June 14, 2018

Supper Clubs

Wisconsin (especially the northern half of Wisconsin) is home to a proud tradition ... the Supper Club (buy a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs on Amazon ... click here).

The process is simple. The Supper Club opens between 4:00pm and 4:30pm. You arrive, you sit down at the bar and you order a drink ... typically an Old Fashioned or something comparable. You put your name in, and then somebody typically walks over and takes your order.

When your salad is ready, somebody whisks you away from the bar and to your table, where your salad awaits. But wait, there's more! You'll be offered a relish tray, buns, crackers, and up to 65 pads of ice-cold butter to use on the four buns.

Then your meal arrives ... a steak or walleye (Central Wisconsin) or perch (Eastern Wisconsin) or whitefish (Door County).

After dinner you can relax by purchasing a grasshopper or a pink squirrel.

Then, you stagger back to your car, call your cardiologist, and schedule bypass surgery.

There used to be thousands of Supper Clubs all across Wisconsin. In the past few years, the quantity decreased to maybe three hundred or four hundred. And when you look at who is eating in a Supper Club, you won't find #millennials. By and large, it's an over-55 audience who visit because of tradition and personal relationships.

Sound familiar?

This is what happened to the catalog industry.

If you met with a Supper Club Proprietor, you'll hear a lot of interesting excuses. One told me that he's gonna close for six months because there isn't enough business to be had. He told me that "my patrons have a lot of ideas to increase traffic, but I'm not gonna listen to them, I'd rather just close."

Sound familiar?

You could tell the Proprietor to open for lunch or breakfast ... and you'd be told that this is a "Supper Club, we only serve Supper".

You could tell the Proprietor to create a family-friendly environment instead of the adult-caloric crowd ... and you'd be told that the whole purpose of a Supper Club is to cater to the adult-caloric crowd.

You could tell the Proprietor that a meal with 3,493 calories might be just a bit overboard for just $13.95 ... and you'd be told that the whole purpose of a Supper Club is to enjoy 3,493 calories.

You could tell the Proprietor that a vegan menu might bring in more customers ... and you'd be told that the tradition of a Supper Club is in lake-caught fish and fatty steaks.

Sound familiar?

Industries live and die by adapting to changing times. 

I worked with a company that had a 90% organic percentage ... if you took away the catalog, 90% of the sales would still exist and the company would practically print 20% pre-tax profit rates. The company would be so wildly successful that it couldn't help itself but throw money at employees and the ownership team. What do you think happened?
  1. Nobody believed the results of the year-long test, but folks loved to talk about how they were "data-driven".
  2. Catalog-centric Executives said "but what would I do for a job if the catalog didn't exist" even though every online process (which were responsible for driving 90% of the sales) wouldn't change one bit. One bit!! They might even improve without the handicap of a catalog to reduce flexibility.
  3. Catalog vendors lost their ever-loving minds. They told the Executive Team to "not believe the results of the test" and sold the Executive Team on the merits of a sound catalog program, citing the fact that catalogs "stood out in a crowded online marketplace", whatever the heck that means. Paper reps locked the company into an onerous annual contract. Printers offered myriad technologies to make the catalog stand out. Co-ops demanded deeper prospecting levels to "tickle the buying bone of today's fickle consumer", whatever the heck that means. Vendors rushed to protect "their" business, not the business of the catalog brand.
Sound familiar?

Don't become a "Supper Club". Evolve. Change. Do something!

Or, ride it out and take market share from dying catalogers. That works, too. For awhile.

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