Posted by: Chris | August 22, 2007

The Slow, Painful Death of a Local Brand

Ah, what an eventful few weeks. Moved houses, changed jobs, computer died. Hopefully now, I’m back to blogging again.

This past Sunday, my wife and I braved 71st-and-Memorial traffic to partake in the great American institution of Sunday Afternoon Errand Running. Our gameplan: I go to CompUSA to buy thermal paste (and whatever else I could slip in under the radar) and to PetSmart to buy a 40 lb. bag of dog food, while my wife and daughter go through the drive-thru line at Braum’s for a couple of peppermint milkshakes.

Before I continue to the heart of this post, I should mention the proximity of each shop to the other. CompUSA and PetSmart are next door to each other. Braum’s is across the parking lot from them, about 100 yards apart from PetSmart, door-to-door. I should also explain that Braum’s is a local ice cream parlor that also serves fast food and sells perishable grocery items. The shop has been a part of my life for decades. I can remember as a boy, walking into the Braum’s in small-town Seminole (OK) with my grandparents. A double-dip was their way of spoiling me, and it worked. As I got older, my parents and I would make it a habit to stop off at the Braum’s in Stroud as we traveled from Enid to Seminole to visit. And when I was finally out on my own, I would visit my parents in Enid, and a trip to Braum’s was a “comfortable treat” that we would enjoy at least once per visit. Braum’s was always so cold inside-a perfect place to go on a hot summer day in Oklahoma. I remember flipping around the stainless-steel bars that separated the line from the rest of the crowd. (I had to quit this when I was about 15 or 16 years old.) I remember admiring the rows of round ice-ream containers neatly stored in their eye-level freezers. But the thing that made Braum’s so good, so identifiable and unique as a brand, was surely the food. One would think that with ice-cream that tasted as good as Braum’s did, it was surely impossible to maintain such high quality across their entire product offering. Not so with Braum’s. Their hamburgers were unique: thin patties, admittedly greasy and salty, loaded with mayo-the best fast-food hamburger you could get. And the crunchy crinkle-cut fries-the type that restaurants just don’t make anymore-were by design able to contain the perfect amount of ketchup within their ridges. And all of this was delivered proudly, professionally, consistently, by an employee who seemed to me a little more mature than other fast food restaurants’ employees.

Back to Sunday: so my wife drops me off at the front door of CompUSA, and drives off to buy our shakes. I hunt down the thermal paste, and throw in a 120mm fan and a y-cable to boot (no pun intended). I then journey to the extreme opposite side of the store to look for cool new games to install on my awesome new computer (that’s still not working-but that’s a different story altogether). At this point, I figure my wife is out front waiting on me with a peppermint shake that had now melted into peppermint milk. I check out and go outside–no wife. So I walk to PetSmart to buy dog food for our Weimeraner, Ella, and our Boston Terrier, Ophelia. I lug the 40-lb. bag to the front and wait while the lady in front of me writes a check, and then proceeds to record the check in her thingy. (Apparently, she couldn’t wait until later to do this.) After she and the checker finish discussing the benefits of donating $10 to the SPCA, she leaves and I check out. So I am now thinking that I’m probably in trouble, and the only thing that is going to make my tardiness excusable is that I have saved my pregnant wife from having to carry this dog food bag herself. I complete my transaction and go outside–again, no wife. I peer over to see her car still in line at the Braum’s drive-thru. So, in order to expedite our departure, I begin to walk her direction. Considering how long it has already been, I figure that surely she will finish her transaction before I make it to Braum’s, and she will come pick me up in the parking lot, thus rescuing me from having to lug the 40-lb. bag the entire 100 yards. In a nutshell, I got my workout that day. I did indeed have to carry the bag the entire distance. Once I reached our car in the drive-thru line (she was now at the window) and loaded the bag, as well as myself, into the car, we had to wait yet another 5-10 minutes longer. I should note, the line at Braum’s had not been particularly long in the first place-maybe 5 cars long when my wife pulled up about 20 minutes previous. And while I can only know the contents of our order for sure (a small and a medium peppermint milkshake), I can only assume that most other peoples’ orders came from the restaurant’s combo meal menu.

One confused drive-thru employee later, we received our order. The milkshakes seemed to have been barely stirred. They were more like scoops of ice cream in a cup with some milk poured over the top. This would seem to be such a simple item to perfect: the milkshake is surely a staple of Braum’s inventory, and an item that must be taught on Day 1 of an ice cream shop’s training regimen.

The real problem rests in the fact that this experience is not unusual for Braum’s these days. My wife and I pass by Braum’s all of the time now, because we know that, if we go there, we will be annoyed by some aspect of mediocrity or incompetence (or both). This chain used to be the manifestation of Southern hospitality (and good cooking). Now, it’s a revolving door for disinterested, dispassionate minimum-wage-oriented adolescents, and food orders that, if correct, differ from every other visit’s quality and make-up, and which have veered far from the greasy, salty burgers my Dad and I used to love.

The brand is withering. And I’m sad about it.

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Responses

  1. I have a google alert on the word Enid so we can find interesting things for our site. Your blog was picked up because you mentioned visiting Enid, so I decided to read this post and was totally absorbed in what you had to say. I agree that so many things seem to have fallen away from the way they used to be. The pride people used to take in their jobs (no matter what the job) seems to have just disappeared. It is so sad. For several years I feel people only work for the paycheck and not for what they can do or who they can help or service. I wish I had a solution. There is another certain drive thru that NEVER gets your order right. We always have to check our sack before we drive off. One day I drove back, parked and went in and let them have it. I guess I was pretty loud but I had just had it!!! We pay for a service and expect something for our money. I guess we need to go straight to the head of the company and complain so maybe it will work its way down because it does no good to start at the source. Thanks

  2. P.S. check out our site: http://www.enidbuzz.com
    thanks again

  3. Thanks for the comments, Ann. Glad to see that you are exercising the pride you describe on your website. I enjoyed it.

  4. […] 1. Seth Godin quote: “There’s a difference between brands and branding. Brands exist whether you want them to or not…Branding, on the other hand, is a thing you do.” 1 2. Danielle Blumenthal quote: “There are so many differences between branding and marketing. Branding is about living with consistent values, like swimming your laps; marketing is about taking one good shot at the basketball hoop…Branding is value driven…marketing is amoral.” 2 3. My recent concerns about dying brands […]


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