Updated: Sep 3, 2018
"Would you like a piece of cheese?"
Mr. Kite would lean over the meat counter, smiling gently from behind his large, thick glasses. Sometimes, he would reach out to shake my little hand playfully, or pinch my cheeks. Gus Kite was the owner of Kite's Supermarket, and one of my earliest teachers of what it means to build a strong brand.
Since before I could be trusted to roam a store alone, I had been eating wedges of cheese that were carefully handed to me in wax paper by Mr. Kite. On trips to the grocery store, I was giddy with excitement as we pulled up to the Red and White sign. Before I could walk, my mom would either carry me on her hip through the grocery store as she shopped, or in the front of the shopping cart. Momma would roam the aisles, gathering all that we needed from each well curated section. As we perused the aisles, I always knew that I would see Mr. Kite's figure behind the meat counter just at the back of the store. He was often busy cutting and packaging different cuts of meat in the back, but was always visible through the small opening behind the counter. No matter what he was doing when he would see my little hair puffs appear at his meat counter, he would take time to stop and greet me. After he handed me a fresh piece of cheese, he would take time to chat with my mother, asking her about my grandfather and how everyone was doing in my family. Mr. Kite had known my family and my grandfather Leo for years; my grandfather was also a business owner, and operated a small car dealership in town.
Looking back, I realized that the experience that we had at Kite's was the reason why we kept going back. For years, despite the availability of other grocery story options, we were loyal patrons because of the signature warm and welcoming spirit of Mr. Kite. His values were clear in the way that he operated and ran his business; he took time to get to know his customers, he supported local community groups, and he offered credit to loyal patrons. Because of the experience that he created and the relationship that Mr. Kite nurtured with customers, he built a legacy that is reflected in the strength of the brand that he has left behind. Most importantly, at the core of Mr. Kite's work was his belief. He believed deeply in the community he served, and committed his life to serving it until his death.
The lessons that Mr. Kite taught were rich, and even in a time very different than the one in which he started his supermarket, his wisdom still applies. Building a business or community organization that inspires loyalty requires an unwavering belief in what you do, intentional relationship building with clients or members, and consistently living into your values through the practice of running your operation.
Who are the Mr. Kites that you know in your own life? What are the nuggets of wisdom that you can glean from their example to apply to building your own brand?
Sometimes, even the simple ritual of handing a piece of cheese to a little girl can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.