WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

June 3, 2013

Cultural WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 12:16 pm

This May was an immersion in Argentinean culture, and while most relate Argentina to great beef, Mendozan wine and the tango, my focus was on the traditional gaucho experience. In my backpack were a brand new pair of tall riding boots, a riding helmet and all the paraphernalia for as many rides as possible, especially in the high country around Bariloche and Mendoza.

In a country where mostly men are the riders and girls are not as encouraged to become horse experts, tourists are taken on group rides that are mostly walking tours on very docile horses. Great, unless you’re a serious rider, which I am. So the trip was a series of often funny moments when there was a bit of a translation between “soy experiencia”- which gauchos often heard and frankly didn’t believe, and then actually seeing you ride, which often meant you scored a better horse.  These guys have seen it all- the fat tourist whose last ride was for five cents on a circus pony being led around a circle and he’s saying he can ride, and he falls off at the trot. You can’t blame them for taking “experience” with a jaundiced ear.

So one gaucho I hired for a two-day solo excursion over a high mountain pass did what I wish they’d all do. Five minutes into our ride, we hit an open patch and before I knew it he was off like a bat out of hell. So was I, right on his heels. At the quarter mile he slid to stop, then turned to watch me handle the stop at a dead run. What I got was a head nod, and a curt “bueno,” which was exceedingly high praise from this man, and I count it as a high point on the trip. From then on, he was gracious, helpful, trained me on tack and saddlery and all aspects of my horse. And I respected him for testing me.

On my final stop, an estancia on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a lovely family hosted me for nearly five days. Their young daughter Ro rode with me, and at the end of the first day I asked to switch horses with her, not knowing what I was requesting. She hesitated, then agreed. I’d been invited to help herd the horses from the far pastures into the other far pastures. Once I passed through the final gate and gave my animal its head, the next thing I knew my helmet was nearly blown off and I was gripping this plunging creature with all my strength, grinning like a banshee, as we ran flat out for the far stragglers. As they wheeled, we shot right, moving the herd towards the gate.

In an instant, the work was done and all the animals were where they were supposed to be. Delighted, I asked permission to ride this horse for the rest of my time. Ro nodded. The next four days, this smart, agile, lightning fast animal was saddled and ready to go every day, up to almost moments before my ride to the airport.

What I had not known, and found out on my last day, was that this magnificent creature had belonged to the long standing gaucho Don Juan, who had died just the year before. Don Juan was much loved, much revered and respected. His horse was part of the family and the only tie they had to his memory. And he was not available for tourists. For this family to have allowed me to sit on him, much less ride and work him for four days, was a gift of the highest order. Argentina respects history, its traditions and its gaucho ways of riding. Ro apparently had made a case for me and the family had agreed. I had been riding gaucho history, and it moved me to tears.

My Spanish still needs work, but between my pidgin Spanish and their pidgin English we patched together this wonderful story, and it became the single greatest moment for me in Argentina. Their kind words and trust, their gift, reminds me of the generosity of spirit that exists everywhere. Behind all things there is a story, and we cannot take what we experience for granted. Sometimes we don’t always understand what we are being given, and it serves to find out, especially when in another country. And when we do, it might just bring us to our knees- like when a very poor family gives you its only bed, or last bowl of food, out of courtesy. Often cultural WoodFood isn’t spoken outright, but it is there.

February 12, 2013

Truthful WordFood for Customers

Last year was an exciting time, as I was preparing to re-enter the world of scuba diving after a long hiatus away. In 2002 I had gone to Africa for an adventure dive and during an interview with a professional diver, had bought a Poseidon regulator from him at a deep discount. This regulator would normally retail at around $700 and they normally last about 25 years or more. Poseidon is one of the world’s best manufacturers with an excellent reputation. Mine had been in the basement for 10 years, so I took it to the dive shop closest to me.

They tested it and it had a free flowing air problem. The manager told me that I’d have to replace it, that there were no Poseidon dealers in this country and that no one repaired them. I was looking at a major investment, and I didn’t have the cash to do it just then. I continued with my pool skills with their instructor and planned to rent the gear in country.

However, I mentioned this to the instructor. He said, without directly contradicting the manager, that I might check into it more thoroughly. I went to Poseidon.com and immediately saw that Denver Divers not only was a Poseidon dealer but they also handled repairs, just a few miles away. I called them and talked to their repair guy. Very quickly we discerned that my problem was a simple fix, well under $200, and I took my reg to them that same day.

The other thing about the original dive shop manager was that he constantly harangued me about money. Pool time with the instructor cost, and so did solo pool time. I paid in advance or right on time. As a small business owner myself, I’m sensitive to issues of cash flow. This habit of coming after me for $25 got incredibly annoying- and combined with the dishonesty about the Poseidon dealership and repair availability made the shop’s accessibility to my house far less important than his money grubbing.

What became perfectly clear after my dealings with Denver Divers was that this was a family owned shop that cared about the relationship first. That speaks to safety and the comfort of knowing you’re going to be cared about. These dive shop owners know that many of us can buy gear on line for less. They have to find other ways to engage us, earn our trust, and in the process, we will want to reward them by buying from them and going on trips with them. The other dive shop manager, by lying outright about the regulator, in a world where a couple of clicks online will instantly prove him wrong, lost a customer and also, I tell others about it, too. These owners all know each other, so ignorance is no excuse. It’s a small community.

I’m old school in that I will first take someone’s word for granted. I’m glad I asked my instructor and did the research. A few extra miles’ drive is a small price to pay to work with friends and go on trips where your wallet isn’t the main point of interest.

In a tough economy, it is ever more important to put people first. To feed people WordFood that makes them feel valued and important. It’s the customer relationship that brings us back. I was reminded of Miracle on 34th Street, where Santa told customers where to find the best deal, and the store earned many repeat customers. Had the original manager helped me find a repair shop, he’d have earned my trust, and my loyalty. Instead, the exchange was toxic, and irretrievable.

Customers have access to too much information for a brick and mortar shop not to treat them with respect. Loyalty is earned, and we will give it back, where a business owner doesn’t grasp. When we go out of our way to serve delicious WordFood, customers will always come back for more.

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