Consistent Product, Service Execution

A loaf of bread in every arm. OK, so it is not your usual corporate mission, but it has been the passion and focus of Panera Bread since 1981. The chain has grown to 558 corporate and franchise locations.

Why is it a restaurant chain that sells breads, pastries, bagels, sandwiches and soup can be making such a name for itself? According to research conducted by TNS Intersearch, the company scored the highest level of customer loyalty among quick-casual restaurants. It also earned an esteemed Choice in Chains award, sponsored by Restaurants and Institutions magazine. Nations Restaurant News cited Panera Bread as being No. 1 out of 118 competitors in a national customer satisfaction survey of more than 71,000 consumers. According to a company press release, Panera has won best of awards in nearly every market across 35 states.

How is this possible when the company works in a very competitive environment? It has competition across the street and down the block, as well as new rival stores being built all around it. Is this starting to sound like another industry you know?

If you have never visited a Panera Bread store, let me give you the answer in five words: consistent product and service execution. I have enjoyed a coffee and a bagel or a bread bowl of soup in Panera locations across the country. Its products are always fresh, and the customer service is always superior. Its stores are always clean (including the bathrooms), and the counter people actually seem interested in getting you what you ordered.

Panera Bread is winning in a competitive marketplace because it has distinguished itself with its products, as well as its management teams approach to customer service and satisfaction. Its success is not because it provides the cheapest cup of coffee in town or gives away its products with discounts. It is successful because of consistent product and service execution.

I have been in hundreds of self-storage facilities during my 19 years in this industry. I have seen first-class facilities with secondclass employees floundering to meet their budgets and the financial goals of the owners. My comments are directed not only to fulltime managers but, in many cases, relief managers and part-time employees. The old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is equally true for our industry.

Do you have consistent execution of your management systems and customer-service programs in your stores? Does every customer look at a clean rental unit when the door is lifted? Is the phone dialog centered on convincing the prospect to make an appointment to come to the store? Is every customer who walks through your office door treated with a smile and a warm handshake? If not, I recommend you look for a Panera Bread location near you and go have a cup of coffee. Look for lessons that can be applied to your own store.

Are You Looking for the Curve?

It is no secret to the people who have met me that Im a plus-size guy. And being on the road about 75 percent of the time means a lot of nights in hotel rooms. My recent experience taking a shower at the Hyatt in Minneapolis showed me the value of a curve.

For me, taking a shower in a standard tub is a constant game of shower-curtain magnetism. It seems every movement increases the magnetic power of the curtain. Hyatt has a better ideano, not the expense of a larger tub. The company has simply changed the straight shower-curtain bar for a curved oneand an additional 6 inches of shower curtain. The result is a luxurious feeling of being in a huge shower. The other outcome is Hyatt will have me as a customer more often.

It is a simple and relatively inexpensive change, but it produces a major difference in the experience for the user. I wonder what curved curtain-bar ideas might be in the self-storage future. It could be outfitting units with shelving as a permanent fixture for business customers (with a corresponding increase in rental rates). Have you found a new curve at your store? If so, please drop me a note and I will feature it in an upcoming column.

Speak Effectively in Front of a Group

Speaking in front of a group is one of the average Americans biggest fears. All of us are speaking to people every day as a part of our jobs. While it is not always possible to send your staff to lengthy speaking seminars in faraway cities, it may be possible to have them go to the local coffee shop or hotel on Tuesday mornings to participate in a Toastmasters International group meeting.

Toastmasters groups bring together people from all walks of life, with a common goal of self-improvement. The following outline, taken directly from the Toastmasters International website,, will explain how the program works.

  • The Toastmasters program exposes each participant to a wide range of communication experiences.
  • Each new Toastmaster receives a New Member Kit, which features a copy of the basic communication and leadership manual, general orientation materials, and information regarding skill-improvement in areas such as speech evaluation and the use of gestures.
  • The initial prepared speeches, as outlined in the basic communication and leadership program manual, are designed with the new Toastmaster in mind.
  • A variety of assigned speeches help the participant develop competency in areas such as organization, voice inflection and persuasiveness.
  • During the meetings Table Topics session, members learn to think on their feet by delivering short impromptu speeches, lasting one to two minutes.
  • After giving a prepared speech, each Toastmaster receives a constructive speech evaluation. This process recognizes speakers for their strengths and provides valuable insight into problem areas.
  • Upon completion of the basic communication and leadership program, Toastmasters may participate in the advanced program. Participants may choose from specific business-oriented topics, such as speeches by management and technical presentations.
  • Workshop-style success/leadership programs are also available, offering opportunities for further skill development in areas such as leadership, public speaking and conducting business meetings. These programs are especially effective as in-house training and can be tailored to meet the needs of your company.

You can find a group near you by visiting the website and clicking on the Find a Club button at the top of the homepage. Oh yes, Mr. or Ms. Owner, there is another reason to consider encouraging your managers and other key employees to join Toastmasters: Each club is made up of local residents and business people who could turn into future customers as they network with members of your team.

Jim Chiswell is the owner of Chiswell & Associates LLC. Since 1990, his firm has provided feasibility studies, acquisition due diligence and customized manager training for the self-storage industry. In addition to being a member of the Inside Self-Storage Editorial Advisory Board, he contributes regularly to the magazine and is a frequent speaker at ISS Expos and various national and state association meetings. He recently introduced the new LockCheckTM inventory data-collection system to the self-storage industry ( He can be reached at 434.589.4446; visit

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