True confession. I love ice cream. And Columbus is a great place to get good ice cream. Graeter’s, based in nearby Cincinnati is a long time favorite. Handel’s, based in my home town of Youngstown also has a store near us in Powell where we can get really good ice cream like we remember it at a walk up stand.
And then there is Columbus-based Jeni’s which has quickly expanded to a national chain known for its exotic and unique flavors like Salty Caramel and Queen City Cayenne that one can find nowhere else. This is where we often like to take out-of-town friends who we want to give a taste of Columbus.
Jeni’s has recently been in the news over a product recall. Here’s the story in their own words:We received the call that no ice cream maker, chef, or entrepreneur wants. A randomly selected pint of ours tested positive for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. Out of an abundance of caution, we made the swift decision to cease all ice cream production and sales until we can get to the very root of the problem. We are enlisting the help of experts so we can identify the cause, eliminate it, and return as quickly as possible to the business of making ice cream. — jeni (from their corporate website)
Unlike another major ice cream manufacturer who had apparently been aware of a similar problem for some time, Jeni’s acted immediately. No one reported being sickened. Jeni’s closed all its stores and pulled all its products and shut down manufacturing until they could be sure that no products were contaminated. I’m sure this has cost them a great deal. They have not sold any ice cream since April 23 while they’ve eliminated all sources of the bacteria and revamped their manufacturing process (it is May 12 as I write).
What Jeni’s succeeded in doing is generating huge customer support by doing the right thing, by being so transparent, and by communicating that customers and customer safety came ahead of any financial consideration. This is evident in a post from their Facebook page:
During the past two weeks, we have read every single letter, note, email, comment, and tweet from you. We printed them out and hung them on our walls. We cried together, overwhelmed by your show of support. It has kept us going around the clock when we didn’t think we could work anymore. You are why our company exists. We could never do what we do without you. And we are grateful at a level that words will never be able to convey. So we will try and show you the only way we know, by getting back on our feet and scooping our hearts out for you soon.
Sure, the cynic will say this is just public relations done well. But we have so many contrary examples, such as auto manufacturers who are sometimes aware for years of safety defects and have to be forced to do recalls by the government. What I see though is that Jeni’s gets what so many forget, even when there is not a product safety issue — that good business will always put the customer first and recognize that customers are why the company continues to exist.
In a recent post, I wrote about a fast food enterprise that seems to have forgotten the customer in at least some of its practices and considered the implications for booksellers (this is a book blog after all!). I’m not sure what the equivalent to a product safety issue would be in a bookstore (although I could see this occurring with some of the non-book items sold in many stores). What I think bookstores can learn from Jeni’s is a relentless concern for the customer with heart. Amazon is relentlessly customer oriented. But what brick and mortar stores can do is not only provide good service but communicate that they really care. This might be hard at times for “bookish” people. Perhaps remembering that the people in the stores to some extent or more, also love books might help!
I learned this morning that Jeni’s will be back on its feet soon. Yesterday, Jeni’s founder, Jeni Britton Bauer posted this on their Facebook page:
It’s been a flurry of activity this past week in our production kitchen. We removed walls, set up foot foaming stations; we now have a conveyor belt! We examined and reworked every single process. Thanks to the team from around the country who made it work alongside the tireless army that is #teamjenis. We plan to fire this baby up by the end of the week. “Mr. Sulu, stand by to take us to maximum warp.”
I love the Star Trek allusion. Perhaps the appropriate response would be, “live long and prosper.” That’s my hope for these folks and I look forward to doing my part to help that happen!