprietor, a man with a background in the corporate world, and asked what brought him to the remote desert vistas of Tucumcari, New Mexico. We spoke a few feet from the gleaming curves of the '51 Pontiac Chieftain that stays parked beneath the beautifully glowing, world-famous neon sign. He answered "I couldn't go back to another white collar office job. I just couldn't do it. My wife and I stayed here on a road trip, and it happened to be up for sale, and we decided to just go for it!"


This is the sentiment of many a budding entrepreneur. The day you can no longer continue working for someone else and feel compelled to chase your own dream. (I can relate. I started publishing Arcade Bar Scene in a bid to follow my own muses.)


Many times, I've criss-crossed the country along Route 66 (officially discontinued in 1986, and paved over by I-40 in the modern era, thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.)  "The Mother Road." "Main Street of America." It's both a literal and symbolic pathway to economic opportunity. From the earliest agricultural settlers, miners, and cowpunchers who moved west in a bid to control their own destiny, to the destitute hoardes chronicled in "The Grapes of Wrath" to the beat generation who pounded out poetry while they were "On The Road," to the paranoid "Fear and Loathing" of Hunter S. Thompson; Route 66 is a literary constant and primary touchstone of American culture.




On my trips out west, I like to muse and wax poetic about the nature of the American Dream. Like Hunter S. Thompson, I was chasing it for a while, not entirely sure what I was looking for. Is it in the sun-baked antique automobiles, gleaming in the sun off the highway? Is it in the trashy, run-down trailers and little league baseball fields that frame and contrast the the kitschy Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma?










Is it in the old west ghost town of Cuervo? The ruins of Arizona ranches? In the meek hovels of maverick desert rats who find the company of humankind so incompatible, they move as far away from urban civilization as possible to be one with the wide-open sky and sprawling vistas of solitute? Perhaps some combination all of the above? What IS the American Dream? How does one define it?



Eventually in Las Vegas, at a pizza event, I found what was (at at least for me) AN answer if not THE answer. Reconnecting with a certain Persian acquaintance in the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center as he demonstrated his innovative pizza equipment wares, it struck me. Here was a guy who grew up in a war-torn nation completely ripped apart by the questionable foreign policy of western powers. At some younger age, he managed to escape his battle-ravaged homeland and make it to America. Working his way up through the ranks of pizzerias, he hit upon a market niche or two, made a leap of faith and developed a company and some technological inventions that would fill some needs in the pizza industry. He built an entire company out of it, and became a jobs creator, while partnering with others to create innovative products. 

In short, he crossed the seas to come to the Land of Opportunity and seize his own bit of it. Self-determination and opportunity. That's been the American story for as long as there has been an America. It's the immigrant story in an immigrant nation. The stories I find in the pizza world are often exactly this story. And despite the Italian origins of the dish, there is, on a fundamental level, nothing more American than pizza; and the folks who make up the industry. What starts somewhere else comes chasing opportunity on a journey to melt in the pot here; and in the process, transform America into something more than the sum of its parts.

Is that the answer to "What is the American Dream?" Perhaps not to everyone. But it's enough for me.

_____

Photo: Brian Hernandez

Now, a bit further down the road and a bit of a detour off Route 66, my colleague Brian and I are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. We stare down into the vast, gaping maw of the crevasse. It is almost beyond comprehension. The size is so titanic, it's difficult for the brain to even process what you're looking at. I've experienced this sensation exactly one other time: when I was looking at the gargantuan interior of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most cherished national treasures and landmarks of America - to the point of being almost synonymous with Americana. The irony being that is has been here for MILLIONS of years before Amerigo Vespucci (another Italian connection) ever even thought about setting foot on a boat of any sort. The Grand Canyon is beyond any nationality. It predates us by millennia and will outlive any of us by more.  It makes one feel as small as they do when staring into the starry night sky in an area far from city lights. Small. Where the infinite meets the infinitesimal.

Route 66 has come and to some extent gone. Humans will come and go, and one day be extinct or perhaps replaced by another species. By staring into the ageless canyon, one is reminded that they are but a very tiny link in an extraordinarily long chain.  And so we press on. Down the road a bit further to see where it will take us. One mile at a time, perhaps better understanding with each stop and detour that there is never TRULY a destination. Only waypoints. So enjoy the ride while you can.

Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There's a world outside every darkened door
Where the blues won't haunt you anymore
Where the brave are free and lovers soar
Come ride with me to the distant shore
Life is a highway; I want to ride it all night long
- Tom Cochrane
©All photos unless otherwise noted by Daniel Lee Perea. 
#route66

Monday, March 20, 2017

Your Symbiotic Relationship with Customers

Control. To call one's own shots. To be the master of your own destiny. That's part of the American Dream; part of the entrepreneurial dream.  

Every entrepreneur has worked for bosses somewhere along the way that they didn't see eye-to-eye with. You may have had your own ideas about how things should be run.  And one day you knew you'd eventually be the head honcho.  This is a theme in an old Roy Oribson song, "Workin For The Man."
Oh Well I'm pickin em up, and I'm layin em down
I believe he's gonna work me right into the ground
I pull to the left, heave to the right. I wanna kill the man but it wouldn't be right
Cause I'm working for the man, working for the man
So I slave all day without much pay, cause I'm just bidin' my time
Cause the company and the daughter, you see, they're both gonna be all mine
Yeah, I'm gonna be the man, gonna be the man.

But will you REALLY control your own destiny, even when you become "The Man"? What IS control? In The Matrix Reloaded, Councillor Hamman poses the question to Neo who insists the machines in Zion are under their control:


Councillor Harmann: Down here, sometimes I think about all those people still plugged into the Matrix and when I look at these machines I... I can't help thinking that in a way... we are plugged into them.   
Neo: But we control these machines; they don't control us.  
Councillor Harmann: Of course not. How could they? The idea is pure nonsense. But... it does make one wonder... just... what is control?  
Neo: If we wanted, we could shut these machines down.  
Councillor Harmann: That's it. You hit it. That's control, isn't it? If we wanted we could smash them to bits. Although, if we did, we'd have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air...  

Sure, you might have developed five of the most perfect pizza recipes of all time....but what if the general public won't buy them at a price that generates a profit point? Can you afford to keep them on the menu? Do you call the shots, or does the consumer? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Just as the machines in the Matrix can't survive without humans who also can't survive without machines, a boss is in a symbiotic relationship with her/his customers.

Consumers respond to a number of factors. Taste, perceived quality, price point, service, atmosphere and experience, and sometimes even human relationships. These factors also exist in a symbiotic balance.
Finding the sweet spot requires tweaking and fine-tuning.  It also requires information from your customers.


Now that I've got you thinking about symbiotic relationships and communication, maybe it's time to take stock of yours. You may be doing enough communicating on your end, but how do you improve your listening skills when it comes to the consumer?


Fortunately, in the information age, it's never been easier. Your consumers live on their smartphones and in their social media spheres. Go where they live! I'm going to leave you with this tip today: Twitter polls.  If you're not on Twitter - get on it. But if you are, and have a lot of followers, you can take advantage of surveying specific questions with a twitter poll.

You can make a poll about anything you want. Whether people like a particular dish, how they feel about items you're thinking about adding to a menu, what to name a new product, what area you should expand to, even who they think is going to win the big game if you just want to have fun creating interaction with a poll.

To learn how to set up a Twitter poll, here's Twitter's article explaining it: https://support.twitter.com/articles/20174524

Hope I've given you some food for thought. Until next time, take the red pill.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Lights, Camera.....Wait, Let's Re-Cast The Lead!

"You were expecting someone else?" - James Bond
You may have found yourself here at Pizza Perspective by way of our editor-in-chief's column in the March issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine. Although he cited my colleague Andy Knef as the author of this blog, Mr. Knef informed us mere days after the issue went to print that he’d gotten a great offer in teaching that it would be almost criminal of him to pass up. And so Andy left in pursuit of new opportunities.

But have no fear, the Pizza Perspective blog will continue under the penmanship of Yours Truly.

"Allow me to re-introduce myself." - Jay Z

It's actually fortuitous timing that I take over this blog during the March issue. The cover story is “Lights! Camera! Pizza!” A feature on the importance of video content in marketing. For the past six years, I've served PMQ and the pizza world as the Senior Media Producer. That's a vague title, because I wear many hats here. But the heavy lifting in my responsibilities is video production.

If you've taken even a cursory look at the modern world, you've probably noticed how often people check their phones (I've even watched Cleveland Indians playoff games and pro-wrestling pay-per-views on mine.) There's a slew of social media apps, and every single one of them utilizes video (some more than others.) From subways in Shanghai 

that project ghostly, holographic video ads onto the tunnel walls, to the sensory overload of Times Square, to custom ad screens on gas pumps all across Middle America - there is nowhere you can turn to avoid seeing moving images. It's kind of the reason I have a job.

"Video killed the radio star." - The Buggles  

With video so prevalent, you can't afford to be left behind when it comes to promoting your products and brands with video. Fortunately, there are a LOT of different ways to use video and no single “right way.” Even if all you’ve got is an outdated iPhone, there's a marketing avenue for you. Our March 2017 issue will help you learn how to get in the game of video. 





But just because I've taken over Pizza Perspective in March doesn't mean it will become a blog about video. Pizza Perspective will continue to cover a wide variety of topics, subjects, ideas and cultural zeitgeists. 

In my experiences with PMQ and Pizza TV, I've trekked across this continent chasing the American Dream, delved into the cradle of pizza in Napoli, and explored the next frontier of pizza in Asia. If I've learned one thing in the process, it's what noted poet Maya Angelou wrote so eloquently: "We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike."  I hope, with this blog, to share new perspectives with you, that you will in turn share your unique perspectives with me, and together we'll share our perspectives with the readers. That's a win-win-win.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Australian pizzeria owner finds hangover love

Blake Pendlebury's Facebook "sick" letter captures kudos from impressed slackers 

We’ve all done it. Just like the pizzeria owner from Queensland, Australia, whose no-bull sick note charmed the Internet, we’ve called in sick when the only thing really wrong with us is one too many brewskies from the night before. Now usually the creativity that’s required for a remotely believable “under-the-weather” call-in or email is so daunting that we just suck it up and show up anyway, bravely battling our hangovers while we produce at roughly 47% of our normal work output, which is down from the solid 85% most of us put out on a good day.

But if the shindig was really rocking, you might try: “Listen…I seem to have (voice cracks pathetically) come down with The Cccrruuuuudd,” as you prop yourself up in bed still wearing last night’s go-to-party shirt and slacks.

“The Crud” is a great non-clinical catchphrase. It covers all the symptoms you’re trying to convey along an unspecified range—from the sniffles to open, oozing wounds. “Infection,” by the way, also works equally well to describe a snuffy nose and a flesh-eating bacteria.

Back to your Monday morning morning Oscar bid: “It’s really kickin’ (emphasis is effective on either the verb or adverb) my butt and I’m just afraid if I drag myself in, the whole building’s gonna get it.” Remember to say “gonna” with the same urgency JFK conveyed pronouncing “NOT” in his “Ask NOT What Your Country” speech. The same excuse, as an email or text, gets the job done. But it’ll probably demand a couple more details in lieu of your near-death-emoting live performance. If you’re well enough to hit the keyboard, co-workers figure you can find a way to cover those deadlines.

Just like Sex Panther Cologne, 60% of the time, that routine works every time. But wouldn’t it be sweet if we had the job security or authentic intestinal fortitude—not the fake intestinal flu—to really be real. To just say, “I lost track of my Budweiser count about the same time the damn Steelers were forgetting how to play defense. Then I chased down my misery at the thought of Belichik and Brady hoisting another Super Bowl trophy by hoisting a giant Long Island Iced Tea made out of what was left in the liquor cabinet—which was pretty much a bottle of Jack.”

Well, Blake Pendlebury, the awesome Aussie owner of Gaslight Pizza made his country, and slackers worldwide, proud when he posted his bracingly honest Facebook post. Lose that splitting skull scalder, my fellow revelers and anti-patriots, and you can read it yourself. It’s a masterpiece of candor, combining brutal honesty (no adequate backup) with a tone of heartfelt appreciation for his customers. Mr. Pendlebury, with major pizzaiolo chutzpah, admits he has come to the “bittersweet” conclusion that his restaurant, absent his cooking skills, is not worth opening. See what he’s done there? Old Blake has turned the ultimate work screwup—drunken irresponsibility—into a gesture of loyalty, true love and professional integrity to his customers.

Blake Pendlebury tied one on. And they ate it up! One customer replied to his post with a Facebook high-five: Claire Stachurski: That's possibly the very best "sick note" I've ever seen! Congratulations on both fronts!

Pizza guy Blake Pendlebury tied one on.
Here’s another: Jodie Adams: Like & appreciate your honesty. Congratulations! 👍🏼😊

Talk about the benefits of being your own boss! Somehow, I know my version of Pendlebury’s get-out-of-work free request wouldn’t be received so empathetically.

“Dear PMQ Publisher,

I regret to inform you that due to the NFL football-watching drunkfest I attended yesterday, I

will be unable to join you and my esteemed colleagues this morning for normal business hours. Unfortunately, unless this unprecedented episode of alcohol poisoning relents and my brain ceases its painful attempt to split in half and leak out from both ears, I may miss Tuesday as well. In this case, I highly suggest you cancel publication of the magazine and all new website posts pending my healthy return.”

With Best Regards and Sober Respect,
Your dedicated employee

Monday, January 9, 2017

I'll take two Garth Brooks tickets with that pizza, PLEASE

So this story about the Irish lady who ordered cold medicine, along with a pepperoni pizza from a Belfast Fish and Chips shop and, amazingly, got them to deliver her entire order, really got me thinking.



Not so much about the obvious observations:

A. Those Irish restaurant owners and delivery drivers must be super nice to actually agree to bring Fiona Cuffe her Benelyn Cold and Flu tablets from the drug store.

B. Since when do fish joints serve pizza, anyway?

Nope, you know my mo’, faithful readers. Got to go deep. I started pondering, in reverse order of cosmic significance:

1. She says in her online order: “…only ordering food so I can get the tablets. I’m dying sick xx.” She insulted their food…and they still brought her the darn meds! Must have been the kisses.

2. If I thought I was about to croak, and I truly believed my pizza deliverers would bring me anything I asked for in honor of my dying wish, I’d start with Super Bowl tickets, or maybe two front-row seats to the Garth Brooks concert coming up in Memphis.

3. OK I get it, we’re talking about items a delivery driver could reasonably stop and pick up on her way with the pizza. Stuff like razors and deodorant and toothpaste and ear swabs. If you’re like me, you’re always running out of toilet paper just when you need it most.

4. TMI? A rare blizzard (actually thin dusting) is panicking peeps here in Mississippi. Instead of me overcrowding the local Dollar General to stampede levels, the super nice pizza driver could bring me my bread and milk and keep my face off TV.

5. Overkill? Batteries are practical. They can mean the difference between life and death when you lose the electrical cord on your radio boombox.

6. OK, we’ve already stipulated these are really, really nice pizzeria owners and delivery drivers so I’m doubling down. In this utopian existence, they would surely do their best to make my final hours on Earth special. I’d ask for some 6-inch Angus fillets, king crab legs and a turtle sundae to top off my pepperoni pizza.

7. It’s true, I’ve got a nervous stomach. I know I’d be too rattled to eat one of those rich final meals if I was only a couple hours from taking my last walk to the lethal injection room before getting strapped in. Please, Fish and Chips Pizza Man, bring me a puppy, instead, (with big feet, not a snippy little yippy dog) to pet and cuddle before the lights go out.

8. Forgot about the lease. I’m a simple man with simple needs, in touch with my Emily Dickenson side. Just deliver some brilliant Red, White and Yellow roses in a deep crystal vase (long A) with an oversized card signed by my girlfriend that reads: “You deserve to experience all the beauty in the world. Here is just a glimpse of what reflects back to me when I look in your eyes.”

9. I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. “You’re frickin’ dying already. Why isn’t Miss Wonderful there to hold your hand while you give it up?"  Or maybe: “Did he really write that part about the reflecting beauty, or was it some Hallmark nerd?”

10. All mine and, no, my girlfriend hasn’t ditched me! She’s just super, super, really, really busy at work. And that’s why we don’t have time to go see Garth Brooks. The heck with it, we’re talking theoretical scenario, folks. My for-real questions are simply: Does Fiona look more like the ogre in the movie, or Cameron Diaz? And, did she even pony up a tip?