This is Part II of a parable which began here.
Mary and Chris made small talk about the weather and the price of their co-working space as they descended the staircase to the street level of their building. Chris held open the door and, like clockwork, Mary took a left to head next door to the Starbucks.
“Oh, sorry, I thought we were heading to Kudzu, across the street,” Chris reminded Mary. “My treat.”
Mary smiled and shook her head.
“Sorry, force of habit,” said Mary. “It’s funny, I’ve worked here for three years and never been to Kudzu. Let’s check it out.”
They headed across the street and into the eclectic world of Kudzu Tea & Coffee House. Mary was surprised at the fact that every table, chair and couch was full.
“Wow,” she said. “Didn’t know it was this popular.”
“What do you want?” Chris replied. “I’m grabbing a Green Tea.”
“I’ll take an iced latte,” said Mary.
They waited for their drinks and made their way to a booth being vacated by two twenty-something women.
“I usually head down here for lunch or just when I need a break from the boring office,” Chris explained. “I find it easier to do my writing in here.”
Mary took a sip of her latte.
“I’ve only been in here once, but I saw this,” she pointed to the table tent which read, Laptops not allowed – enjoy life, “and headed to the Starbucks. I was just looking for a place to do my work. How do you do you writing without a laptop?”
Chris reached into his jacket and pulled out a fountain pen.
“As the old saying goes, the pen is mightier than the laptop,” he said, smiling. “I’m old-fashioned. I do all my first drafts in my notebook. Then I edit the heck out of it before taking it over to the computer. Old habits die hard.”
Mary half-smiled and shook her head.
“It’s been so long since I’ve written on paper,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write in cursive.”
They laughed. Chris took a sip of his tea, and looked up to smile at at man, who appeared to be in his sixties, bald with a white beard, approaching the table.
“Dane, how the hell are you?” Chris asked, extending his hand only to have it grasped by the two hands of the bearded man.
“Chris, great to see you,” he said, turning toward Mary. “And to whom do I have the pleasure of welcoming to my establishment?”
“Dane, meet Mary,” Chris said. “Mary, Dane.”
Mary extended her hand.
“You’re the owner?” she said. “So nice to meet you. Such nice place.”
“First time?” asked Dane.
“Yes, but it won’t be the last,” replied Mary.
“Do you work around here?” he asked.
“Yes, across the street.”
“Tell me the truth,” he asked. “Do you prefer Starbucks?”
Mary shifted nervously.
“It’s okay,” Dane said. “Don’t tell me…you’re not crazy about the laptop policy.”
Mary looked at Chris, they both smiled and started laughing.
“As a matter of fact…” she trailed off.
“It’s okay,” said Dane. “I get that a lot. And I totally understand. But it’s what differentiates us from the other guys.”
Mary looked down at her latte, wondering if she should ask her next question. She decided to fire away.
“But don’t you think you’d have more customers if you allowed people to use their computers?” she asked. “I mean, that’s the big reason I choose Starbucks.”
Dane smiled, used his hands to “shoo” over Chris in his booth, and then sat down across from Mary.
“You’d think that would be the case, right?” Dane asked her. “But interestingly enough, the opposite has happened.”
Chris leaned forward, jumping in.
“Okay, so Dane acts like a naive little country bumpkin, but the truth is he worked at a big, Chicago ad agency for most of his career,” he said. “Don’t be fooled, Mary.”
Mary looked at Chris, and then to Dane with a look of surprise.
“Guilty as charged,” Dane said. “Thirty years at McCall & Hart. I led the team that did the OMart Save Your Day commercials back in the 90’s.”
“I totally remember those ads,” she said. “That was you?”
“Well, it was my team,” Dane replied. “But we had a ton of fun with those ads. It’s kind of funny, thinking that I worked for the big brands for all those years, and now, here I am with my own, little rebel brand.”
Mary giggled and took a sip of her latte.
“And I’m having more fun than ever,” Dane continued.
Chris jumped in, “Dane was a legend in the ad industry….”
“More like a dinosaur,” Dane interrupted. “At least at the end. They kept wanting to recycle old ideas, and I saw these smaller brands eating our lunch.”
“How so?” Mary asked.
“Well, they were hungrier and smarter,” said Dane. “Before the Internet, big brands could own the airwaves by brute force … and money. But now, smaller brands can fight a guerrilla war and reach their niche audiences…”
“And have more fun in the process,” Chris smiled.
“Exactly,” Dan agreed. “Like we’re doing here at Kudzu. We know that our ‘no laptop’ policy turns some people off…”
Dane gestured with both hands toward Mary, smiling.
“And we’re fine with that,” he continued. “We know that our live music after 3 p.m. annoys some people, and that’s fine. Let them go to Starbucks.”
Chris added, “And we’ll continue to pack the place with the people who like what we offer and are attracted to our uniqueness.”
“We?” asked Mary.
Chris and Dane looked at each other.
“Well, Dane is one of my favorite clients,” said Chris with a grin. “We’ve been working together for a few years and I’ve helped him with his branding as he’s rolled out his new locations.”
Mary’s glance went from Chris to Dane.
“There’s more than one location?” she asked.
“We just opened our Gainesville location,” Dane replied. “Which now makes five locations. He held up his fingers to count…Gainesville, Jacksonville, Charleston, Columbia, and Raleigh.”
“All of them packing in customers,” added Chris. “Because Dane knows what his product is about and he focuses on telling that story to the customers who…”
Dane interrupted, “Who want to leave their laptops at the office, relax, listen to music, and have some good coffee.”
Mary took another sip and looked at Chris.
“Is there a lesson in here for me?” she smiled.
“You see, Starbucks and the big chains can afford to be everywhere and advertise everywhere,” he said. “Good for them. More power to ’em.
“But that doesn’t mean they attract everyone. And so we focus on reaching and attracting those forgotten souls.”
Chris looked at Dane and the two men laughed.
“Businessman John Wanamaker once said that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted, he just didn’t know which half,” said Dane. “Well, that’s just no the case today. We have the tools to find our audience and reach them with a lot less waste.”
Chris excitedly jumped in.
“And so it’s not about the spray-and-pray of a ton of impressions and eyeballs,” he said. “It’s about telling your story to the audiences that matter.”
Mary took another sip of her latte, lost in thought about the past several months of grinding away to attract eyeballs.
“Now I see what you mean by your question the other day,” she told Chris. “How many of the people viewing my videos are actually in my target audience.”
“Bingo,” he replied.
Dane put both his hands on the table, and slowly rose from the booth.
“Well, I have some other customers to attend to,” he said, extending his hand to Mary. “It was my pleasure, Mary. And I do hope you’ll come back…”
“Without my laptop,” she smiled.
The three of them laughed.
“Yes, without your laptop,” Dane smiled.
“One more question,” Mary said. “Why the name, ‘Kudzu’?”
Dane grinned, turning back toward the table.
“Kudzu is a type of plant that I consider an outcast,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t like it, because it can grow quickly. But it grows with deep, strong taproots. Because of its strong fibers, it’s great for making baskets. And it can also be used to nourish soil, and animals.”
“I see,” said Mary. “Well, I love it. And I may just be growing some roots here in the future.”
They smiled at each other, and Dan turned and walked back toward the counter.
Mary turned back to Chris.
“Thanks for the lesson,” she said. “I think I get where you’re coming from, but I’m just trying to think of how to undo everything I’ve done up to this point.”
Chris leaned in.
“You don’t have to undo anything. You’ve built up a nice foundation, and you got past the first hurdle, which is putting yourself out there to create content,” he said. “But the lesson isn’t over yet.”
He took a sip of his tea.
“There’s someone else I’d like you to meet.”
“Yes, absolutely,” she said. “I suddenly feel like I’ve wasted so much time trying to get this business off the ground.”
While she was talking, Chris had taken out a pen and was writing on a cocktail napkin. He handed it to Mary.
Mary took it and looked down to see a name and a phone number.
“Your next lesson,” said Chris.
To be continued…