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.