What is your “donut hole?”

Joanne and I were in Chicago this last week.  On a bitter cold morning we planned to have breakfast at the famous Lou Mitchell’s restaurant.  After walking several blocks, fighting the cold, we finally found this place, started as a family restaurant in 1923.  One day in 1958, someone decided to give out donut holes to the people waiting in line to get in.  The response was such that they have never stopped.  Now 50 years later that is still their magic formula.  Trust me, the place is nothing fancy – it’s in an unattractive part of town, in the bottom of an old office building, and they cram you in long tables where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with people you’ve never met before.  But the magic continues – while other restaurants with big names are struggling, you always have to wait in line at Lou Mitchell’s. 

I saw that some customers expressed gratitude for the gesture but refused the donut holes.  Others took one and occasionally someone would eat two while waiting.  I would guess that this little magic costs them less than $.05 per customer.  But the intrigue of that one little difference seems to drive business success that others dream of.

What’s the “donut hole” in your business?  I loved seeing Lou Mitchell’s because several years ago we added 48 peppermint candies to all package orders going out of 48Days.com.  I intended to use that as a 30-day promotion.  However, the response was so amazing we have never discontinued it.  People notice – we tell them to eat one a day and expect to enter a new season of life on the 49th day.  In a business where 10-12% returns are expected, ours are non-existent. 

As you can see, your unique selling proposition (USP) doesn’t have to be rocket science, high tech or expensive.  But if you have a product or service to offer, what could you do to remarkably set you apart from the competition?  Or as my friend Seth Godin wrote, what could you do to have a  Purple Cow in a world of brown cows?

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11 Responses to “What is your “donut hole?””

  1. Jay Peroni Says:

    Finding the “purple cow” in one’s business is such a great analogy. In a world of mediocre and poor service; in a world of subpar products; and in a world that praises status quo, you dare to challenge us to be remarkable?

    That is exactly the difference between success and failure. It is the 1% of the population that dares to find a way to stand out and be unique. My saying is go bold or go home. If you aren’t offending someone, if you aren’t challenging the boundaries, if you aren’t stepping out of your comfort zone, it is tough to survive in business let alone trump the competition. Stay true to your values, yet find ways to truly serve others in a unique and interesting way – that is the surest path to unbelievable profits.

    Jay Peroni, CFP
    Author of The Faith-Based Millionaire:How to Unlock Wealth by Placing Principles Before Profits

  2. Cookeville Weather Guy Says:

    Excellent ideas about ‘touching’ clients.

    As someone who is experiencing some ‘life changes’, you make me think about where I want to be in 5, 10, 15 years.

    Thanks for inspiring us Dan

    Michael D.

  3. Edwin Crozier Says:

    Great advice. Thanks for making me think.

  4. rob.harvey@mac.com Says:

    I confess that I am a recovering perfectionist. Analysis paralysis gets me time and time again. Your post reminds me that to be a stand out I don’t have to have it all together, I just need to start now and be remarkable. It’s time to stir up the passions, dreams, and projects that lie dormant inside me and get crack’n!

  5. Larissa Says:

    Sounds like you’ve inspired people…2009 will be interesting!
    As side note I enjoy donut holes more than donuts and like the idea of a purple cow more than brown ones!
    Almost makes me wish I ran a business!
    God Bless

  6. Jared Matthew Kessler Says:

    I have to say, Dan… that is such a great story. I love businesses that are succeeding on their own terms in their own unique way.

    I wanted to share a personal story of something similar, that I think may help someone.

    In 2006 I finally started making the music that I always wanted to make. Now the technology in a laptop is such, that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars in a studio to make quality music (which I’m SOOO grateful for). Weeks after playing around with a program called, “Garageband” I shared my first few songs with some friends who had said, “It sounds like this music fits for a lot of tv shows, commercials, etc…” I then did some research on how to do this, paid a $100 for a list of hundreds of contacts and started contacting them.

    Fast forwarding a few weeks, the only person that really followed through on what they said and gave me and my music a chance, was a gentlemen from Mtv. Long story short, it is now 2008 and I have made the most amount of money I’ve made from receiving royalties for music playing on 4 shows.

    My “Donut Hole” in the type of business I do, is that I do EVERYTHING myself, I’m easy, professional and make it FUN to deal with me. Being a self taught musician (guitar is my main instrument and do everything else on the keyboard). This makes it MUCH easier on everyone that wants to license music of mine as there is no real ego for them to deal with. In addition to that, they don’t need anyone’s approval other than mine to use music for a show either.

    I hope someone that reads this, can be inspired to do something they are truly passionate about and doesn’t necessarily think they have the education they need to succeed in it. I also want to make people aware that my intention is never to impress anyone with what I may have done, yet it IS to impress upon SOMEONE what you can make happen on your own without much education, support or money.

    Move Mountains!

    Jared Matthew Kessler
    (Author of “The Poet and the Billionaire)

  7. ERIC WEGERBAUER » Blog Archive » Simpson’s Marketing That Lasts Says:

    […] What is your “donut hole?” « Dan Miller’s Blog […]

  8. Teri Vogeli Says:

    I have a fledgling jewelry business that operates through home parties. I have a unique niche in my product line, but I also started polishing and cleaning guest’s jewelry while they shopped. It created a great time for conversation & compliments, instruction on jewelry care, and people were amazed that I did it for free. I did it for fun because I love to see clean diamonds, but it also increased my party bookings!

    Make meaning first – success follows!!

  9. Mary Says:

    Teri V. – cleaning clients’ jewelry while they shop is an incredible inspiration! I am looking to start a pet portrait and greeting card business and am thinking about incorporating home demos also. I would love to have a “donut” for that. Any ideas? Thanks!

  10. Jen in Wichita Says:

    I need ideas for the “donut hole” of an alterations/seamstress business I do out of my home. Any ideas for me?

  11. Jeanne Says:

    Wow! The Donut Hole analogy is inspiring. I am ‘day dreaming” about mine today as a result. I will start this new year/decade with my own signature “donut hole”.

    The follow up entries are as beneficial as the original. Keep it up!

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