One of My Biggest Entrepreneurial Lessons.
I was recently walking in Beverly Hills and passed a travel agency that's been there for decades. I shuddered as I remembered my first brush with the badass, old broads who ran this agency long ago.
They proudly called themselves band groupies who got into the travel business, helping musical groups with their air, hotel, and other travel needs. That office had a dozen middle-aged women ruthlessly protecting their clients—the Nirvanas, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jams of the world.
I was a young buck in my late twenties who'd created San Francisco's rock 'n roll hotel, The Phoenix, and I was walking door-to-door to these agencies with hotel logoed-schwag thinking that these ladies might see me as a Santa Claus in hotelier wardrobe. On the contrary, they didn't give me the time of day. They already had closets full of schwag, and they'd never heard of my dowdy-turned-funky hotel. My first business trip to LA to visit entertainment travel agents taught me something. Don't bring what everyone else brings: schwag and chocolate chip cookies.
On my next trip to LA, I brought two surprising things that had these travel agents suddenly calling their band tour managers and recommending The Phoenix. I told them we had a massage studio in the hotel and would offer free one-hour massages to the frenzied tour managers upon arrival. This was a lifeline to these guys, who were usually like the older brothers to the band, making sure there were no overdoses or groupie hijackings. Tour managers are stressed to the max, so a massage is just what they need (and "knead").
And the second thing I gave the travel agents was my home phone number (before cell phones) because when the shit hits the fan with a band, I wanted them to be able to reach me at any time. Within the next month, our little motel (that aspired to be a hotel) was full of bands, and all these years later (today is the 36th anniversary of the grand opening party of The Phoenix), it's still the crossroads for the creatives
Reflecting on my experience with the travel agency made me realize the importance of meeting customers' unrecognized needs, a lesson I later wrote about in my book, "PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow." The customer hierarchy of needs has three levels: meeting their expectations (clean room, good mattress), meeting their desires (friendly staff, great restaurant, and bar), and meeting their unrecognized needs (free on-site bus parking and a free massage for the tour manager). And the top of the client (travel agent) hierarchy of needs was an easy, dependable way to solve problems if they came up (my phone number). You're a commodity at the bottom of the pyramid. You're a hero at the peak.
If this interests you, you might want to join us in Baja for our workshop next month, "Entrepreneurship at Any Age" (June 12-17). I'll be joining my MEA co-founder Jeff Hamaoui (who has been advising entrepreneurs for decades), and serial entrepreneur and author Steven Cardinale. Think of it as a mastermind group to help your existing business or potential start-up be more effective and successful.