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Blog : Think Strawberries; everybody sells


Think Strawberries; everybody sells

by Karolina Vithen - Account Manager

I recently read Park Plaza President, James Lavenson’s famous 1974 keynote speech - Think Strawberries - and after reading it a couple of days later, realised what a genius this man was. Even though what he spoke about was simple, it was, and still is, extremely relevant to many businesses.

At the time though, James was met with a lot of resistance from his employees for the changes he brought to the organisation. Even a small act, such as implementing the name tag received criticism, however he stood his ground and did what he knew was the best for the hotel, its people and its guests. And he was right; the outcome of his work not only changed people’s perception of the hotel but also demonstrated to others the importance of having standards and procedures in place.  

For those who haven’t read the speech, Lavenson was invited to deliver and engaging presentation to the American medical association in New York. In this he spoke about his non-hospitality background, and how he used his experience outside of the industry, to introduce a range of new practises at the Park Plaza. Even to this day they are still using.

His mission was ‘Think Strawberries’; that all Park Plaza employees became ’sellers’ or ‘up-sellers’. The waiters protested “But nobody wants dessert, they’re on a diet”; Lavenson’s response “Then sell ‘em strawberries... But sell ‘em”. He soon realised, however, that the majority of employees were unable to sell the products as they had never seen or experienced them themselves.  The receptionists couldn’t ‘Think Strawberries’ and up-sell the rooms because they had never seen the rooms. The waiters couldn’t ‘Think Strawberries’ and offer extra drinks because they didn’t possess the skills. The Bellman didn’t know which singer was performing in hotel that evening, so couldn’t ‘Think Strawberries’ when guests sought entertainment.

And so his mission began to develop every single employee to sell. In his speech he focused on three core areas, which can be implemented the same today:

Understanding the guest

He started from the bottom, working up. He gave all employees name tags and encouraged them to greet each other. His theory – that once they knew each other, they could then get to know the guests – improving their experience. They were then developed in skills so they could identify their target market, recognise their and offer accordingly. He reminded them that most people will take recommendations, so to not be afraid to make one if it’s right for them.

Get the message through

In the Park Plaza, half the employees were Spanish and couldn’t speak English. James noticed that a lot of the communication was not understood because signs and employee bulletins were only in English. He therefore made sure that the hotel used English and Spanish in their employee communications. A simple change, however reinforced that when communicating you adapt to the target market using the right tools to get your message through. It’s also good to remember that different generations use and prefer different channels to receive information.

Product knowledge

Once James recognised that employees hadn’t experience the hotel products and services, he set out to change this. Receptionists to visited rooms, doormen eat in the restaurant and waiters spent time with the bar. This can easily be done in any business as part of the company induction. Have new starters spend time with different departments make sure that everyone knows your brand, what you stand for and what you have to offer.  Then look at each individual/ department to make sure that they know what they are selling or could be sold. Your employees will soon become your best advocates and the more advocates you’ve got the better.

The article really highlights the importance of identifying skills gaps and developing your people accordingly so that they are able to help your business not only be more profitable, but to also help them grow and feel part of something bigger. By putting some effort on the aforementioned areas, you can increase your profit, and customer and employee satisfaction in a relatively easy and fun way.

So, keep it simple; look at what you have to offer and to whom - Then think strawberries!


To read James Lavenson's "Think Strawberries" speech - click here

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