Jerry Lasco, owner of Lasco Enterprises in Houston, has started many restaurants. But he didn't realize how important the story behind his businesses was until he began to expand nationwide.
"As we move into new neighborhoods where we're not as well known, it's critical for us to explain to our customers why we started these restaurants," he says. People like to go to places that they can identify with as human beings."
That theme resonated with Sugar Land entrepreneurs who took part in "Power to the Small," a panel discussion sponsored by Windstream.
The entrepreneurs explained that the stories behind their businesses are critical elements when it comes to creating a bond with customers.
A Family Affair
Even though Lasco has been in business for more than a decade, he is just now recording some of the stories that led him to start his restaurants.
"When you start off, you can tell customers your story orally, but when you grow it's more important to have it down on paper," he says. "People really like to know the inspiration behind something."
In Lasco's case, he had to go through many iterations, digging deep into his own story. One of his restaurants, Añejo, has a Tex-Mex theme, and the current website describes it as an "original dining experience that pays homage to the authenticity and soul of Tex-Mex cuisine while presenting it in an elevated, sophisticated, and refined manner."
Now, Lasco plans to position the restaurant in a more personal way: His dad, a military pilot, was stationed in Laredo, Texas and would fly across the border for real Mexican food. Later, Lasco became a pilot and did the same thing.
He found a photo of his dad from a half-century ago, in the cockpit of the plane, returning from a food run across the border. He dug up a similar photo of himself from 1989, sitting in the cockpit of a jet, about to travel the same route. He believes the powerful family story, held together by compelling images, will resonate with customers by putting a more human face on his restaurant.
"It shows how life comes full circle," he says. "I followed Dad's footsteps into the Air Force, and I followed his travels throughout Mexico and fell in love with their culture, authentic flavors, and passion for living life to the fullest."
Never Trash Passion
A strong story communicates the passion behind a business. Kevin Atkinson, owner of Texas Pride Disposal, a waste disposal company, knows that passion resonates with people even in a field as unsexy as garbage.
In meetings and on his company's Web page, Atkinson tells of his lifelong love of trash. When he was a little boy, he had a toy garbage truck and would hang around garbage workers, wanting to be one of them.
While he knows many people find his passion unusual, they appreciate how he translates it into his business.
"So here I am today, the owner of the truck, more passionate about what I do than anyone you will ever meet, and ready and excited to go above and beyond for you and your community."
Failure Can Inspire
Atkinson's love of garbage is quirky and attention-getting, but not all businesses can rely on that kind of unique angle. Consultant Jane Henry faced an issue common to many small business owners: She didn't believe her story was interesting enough to share.
"I didn't think having a founder's story was important until I got employees and became aware of the need to fill the pipeline with new business," she says.
When she talked with other people, she was surprised to find that her personal story was compelling to them. After a stint at Accenture, the large consulting firm, she joined a company whose name came to epitomize business failure: Enron.
She was subject to a notorious mass firing where bosses literally stood on their desks and yelled at employees to go home. The evening after her dismissal, her boss called and asked if she would return and help close the company down. She was put in charge of salvaging some of the company's infrastructure, like IT systems, to roll into other companies.
She was able to break off systems and create 750 new jobs by salvaging parts of Enron.
Afterward, she started her own consultancy, called xcution. Her Enron experience resonated with clients who are going through challenges themselves. Now, when she works with entrepreneurs about developing their founder's story, she tells them to list all of the important elements, and especially the negative ones they want to sweep under the rug.
"The negative stuff has huge lessons that can become positive," she says. "People want to learn from the obstacles you've overcome, and those challenges are a great way to make you stand out."
Failure is a great motivator--and it's very human. The human element makes for a great story.
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