Monday, October 31, 2011

The value of non conformity !

I recently chatted with a group of students and business people in Honduras about how Britt has managed to build a company using gourmet coffee and chocolate as our raw materials. I described how we took these products — the very same products found in Honduras — and transformed them into fine, finished gourmet goods under the Britt brand, and how we did it all from Central America. After many years of hard work, these products are highly valued by consumers of many cultures and in many countries. We hoped our actions would encourage young people to set high goals for themselves and never settle for conventional wisdom — the analysis of what won't work without a vision of what could be.

I thought that a message of optimism, based on our own real experience at Britt in overcoming obstacles, could be valuable in a country like Honduras. More than half the population there lives below the poverty level. Recent years have been filled with violence and political strife, and as a result young entrepreneurs find it hard to arrange financing for their projects. Honduran students and business people are today faced with many of the same limitations that we experienced at Britt in the 1990s, when we were just getting started turning our dreams into realities.
I shared four qualities that I think were vital for us while we were building our Company:

We approached business with a certain degree of rebelliousness and irreverence. When we were getting started in Costa Rica it was illegal to sell export–quality coffee within the country. At the time, a sort of "Berlin Wall" separated export-quality coffee from "domestic-consumption coffee". The quality of this "domestic-consumption coffee" was so horrible that it was dyed a greenish-blue color to ensure it would never be sold abroad. We challenged the authorities and succeeded in changing the rules so Costa Ricans could drink the same premium coffee enjoyed by coffee lovers around the world – without leaving our country. This is only one example, but I can assure you, based on personal experience, that whenever you have a truly innovative idea, the "experts" will most certainly oppose it. The most common reason they'll give you is that it won't work because no one's ever done it before.
We let our authenticity do the talking. We've never pretended to be something we're not. Our marketing has always remained true to our products' true characteristics. I always tell new coworkers in our Britt Shops that an advantage of working for Britt is that we'll never ask them to embellish the qualities of anything we sell. All we ask is that they study each product's characteristics, sample the edible products and learn where the product comes from and its history. Our slogan, "From the plantation to your cup" reflects this desire to be familiar with the whole process and what happens at each of its steps. We live in a globalized world, but we human beings still enjoy our cultural differences and the unique products that give each of our countries their own "sense of place." Britt operates in many countries. Much of our work focuses on highlighting the unique and authentic elements of each culture.

We've held a consistent market position over time. It's based on our obsession with quality. Anyone who has enjoyed our products over the years knows what I'm talking about. At Britt, we expect the same quality that is found in our products to extend to our service. That brings me to my next point.
We've made a real effort to show good taste in everything we do. When we exceed our customers' expectations with our personalized service, attractive products and pleasant, authentic shopping atmosphere, we achieve the "Wow! Factor" we're looking for. Achieving a Wow! Factor based on good taste is the epitome. It's the best we can do. Curiously, achieving that level of service doesn't mean we're perfect or that we never make mistakes. We contribute to the Wow! Factor even more when we take great care to resolve a customer complaint and follow up by asking if there's anything else we can do. We foster customer loyalty by admitting when we make mistakes and working hard to quickly find a solution.

Companies are made up of people. That's the bottom line. Great companies are built on people who challenge conformity, who are authentic and of sound character. If we take all of that and add an element of good taste, we're well on our way to building not only a good company, but a great one. 

Cafe Britt at your service,