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winnipeg, taxis, pricing and the $2000 bowl of soup

Today I want to talk about word of mouth marketing, pricing, one of Canada’s coolest restaurants and a bowl of soup that cost a restaurant $2000 to serve (because they served it twice . . . don’t worry. I’ll explain).

I woke up today in a strangers apartment.

I told the story of how this happened in my blog post yesterday.

It’s a good life. I travel around the country trying to help good people and then good people are really helpful to me. Community feels good. Especially when it’s this odd community of strangers. All of us knowing we’re in it together and doing our best to reach out our hands to help other people who are up to good things.

Lesson #1: People go the extra mile to support good things. It strikes me how important this is for word of mouth and client loyalty. . . what a pleasure it is to spread the word about people and businesses that aren’t just in it for the bottom line but for the community.

Right now, it’s 3:59pm and I’m enjoying a Dragon Bowl at Winnipeg’s Mondragon Cafe. It’s a good example of this dynamic.

Mondragon is a political bookstore and vegan restaurant located in Winnipeg’s historic exchange district. The word Mondragon comes from the Euskadi (Basque) town of the same name meaning “Dragon Mountain” in English. Located in Northern Spain, Mondragon or Arrasate in the Basque language, is known for its extensive network of workers’ cooperatives, and has been the subject of numerous books and articles.

Inspired by this and many other examples of alternative economics and workplace democracy, our bookstore and coffeehouse is organized as a workers collective. We have no manager, and all worker members, regardless of starting skill or seniority, earn the same rate of pay. We call ours a “participatory” workplace, after the participatory economic model developed by co-authors Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert, and we feel that this structure is consistent with libertarian socialist principles.

It’s such a good business. They’re not trying to build an empire. They’re just trying to do something good. It’s noble. And it inspires people. And it makes people feel good about talking about it.

And feels good to support.

I’ll never forget my friend Jaime Coughlin taking me to Truro, Nova Scotia to lead a workshop for some local farmers. It was the only local/organic restaurant in town. And the owner told me that recently one of the people eating there had pulled her aside and said, “Say . . . I noticed you were short staffed and I was wondering if I could volunteer and help out a bit. You know, come and serve once a week for a few hours.” This is what happens when people not only love what you’re doing and how you’re doing it . . . but why you’re doing it.

When your business is really truly based in doing good things – people are waaaaay for lenient with mistakes you might make and far more likely to lend a hand to help make your business thrive.

Lesson #2: Experiment with your pricing.

Earlier, someone made my day by sending me these words:

“Last night, I read through the page about your upcoming live events, and it got me thinking about how I might make my group program even more affordable.  I had a follow-up call scheduled with a woman who really wanted to do my program but felt that she couldn’t afford it.  I asked if her if paying for it in 6 installments instead of 4 would help her, and she said that would make a huge difference.  So I set it up that way and she’s in!  That’s nearly $800 and a lovely client that I would have missed out on if I hadn’t considered more payment structures.  So I wanted to thank you and let you know.”

(Note: If you have someone you’re following who you admire. Send them some appreciation. You might be amazed at how seldom they get it and how much it might mean to them. An author you love? Let them know. People are more accessible that you think. Be specific. Share how it impacted you.)

The biggest shift in my business was when I started to do most of my workshops on a Pay What You Can basis. It’s being extremely profitable for me.

Could you do that? Could you let people pay over time? Could you take some trade? Get curious about this. Sometimes a simple change in the payment structure can result in a major increase in business.

Lesson #3: When you lose a client you lose all their future business.

This seems obvious.

Earlier today I called United Cab in Winnipeg to order a cab. They were having a hard time hearing me (frustrating for them I’m sure). But they got the address and when i gave them my phone number (my cell from Alberta) the lady I was speaking with (whose tone had been kind of rude and impatient to my ears) said, “you don’t have a local number??

No,” I said. “I’m staying at someone’s apartment. I don’t know the local number.”

I could hear her let out an exasperated breath. I was getting annoyed.

Should I call another cab company?” I said.

Fine.” Click. She hung up.

So I called Duffy’s cab. And entered their number into my phone. They get my business from now on.

But imagine if the woman had said, “Sir. I’m having a hard time hearing you but don’t you worry! We’ll figure this out and get you a cab. I’m sure you’re in a rush.” And she’d spent an extra minute or two. I would have felt so great. And told everyone that day about the nice cab lady.

But her hang up has likely cost that company a few hundred dollars. Had a friend who used to eat at a local vegan restaurant in Edmonton on Whyte Ave. He ordered a bowl of soup. The soup was terrible. He asked the server if he could exchange it for another soup. The server took it to the kitchen, only to have the same bowl of soup carried back to him by the manager. It was placed back firmly on the table in front of him with the words, “You’ll finish this bowl.”


He was pissed. He wrote them a letter telling them, “I have been a regular to your restaurant for the past few years. I come ___ times per week. I spend $____ on average per meal there. I bring friend with my _____% of the time. And, because of your rudeness, I will be boycotting your restaurant for the next six months. This decision has cost you $600.”

In the end he boycotted it for a year and a half. And shared his story with a lot of people. Including myself. And I noticed I wasn’t going as often. So, let’s easily assume that this one decision cost them $2000.

Hardly worth a bowl of soup is it?


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