Two Lessons and Extra Cheese

When I was in college I had a fraternity brother who managed a local pizza shop. He was a good guy and gave his friends jobs and over the years roughly half of my other friends worked for him, rounding out their pocket with some extra money for beer er books.

I worked for Marc for almost three years – making pizza, cleaning floors, imbuing the cloth interior of my Jeep Wrangler with the smell of delivered pies. I wasn’t my first job. It wasn’t my only job in college. But, when I think about it, it was a job that taught me some valuable lessons I still use today and find myself applying to my work as a marketer.

Lesson 1: Show up and be on time.

Like any young idiot, I skipped my fair share of classes – sorry dad – and on more than one occasion, but not more than two, I didn’t show up for work. I opted instead the warmth of my bed or that extra round of GoldenEye. I remember Marc coming to find me after work – cell phones were not a ubiquitous then – after the second time. He was covered in sauce and flour, there was cheese on his shoes. Not the way the manager usually looks, but he had to cover for me. He wasn’t mad. Mad you can deal with. He was disappointed and that was hard. I never skipped another day of work again.

Still, I might be a little late from time to time. The consequence for that was doing the crap work – cleaning the bathrooms, hauling boxes of frozen meat and dough up the back staircase.

I haven’t had to punch a clock for a very long time now. But I still feel the sting of Marc’s disappointment whenever I feel like blowing off a client or a meeting. I still remember the ache from hauling 40-lb boxes of dough up the stairs.

It’s true for people and it’s true for brands- expectations are the bedrock of a relationship. You earn less credit for exceeding them than you do for not living up to them. Show up. Be on time. Have a smile on your face.

Lesson 2: Avoid the Crowds

We had a lot of freedom in helping decide our schedules at the shop. We would tell Marc when we could work and he would pencil us in. At first, I wanted to work with friends. I wanted to be slinging toppings with my roommate or serving pizzas on a busy Thursday night. Activity helped the time go faster.

We also had some influence over our role. If you were friendly and reasonably attractive – read: not a total slob – you could work the front counter. Most everyone worked in the kitchen and some people delivered. Because I wanted to be my with my friends at first, I tended to make pies. I had fun. I made a little money.

Later in my tenure, I began to drive. Delivering was fun. My closest friends had quit. And, drivers got tips that kitchen folk didn’t. Win-win. The deliveries were doled out on a rotation, starting with the oldest driver. We batched by neighborhood and took turns. On a busy Friday night, we might have three or four drivers running around our small college town. And on those nights, I might go home with a hundred, hundred and twenty dollars. Big money in 1998, especially for a poor college kid.

One Sunday, I got a call from Marc at home. His driver didn’t show up and he wanted to know if I could come in. I had built some credibility being on time and available and he was offering me a chance to make some money before he called someone else. I took it. I was the only driver. There was a skeleton crew in the kitchen. Sundays were not busy nights. If we filled 500 orders on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, we might fill 75 on a Sunday. That first Sunday was especially slow and yet I went home with $200 in tips.

Marc fired the driver that hadn’t shown up and asked me if I would want the slot. It would mean missing the X-Files, but sure. Eventually I only worked Sunday nights – the dead shift – but I would make more than twice what I would make on a busy Friday on an average Sunday. And the added benefit was that I got drive on Super Bowl Sunday, which in one night, netted me more than a month of work as a reporter.

The point is, look where other people aren’t looking. No one wanted the Sunday shift. I took it and it benefitted me greatly. Also, avoid crowds. It’s hard to make an impact when you’re fighting your way into a room.

I’m surprised how much that job taught me in retrospect. Simple things. More to come, I’m sure. I guess a guy can learn a lot of pizza.

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