The Varsity Rules

I went with my family to Atlanta, Georgia recently.  My parents live there and it was great to spend time together.

When we go to Atlanta for a visit, we always stop by “The Varsity” for lunch.  “The Varsity” bills itself as “The worlds largest drive-in restaurant.”  It has been an Atlanta landmark for 80 years, and is located across the street from the Georgia Tech University campus.

On a game day “The Varsity” serves over 30,000 people.  They use over a ton of potatoes, 2,500 pounds of onions and over two miles of hot dogs!  Visitors to Atlanta flock to The Varsity just as the generations of Atlantans do time and time again.

One might think, “It’s just a hot dog,” or “They are just onion rings,” or “It’s just a meal.”  So why does a business become so popular that it becomes a legend?  How is a business built so well?

The Varsity follows four business rules incredibly well.


1.  They know who they are, and they convey that message to the marketplace.

Since the beginning “The Varsity” was a drive-in restaurant.  Even today when they serve far more people inside then outside, they still promote themselves as “The worlds largest drive-in restaurant.”  They understand what they do best and send that singular message to the market.

There is never any doubt in a clients mind what they are going to get when they go to “The Varsity.”  People know about the quality and style of the food that is served.  The parking lot and building live up to everyone’s expectations.  The “Car Hops” are just as you would imagine.

In business it is critical that you fully understand the value you deliver and whom you deliver that value to.  If you are in the insurance business, and you think you sell insurance, you may be off track.  People are looking for security, peace of mind, and protection when they invest in insurance.  That is the real value you are delivering.

Do you fully understand what you do, and can you convey that information to the market quickly and in a compelling way?


2.  They build relationships.

The “Car Hops” have personality.  They sing and dance and create rapport with their clients.  Inside at the counter lives a whole army of people waiting to serve you.  One gentleman, Erby Walker, coined the phrase “what’ll ya have” used by all of the order takers.  Erby has worked at “The Varsity” for over 50 years.  People come in just to shake Erby’s hand as they order their meal.

People like to do business with people.  If you love your product or service more then you love the people you serve, then your entire business is upside down.  Ultimately you are not in the real estate business, or the insurance business, or the printing business, or any other product or service business.  You are in the people business.

The more relationships you build, the more your business will grow.  Relationships with clients are imperative, but you also need to build relationships with your peers in a larger company, employees in your own business, suppliers, and local contacts as well.


3.  They manage the experience.

Going to “The Varsity” is more then just about the food.  It is about the experience.  As you walk in the door the people behind the counter call out to you for your order.  There is a unique vocabulary that you use to order.  If you call out “hot dog,” you get a hot dog with chili.  If you don’t want the chili, then you order a “naked dog.”  If you ask for a “walkin dog,” then you just ordered a hot dog to go!

Food is a commodity.  Most products are.  You separate yourself from your competition by managing the experience.  Doing business with you should be different from doing business with your competitors.  Maybe you have a “cookie bar” in your store like Garcia & Company has in Minneapolis.  Maybe you have an automatic coffee and hot chocolate machine like Lou Fusz Nissan has in St. Louis.  Whatever you do, create an experience that your customers will want to enjoy again as well as tell their friends about.

What do you do you differentiate the experience your clients have?


4. They have a good product.

By now most of you are wondering what the product has to do with success.  Well, you do need to have a good product or service.  But, I put that last on my list.  If you don’t know the true value you deliver and can’t convey that message in 10 seconds or less, if you aren’t building relationships, and if you don’t manage the experience, then your product does not matter.  Only after you master the first three items does the quality of the product or service you offer come into play.


If you have all four of these bases covered you will be able to grow a stronger, more profitable business.  You will have loyal customers.  Over time, the value of your organization will grow, and you will prosper.  Master these four steps, and you will be on the road to Building a Better Biz!


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