Stop Commodity Mentality: “What ever you do, do it well.” Walt Disney

Commodity Mentality

Happy New Year!  Start the New Year out right by never assuming your product or service is a commodity. How many times have you thought, “We don’t have the time, money, or talent to innovate.” Or, “Our product is really a commodity, so we have to just make sure we can produce it at the lowest possible cost.” Well, let’s look at an example that might change your mind.

Recently, I had an hour layover in the Charlotte airport on my way to present to a group of executives, “How to Innovate Like Walt Disney and the Pixarians.” As I was walking to my gate, I noticed a shoe shine stand and decided to have my shoes shined. But before I continue my story, let me give you a little background about my family.

I come from a long line of shoemakers. My great grandfather, my grandfather, and father were all shoemakers. I grew up in a shoe repair business, so as you can imagine, I was taught at a very young age how to care for and shine my shoes. (If you’ve read the 3rd edition of The Disney Way, you already know that my mother owned a toy store; what a combination…I always had good shoes and toys!).

I have had my shoes shined in many places around the world, and if ever a product fell into a commodity category shoe shining would be one. Most shoe shines begin with a thorough cleaning of the shoes with a soapy brush, sometimes followed by a clear cream to soften the leather, and then two or three coats of paste polish applied with a damp rag, buffing with a soft rag, and lastly liquid sole dressing. In 40 years of my shoe shining experiences, not much has changed. Some shoe shining professionals are more personable than others, some may have a newspaper, some use a power buffer, but they are all pretty much the same.

And then there was my experience in Charlotte. The first thing that caught my attention was the over-stuffed lounge chairs that drew me across the hall to speak with the shoe shiner. He asked me how much time I had, and when I said “one hour”, he said “good.” When I sunk down into the soft easy chair, he began by rolling up my pant legs several times and placed three hard plastic forms between my shoe and socks on each foot.  I thought this was to make sure he didn’t get polish on my socks. Next, like all good shines, the process began with a soapy brush, but before the cream was applied, he coated my shoes with a liquid polish to color any scuff marks. Then, instead of the typical two or three coats of paste polish, he applied at least five, maybe six coats. Next, he took out a butane torch and melted the paste polish into the leather (I discovered that the plastic inserts were to kept my socks from burning.), then buffed the shoes, and then applied another two coats of paste and buffed again. He finished with sole dressing.

I felt like I had a brand new pair of shoes! Now, the going rate for a shoe shine at most airports is somewhere between $4 and $8. At the Charlotte shoe shine area, I didn’t notice any price posted and wondered what this “exceptional” shine was going to cost me. When I pried myself out of that fabulous easy chair and asked how much I owed, you can imagine my surprise when he told me to “pay what I thought it was worth!” I reached into my pocket and gave him a twenty.

What can we learn from this example? I tell my clients and keynote audiences that all business really is “show” business, so try to make every experience special. Now with most commodity products such as shoe shining, it’s important to concentrate on engaging the customer; and, I can tell you that that lounge chair in Charlotte made me feel special and engaged me from the start.

But, more than that, the Charlotte shoe shiner was definitely focused on innovating his product…a far cry from a “commodity mentality.”

Begin this New Year by thinking about your product as much more than a commodity:  Ask yourself, “What memorable experience can we provide our customers?”  And, “What unique ways can we dream up to innovate our product or service?”

Walt Disney once said, “What ever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

The Charlotte shoe shine experience impressed me for life…whenever I can connect through that airport, I’m in!


Next Week: The Magic Words that Can Increase Productivity Over 10%!