Sunday, March 28, 1999


Customer seems to be low priority

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In his last incarnation, Montgomery resident Brad Saltz was chief financial officer for Houston's, a chain of 45 restaurants based in Phoenix that posted $200 million in annual revenues.

        Those are big numbers, about $5.3 million for each 200-seat restaurant in an industry where the average is about $1.3 million for a 200-seat restaurant, according to the 1998 report on restaurant industry operations published by the National Restaurant Association.

        A guy who has led an organization that routinely posted four times the industry average for its sector might have a perspective on commerce that has value for other business owners.

        “We were always accused in the trade press of being military-like and methodical,” he said. “That reminds me of something my old boss used to say: I don't like being this way, but I know it works.

        Today, Mr. Saltz is a director of Saltz, Shamis & Goldfarb, a division of SS&G Financial Services, a consulting and certified public accounting firm based in Cleveland. The company offers business advice and criticism, and Mr. Saltz is usually the one doing the deep thinking when the client is a restaurant.

        And what bothers him most these days is employee thoughtlessness, rudeness and cavalier attitudes toward customers.

        “Contrary to popular opinion, I think success is not based on concept,” he said. “It's based on execution — on carrying through with the highest standards and paying attention to details.”

        He said he sees plenty of crossover trends between restaurant management and small-business management:

        Managers and owners spend too much time in the office tending to administrative duties and not enough time in operations — on the factory floor. Companies that employ people who are working in their first job will find that attentive management is even more important. “To many folks, you're the first manager they've ever had,” he said.

        Customer service is often given lip service and not drilled into employees. “This bugs me like crazy. It's amazing to me how many restaurants and retailers have workers who cut you off — walk right in front of you and don't exercise customer-right-of-way,” he said. “That says oodles to customers about their importance.

        “The key to customer service is in the little tiny things that employees and service folks do.”

        Companies that let their buildings get dowdy: litter, weeds in curbs, smudged windows, crummy paint.

        “Image is one of the most important things you have,” Mr. Saltz said. “Maybe the most important thing. What you are communicating to the customer is that you are not going to make the small but important kinds of improvements to enhance their experience.”

        Entrepreneurs need to pay particular attention to details. They are mostly right-brain creative types, he said.

        “But you can't sacrifice doing things correctly in the name of creativity.”

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for the Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? E-mail him at, and he will find the expert with the answers.


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