Viewing entries in
Word of Mouth

Who's Your Gary?

FUN FACT: I am extremely loyal to my grocery store. Upon first glance, it makes no sense. Their prices are higher than other grocery stores in the area. I have to battle a notorious traffic bottleneck to get there. The parking lot is an accident waiting to happen. So why bother? Why not settle for one of the other markets I pass on the way? Because, despite being a chain, this particular grocery specializes in being special.

From the Miles Davis cooing over their sound system to the ritualistic Saturday morning explosion of Buckeye-inspired scarlet and grey, 25 cent in-store wine tastings to the stacks of locally-produced artisanal soap available for purchase by the pound, my store doesn’t just sell goods – they create an experience.

I used to dread grocery day, but since discovering this particular store I find shopping has become a form of meditation; an opportunity to put down my phone and worries and wander the grocery aisles like the halls of a museum. Their produce section is a work of art. I don’t know who is responsible for it, but I suspect they have a secret team working behind the scenes. Everything is neatly stacked and displayed with a sense of care. Not so perfect it feels mechanical, just perfect enough it inspires you to take pause and soak it in. A stack of Granny Smiths with a single Fuji apple providing a pop of red. Piles of rainbow chard arranged with their steams peaking out like pink and yellow paintbrushes.

You can tell their people are totally into their jobs. They take pride in what they do. As a result, it’s fun to shop there. It’s fun to be their customer and it’s fun to be a part of their experience.

Last weekend I made a trip to my grocery store and witnessed a pretty awesome interaction. As I was getting out of the car I noticed a family next to me loading their two young sons into a cart. The kids appeared to be about 4 and 2. As the parents finished locking up the car, the older son began yelling, “Gary! Gary! There’s our friend Gary!”

From across the parking lot I saw one of the store baggers, an older gentleman, look up. He was struggling with carts and could have easily ignored the situation and carried on with the task at hand. Instead, he smiled, waved and made his way over. When he reached our side of the parking lot, he shook the little boy’s hand and struck up a conversation with the family. They all marveled over the fact the little boy had so strongly remembered not only his interaction with a virtual stranger, but also the man’s name. From what I could gather, Gary had met the little boy during a shopping trip the month prior – and hadn’t seen him since.

I’ll never know what transpired during their first meeting, but clearly it was memorable. Witnessing the encounter was a good reminder to me that nobody is immune or aloof to a remarkable experience. Everyone wants to feel valued as a customer and appreciated as a human being. And when it happens, it’s not something we soon forget.

Garys aren’t born, they’re made–boosted up and along. They’re the result of an internal business culture that cares. A business culture that understands that relationships and experiences > transactions, and when a brand invests in people, people will invest in you. I have to wonder what would happen if more companies focused on helping their employees embrace what I have now come to think of as “The Gary Way.” Gary clearly understands he was hired to do more than checkmark his way through a task list. He knows his real job is to do whatever he can to make his customers feel good…even the ones who won’t be able to sign up for a store credit card for another 14 years.

I hit on this point last month in “Remarkable Brands Begin With Remarkable People, and the Gary story is another great example. Remarkable doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It doesn’t have to be difficult or over the top. One-off remarkability can be hugely impactful, but so can consistent small acts of remarkability on an everyday basis. These little things, like thinking about how to make the most of your brand-consumer touchpoints (Miles Davis, anyone?) or creating an internal culture where your employees know it’s okay to stop and have a conversation with a 4-year-old little boy, make an impact. These are the stories people tell and remember. These are the things people care about. The things that inspire them to drive past two grocery stores and a bottlenecked traffic cluster to get to you. These are the things that get your customers cheering your name from across the parking lot.

To Gary, wherever you are, you’ve earned yourself a new (albeit slightly older) fan. Thanks for the weekend lesson in awesome.

This post first appeared on