I don’t know what it is, but I’m a sucker for finding the unique mom and pop shops and restaurants that make one city different from the next. I was in Philadelphia on a business trip when it hit me. I was leaving the hotel when I asked the bellhop if there were any non-franchise restaurants within walking distance. He rubbed his chin as if in deep thought. If memory serves me correctly, it took him a good half minute before finally responding “Hmmmmmm….there’s Magiano’s across the street.” Unfortunately, as un-franchised as it might look, that Magiano’s is identical to the one that’s five minutes from my house in Durham, North Carolina. Much to the chagrin of my arteries, I eventually found Jim’s Steaks on South Street.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling, I definitely don’t want to frequent the same national chains I can visit in my home town. I look forward to finding those off-the-beaten path corner stores that sell stuff that’s unique to that area. But they’re getting harder and harder to find.
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely appreciate the benefits of knowing I’ll get pretty much the same customer experience whether I visit a Home Depot in California or Florida. It just seems like businesses are losing their individuality. I mean, the big box home improvement stores do mix it up…some have the lighting on the right hand side of the building while others have it on the left. But come on, do we really want everything to be a franchise?
Case in point—there’s a bar/restaurant in my home town that was started in a rundown old gas station. Over time, they slowly started to franchise. As they did they hired outside consultants (in my experience, always chocked full of great ideas…right) to help them grow the business. I made it back home not too long ago only to find they had taken away all of the little things that made them “not Applebee’s.” They even changed their menu to the standard T.G.I. Friday’s, Applebee’s, Chili’s look and feel. Just what they needed.
The same thing holds true with new home developments. I appreciate having a consistent look and feel and cutting down costs by making things more standardized, but have you noticed all of the new houses and condos look identical? If you’re not paying attention, you could accidently end up pulling into your neighbor’s garage—ohhhh the embarrassment.
Maybe I’ll just blame it on the automobile or fast food industries as they seemed to spearhead the move to a mass produced, one size fits all mentality. All I know is we’re losing what used to make businesses, and our experiences as customers, unique.
Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).