When I considered e-mailing my customers and asking them for help during the economic downturn, my PR company thought it was a terrible idea. One year ago almost to this day, I did it anyway. Here's what I wrote:
“I have never understood why owner or management of a failing company usually don’t give others close to the company—especially customers—fair warning about what is going on….I have always said I would never do that to the people I truly care about and owe my life to.”
I went on to explain that we would be forced to close because of faulty bank loans, new construction problems and real estate mismanagement. Then I asked for one last visit to help us out. Within a few minutes, the phones started ringing off the hook. And in another 20 minutes, the whole thing had gone viral. We’ve since seen our traffic and revenues grow, and we’re getting stronger by the day. In fact, our customers are more loyal than ever; over the past 17 years, we’ve built up a database of over 1,600 frequent guests. Each and every one feels like family to us because of the mutual trust we’ve built.
So how do you create this community of trust? Here are a few tips I’ve learned from this experience.
Be clear about your purpose. The crux of a strong company culture is to know your purpose in this world. At Nick’s, we organize our entire business around delivering a unique and meaningful experience for our people, our customers and our community-at-large. That is the essence of our culture.
Be open and honest. Sharing everything with my team and customers has helped us create transparency as a company and build trust inside our four walls and out. As a team and a community, we have an “open books” policy; we share all our financial details, including profit-and-loss statements, food costs, labor costs, employee retention data and more, even our own salaries.
Encourage feedback. It’s important to share mistakes and learn from them to build trust among our team and community-at-large. Even owners and top managers make errors; it’s important to own up to them. This creates a comfortable environment where team members can easily communicate challenges, and the community feels more compelled to give feedback about their experiences—online, in-person and in writing.
Say "thank you." At Nick’s we use a rewards program to thank our guests each and every day for their business. Considered a “VIP pass” among our community, rewards cardholders earn exclusive access to special menus, dinners and deals, regular coupons, birthday presents, fundraisers and more.
Let people be themselves. Sometimes you have to let go of some control. Swapping a commanding attitude for a coaching one helps unleash your team’s natural passion in the pursuit of achieving our shared purpose. When your community sees this trust between business leaders and their team members, they in turn trust you.
Nick Sarillo is the founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub in Crystal Lake and Elgin, Ill., two of the top 10 busiest independent pizza restaurants in the country. His first book, A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business was released this month.