I’ve got a friend—pretty close friend—that was once in the hotel business. From the way it sounds, he did pretty good. He opened a few hotels, was general manager, even owned a hotel once.
He tells a story about a time when he was a young F&B guy. That’s hotel talk for “food and beverage.” The first few times I heard him refer to F&B I thought he was saying “effin B”—which didn’t make any sense. I’m terrible at asking questions so I let it go for some time before realizing he wasn’t cursing 1/26th of our alphabet. Anyway, his job was to get patrons into the hotel bar and restaurant—an easy task when the hotel was busy, but a challenge when he had to generate business. So, like anyone fresh out of college might, he had this great idea to have a “Ladies Night” for all the would-be customers in the greater Williamsburg KY area. (Yeah I know.) It’s a formula best described as “tried and true.” Discount admission for “the ladies,” and the men are sure to follow.
So my friend hires a band. He prints signs and posts them all over town. Telephone poles. Retail windows. Windows of cars. For two weeks leading up to the event he spent marketing dollars promoting “Ladies Night”. The day finally came and, to make this part of the story short, it bombed. Maybe 8 people showed up. (I don’t remember how many of them were women.) Immediately my friend began to dread the meeting he was sure would happen with the hotel general manager. Let’s call this guy “Nehaus.”
As sure as the sun, the next day my friend was summoned into the cherry wood desked, leather furnitured office of one Robert Nehaus. For the first few seconds nobody said anything. Both parties were aware of how much was spent on the event; both were aware of the turnout.
“So how’d it go last night?” Nehaus rhetorically asked.
“It bombed,” my friend offered as a token of submission, probably hoping to avoid any further confrontation.
A few more nervous ticks elapsed as Robert Nehaus deliberated. Then, “What if Elvis would have been playing? How do you think last night would have gone if you had been able to get Elvis there?”
No longer slumping in the black leather chair, my friend perked up and came to life. “Well yeah. If Elvis been would have been here we would have packed the place. We would have been turning people away at the door! Shoot, they would have paid just to be in the parking lot … and I wouldn’t have had to promote anything!”
Nodding in agreement, and actually for a moment sharing in my friend’s sudden wonderful revelation, Nehaus allowed my friend to dream on about booking Elvis and the enormous potential before breathing life to these great words of wisdom, “But Elvis is dead.”
I love that story. Admittedly, when I heard it I walked away like Coleridge‘s wedding guest, a little stunned, not knowing why my friend took the time to tell it. But since then I’ve realized in those times when I’m looking for the formulas of life to save me that … there are no formulas. There is no magic bullet. I can’t just “phone in” Elvis as a solution … because he’s dead. There’s something liberating in that. And also something profound.