Where You Spend Your Money Sends a Message

The saying goes, “If you want to know what a person thinks is important, just look at where they spend their money.” It holds true in your personal life as well as your business. It is also very hard to hide from your employees, competitors and customers. They see where you invest and draw a conclusion as to what your spending means. The question you should ask yourself is, “Does the message say what I want it to say?” Let’s hope that it does.

Every time I mention this concept, people want to move the conversation to a focus on the word “where.” So, let me clarify the statement and say that I am not referring to a physical location like locally. I’m referring to the message you send when you spend money categorically. On “what” are you spending money, more than the location you are spending it.

It’s important. I’ve seen mission statements and slogans that reference the word quality as a core value. But when I look at their stores, their products, the appearance of their employees, it is not a good representation of their stated value. In fact, many times it contests the notion that the owner values quality as a core belief. Imagine positioning your store as the “home of all fine things”, but your furniture and fixtures are in disrepair. A potential customer may not consider your offering as representing the finer things in life, as much as you intend them to.  

How about a company that claims to have the best customer service in town, but when you call you get a busy signal. A busy signal? Do they even have those anymore? In today’s marketplace, people’s expectations of the words we use to describe our business have changed. You have to overwhelm them with the experience you are trying to emulate. Today, great customer service is expected to consist of one phone call, picked up after 2 rings, and the problem resolved by the person handling the call within 4 minutes. If a person gets a busy signal, you have already lost them.

Recently, I had an experience that truly confused me. Hungry for Italian food, I chose a restaurant highly regarded by the internet. I imagined low lighting, pasta and breads, wine, and traditional Italian background music. This would only be my imagination. Inside, the lighting was higher than normal. I suppose it was so I could see the pastel art that was displayed around the inside of the restaurant for sale. The art was also not what I expected.  Pastels on black canvas, all women in routine situations. All, with a clown type character peering in the background through either a window, a door, or any other object one can peer around. The background music was also interesting. It was a live three piece jazz band playing a chaotic but enchanting tune. Not to be prevented from my dinner, I took my seat.  

After feeling comfortable with my decision, I ordered a glass of the house’s red wine. It was delivered in a glass milk jug and poured into a rocks glass for my consumption. “When in Rome,” I said. The wine was fine, but the meal was fabulous. Of all of the things going on around me, they did the one thing I expected to be right very well. Near the end of the meal the jazz band took a break. That’s when the belly dancer came in. My night was complete.  I was confused, entertained, and happy all at once.  

The purpose of that story was to reinforce that where you chose to spend your money shows the people around you what you think is important. Obviously, in the previous example eclectic entertainment was a hallmark of this particular owner’s dining experience. The wine was the one area I thought he really missed. We all know the presentation of the wine is just as important as the beverage itself. He skimped, it showed.

These types of decisions are made by owner’s every day.  They make them based on their personal tastes, not necessarily what a customer might think.  This is not limited to the physical items you place in the store or on the wall.  Think about this when you are hiring your employees.  If you want world class talent, invest in attracting them through pay, incentives, environment, and culture.  The old saying is to “put your money where your mouth is.”  If you don’t, you won’t be able to hide it.

In close, I personally wrestled with a similar situation when I began to open restaurants in the Mid-West.  People have an expectation of the experience they hope to have based on you businesses name or description.  To make it easier, and to know where I should focus my investment, I asked myself a question.  Do I want this business to be a bar with a restaurant, or a restaurant with a bar?  There is a difference.  People are really confused when they bring their family to a dive bar for dinner.  Don’t confuse the people who interact with your business. Invest in areas that best fit your message. This is the surest way to tell people what you think is important.