Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Fresh Concept for a FRESH Store

My wife tires of my continuous criticism on television advertising. And to add to the rhetoric in my household, my seventeen year old son has now joined dear old dad on this mission of brand quality and clarity for any commercial that rolls through our television screen. My wife may move out soon.

However, as of March 10, 2011 the criticism would come to a screeching halt as Brookshires opened the doors to FRESH. Breaking new ground in East Texas, a marketing department has set the bar on real brand development and awareness.

Brookshires has long set a standard on quality as well as solid brand identity but FRESH is on a whole different level. From their logo development down to the slick quality of the interior design, it's more than a grocery store. Not only is it making an impact with a FRESH visual concept, I believe they have invented an entirely new kind of animal all together.

But since the mechanics of a store aren't really my gig, I would like to take this time to compliment their marketing efforts on real brand development. This level of development is really only executed on very high level retail corporations.

There are four main points to a successful brand and they are:

1. Connection - Your brand must tell a story

2. Clarity - You must be clear about why you're worth noticing

3. Conviction - Radiating an unwavering certainty

4. Consistency - Keeping your word

These four points are all developed through an internal process that serve as anchor points for any and all messaging. The public, that being us, will never see the definitions that are refined through these four points. The only thing we get to see, and we're seeing it now, are the results of the creative that flourishes through all these definitions.

For instance, one of the big focal points within a solid brand is in defining a "Constituent Club". This is the group or tribe of people that "join" when using or supporting the brand. It's what being associated with the brand "says" about someone such as seeing a person with a Starbucks coffee cup in their hands. They are part of the club and may be just a little proud to carry it around. Don't believe me? When was the last time you saw someone in a board room bringing in a cup of coffee from a gas station? But for whatever reason, it's perfectly acceptable to come into the most formal of areas holding this paper cup wrapped up nice and neat with a cardboard sleeve.

FRESH has successfully defined their Constituent Club and it's growing in numbers. I'm proud to say I'm a FRESHIE myself and would wear a t-shirt if they sold them. Maybe they do.

Are you a FRESHIE?

freshie \fresh-ee\ n. 1: A person keenly interested in freshness 
2: A person who seeks fresh experiences in eating or cooking 
3: A loyal fan of FRESH by Brookshires 4: FRESH's super-friendly 
employees, typically found helping folks throughout the store

My hats off to Brookshires and their entire marketing department for leading the market in tier one brand development. Love to keep on typing but I'm off to FRESHEN up my stomach.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Simons Says "Build The Hospital"

I believe in Angels. There is no other explanation in the world as to my current existence other than a very diligent and watchful force that has protected me now for forty four years. And if you knew me in my youth, as some of you did, you know all too well that I wasn't exactly an alter boy.

In my mind, I have two Angels that never leave my side. They usually sit in the back seat of my car as they have done for so many years. They are old, cantankerous and they don't like each other very much. One of them loves Johnnie Taylor while the other loves Bill Monroe and they fight over the play-list on my iPod a great deal of the time. I think one of them smokes cigars on occasion but I'm not positive. 
Aside from their personal issues with each other, they whisper things in my ear that hopefully help me make better decisions. And in some cases, have protected me from some pretty hairy instances on the road.

Whether you believe this is all in my head or not, the power of persuasion from a higher source is evident in this next story. And I assure you it was no coincidence.

Our tale begins around 1933 with an architect named Shirley Simons. Shirley, a Fort Worth boy, moved to Tyler in 1928 after a solid ten year career starting in Houston after his graduation from Rice University and then Lufkin where he met his wife, Mollie Mantooth. He and Mollie would raise six children in Tyler with three of his sons joining his architectural firm soon after their graduation.

Shirley's portfolio is what one might say over the top. One of the very first architects to be licensed in the state of Texas, his designs are practically all over the place. You could almost make the argument that he designed Tyler as just driving through the Azalea district is like thumbing through his portfolio.

Just a few to spot light within our great state are the U.S. Federal Building in Tyler, Tyler City Hall, Willow Brook Country Club, Texas Theater, University of Texas at Austin Health Center, Stephen F. Austin Campus Schematic, (Classrooms, Admin/Office Buildings, President's Residence, Library, Auditorium & Fine Arts Building, Men's and Women's Dormitory) and the Marvin United Methodist Church (Remodel and Parsonage). This is just a snip from the list as the completed projects literally fill up four pages. I think it would be safe to say that this guy lived at his drafting table designing what he believed the world should look like.

However impressive and significant all of these designs are, none of the buildings listed above would change the course of human life as drastically as one of his creations.

Which brings us back to the Angels.

In June of 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, the Secretary of the Interior Mr. Harold L. Ickes issued a portion of the New Deal called the PWA or Public Works Administration. This program allotted $3.3 billion dollars to be spent on the construction of public works as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare and contributing to a revival of American Industry.

There were three large projects in Tyler that these funds would be used for. One of which was Mother Frances (now Trinity Mother Frances)  which was placed in the back of the line for construction. However, largely through the insistence of Shirley Simons, it was moved to the front of the line and would be the first project to complete out of the three. Shirley modeled Mother Frances after the Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.

On March 18th, 1937, a natural gas leak that occurred within the New London school building spread gas throughout the entire structure. It is believed that a wood sander was plugged into a wall socket igniting the gas within the air causing an explosion that would destroy the entire school building taking the lives of over 300 children.

Soon after the explosion, hundreds of children along with teachers were rushed to Mother Frances which was not even scheduled to be open until the next day.

The powers that be work in ways that we'll never understand. Some of you reading this will think this was just a coincidence. And others will wonder why God would have ever let something like this happen in the first place.

We'll never know the answers but I'll bet the boots on my feet that the saving hands of an Angel were involved in some way within this tragic event. And in 1933, the ears that Angel whispered into belonged to a humble architect who lived in Tyler, Texas.

Shirley Simons didn't have an iPod or a computer and he didn't live in the sea of noise we have all become accustomed to. He had only his drafting tools and his table for company and like all great designers, sat in silence while pouring out his creations on a blank piece of paper.

And in silence, many things can be heard if one would but listen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dungaree Buddy Lee

In the 1920s, my grandmother was a little girl growing up in Minden, Louisiana. One of her uncles sold Lee Jeans out of the back of a horse drawn wagon and when she was around ten years old or so, he gave her a little doll. This doll, dressed in a plaid shirt and wearing blue jeans, was produced as a promotional item to help brand Lee Jeans. His name is Buddy Lee.

Buddy Lee was the brain child, or brain doll, of Chester Reynolds. Chester, who was in sales, came up with the idea of using miniature doll models to display the jeans in clothing stores. He must have had a win win as Chester would later become Lee's board president within this Dungaree clothing giant dressing the working man across America.

Buddy Lee stands at a whopping 14 inches high and is made from sawdust composition coated in a hardened plaster with hand painted features. You would think he would be a sack of dust within the jeans he wears but Buddy stands on my desk at 91 years of age. He looks pretty good for an old man.

In 1998, ad agency Fallon McElligott brought Buddy back to life along with the 1940s Lee tag-line, "Can't Bust Em," to promote the new Lee Dungarees line. The campaign was sheer genius and would grow legs running the brand into 2004 peaking in 2005 when Buddy Lee was promoted as a write-in presidential candidate for the 2008 election. Kind of wish he was president now as I'm thinking a head full of sawdust might do a better job.

Buddy Lee serves as a perfect example on the importance of holding on to your heritage. An effort that most organizations lose site of when they grow beyond their spirit. He reminds us that our own spirit can capture the imaginations of many when it's kept close and never forgotten.

Never forget where you came from. Your past is what makes up who you are.

And who you become.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Matt's Rancho Martinez

About once a week, I'll receive a text from my wife that simply says, "I feel like Mexican food." The last twenty years, I have received this little message by voice mail, email and anything in between. I'll bet if she tried, she could smoke signal a 911 for chicken enchiladas.

What is it about this food that Texas folks like me have become so addicted to? I can't get enough of the stuff and throw in a frozen margarita or two and I'm the happiest man on the planet.

One of my favorite Mexican food joints of all time will always be Matt's Rancho Martinez located in Lakewood which is a little neighborhood community just east of Dallas. It's where my wife and I had are first home and given Matt's location, access to this melted cheese utopia was way too easy. We were just a few blocks away from Mexican Heaven. 

The Martinez family spans six generations of Tex-Mex tradition dating back to Delfino Martinez who sold tamales and pralines from a push cart on the steps of the State Capital in Austin, Texas back in the 1920s.

Matt's signature dish, if you ever make it to Lakewood, is the Chile Rellenos with Tomatillo Sauce. The thing that threw me the first time I ever had it was the use of raisins and pecans which are sprinkled on the top. I know what you're thinking but man it's freagin' good.

This is a challenge recipe and it's not for a novice. I spent all day making Tomatillo Salsa and it's a whippin'. If you have the time, get together with friends and carve out an afternoon for creating some authentic Mexican cuisine. Make sure you have the Margarita recipe I posted a while back. You'll need it.

Matt's Chile Rellenos

For the Meat:

1 lb ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet white onion
3 Tablespoons finely chopped celery
3 Tablespoons finely chopped bell pepper

For the Rest:

1 batch Tomatillo Salsa (see below at bottom)
Oil for frying
6 fresh Anaheim peppers
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups grated American cheese
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped pecans

To prepare the meat: Combine the ingredients in a 10-inch skillet. Saute' the meat over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until thoroughly cooked.

Prepare the salsa. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Completely wipe down and dry the Anaheim peppers. In a skillet, heat oil to a depth of 3/4  to 1 inch to 375 degrees. Roll the whole peppers around in the hot oil for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, causing them to blister. Remove the peppers, wrap them in a damp cloth, and let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, remove the pepper skins, split each pepper, seed, and remove all the membranes.

In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and black pepper. Dust the peppers in the flour mixture, roll them in the buttermilk, and dust each again in the flour. Fry the peppers in the oil over moderate heat until the batter is golden brown.

Arrange the fried peppers in an oven-proof dish. Divide the meat evenly over the tops of the pepper, then sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes, until the cheese starts to melt. While the dish is still in the oven, add the raisins and pecans, and continue baking for 1 to 2 minutes, until the cheese starts to bubble. Serve immediately.

Tomatillo Salsa (Green Sauce)

3 tablespoons oil of your choice
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 lb tomatillos finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno or serrano chile pepper
1 tablespoon crushed and finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro loosely packed
3 cups Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar

Heat the oil in a heavy sauce pot and brown the onions. Mix in the tomatillos, chile peppers, garlic, and cilantro. Add 2 1/2 cups of the broth, and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Drizzle in the cornstarch, sugar, ad the last 1/2 cup of broth, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes on low heat while the salsa thickens.

If the sauce is too thick, add a little more broth to taste, just so it's not runny.