Industry / Retail

Savannah Bananas Founder Tells AGS Members How to Stand Out


Businesses shouldn’t just chase customers but instead should cultivate fans, keynote speaker Jesse Cole said Monday at the American Gem Society Conclave in Austin, Texas.

“The future of your business is not based on how many customers you have, it’s how many fans you have,” Cole, founder of the Savannah Bananas exhibition baseball team, said in the opening keynote address. “Customers are transactional, but you want a fan for life. We have 100 customers who have tattoos of our team on their arm.”

Wearing his signature bright yellow tux, Cole told AGS Conclave attendees that when he first organized the Bananas team, he set out to provide a “fans first” experience that would “wow” customers.

“We said, we are not going to be like other baseball teams, we’re going to different. We are not in the baseball business, we’re in the entertainment business.”

Starting out, Cole identified several “friction points” that can interfere with people’s enjoyment of traditional baseball games.

Fans felt games “were too long, too slow, too boring,” he said. “They complained about convenience fees and service fees added to the tickets.”

As a result, the Bananas didn’t charge any fees with its tickets. They also developed their own “Banana Ball” rules, which keep every game under two hours and incorporate dancing and audience participation events.

The team now enhances the experience by sending fans a playlist to listen to on their way to the ballpark, and about a week after the game, it sends them a free highlights video.

“Our goal is to create not just fans-first moments but ‘you wouldn’t believe’ moments,” Cole said. “What can we do that’s a little more remarkable?

“[Jewelers] are in a serious profession, but what if people think, ‘Boy, not only did I get a great necklace, but I had a great experience’? Think about what’s the typical experience and how you make your store seem unlike any jewelry store in the world.”

Cole advised the audience to look for “friction points” in their own businesses.

“We don’t focus on our competitors, we look at putting ourselves in customers’ shoes,” he said. “Walt Disney would walk his park, and go through it and look at how he can do better. He wanted to find out what’s wrong with every ride.”

The Bananas take a similar approach: Employees sit “undercover” among the fans to find out how to “eliminate friction,” said Cole.

He noted that when customers call a company, they are typically put on hold and forced to listen to “boring” music. But the Bananas have their own entertaining hold music, and people sometimes call just to listen to it, according to Cole.

He said businesses have to ask: “How do you take those pain points and make them fun, unique, and memorable?”

One example of how the Bananas answer that question occurs when games are called because of rain—employees line up with umbrellas and escort customers to their cars.

Businesses need to “experiment constantly” to succeed, said Cole.

“We’re not remembered for our failures but for our hits,” he said. “Whatever is normal, do the opposite. Normal gets normal results. Attention beats marketing 1000% of the time. People talk about things that are unique and different.

“We constantly come up with ideas and see what works and what doesn’t work. And a lot of them don’t work. You either have a success or you have story, and sometimes both.”

(Photo courtesy of the American Gem Society)

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By: Rob Bates

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