Inspiration from guys who throw fish in Seattle

It's not about the fish.
 
A whole philosophy of doing business and attracting customers has arisen out of the success of Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market. (Think men throwing fish and laughing with customers. That's the now world famous fish market.) 
 
Deena Ebbert, a Fish Philosophy expert invited to Kalamazoo for the annual Connecting With Customers event, told participants that regardless of their business they can emulate the success of the fishmongers in Seattle.
 
Pikes Place Fish Market has become a tourist destination not because of the fish -- there are three other businesses selling fish in the market. What makes Pikes Place Fish Market the one people have heard of is that the fishmongers (who work on 100 percent commission) make a visit memorable. 
 
By throwing fish and yelling out orders they create an experience for their customers that they will talk about when they go home. The fishmongers invite customers in to shop, they attract them with their banter, they fill them with joy with an experience that makes them laugh, they encourage them to come back and they enlist them as ambassadors, Ebbert says.
 
Essentially, they are following four steps that have become known as the Fish Philosophy-- "Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude."
 
How do we translate this from a fish market to Kalamazoo? Ebbert asks. She suggests it is by catching the energy, passion, and fun that the fish market offers. "You don't have to throw fish. But you have to have energy -- a commitment -- to have fun at work." 
 
To "make their day" a business needs to let customers in on the fun so they walk away with a smile on their face. Being there for customers means constantly being aware of what they are saying, "being with just them and taking care of just them."
 
Choosing your attitude is about deciding, she says, "where you are going to be as soon as you get out of bed. You can choose whether you are going to have a good time or not."
 
"These are the soft skills that give you the hard numbers," Ebbert says. "It's about creating an environment where customers feel terrifically comfortable saying 'yes.'"
 
Ebbert also offers an action plan using the four principles of the Fish Philosophy to help businesses achieve "colossal success." 
 
The first step is to come up with a personal theme song -- the song you want to hear playing when you walk into the amphitheater -- your personal anthem. She says having a theme song energizes the brain and helps make it elastic. In that state you are more approachable, relaxed and flexible. You are better at "being there."
 
"This is a way to start building really solid relationships that last beyond the transaction," Ebbert says. 
 
Through the exercises she points out that some decisions can be made quickly. The exercises lasted no longer than it took to play a song, not quite five minutes. 
 
During that time, those in attendance explored their top three values by answering the question what does colossal success look like for your business and what would it take to set up an environment in which the staff, employees and customers could be successful. 
 
"I talked to a woman yesterday who told me why she loves what she does. She is so passionate about it. She said, 'When I wakes up in the morning I get to come here. I've had other jobs that weren't like that. I get to come here and I get to be useful.' I could tell she was almost ready to cry. She gets to get up in the morning and she gets to come here. That's colossal success." 
 
In subsequent exercises people again took a short amount of time to identify little things that make a big difference for their business and what it is that is awesome about where they do business, which she described as the "exquisite kapow that is Kalamazoo."
 
As she shopped in downtown Kalamazoo, Ebbert also talked to people who said local merchants watch out for one another. If something suspicious is going on they will come over from their store to find out what's happening. "You have one another's backs. You're physically present. You have a unique quality of being accessible. Keep doing that."
 
Ebbert further encourages business to find ways for customers to become ambassadors. "A lot of people are looking for an invitation to be useful."
 
Another thing she heard was an invitation to return. "People said, 'please come back.' Say it with 'zaaa.'"
 
Throughout the morning Ebbert made it clear it didn't take her long to discover things to like about Kalamazoo during her visit. The bed and breakfast proprietor stayed up late to greet her and feed her cookies. The next morning at the gift shop of the KIA the women there ooh-ed and aah-ed over earrings as she tried them on. In a boutique on the mall she found and instant friend in the owner.
 
"I am relatively certain this is utopia," Ebbert says. "You are not normal. You are better." And she insists that she has never offered that compliment to another community.
 
"I get around. I walk a lot of brick and mortar. I have never seen a place like this where you do this thing..." She makes a hand motion that indicates a full-face smile. "I walked into shops. Everyone said, 'Hi. Do you need anything?' and then they did the face. Keep being like that. It's absolutely irresistible." 
 
Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Second Wave Media. She is a freelance writer and editor.

Photos by Kathy Jennings except for Petersen, Dilley picture courtesy Deena Ebbert

Signup for Email Alerts