Last month, we announced the winners of our 2016 Best of Business (BoB) reader-choice poll. If you’re not sure what that’s about, you can learn more in this press release. Suffice it to say, this annual survey invites you, our readers, to vote on your favorite self-storage product and service suppliers in nearly 40 categories. Voting takes place online during the month of June. After we announce the winners on Aug. 1, we publish in-depth profiles of the victorious companies in the November edition of ISS magazine.
Now, let’s be honest: Most of you probably wouldn’t be very interested in reading a bunch of advertorial mumbo-jumbo about how “amazing” these vendors are, right? You get enough of that in their advertising and other media. So when it comes time to assemble these profile pages, we do our best to showcase the information you really want to know:
- Who is this company really?
- What’s its culture like?
- What does it stand for?
- What makes this company unique and superior to competitors?
- What makes it worth supporting and following?
- In short, why should you care about or do business with this firm?
It’s not always easy to get at the heart of these answers. Respondents naturally want to highlight their best attributes and break out with the cheerleading, which is perfectly understandable. They’ve just received an accolade, so they’re feeling pretty dang good about themselves (and so they should). That said, it’s my job, and that of my staff, to ask interview questions that force them to reveal more than what’s in their sales brochures. We change the queries every year to keep them fresh; and we always toss in a bit of a curve ball—one question that demands inspired, inventive thinking.
Over the years, we’ve asked our BoB winners things like:
- If you were to summarize your company philosophy as a fortune-cookie message, what would it be?
- If you were to compare your company to an animal, which would it be and why?
- If you were to compare your company to a celebrity, who would it be and why?
- Tell us a little-known fact about your company or one of its leaders that would surprise most people in the industry.
- When things get stressful around your office, how do you and your team blow off steam?
- If your brand could be subtly promoted on any TV show, what would it be and why?
This year, in addition to a host of sober, probing questions, we asked our victors to tell us which flavor their company would be if it were ice-cream, and why.
Now, let’s start by acknowledging that we live in a supreme ice-cream age. Never have there been so many excellent options on the market, so many lively flavors and varieties. Heck, nevermind simple ice-cream—there are gelato shops popping up all over the country! The grocery-store frozen-food aisle is bursting with new, better, more imaginative ice-creams than ever before! The possibilities on this question were near limitless.
I bet you really want to know how people responded, huh? Well, this is your lucky day because I’m going to give you a sneak peek. I’ll warn you in advance, though, you may be disappointed.
In spite of the bazillion flavors now offered by ice-cream superstars like Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Baskin-Robbins, Graeter’s, Blue Bell, Breyers, Häagen-Dazs and the dozens of other makers on the market, the majority of our winners identified themselves with … you guessed it … vanilla. Incredible, right? Now don’t get me wrong, I love vanilla ice-cream. As so many of this year’s respondents pointed out, “It’s an enduring classic that goes with anything.” But to me, this is a lackluster analogy, a safe answer.
After vanilla, almost as many companies opted for yet another innocuous selection: Neapolitan. Perhaps they thought it shrewd to choose a “threefer” (three for the price of one), but it reeks of ambivalence. Several other respondents claimed, “We’re not any one flavor; we’re a whole sundae with a bunch of flavors and toppings!” That’s the worst cop out of all, because not only were they unwilling to commit, they flouted the question. Then we had a few companies dodge the question entirely—fail!
I’ll give props to some of the more creative answers, like Baskin-Robbins’ Gold Medal Ribbon (surprisingly chosen by two companies), Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked, blueberry cheesecake, champagne, chocolate-chip cookie dough and “electric lime” (which doesn’t actually exist, but they get points for dreaming up a new flavor). To see which flavors were chosen by which companies, you’ll just have to read our November issue, which should start hitting mailboxes in early October. If you have a subscription, you’ll also be invited to read a digital version via e-mail. (Not yet a subscriber? Become one here.)
Now, you might be thinking this kind of information is frivolous and you don’t give a hoot what ice-cream flavor, animal or celebrity your industry suppliers choose to represent themselves. That’s fine. You can focus on the more cutting questions, like “How does your company determine the direction for new products and services?” and “To date, what has been your company’s single greatest challenge?” You’ll find plenty of information in these profiles to satisfy that list of things you want and need to know before spending with a self-storage supplier.
But if you’re like me, you’ll relish the opportunity to “peek behind the curtain” and learn what really makes these companies tick. Choosing a vendor doesn’t always boil down to price and product features. There are many intangibles in the mix (pun intended).
So tell me … If your business were an ice-cream, which flavor would it be? Please share your answer in the comments section below.