This article was originally published on Humorality, on August 17, 2009.
And Throw in an Extra Four Dozen
I ran my own company for many years. My purpose was to make a reasonable income for my family by providing a compelling product to the public at a competitive price, backed by a satisfying customer service experience. What an idiot I was. If the financial bailouts under by President Obama taught me anything, it’s that the sure-fire way to be a business success with a capital Billion is to run your company straight into the ground.
This seems to be the financial strategy adopted by Krispy Kreme (motto: “It’s got a hole in it, so it can’t be that fattening”). I had my first taste of Krispy Kreme doughnuts when a franchise opened in nearby Issaquah, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. The shop was a hit from day one: customers formed a line more than a block long, stretching past three Starbucks locations. It took me a month to reach the cashier and buy some of their nutrients, including the two hours I actually spent in line.
Those were pretty heady days for the sweets company back in the early years of the new millennium. Krispy Kreme locations were a lot like their product: rising by the dozens from a simple franchise recipe, fried to a warm glow by the boiling-hot oil of customer anticipation, and doused in a sugary glaze of junk food consumption. When the company went public in April 2000, the stock price quickly doubled, bubbling in the forty-dollar-per-share range.
As with the actual Krispy Kreme product, the company was destined to be ground up by the molars and incisors of Wall Street expectations, and passed through the digestive tract of American food fads. The once delicious stock went down to nearly one dollar per share this year, and rumors of questionable business practices haunt the corporate headquarters. Even worse, Krispy Kreme—in a clear oversight by upper management—offers neither fuel-inefficient automobiles nor questionable mortgages to high-risk customers, and was therefore not a beneficiary of the government’s 2009 stimulus package.
There are many reasons for Krispy Kreme’s business woes: the general downturn in the American economy, the increased popularity of “low-carb” diets, the difficulties in selling a product that shows what you will look like if you eat it. But I recently discovered the key to the corporate malaise: Krispy Kreme doesn’t sell its products to customers.
I found this out at that same Issaquah location. In Washington state stores, Krispy Kreme sells its own brand of coffee and milk-based beverages, and the most delicious drink option is to douse your beverage with several squirts of “Original Kreme Flavored Syrup.” A giant step up from the ordinary hazelnut syrups, Original Kreme is basically a 25-ounce bottle of liquid Krispy Kreme doughnuts, all at a mere 95 calories per one-ounce serving. It’s exactly what I needed to fill the doughnut hole in my appetite.
Since the bottle of syrup was already labeled for individual sale—complete with a Nutrition Facts panel and the happy Krispy Kreme fat-free logo—I offered to pay actual money for a full bottle of 2,375-calorie beverage goodness. To make it easier on the franchise, I said I would buy a complete box (six bottles) at a price and schedule that met their needs.
No. The answer was no. They didn’t even cover the refusal with a sweet vanilla glaze of reason or meaning; they just said no. No matter how many times I asked, they refused to sell me their product, and told me so with ever-increasing volume. I guess they had to say it loudly enough so that I could hear them over the lack of customers in the store.
No problem, I thought. I’ll simply move up the corporate ladder and contact the customer service department at the company’s national headquarters. Of course, this tactic assumed that Krispy Kreme actually had a customer service department at its national headquarters. There is a “Krispy Kreme Customer Experience” number you can call (“Press One for Glazed…”), but it reaches a third-party organization with no information or authority beyond what you can get by chucking a delicious doughnut at a store manager. Not that I recommend this. Nor do I recommend sending a letter to the corporate headquarters, since it (the letter, not the headquarters) will simply be forwarded to that same outsourced entity that can’t differentiate between Customer Experience and a Hole in the Doughnut.
The inability to obtain Original Kreme Flavored Syrup has left both me and my coffee a little bitter. If things continue the way they are going, I will be able to buy several cases of the syrup at the company’s going-out-of-business sale. But for now, I am flavorless. If Krispy Kreme has any interest in returning to its corporate glory days, I suggest that the company take a page from my old playbook and actually sell their quality products to customers, and offer some semblance of customer service. Or they could take all their dough and open a bank.