A Berry Good Experience

Small Town Optimist Column, The Observer

By Cyndy Bolton

Last week, I decided to participate in the Strawberry Dessert Contest held at the the 1000 Islands Wine & Food Festival, sponsored by Tourism and benefitting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Leeds and Grenville.

I paid my fee and set out to get the ingredients for my submission. Tincap Berry Farm graciously donated berries to all contestants. After visiting the berry farm, the LCBO, and my local grocer, I was ready to bake. Four hours later, all was complete. Conditions for baking were excellent. The weather was dry, the berries were sweet and the liqueur, well...the recipe turned out great!

Event morning, I prepped the recipe for presentation, and set out for the Country Club. I arrived in the rain, hurried to the door, and opened it to a bustling arena. The curling surface never smelled so good! Hosts were setting out their wares, and tables were brimming with wine and tastes of all kinds. I was directed to the judging table where I set down my dessert. Carefully placing it, I set it out with the others, not forgetting to size up the competition. Impressive they were, custard berry pies, little tarts, meringues and brles.

I took a walk around the arena, tempted to taste the wine and each tables offerings. The ambiance was staged just right. The black curtains and backdrops created an air of intimacy where you could take your time and sample the bits while getting to know the producers. I had a chat with a few participants and returned to where the competition was beginning.

As I waited for the judges to start tasting, I struck up a conversation with another contestant. We chatted for a while as they continued to taste our strawberry recipes, We shared the experience. I wasn't nervous about the competition, I did it for fun. The fact that I love to bake and cook and at the same time raise awareness of the festival while helping Big Brothers and Big Sisters was a win-win-win situation.

Receiving criticism can be difficult. Waiting to see the reaction on the judges faces as they tasted my contribution was a bit exciting. Anticipation gets the adrenaline flowing, and this is good. I knew my recipe turned out good, but was it good enough?

Historically, a thumbs-up or thumbs-down action had the potential to end in a life or death circumstance. When equating this behaviour to marketing, it's pretty much the same as asking your customer if your service or product is good enough. Getting feedback from those whom you serve is an important component of reinforcing their loyalty. There's a knack to accepting a constructive comment and transforming it into something valuable. When your client says "No" or gives you a thumbs-down, you should ask them, or find out why. Is your competitor offering something better? Size them up.

You may feel awkward asking your clients about their opinion of your business, but they will probably give you an honest response. For example, a survey can allow anonymity to the client; thus, giving them a sense of freedom to express what they honestly think about you and your establishment. Online surveys can be used to obtain critical marketing information which, once analyzed, can be used to steer the development of your services and products. Even though you think you may be heading in the right direction, consumers often see trends that we, as marketers don't. Let a survey be the forum that either confirms your perspective, or a tool that gives you new insights into your clients spending behaviours.

It's about learning to separate your heart from your head. That's the hard part. Most of us take criticism too personally. Consider that there may be a grain of truth to their comments. It takes courage to ask "why?", but the response may bring to light an issue that was not previously addressed. Ah! Opportunity for improvement - what we call "OFI". If you honestly and intently assess the criticism, it may even supply you with a solution!

My efforts paid off. I was excited to be named the berry best of the contest. I took the risk, put forth my best effort, and asked the judges for feedback. In this case, it worked in my favour. Had I not have won, I most certainly would have asked for honest feedback to help me to a better job next year.

Find recipe here!