I grew up near and then went to college in Ann Arbor, where there was a deli that had such an incredible level of passionate energy for their food and service that I remember thinking to myself that I hope to one day create a business that could have that great level of energy flowing through it. I also remember thinking, this will probably be the first of many businesses like this that I’ll see. Well, fast forward 20 years, and Zingerman’s STILL optimizes what I strive for.
Last week I spent two days with Ari Weinzweig, the founder of that now-not-so-little deli in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s. Started in 1982, it now does $40 million in business out of Ann Arbor alone. They’ve expanded into a bakehouse, coffee roasting, mail order, creamery, candy making, roadhouse-style restaurant, and a training business. Ari walked through their secret sauce in this great 2-day seminar.
Their size is not what’s truly amazing about them. What’s amazing about them is the energy and excitement that pours out of every team member I encountered in their businesses. For 30 years they have had these recipes for success (before any of them became trendy):
1. Great service goes beyond service to just customers – it also includes how co-workers are of service to each other, how the owners and managers are of service to their employees, how the company is of service to its suppliers, and how the company is of service to its local community.
I saw how co-workers would lift each other up and how every interaction included a consciousness of “what can I do to help?” And how that lifted everyone’s energy.
2. Great service is defined as Listening, Getting the person what they asked for: Accurately, Politely, and Enthusiastically, and Going the extra mile – it MUST be something above and beyond that the customer didn’t ask for. I saw how co-workers went the extra mile at each interaction, and how empowered they felt as they WOW’ed customers.
3. Empowerment through open book and weekly huddles around numbers.
Every department in every business has a dashboard of numbers they track on a weekly basis from revenues to energy rating of co-workers. Usually about a dozen numbers on each board
At first, I was thinking people probably roll their eyes at all the numbers ever week. But then I asked a random group of five co-workers what they thought of their numbers boards and was surprised to find that they LOVED them. Why? They like having and SEEING the impact they can make and it’s a fun game they can play at work everyday to see how they can positively impact the numbers
4. A passion for the product/food.
At Zingerman’s they aren’t interested in just selling anything. They have a passion for great food products that have a great story behind them. Each person I met was truly passionate about the food and service they were offering.
5. Servant Leadership
Several people commented on how they appreciate how the owners were humble and worked shoulder to shoulder with them a lot of the time. Ari spends most of his evenings filling water for customers at the restaurant. He calls it “management by filling water.” I call it genius. His co-workers love it, customers love it, he gets his ear to the customer where it counts most.
A bunch of years back Ari heard about doing “appreciations” at the end of meetings. Where everyone is invited to express appreciation for another co-worker. At first his managers resisted the idea. Then Ari said, “you know what, we are just going to give it try for a while.” That little practice comes through loud and clear with how expressive everyone is of their appreciation for one another. Which adds a ton of positive energy to everyone’s day. They also have a monthly internal newsletter, with 10 pages of “thank you’s” between co-workers. Amazing.
Two posts ago, I talked about the power of visioning
and shared Zingerman’s example. After last week, I have a little more perspective on why this is so powerful. When the vision is expressed as if it has already happened and in a way that has both heart and is tangible then:
a. the team gets excited about a bigger vision to reach for
b. the team has an invitation, permission, and expectation to make it happen on their own
c. the team members get excited knowing that there’s opportunity for growth for themselves within the organization.
With over 500 employees, the one thing that the founders of Zingerman’s won’t delegate is their new employee training. It’s where new employees get the Z cool-aid from it’s source. They talk about their history, philosophy, and recipes for success. As Ari was talking about this, I hit myself in the head realizing that it was a subtle piece that I’ve missed in my businesses. We assume that new folks will naturally pick it up from others. But there’s something real powerful about making sure our employees hear direct from the owners what the company is really about.
Thanks Ari and everyone at Zingerman’s for your inspirational example of greatness!!