retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Okay, we don’t usually do two Eye-Openers in a day ... but what’s the point of having my own website if I can’t break the rules occasionally...

There was a wonderful story in the Washington Post the other day that was a kind of obituary, but really much more than that. And its theme actually plays into the Potbelly Sandwich Works story, above.

The piece was about a fellow named Carlos Guardado. Here’s how the Post framed the story:

“For almost 20 years, he was there, a little guy in a metal cart, selling rice-and-bean burritos at 17th and K streets NW on Farragut Square. He was there in all weather, during uptimes and downturns, a dependable rock in the rapids of life in downtown Washington.

“Until suddenly, this week, he wasn't, and a busy neighborhood paused to realize that it was a pretty big man who had been doing that little job.

“Tuesday, when the hungry emerged from their marble lobbies, in place of Guardado's cart they found a hand-drawn sign posted by his brother-in-law announcing that the burrito man had suffered a heart attack and died a few days earlier. He was 48.

“A man in a tailored suit read the words, touched his open mouth and lowered his head into his hand. Two women hugged, one crying openly. They came to the cart at least once a week, the other said, usually together ... All day, they came, lawyers and interns, lobbyists and vagrants, working folks who had made Guardado a part of their routine, suddenly realizing that the burrito guy had found his way into their hearts.”

It was a remarkable piece about a remarkable guy who came to this country as an illegal alien in 1981, who worked hard and long and eventually became a citizen, who turned a simple metal cart into a thriving business that bought his family a house and sent his daughter to the University of Maryland.

According to the story, “He kept people coming back by recalling not only their food preferences, but also the names of their children and standings of their sports teams. Workers who had been transferred away would come find him on their visits back ... If he looked lonely, an isolated figure in a steamy cart, customers soon learned that his life was full. The soccer prowess of his children, along with their academic achievements, were known to hundreds of diners.”

The eye-opening lesson: great retailing, whether it be in a big box store or a corner burrito cart, has to do with making connections.

- Kevin Coupe
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