A Hunger for Experience

By Casey Kidd

As we are all beginning to discover, shopping these days is all about the experience. Consumers are less driven by quality or price, but more so how they “feel” when in a store or how the product relates to their online presence. There’s a long list of ways a product or service can be delivered to the experiential consumer, but regardless of method, it’s paramount that retailers adapt and find the way that is best for them to deliver their product or service – and with an alluring experience. This has become a lucrative business model for restaurants. It’s clear to me that consumers are clearly hungry for a new dining experience – especially the millennials.

Recently, I was driving to Best Buy to pick up some sort of adapter, and I passed by a restaurant called Genghis Grill. This place has been there for a year or so, but I hadn’t had the chance to try it yet – so I decided to give it a whirl on my way back home. It was convenient enough to get in and out, as it was located in the same shopping center as Best Buy. The sign looked fun and inviting, but I could tell it was a fast-casual restaurant (aka: I’m not going to be stuck here for the next hour and a half).

This part of town is heavy on business traffic, so things tend to slow down a bit on the weekends. As I walked in, the first thing I noticed was that they were decently busy for an average Saturday lunch hour. This was surprising to me. The mix of consumers was nearly equal across the board: families, solo-diners, teenagers, and a few couples. As far as I could tell, every dining group was adequately represented that day.

Since I had never been there before, the server gave me the whole spiel. Here’s the concept: you choose either a small, regular, or large bowl; fill it with raw meat, veggies, sauce; then take it over to the grill for the chefs to cook it. Everything was mostly Asian inspired, but they even had recipe cards, in case the inspiration to truly invent your own dish never struck. Being the daredevil I am, I decided to see how crazy I could get with it and still have it remain edible. My ingredients were chicken, jalapenos, tamarind, bean sprouts, and some sort of island teriyaki sauce. The chefs then took it and stir-fried it over some udon noodles. A few minutes later, they brought it over to my table for me to eat. Not bad – not bad at all! They clearly put some thought into the possibilities of ingredients and made sure everything would be cohesive if mixed together.

My point isn’t to review a restaurant (or even my awesome stir-fry mixing skills) – Genghis Grill sold me something different, and it wasn’t the food. That Saturday, I purchased an experience. In Memphis, there’s probably a total of 6,000 restaurants in which I could find similar stir-fried noodles. Why did all of these diners choose this place over the others? It might be hard to say for sure, but my speculation is that they wanted something fun to do at lunch. Even as a solo diner, I had fun mixing a strange array of ingredients into a bowl. It wasn’t just lunch – it was an activity. I was stimulated in some way, while also being nourished.

This got me to wondering about the mastermind behind it all. As any great millennial would, I got on my phone to Google the founder. Who do I find? Jeff Sinelli, of course. I say of course, because I recognized the name being the same founder of the sandwich chain Which Wich. This made perfect sense to me. For those of you who have never eaten at a Which Wich, it’s a neat little sandwich shop with another experiential edge. The concept there is that you write your order on a sandwich bag with a Sharpie, decorating it as much as you like, and then hang it on the wall when you’re done eating. Yet another delicious experience.

Consumers need more than just food these days. Even for fast casual dining, consumers expect more than a basic atmosphere and decent food. Restaurants that are on the up-and-up right now are ones that have made the experience a priority. One of the top earning “restaurants” on most quick-serve lists is Starbucks. Why do people pay $5-6 for a cup of coffee? Is the coffee worth $5-6? Of course not, but the experience is. How do you feel when sipping your coffee on a big leather couch with Norah Jones playing overhead? I personally feel great – so thus I hand them 5 times the amount any cup of coffee should cost.

As an economic developer, these sort of discussions need to be had with local businesses. The national brands have figured it out, but there’s certainly no reason the mom-and-pops can’t glean some of this marketing savvy from the big guys. This is why NaviRetail has implemented a new program called NaviLocal. During our NaviLocal workshops, we gather local businesses together and discuss things like experientially-driven consumers and how best to market products or services to them. Assist your local businesses by providing them with this invaluable information and be prepared to watch them grow exponentially. To learn more about NaviLocal or any of NaviRetail’s services, please give us a call at (901) 654-0790 or e-mail me at: casey@naviretail.com. We want to help your local businesses thrive!