Turning Lemons into Marketing Lemonade

The economic environment is scary. If the possibility of a $700 billion bailout isn’t frightening enough, our area is out of gas.

Station after station has bags over the nozzles, indicating that there is no fuel available. When a tanker arrives, lines quickly form, snaking through neighborhoods or blocking major highways. Some places had waits of two hours or more. Others called law enforcement to break up fights.
But then there’s Sam’s Club. Yes, you read it correctly: Sam’s Club. The sibling of Walmart, the little organization that we love to bash. Instead of price gouging, limiting purchases, and using public resources, their team worked out a plan.

The price of gas at Sam’s was $3.78 today. This compares to $4.79 at other stations. The lines were long, but there was a process. You queued up in single file until you were close to the pumps. The employee at that point directed each car to another line. Additional team members guided the cars to pumps so the drivers could fill there tanks. It was a simple and relatively painless process.

During this crisis, some station owners saw an opportunity for a quick profit and raised the prices. I’m sure they will cite supply and demand as the reason. Maybe it will even work. But, the management at Sam’s Club took the high road. They developed a plan and dedicated additional staff to make it work. When I asked at the membership desk, the associate said that they had seen a “bump” in new memberships. I’m betting that they will also see a decline in cancellations over the next six months.

My previous post featured a company in the food industry. The driver effectively shot the company in the branding foot. Compare his behavior with this example: One of the gas lines in another part of town had a one to two hour line. People were spending their lunch breaks waiting to buy gas. An enterprising restaurant owner appeared with stacks of pizza boxes. He gave every person there a piece of pizza, a menu, and a coupon. Presuming the pizza was good, what effect do you think it will have on his business?

When everything seems to be going wrong, what do you do? Some people take advantage of a neighbor’s goodwill (see previous post) or disadvantage. Others find a marketing opportunity. Be one of the others.

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