GREAT Harvest

Every time I go to the Great Harvest Bread Company, I am greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread, an earthy, calming environment and a sign on the door that says “No shirt, no shoes, no problem!” No matter what city I’m in, I am welcomed by cheerful, helpful staff with strong knowledge of the quality ingredients that go into their products. The positive helpful attitude they exhibit is refreshing. To add to the joy, they also give out generous, free slices and samples of fresh baked breads, cookies and scones. While not so good for my waistline, it’s great for goodwill!

But what happened today at the Great Harvest in Herndon Virginia took the cake -- or shall I say bread -- for me!

The door swung shut behind me and I entered the bakery. The heat index in DC today is 102 degrees (gasp!). I immediately noticed the distinct lack of temperature difference from the outside to the inside. The air was terribly warm, and fans were whirred in the background. "Boy! It is really WARM in here!" I remarked.

A bright-eyed Asian girl in a blue tank top popped around the bread rack. With a twinkle in her eye she cheerfully spouted, "Yes! We know! Our air conditioner is broken!" I looked around the room. The three young hipsters attending the counter were, surprisingly, smiling and cheerful despite the heat. “What can I help you with?” she offered.

They were out of what I wanted - Bonnie's Low Carb Bread. However, Traci (as I later came to know her) quickly showed me a great healthly substitute. She also offered to reserve low-carb loaves (baked Wednesday) for me for pick it up on Fridays, and then taunted me with a fresh slice of Tomato, Herb and Cheese bread (not low carb!).

The happy team jokingly apologized about the lack of butter, explaining that it had become "drawn butter" the sweltering heat. Great for lobster or crab, Traci said, but not so great with bread.

I was amazed at the good mood that pervaded the sweltering room: After just a few minutes, I was "gaschvitzing” and uncomfortable in my jeans and t-shirt. “I hope you guys are getting a bonus pay for putting up with this heat!" I remarked. Traci winked and grinned, "Oh, it's okay! Management has been really nice about it! They keep bringing us ice cream and popsicles!” She seemed completely unfazed.

I paid for my loaf and thanked the gang - wishing them all a great day and a quick AC repair. Exiting the store I was smiling, too. What a cool, refreshing experience on a terribly hot day!

I was so impressed with this experience, I called Great Harvest a few hours later, and spoke to Traci. I explained that I was customer experience architect, and that I wanted to thank them for offering me such a great experience. I also asked her a few questions.

While it's just a glimpse into one store - and one person, I thought It'd be good to share the insider perspective given to me by Traci Brooks, a bread maker extraordinaire and student at NOVA. I asked her what it's like to work at Great Harvest and how that impacts the customers. Here's what she had to say:

About the work environment:
"I have been here for two years. This is the most fun job, EVER. I love it. We have so much fun. Management is very generous, we all have a good time, they let us play our music and everyone is really positive. They tell us if we're happy it shows to the customers, and I guess it does!"

About generosity:
"The way they gave us money for Dairy Queen and brought us ice cream when the air conditioning went out is a great example. They just do stuff like that. With the job, of course, we get free bread, which we like! Also, I love the people I work with - they hire really great people. I guess you could say they pay pretty well, too. In high school, you might start around $7 per hour [well above minimum wage] and they give raises. It's especially good considering that it's like being paid to hang out with your friends. It's a job but it doesn't feel like one."

About management style:
"A lot of us start working here in high school and continue until we leave for college, which is kind of cool. It works for us - especially on afternoon shifts when we get busy. The managers really encourage us to make it [the bakery] our own, and have a good time. They treat us well and they're fair. They're not just in the back office telling us what to do, they're involved, and actually doing the work, too.

About customer service:
I gotta say, working here is a LOT better than working in a "Do you want fries with that" kind of atmosphere." Our managers really encourage us to be ourselves and to connect personally with each other and our customers. At first, this can take you out of your comfort zone; but it helps you in other areas, by making you more comfortable asking questions and getting involved in discussion. I have learned that I really like getting to know people and hearing about their lives and getting into real conversations. I really enjoy working with the customers.

The experience created for me by Traci and her team is a great reflection of the Great Harvest Philosophy, which can be found on their web site:

--> Be loose and have fun,
--> Bake phenomenal bread,
--> Run fast to help customers,
--> Create strong, exciting bakeries,
--> And give generously to others.

Sometimes executing the simple things well can make all the difference in the world.


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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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