|Crowning the Customer|
A training book I wrote in 1990 for my colleagues in Superquinn, Crowning the Customer, turned into a business best-seller!
It's been translated into far more languages than I can understand [French, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, Finnish, Japanese and Thai - with Korean on the way], with over 50,000 copies sold in Ireland alone.
In the book, I explain:
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Sir Tony O'Reilly's foreword to the US edition:
"Feargal Quinn belongs to a band of Irish people who grew up during the 1950s, in a world busy remaking itself after the depression and wars that had dominated the previous generation. Many of us had an unlimited belief in our ability to make an impression on that new world, a boundless (and largely unwarranted) confidence in our capacity to achieve anything we set out to do.
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Thirty years or so later on, Feargal Quinn is one of the world's most respected innovators in the fiercely competitive world of retailing fast-moving consumer goods. He is a much sought-after speaker on the international lecture circuit, and he is a director of the United States Food marketing Institute and of the Paris-based CIES.
What is perhaps remarkable is that he has achieved this standing without moving from his original Irish base. He runs a modest supermarket business that rates somewhere around 291 in the world ranking of supermarket chains by size. However, you begin to get an idea of his achievement when you learn that his Superquinn company ranks 20 in the world in terms of sales per square foot of selling space.
That Quinn must know something is evidenced by the number of visiting businessmen that beat a path to his door by the sea on the outskirts of Dublin - supermarketers from all over Europe and the U.S. as well as top management from the giant firms like my own who market their products through the supermarket channel.
What they discover is what readers of this book can now find out for themselves, and its application extends way beyond the world of retailing. His message is that there is indeed a magic way to success in business. It is based on old-fashioned ideas that have always been around but have been more and more difficult to apply as modern life has thrown complications in our way. At our mother's knee we all learn that the customer is king, but not so many work out just how to apply such a high-flown concept in real life.
Feargal Quinn opened his first store in 1960, a small premises of less than 5,000 square feet and with a total staff of eight. Today, he employs more than 4,000 people and has a sales area not far short of a million square feet. From the beginning his approach was driven by a search for excellence, a single-minded determination that his company would be the best at whatever it decided to do. Another part of Feargal Quinn's retailing philosophy that soon emerged was his emphasis on customer service, founded on a determination to build an organization that would always try to see things from the customer's point of view.
This dedication is delivered with a quirky consistency. To remind his store managers that their real job is on the selling floor, he always instructs his architect to give them small, dingy offices. People who work at Superquinn's headquarters have sometimes found their desks have disappeared while they have been on vacation, as a gentle encouragement to get out more into the stores. Quinn often holds business meetings on the shop-floor, a preference that can surprise people used to more conventionalbusiness encounters.
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As he demonstrates in this book, he is committed to the notion that business should be fun - but his approach is deeply serious in intent. Top of his priority list is the need to stay close to the customers, and he feels that this is a lesson everyone in business can usefully learn. He believes that customers of any business want a high level of personal service, of the kind that can be provided only by human beings rather than machines. He has proved that investment in people pays off in terms of increased business which pays for the additional staffing costs.
It is perhaps this aspect of Superquinn that has attracted most attention around the world - the fact that a high-service operation can be provided without charging higher prices for it. In other markets, the received wisdom has been that a high level of service is something the customer has to pay for in higher prices, but in Ireland this has always been impossible because the grocery trade is so competitive.
Many times in business we hear the cry “back to basics!” Feargal Quinn is someone who has made that journey."
Sir Anthony J.F. O Reilly is the former Chairman, President and CEO of the H.J. Heinz Company