Published on: November 3, 2009Sansolo Speaks: “The Power of Fun”
by Michael Sansolo
It’s a serious world out there. We get the reminders every day in the news, at work and many times even at home. So let’s honestly ask for one second whether, as Mary Poppins once said, an element of fun can make any job a game.
Because, if we think Mary had a point (and didn’t she always), we should be looking for ways to make everyday tasks more interesting and lighthearted. And why couldn’t that include both cooking and shopping?
The answer may have come from Sweden in the form of a great video easily found on YouTube.
In the video, part of a project sponsored by Volkswagen, the entrance to a subway station in Stockholm is given a unique transformation. The station features a pair of escalators (up and down of course) and a staircase between them. Nothing special there…right?
Except Volkswagen paid to have the stairs transformed into a huge working piano. The stairs became black and white key and, incredibly, when stepped on they played notes. Then the cameras rolled.
At first, commuters didn’t know what to make of the change. But as they tried the piano steps, they were instantly transported. Suddenly the simple process of heading in or out of the subway station took on a new element—fun. And the customers reacted. In excess of 65 percent more people started taking the stairs, an enormous jump from the earlier pattern, because the stairs were now more fun.
Suddenly a hum-drum, everyday experience was altered and people reacted. The escalators was still easier, but the stairs were now fun. The question: could we do the same?
There are food stores out there that drench themselves in fun. For years, I was lucky to shop at Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut, which may be the high palace of supermarket fun. To be honest, Stew’s was inconvenient for me and my wife for many reasons. We had a lengthy drive to get there and because of the limited number of products, we always had to use a second store almost weekly.
But we made the trip for two reasons. First, we loved the fresh products at Stew’s and secondly, shopping there was fun. Unlike other stores, our then small children behaved wonderfully at Stew’s because it was an adventure filled with songs, performances and costumed characters. It’s an experience other retailers have struggled to repeat.
While most stores can’t be Stew Leonard’s, nearly all can build an atmosphere of fun. After all, food is fun and cooking as we’ve learned from every celebrity chef can offer it’s own fun and rewards. But customers aren’t going to see that unless we lead them there. They are trudging through a serious world, with serious problems and serious constraints. Unless we interrupt that world, like the piano steps did, fun stays on the sidelines.
The question isn’t can it be done? The question should be why couldn’t it be done?
There are retailers who build fun with recipes and the endless celebration of food. Others do it with samples and demos. Some even turn technology into fun by enabling scanners (self and otherwise) with interesting noises that make cash registers with sounds from old time money changing to Star Wars weapons.
It’s so easy to argue against a point like this and there are so many reasons to argue that an element of fun won’t make shopping, cooking or clean up any easier. But then again, if fun can make people get walking up the stairs in Sweden, maybe the unexpected can do similar things in your stores and companies.
You won’t know unless you try.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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