Are You “Soup Nazi” Good At What You Do?

I had what is probably the weirdest small business experience of my recent memory this past weekend. It started out simply – I needed my eyeglasses fixed and in a quick Yelp search, I came across this place 15 minutes from my house that had good reviews and unlike every other one wasn’t an optical shop but only did repair.

So this past Saturday, I found the place and walked in. The office had two rooms, an entry area, and a small door leading to what looked like a workshop area. No one was in the entry space but there was a sign that said “We see you and will be with you shortly” and sure enough there was a camera mounted in the corner of the ceiling. Weird, but OK. I was the only one there and could hear some noises in the back.

After a few minutes, this middle-aged guy comes out, and while only looking at the floor, asks me what I want. So I hold out my glasses and say I’d like to get these fixed, please. He takes them from me and asks – what do you want me to fix about them. Which I thought was a weird question. But as he is asking this, he is fiddling with them and one arm breaks off in his hand and drops to the floor. I’m not shocked, because part of the problem was that the little screw that holds the arm on was broken.

But I am shocked by what happens next. He doesn’t say “sorry” or “oh, I see the problem” or anything at all. He doesn’t bend over to pick up the broken piece. He simply turns around, without saying a word, and goes back into his workshop.

Um, what? Does that mean you are fixing it? Do you not need the piece that fell to the floor? Do you not want to ask me anything, provide a quote, or tell me if I should wait or come back? Truly I was speechless.

So I decided, he must be fixing it and he’ll come out in a minute to tell me… anything. Instead, five more minutes go by and a few more people come into the waiting area. He comes out, not a word to me, and asks each person what they need. He collects glasses and goes into the back. He comes out with some people’s glasses after a minute, others are still waiting, but not a word to me or anyone else who is waiting on a repair.

One woman, when asked how he could help her, didn’t answer fast enough, so he moved on to another person and he didn’t return to her, leaving her very surprised. The next time he came out she asked him if he could help and they had a very awkward conversation about why she didn’t respond when he asked her the first time. I was getting the sense that maybe this guy was on the spectrum. It also felt very much like Soup Nazi vibes. I was more fascinated than anything at this point.

Finally, he came back out again with five different pairs of glasses and started handing them out to people waiting while mumbling prices to each person. He told me, with his back again turned to me, it was going to be $15 for my repair.

He had actually replaced both arms with new ones and tightened everything – the glasses were like new. I would imagine this repair at a normal eyeglass shop with normal customer service would easily have been over $100, if they would have taken it at all and not just insisted I needed to buy a new frame.

So what was the business lesson here?

This is a phenomenon that is not unusual. The better someone is, the more people are willing to put up with their quirks.

There are countless stories of actors and actresses who were nearly impossible people to deal with behind the scenes but they keep getting work because they are so good onscreen.

There are just as many stories about musicians in the same vein where they are completely out of control in every way but tolerated nonetheless because of what they can do when they perform.

And it’s not just creative types. The same holds true in business – people who achieve a level of success can get away with a lot more odd behavior than the average person ever could (looking at you, Elon).

Or how about Chick-fil-A? No other restaurant chain would dream of being closed one day a week and if their food didn’t have a huge fan following they might not be able to but this restaurant can make it work because their food is so popular and widely loved.

In the course of 30 minutes on a random Saturday, I saw this one eyeglasses repair guy do a few hundred dollars in business with a dozen customers, despite:

  • A hard-to-find, out-of-they-way location
  • An extremely off-putting personal manner
  • A reckless disregard for customer service
  • No clear pricing
  • No indication at all of how it works (do you wait, do you drop off)

It did become clear in hearing other people talking in the waiting area that many people were repeat customers and also that “this is how this guy is” he wasn’t just having an off day.

The lesson here is pretty clear. No, not that it’s fine to be completely out to lunch on customer service if you are good at what you do. But the more you are the very best and able to provide things to your customers (or audience) they can’t get anywhere else the more leverage you have to do things others couldn’t get away with (like close on Sundays or charge premium prices or have a waiting list for your products instead of having to offer coupons or discounts!).

This eyeglasses repair guy was obviously the Michael Jordan of eyeglasses repair. Despite the weirdness of the experience, I would definitely go to him again. It’s like the Soup Nazi – people would line up for his soup, despite all the weird rules and terrible service, because the product was THAT good.

The takeaway here is to figure out how to level up what you do from similar to everyone else to better than everyone else and then all the way to “on another level”. You want your business to be the one that everyone considers “THAT GOOD” that they won’t ever go anywhere else.

If you can figure out what that looks like and then get there, you’ll never have to compete on price, worry about having enough customers, or if the business can grow. Of course, this isn’t easy, but the rewards are high and it makes you essentially unbeatable by your competition.

What would it look like if you were the very, very best in your business category? Figure that out and then figure out how you can look like that. If you get there, everything else will take care of itself!

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