Friday, March 21, 2014

Lessons Learned in Asheville: Part 1

Because I never stop arts administering when I'm away from my theater, I tend to see details that are applicable to my work everywhere I go. Case in point=my family took a 36 hour getaway to Asheville, NC last weekend. It was a lovely mental break from the constant managing/thesis/internship work I have going on right now. I also constantly remarked, "we should do this in theater," much to my husband's amusement. Here is the list, in order of the weekend.

1. "Kids are not an afterthought but should be planned for within the experience." In a bigger sense, this is no detail is too small. Think about who comes to your shows, who you want to come to your theater, and make them feel comfortable. As a parent, I'm always impressed when a business includes touches for my kid: eye-level signage, stools in the restroom, and interesting things at the check-out counter. Tupelo Honey treats the under 12 set as valued customers in their own right, with palates that are as varied as their parents'. 

2. "Amuse Bouche needn't appeal to everyone to be effective." Tupelo Honey brings these beautiful biscuits to the table when you sit down, gorgeous southern fluffiness, with house-made berry compote and local honey. Honestly, I wasn't that crazy about the taste. But the sheer presentation made me appreciate it and eager for my dinner to arrive. It's impossible to pick a small gift that will appeal to everyone who comes for a performance. But don't let that stop you from trying something. You could tie it to the show, or make it relevant to your organization branding, or make it not particularly relevant to anything within your four walls at all--the fact you're gifting anything may be enough for some people. 

3. "Do something remarkable and different with outstanding service and people will line up to work with you." We arrived right at opening for brunch at Early Girl Eatery and there was already a line of a dozen people waiting to get in (we'd been warned). This restaurant would technically be considered of the diner-variety: breakfast all day, meat-and-two (or three) offered, salads, that sort of diner. The food was amazing, incorporated local ingredients; the dining room had a friendly, comfortable atmosphere; and the service was almost impeccable*. Your patrons may come to you for the plays, but they come back to you for the experience. Make the whole experience so enticing that return customers take up most of your seats. This likely means saying "no" as rigorously as you say "yes." Don't put something on the menu just because it's in vogue. 

4. "Know your customer. You become a valued, supported member of the community by relentlessly focusing on that community." Malaprops is one of the best known independent bookstores in North Carolina, if not in the southeast. As an independent, with limited square footage, they've figured out who their customer is, what appeals to them most, and then offer that on a daily basis. Writer's groups, author readings and signings, community bulletin board: everything ties back into their literary mission. Find one small thing that fits with your mission and do that. Then scale it up or out. Shakespeare house? Maybe it's voice and dialect classes. New works? Maybe it's a local playwrights roundtable once a month.  

5a. "What small ordinary thing that you may find elsewhere can you make extraordinary?"
5b. "What sample pack can you give your customer?" These are related and both come from Asheville Brewing Company. We stopped in for lunch and had pizza and ordered a flight of different brews. First: you can find pizza everywhere, right? The ABC pizza had the best sauce I've ever tasted, and offered a variety of doughs for the crust. What one small thing about your product can you make extraordinary? If there are several theater groups in your area, what will be the element that sets yours apart? Maybe it's costumes, or the seats in your theater. Yes, your art should be the most excellent you can produce. What's the extra 1% you can give?
  The other one is the flight. If you're not a brewery regular, this is a [usually] paddle of 4 oz glasses that contain a sample of the breweries offerings. Depending on the place, sometimes you can pick what you want, others bring the 4-5-6 they have on tap. It's an inexpensive way to sample everything and pick what you really like**. Then you order a full pint of that. How can we let folks sample our wares? I think this especially applies to the organizations that offer a variety of performing arts, but may be even more important for traditional theaters. Maybe we need to add/rebrand subscription packages to "sample packs": buy 3 tickets, come to any three shows of your choice from the season or first three months or whatever works for you. Then tell us what you like and we can make sure you don't miss it next time around. This is doable even in one-person shops; even a simple CRM database can let you log that data and sort for "comedy" next time one rolls around.

There are five more. Part 2 is here

*I say almost because I believe there is always room for improvement in customer service. Until someone can read my mind. 

**Especially when there's 2 different IPAs on tap! There is a reason Asheville is known as the Beer City of the South. 

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