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On washing windshields and selling Happy Meals

I pulled into Bob Lee’s Tire Company in downtown St. Petersburg for an oil change and tire rotation. I’d never been there before, but my wife had clipped a discount coupon.

Before I was out of the car, a smiling service writer was at my door greeting me. Nice, I thought. He directed me to the customer’s lounge. And that’s where I observed something I never thought I’d ever see again.

Bob Lee’s also offers Mobil gas — two islands with multiple pumps. From the customer’s lounge window I noticed two cars at the pumps. There was a young man washing the windshield on one of them. I assumed it was the driver. But the woman driver was still behind the wheel. So it was probably someone riding with her, right? Wrong.

The young man moved over to the second car and began the same thing. That’s when I also noticed another attendant pumping the gas while the gentleman sat behind the wheel on his cell phone. Wait a minute: Attendants pumping the customer’s gas and washing the windshield? Was I having a flashback to my youth when self-serve didn’t exist and I even got a glass or green stamps for buying gas?

No, for the next 40 minutes I was looking out at the way they do things at Bob Lee’s. Two attendants assigned to the gas operation, both pumping and washing windshields. Moreover, I had little doubt these customers came to Bob Lee’s for the “service.” After all, the price of regular was a defining nine cents per gallon cheaper up the street.

Sitting in Bob Lee’s once again reconfirmed for me the proposition that customers willingly accept a higher price for service that’s above the ordinary. And business was good. While I was there, I hardly ever saw less than one car at the pumps. In fact, one of the attendants had his lunch box on a small counter just outside the window. He got one bite of his sandwich in 40 minutes.

McDonald’s becomes friendlier to kids

There’s an indoor PlayPlace at thousands of McDonald’s across the country. Most feature multilevel playhouses, along with various slides and things to climb on. PlayPlaces were originally installed (the first in 1971) to make McDonald’s a family destination. Today, they’re a key to successfully gaining market share from fast-food operators like Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A and even big coffee outlets like Starbucks. But, in this age of high-tech, it takes more than good coffee and free Wi-Fi to keep customers coming back.

That’s why in Florida, the PlayPlaces at McDonald’s in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville and New Port Richey are reportedly serving up more high-tech features with their Happy Meals.

Among other things, these PlayPlaces are now featuring things like computer games and digital musical instruments in the PlayPlaces. In addition, in the adjacent main dining area there are computers with games for the older kids. The idea is to give families the opportunity to eat a meal, then while the youngsters are happily occupied with the high-tech playthings, the parents can kick back, tap into the Wi-Fi and check and send emails with their kids safely playing just a few feet away.

The concept just might work well in boat dealerships, too. Simply having a spot set aside in the showroom with a computer for kids to play games on could make a big difference in the amount of time the sales team gets with the parents. After all, if a big business like McDonald’s thinks high-tech features, even on a kids level, could be good for business, it’s definitely worth thinking about.

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