“Deliberate Change”

farrellfront1The other day, I mentioned my encounter with Bob Farrell and it prompted me to read up a little bit on the mostly tragic history of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlours.

Somebody, perhaps not a totally unbiased somebody, put a lot of effort to catalog the ups and downs of the organization, and it’s interesting reading, because it shows a fast rise, powered by a passionate concept, with adoring customers and a lot of unique qualities. But it also catalogs the decisions that led to its serious and terminal decline.

But the highlight of the whole sordid catalog of poor decision-making has to be the program Marriott (who owned the chain at the time) undertook in the ’70s, called “Deliberate Change.” (Even the name of the program sounds pathetic, but why quibble over that?)

Here are the “deliberate changes” Marriott decided Farrell’s needed to make in the late ’70s to return to glory:

  • Frozen hamburgers replacing fresh hand-pressed burgers.
  • Replacement of all-beef franks with cheaper, all-meat hot dogs.
  • Replacement of the Farrell’s recipe ice creams with standard commercial-grade.
  • The free birthday sundae was reduced from two scoops to one.
  • Sandwich recipes were converted to toasted bread from fresh bread (eliminated quality issues with day-old bread).
  • Pizza was rolled out to all company-owned free-standing parlours.
  • Janitorial service contracts were cancelled.
  • Video games were introduced to many parlours.

Gee, how do you think that went? Happy Birthday, kid! Hope you’re not hungry for too much ice cream! By the way, you’re getting your sandwich toasted … trust us, you want it toasted!

If all of this sounds cynical and crummy, that’s because it is. The assumption underneath all of this is that customers would not notice a difference between good quality and “standard commercial-grade” quality. If you’re a big company drone in charge of programs like this, you can usually produce data that “proves” you’re right, and in a sense you are.

But you are also totally wrong in the bigger picture, because once you signal to everyone involved in the business that all that’s required in your organization is “standard commercial-grade” quality in food, you’re going to get standard commercial-grade quality in EVERYTHING YOUR ORGANIZATION DOES.

If you’re lucky, one day, maybe I’ll tell you the story of how I saw a similar decision about quality go right and another one go wrong, and the difference it made to me. I might have to change a few names, but it’s a good story.

‘Til then, make sure your “deliberate change” makes things better for your customer rather than assuming that they’re suckers.

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