How many times can you cry 'wolf'?
How many times can you cry “wolf”? Friendly’s Ice Cream has seen it all – once, a wonderful family dining experience and, now, quite spotty. Reminds one a bit of the orange-roofed Brand, another New England icon with pretty good fried clams, I might add, which has gone the way of our memories. Before we had fast food and the plethora of homogenized accommodation options, Friendly’s and HoJo’s were the traveler’s choice. That was it on those trips. Now, again, Friendly’s is on the remake with a new CEO John McGuire. If he could only capture the essence of that time-warp experience, Friendly’s could resurge.
The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, August 25, 2013, had a terrific profile of Mr. McGuire and the Friendly’s history and challenges. A year earlier, a Consumer Reports’ Survey had stated that the restaurant would receive low scores in service and cleanliness. McGuire responded differently than many executives would. He agreed, and said the company was working to address those problems. Very refreshing!
Friendly’s has had its share of woes –aggressive growth, obscene debt, a sale to Hershey’s and buy back, bankruptcy, changing menus, tastes and demographics. Mr. McGuire is the fifth CEO in eight years (I think that my math is correct). Why should he succeed?
Mr. McGuire has that rare mix of humility and shrewdness. He sees the problem, admits the problem, and has laid out a plan to recover their loyalists. Some of the steps he is enacting include “… connecting employees with the outcome of their jobs... I have this fundamental belief that people are good, they want to be involved in something bigger than themselves, and they want to contribute, he says. That’s my life lesson in leadership, and I’m applying those same principles at Friendly’s.”
He has also refreshed the menu - fewer items, better ingredients, and heightened desserts (which have always been a Friendly’s mainstay). The restaurant facilities have been refurbished. He has also newly uniformed his service staff and some 6,000 employees have gone through additional training, focused not upon the what and how of their jobs, rather the why. “If there’s any advantage I have over the past few CEOs, it’s that I grew up with it, and so I remember what its core is and what it’s supposed to be and what it meant to people,” Maguire says. “Our biggest challenge now is to get those customers that have those memories, but we’ve disappointed, to try us again. Once they do that, they’ll come back.”
Will the Brand become timeless or lost in a nostalgia warp is the real question. Personally, I have always been a fan of history, heritage and memories. Hopefully, Friendly’s will deliver this, as well as timely and courteous service, clean surroundings and fresh, lip-smacking ingredients. I toast the current effort with my Fribble, for I do fondly remember the experience of years past!
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
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