Stew Leonard's Does A Little Extra For A Mom And Her Son

From 2003 to 2012 I lived just up the hill from the original Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, CT. As the World’s Largest Dairy Store, it was one of the main inspirations behind my first book, Purple Goldfish. Stew’s truly gets the idea of doing the little something extra and the importance of a differentiated customer experience.

The store has been called the Disneyland of Dairy Stores by the New York Times, because of its milk processing, costume characters, scheduled entertainment, petting zoo, and animatronics throughout the stores. The favorite for my kids was the Chiquita Banana. My son Thomas used to dance to this catchy jingle:

In the words of Stew, “Where kids go, customers follow.” Last week Stew Leonard’s shared a note on their Facebook page from a customer:

Stew Leonards

“Hey Stew Leonard’s, Just wanted to let you know about a great experience I had in your store. My son Charlie (age 8) is developmentally disabled and while he loves to shop he has a tough time waiting at checkout. I mentioned it to the cashier and immediately he and Chris H jumped into action and said ‘mam you just watch Charlie and we got this!’ Then another cashier came in and beautifully packed my groceries alongside Chris H and checked me out. I was able to attend to Charlie in the front of the store and keep him calm without a meltdown situation. What a surprise and a pleasure! Most people don’t realize children with disabilities are not naughty, it’s just some situations can be overwhelming. I always loved Stew’s and I will definitely frequent Stew’s more! Great group of employees – all of them class acts!”

Special Needs

One of the 12 types of Purple Goldfish is a category called Special Needs. Every once in a while you’ll have a customer that requires a little unexpected extra care or attention. Those special needs can be varied. In the book we shared examples involving food allergies, breathing issues, death in the family, illness, and scheduling issues. Handling these issues like Stew’s did for Charlie and his Mom demonstrate both warmth and competence. It demonstrates humanity in business and the importance of service.

A business shouldn’t do these things because they want to generate marketing buzz. They should do these things because they are the right thing to do. Any extra word of mouth should be an added bonus. One of the stories from my keynotes and workshops involves Panera helping a customer with a special need:


Panera used good judgement to help a dying grandmother by making soup and sending along cookies for lagniappe. In less than four weeks, a single Facebook post by her grandson Brandon Cook garnered over 800,000+ likes, 35,000 comments, and national media coverage. Why? Because Panera empowered its employees to do the little extra for a customer in need.

How are you helping customers with a special need? What’s Your Purple Goldfish?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is a story I heard from the founder and namesake of Stew Leonard’s.During his first year in business, Stew was asked by the local elementary school to speak on career day about his store and the dairy business. Even though he didn’t see the appeal for kids, Stew reluctantly agreed. Pulling into the parking lot he knew instantly there was trouble. A fire truck parked in front of the school with a bunch of enthralled kids all around it. It didn’t get any better when he walked through the doors of the school. The was a room of kids with a member of the Air Force. They were playing a movie about the history of jet airplanes. Across the hall was a police officer showing a packed classroom various police equipment and weapons. Stew walked down the hall and eventually found his classroom. There was a sign on the  door that read THE MILK BUSINESS. Stew walked in the room to find only three kids. Two of them were the sons of his produce manager. For the next 30 minutes he talked about running a dairy store. At the end of the talk he thanked the kids for their attention. Then Stew reached into his pocket and handed them each a coupon for a free ice cream. The kids left and Stew waited to present the second of two Career Day sessions. He waited and waited… no kids. 15 minutes later and still no kids. After 20 minutes the school prinicipal came rushing in and exclaimed, “Stew, I don’t know what you told those kids, but we have to move your next session to the school auditorium.” This simple story underscores the power of giving and how effective word of mouth marketing can be. By the way, guess what you get when you buy $100 of groceries at Stew Leonard’s? You guessed it, a free ice cream.

The two most important factors of how we relate to people, products and companies

Book Review: The Human Brand

In our evolution as humans, we were forced to develop skills integral to our survival. One of which was the ability to make snap judgements about our surroundings with a high degree of speed and accuracy. As we walked out of the “cave” our senses went immediately into survival mode. We judged everyone and everything we encountered on two basic criteria:

  1. Are they a threat?
  2. What was their ability to carry out that threat?

The Human BrandThis basic truth is at the heart of Wiley’s new book The Human Brand by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske. Their research has shown that over 80% of our judgements as based on these two factors. It boils down to our perception of 1. warmth and 2. competence. These perceptions don’t just apply to people. We also apply the same standards to products and companies. We automatically perceive and judge their behaviors on a subconscious level. Brands are people too.

Here is author Chris Malone talking about the two dimensions of Trust:

Relationship Renaissance

From the Local Village to the Mass Market to the Global Village

The mass market is a relatively new phenomenon. Merely 150 years ago we consumed almost everything made from people we know. A merchants reputation was as precious as gold. If a small business wronged you, everyone in the local village would quickly know about it. Merchants faced public censure, potential ruin and even losing a limb (see story of the “Bakers Dozen“). As a result, businesses worked hard to establish trust and earn repeat business.

But then the mass market emerged. Almost everything we consumed was made by a faceless, far off company. The voice of the customer waned. We were powerless to expose or punish brands that acted badly. Outside of lodging a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or writing consumer advocates like Ralph Nader, we were handcuffed.

Enter Digital, Social and Mobile. The internet has changed the game. In the words of author Chris Malone, “For the first time in history, the entire world is wired in a way that is consistent with the way evolution has wired us to think and behave.” Social has flattened the earth. Each consumer has the opportunity to share their experiences with millions of others. There is a huge ripple effect in the global village.

A phenomenon John Lennon famously called Instant Karma,

Lyrics from the Hard Rock Vault

Lyrics from the Hard Rock Vault

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race”

Need an example to drive this home? Look no further than Panera and the story of Brandon Cook.


The Human Brand shares the touching tale of a Panera store manager who used good judgement to help the dying grandmother of a customer. Making soup and sending along cookies for good measure. In less than four weeks, a single Facebook post by customer Brandon Cook garnered 800,000+ likes, nearly 35,000 comments and scores of national media attention. Why? Because Panera empowered its employees to demonstrate warmth and competence by doing the little extra.

BOOK TAKEAWAYS: Consumers want to be heard. Social accountability is back and its here to stay. Consumers expect to have relationships with their brands. Companies must forge genuine relationships with customers. We now expect relational accountability from the companies and brands we support. Consumers will view the actions (or inaction) of brands based on warmth and competence. And warmth is absolutely key.

Chris Zane of Zane's Cycles

Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles

The Human Brand is not just theory. It draws from original research, evaluating over 45 companies over the course of 10 separate studies. There are plenty of case studies. The book features in-depth analyses of large companies such as Hershey’s, Domino’s, Lululemon, Zappos, Coca-Cola, Panera, Amazon, Chobani and Sprint. It also touches on small to medium sized businesses with compelling case studies such as Dr. Kelly Faddis, the University of Dayton, Zane’s Cycles and Loeber Motors.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a game changer. I guarantee you will be rethinking your approach to customers and prospects after reading this book.

  • You’ll rethink your approach to loyalty programs
  • You’ll rethink how you prioritize people vs. profits
  • You’ll rethink ever doing a “daily deal” like Groupon or LivingSocial
  • You’ll rethink the cost of new customer acquisition vs. upselling current customers
  • You’ll rethink how important is to make the first step in demonstrating warmth and competence
  • You’ll rethink how your actions will be perceived through the Principle of Worthy Intentions
  • You’ll rethink how leadership can become the literal “face” of your brand
  • You’ll rethink how you handle a crisis

In the words of Malone, perhaps the greatest takeaway is this, “Companies need to embrace significant change in the way they do business with customers, better aligning their policies, practices and processes to reflect warmth and competence.

One word: AMEN

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is John Lennon singing his classic, Instant Karma at Madison Square Garden: