Niche marketing and passionate brand ambassadors

Deux Gros Nez, an eclectic, wonderful restaurant in Reno, Nevada, closed its doors a couple of years ago. It’s where I, as a dedicated employee of Tim Healion and Jon Jesse (then owners of Deux Gros Nez), learned about community, service, and the power of passionate brand ambassadors:

Flickr tribute

YouTube interview

A person’s thoughts on its closing

Deux Gros Nez opened its doors June 18, 1985 and began serving espresso, scones, focaccia, and frappes in a gambling town. It was open 24 hours a day, but where 99 cent breakfasts and watered down coffee were king, the Duex Gros Nez cuisine appealed not to the masses. Nevertheless, Deux Gros Nez cultivated a tribal following. This was my first lesson in niche marketing: don’t worry about the masses, worry about perfecting your niche brand and appealing to a niche audience.

This niche audience from the very beginning included lawyers, punks, doctors, architects, professional athletes, artists, etc. Each person had their own reason for frequenting Deux Gros Nez but the common unifying thread was the passion of the owners for delivering “honest” food and a dining experience that was outside the norm of a gambling town (frequent patrons were often met with a friendly greeting along with their type of coffee–brewed, espresso, cappuccino–waiting for them before they walked in because the owners knew what time they’d arrive and remembered what they liked). This was my second lesson in niche marketing: be passionate about what you do, focus on honesty, be passionate and concerned about your customers’ needs.

Part of my job was to train new hires to aspire to a high degree of customer service. The challenge was to inspire part-time employees–many of which were college students, snowboarders, and the like–to engage each customer on a one-to-one level. This was a tall order considering that only two or three employees on any one five-hour shift would have to take the orders, prepare the food, serve the food, bus the tables, ring-up orders, keep inventory, re-stock, and wear a bolo tie (purchased or homemade, the best homemade one being a hollowed-out egg run-through with a string). Sometimes we failed in our quest for customer service excellence. But many times we succeeded. And this success was embodied in creating “wow” events for Deux Gros Nez guests. For example, I would inspire our team to recognize the sound of a dropped utensil when it hit the floor. If you listen carefully, each utensil has a different tonality. This was useful when, on a crowded Friday night, a guest would invariably drop a spoon and the team member working the floor would replace the spoon before the customer asked. This created a great customer service “wow” event, marked the Deux Gros Nez brand in the mind of the guest, and created an incentive to come back. This was my third lesson in niche marketing, especially as it relates to a service industry: training and a appreciation for ensuring that your customers have the best experience goes a long way towards inspiring those customers to be your brand ambassadors.

This is not to say that Deux Gros Nez (which means “two big noses”) did not have a reputation with some people as being somewhat snobby, and that every person who dined there became a brand ambassador, but the restaurant cultivated passionate brand ambassadors worldwide, as evidenced by the fact that people flew-in from all over the world to be at the farewell party (see the Flickr tribute above). The Deux Gros Nez community continues on Facebook via The Fort group page. This was/is my fourth lesson in niche marketing: passion combined with a willingness to pursue excellence and honestly engage your customers inspires your customers to keep your brand flame alive, even when you’re gone.

Tim Healion (known as “The Chief” to all who frequented Duex Gros Nez), currently, has transferred his passion, honesty, and pursuit of excellence to one of this nation’s top professional cycling events, the Tour de Nez. Chief, thank you and keep it going.

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