It was time for our beach trip, the one I take with my wife and daughter every summer. On a beautiful early morning a month ago, we packed the family car (okay, my wife packed it) and headed from our home in Oxford, Miss., to Florida’s Gulf Coast for a week of fun and sun.
Some call it the Redneck Riviera. This Jersey transplant and his Mississippi girls call it paradise.
It’s the same Gulf Coast, by the way, that the media predicted — even seemed to hope — would be flooded with crude oil and destroyed as a result of the BP oil spill. That apocalypse never happened, but the region needed two years to recover from the really bad publicity spill, which the media never bothered to clean up.
We hit the road at 6 a.m. so as not to lose a day at the beach, and by 10 a.m. we were all getting hungry, so we stopped at a Subway shop in a small town somewhere in rural Alabama.
As we entered, we were greeted by an Indian-immigrant couple in their mid-30s and their daughter, who appeared to be no older than twelve. I didn’t ask.
While we were thinking about what to order, the young girl was busily making trip after trip from a prep area in the back of the family’s franchise to the counter, filling each of the bins with produce. First it was thinly sliced fresh tomatoes, then lettuce, then onions. Then it was olives, and jalapeño peppers.
When we ordered our lunch, she removed her plastic gloves and cheerfully switched roles. The prep girl was now the sandwich dresser.
“What would you like on your sandwiches?” she asked us, and then dutifully complied with our odd choices.
That’s the great thing about Subway. They’ve got all those toppings, and no matter how weird the request — and boy! have I heard some weird ones — they always comply.
The girl’s parents, probably without realizing this is what they were doing, were teaching their daughter that empowering customers to have the sandwich they want, and not the sandwich the store wants them to have, is good business.
The girl then switched roles again, going from sandwich dresser to cashier.
“Would you like some chips and a large drink with that?” she asked. I said yes. Who could say no to a cute twelve-year-old?
Her parents had also taught her the art of the upsell. And she was not yet a teenager!
The girl then rang up our order, took our cash, gave us our change quickly (and accurately), and did it all cheerfully and professionally. She was clearly having a good time. There was no sulking, no pouting, and no sense at all that she was mad at her parents for making her work on a beautiful summer Saturday.
And all the while, she was learning some important life lessons. Lessons that are not being taught in our nation’s schools. And are not being taught in far too many American homes. Lessons like these:
Serving a good fresh product at a fair price can lead to a profit, if you watch your expenses.
Customers like choices, and they like good service.
Kids can actually contribute to the GFP — the Gross Family Product.
The free market works.
It’s sad to say this, but that girl in the Subway shop knows more about what makes a small business hum than anyone in the Obama administration. And she has more knowledge of entrepreneurialism than many MBAs.