Conquering the fear of changing your products

Last Updated August 27, 2019

Everyone knows the old saying about not fixing what isn’t broken, but taking a risk and embracing change could pay off for you and your business.

A longtime partner of EzTix, Chicago Food Planet (CFP) has moved to a year round strategy instead of closing for the winter, as well as rebranding their massively successful warm weather experiences. We thought it was really exciting, so our Director of Partnerships, Ben Montgomery, sat down with Shane to learn more about how he knew it was time for changes, and how to deal with the fear.

BM: It looks like CFP undertook a major overhaul ahead of this year’s season launch! What was the primary inspiration for these changes?

Shane Kost speaks to attendees of the Global Food Tourism Conference

SK: It started in September of last year when we decided as a company to move to a year-round business model.  The time had simply come and we were excited by the idea of creating new products that could run either in winter-only or even year-round.  That in turn helped us think more strategically about the direction of our brand and what products we wanted to develop moving forward.

BM: How did you examine your success over the last year to determine a new path forward?

SK: We were able to add some incredible new talent at CFP in the last year, especially with the successful recruitment of new leadership team members.  With a renewed focus on sales and marketing initiatives, as well as moving to a more vertical rather than horizontal management and leadership system, we had the pieces in place to focus on a new vision and mission moving forward.

BM: CFP’s tours, like the original Gold Coast & Old Town Food Tour, have become iconic in the Global Food Tourism Industry, not to mention its guests! Was it challenging to let go of those classic brands?

SK: We didn’t let go of them per se, we simply rebranded them.  The Gold Coast & Old Town tour is now called Second City Classic.  Our Bucktown & Wicker Park Tour is now branded as 3-1-Chew™, named after the primary area code in Chicago (312).

BM: Any advice for other Tour Operators considering major changes to their existing products?

SK: Change is pain- but it’s necessary to endure change to keep up with competition, shifting trends and other moving goalposts in our industry.  Product development and testing is critical in any industry, and we’re no exception.  It’s OK to reinvent, to try new things, to take risks in areas or segments that you don’t know much about.  Learn from the process and set goals for each project.

BM: What are you most excited about for the 2017 season?

SK: We’re excited to see the results of the hard work that we put in over this past winter, and year in general, and how the changes in our business model will play out.  We’ve got a driven, motivated and creative team and we’re prepared for the pivoting along the way.  But mostly, we’re excited to get in front of our customers and thrill them with our tried and new products.

BM: Is there particular data from 2016 that you have been studying as you prepare for the season ahead?

SK: Just like most of our colleagues, we’re always looking at the minutiae within our customer data to understand trends, buying decisions, traffic, patterns, etc.  With this information, we’re looking for even the slightest wormhole to open that will allow us to understand our target audience in greater detail.  We’ve spent time trying to identify our customer persona’s that most align with our services so we’re smarter and more efficient with how we broadcast our marketing campaigns.

BM: What do you think your biggest challenge might be for 2017?

SK: I see two big challenges- reducing costs in some critical areas and making sure our advertising is connecting with our target audience effectively.

BM: You’re an established company really setting trends in this industry. What advice do you have to other food tour operators that are just getting started and are looking to grow to your size?

SK: Be patient- it’s easy to get distracted by where you want to be versus where you are today.  Try to compete with yourself and not necessarily with your competitors or even colleagues that might be larger.  If you’re waking up each day and working hard and smart towards the goals you’ve set for yourself and your brand, the results will come.

BM: Here are a few questions just for fun. What’s your favorite tasting among your tours?

SK: As I’m not originally from Chicago, I resisted deep-dish pizza for a long time.  I convinced myself that I didn’t like it likely because it’s just different than what I grew up with.  But I have to say, Lou Malnati’s is out-of-this-world delicious.

BM: What’s the most-memorable tasting you’ve had on someone else’s Food Tour?

SK: Hands down Choklat in Calgary from Calgary Food Tours.  I have a massive sweet tooth.  The owner went on and on before we got to sample his wares about how great he was at making bean-to-bar chocolate.  Damn if he wasn’t right- I haven’t found its equal.

BM: What is the primary thing you look for when choosing new partners for your tour routes?

SK: There’s a lot of things that we’re looking at in this regard.  But above all, it’s important to us that they buy-in to our vision as a company.  If they quickly jump onboard as to the benefits we’re offering not only them, but to our shared customers, to our city, to the community—then we know they will be great partners moving forward.

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