Tale From Vacation: A Tasty Lesson In Branding

25702_381870049437_520619437_3603761_7819915_nI have been quiet from the blog for the past couple of weeks because I was enjoying 10 days in my favorite summertime locale – the Northwest portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I won’t ask you to read any vacation stories or look at any photos, but there was a moment from vacation that inspired me to write this entry. It happened while I was biting into one of my favorite annual moments, sitting at a picnic table and biting into one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve had anywhere.

The story starts in 1953, when a Dairy Queen location opened in the scenic resort town of Charlevoix. Decades later, the Dairy Queen became regionally famous for its burgers because the owner, rather than ordering frozen patties from DQ corporate, picked up fresh ground beef each morning from a local grocer and make one-of-a-kind burgers at his location. Fast-forward to 2008 when he was told his Dairy Queen franchise was in jeopardy after an inspection from corporate. He was told to use the company’s mandated frozen burgers or say “goodbye” after 55 years as a DQ.

This entrepreneur could have faced a crisis. The Dairy Queen on Bridge Street was an institution in Charlevoix. Then, he discovered what too many businesspeople often ignore. A name is not necessarily a brand. Many towns in the area had Dairy Queen locations. But only his location served the burgers that were talked about as far away as Traverse City, some 50 miles away. Only his location provided an extra level of service.

So, he played to the strength of his brand within the community he served. He chose his fresh burgers and let Dairy Queen take away his franchise. He renamed the location Dairy Grille. It was big news in Charlevoix and nearby Petoskey, so he clipped the news articles and placed them in the windows at the counter for 2008 and 2009 – so everyone who patronized Dairy Grille could see the story from credible third-party sources. His message was simple – he wanted the best for his customers. So he kept his source of hamburger meat and, in his mind, upgraded his source of ice cream (a local provider). The menu stayed pretty much the same and so have the lines. At lunchtime, the staff works extra hard to meet the demand of carry-out food orders (something you’ve probably never seen at a Dairy Queen).

There are two lessons to remember from the Dairy Grille. One – your company’s name is just a name, unless there is a real brand supporting it – a brand that your customers believe in. And two, when driving along US-31 on the South Side of Charlevoix, order a Wahoo burger – you won’t regret it.