Elvis Parsley’s Grapeland

/
/
/
/
/
/
Elvis Parsley’s Grapeland

Having re-read Peter Kenyon’s excellent book ‘Good Enough Never Is’ recently I thought a sample article from the book would inspire. The challenge for any retailer is creating a unique point of difference, that is memoreable in the eyes of the customer. Think Elvis Presley and Gracelands and your mind goes to the southern states of the USA. But think Elvis and Grapelands and your mind goes to Woodford, Queensland. ELVIS PARSLEY�S GRAPELAND (Woodford, Queensland) Facing the demise of his business like most small town fruit and vegetable retail shop operators, Nick Comino decided to be bold and think outside the square. He established �Elvis Parsley�s Grapeland�, combining his passion for fresh food, fun and Elvis Presley. Nick and his Grapeland have become a national icon, recognised for his innovation and his contribution to the tourism industry and business life of the rural Queensland town of Woodford, 60km north of Brisbane. His spirit, passion, boldness, belief in retail experience and exceptional customer service, has positioned Nick and his family business at the forefront of rural economic creativity, and has become the most �must see� tourist attraction of Woodford. THE STORY SO FAR � The words of Caboolture Shire Entertainment Guide writer, Peter Evans (2000:12) capture well the transformation of a traditional country town fruit and vegetable shop � �in a town once known for its dairy products and contented cows a lot has changed. Now farmers are serenaded as they deliver produce to their local grocer. He is the king of the salad roll. He�s put the beat into beetroot, the viva into vegetables and the calypso into carrots. That�s right, Elvis is NOT dead, just living a fruitful life in a quiet country fruit shop in Woodford. Elvis Parsley�s Grapeland, as distinct from the other esteemed southern address Gracelands, has become an icon for the people of Caboolture shire and more importantly Woodford�. Nick Comino has a proud heritage of family involvement in fruit shop operations. His parent�s business in Gympie � T C Comino and Co was famous for its wholesale and retail fruit operations. In 1983, he purchased his own green grocery business in the small town of Woodford. However, like most independent country town greengrocers he faced business closure with the growth of regional shopping centres and their chain store tenants. He realised that in a town of only 2,000 residents and with a major regional centre like Caboolture only 30 minutes away, he needed to exercise boldness and creativity. As a young person growing up in Gympie in the 1950s and 60s, he had always identified with Elvis Presley, his music and stage presentation, and in his words – �I�d ring the local radio station and request Elvis songs, and then sing along with a broom handle, so I guess the idea was developing back then�. In the 1980s, Nick became part of a band called the �Swinging Zucchinis� with mates, John Kerslake and Garry Secretin, which specialised in Elvis impersonations and songs. One night someone yelled out �Elvis Parsley�, and as Nick reminisces � �I thought hey! that�s a great idea, fruit fit for a King and the concept of Grapeland was born. Sales were slipping and I was in danger of become a has bean in the green grocer stakes and suddenly I had a great idea.� In 1994, Nick decked out the business with his extensive collection of Elvis memorabilia, and opted for the looks, the voice, the jumpsuits and the moves of the King. �With mike in hand (or is it a banana?) he serenades his customers with renditions of Elvis� greats. He gyrates, swivels his hips, bends that knee and croons into the mike with the same brooding intensity as the King�, (Fouracre, 1998:10). Nick took old popular Elvis songs and reworded then with the fruit and vegetable connection � �Viva Viva Las Vegies�, �Well, you can shake an apple off an apple tree� and �Oh Baby, Lemon Be Your Lovin� Kiwifruit� are examples. The response from locals and visitors has been incredible. In the words of correspondent Peter Olsezewki, (1994:7)- �ever since the transformation of the business, the joint�s been jumping. Take a jailhouse rockmelon, add some suspicious limes, love me tender tomatoes, blue swede shoes, and artichoke hotel, and you�re making music at Elvis Parsleys! Nobody has given Nick the raspberry and the cash registers been raisin hell�. For Nick � �the customers love it. You should see them jiving between the oranges and pineapples. It gives people a sense of happiness, and gets them laughing. And it�s a real living tribute to Elvis�. THE IMPACT The transformed business has created positive impact in a variety of ways including: Business vitality – Grapeland stands in stark contrast to the fate of most small town green grocery businesses. While there is rapid decline in their numbers across the country, Grapeland has become a very viable and sustainable operation ensuring employment for Elvis Parsley, his assistant Banana Mouskara (sister Rita) and several casual staff. Grapeland turnover has increased dramatically since the advent of the Elvis show. Local economy – Grapeland and the performance of Elvis Parsley has put Woodford on the tourist map. Local correspondents like Cath Fouracre of the Sunshine Coast Daily have no doubt that Grapeland is �the town�s premier tourist attraction� (1998:10). Grapeland is a must �stop and see� attraction for both tourist coaches and self drive visitors, and other businesses in the main street of Woodford are benefiting. In the words of Nick Comino � �Visitors and bus tours start with me. Then they check out the rest of the town discovering the great retail diversity that Woodford offers. Other businesses are obviously benefiting, and the demand for other businesses to open all weekend I think illustrates the drawcard effect of Grapeland�. Tourism – In launching The Great Australian Gazetteer (2003), a 400 page travel and food guide promoting tourism in regional Australia, former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher singled out Elvis Parsley and Grapeland in Woodford as an example of �the weird and wonderful experiences of regional Australia�. Grapeland has become a tourism icon of Queensland. It has been featured in a host of state, national and international media stories, including �The Great Outdoors� television program (Australia), CNN (USA) and XFM Radio (London). The fame of Elvis Parsley�s Grapeland has even spread to Memphis, Tennessee, where one of his pamphlets graces a wall in the real Graceland Mansion. THE SUCCESS FACTORS Nick Comino and other local business commentators are clear about the reasons for the success of Grapeland. Five simple factors are identified. Spirit and Passion – According to Nick � �Everyone has fruit, but what I provide is an atmosphere, a mood and an experience. It takes people back. So many people relate to Elvis tunes. It revives their youth. It�s spiritual. So many visitors share feelings like �best time I have had in ages�; �it has taken me back to the good old days� and �you�ve picked my flagging spirits up�. To see ninety year olds dancing and singing amongst the fruit is unbelievable. The experience is deeper than dollar a bag. There is love, emotion and passion�. Nick Comino has an incredible passion for life and people. His infectious demeanour permeates the community and his customer service. He sincerely believes that what he gives is �life-giving � it simply promotes life�. He also believes that his fundamental product � fresh fruit and live music is good for the soul and the body, and has a ready reception with all generations. Nick summarises his unique philosophy this way ��I�ve always identified with Elvis, his music and his stage act. But I combine his music with a philosophy of giving peace and happiness and sending a message of love to my customers and audiences. That�s why I call myself the spiritual Elvis� (Fouracre, 1998:10). Retail Experience – According to Nick, most customers and tourists are not interested in just a product, but want a real experience. His music, presentation and use of humour provide that experience. In Nick�s words – �Humour is good for the soul and it makes people�s life worth living. It�s amazing how humour and song can break the ice. I meet so many people for the first time that call into the shop, we begin to talk and sing, in within five minutes we have become buddies. A change comes over them, a smile appears and life�s worries seem to disappear. I give people something they need for their life�, says Nick. Nick�s presentation and approach makes for an exciting retail experience. Especially during the Woodford�s annual Folk Festival, this experience can be �electrifying�. According to Nick � �we�re dancing, juggling the fruit and enjoying life�. Exceptional Customer Service – According to Nick � �you can have the best apples in town, and it will not be enough to build a customer base. It�s all about first impressions, customer service and personal touch. One needs to project that positive and happy disposition, and relate to the basic spiritual needs of your customers�. Nick simply believes that if the customer receives a wonderful experience they will return and/or recommend others. His record demonstrates that truth. Boldness – Simply, Nick Comino believes � �If you want to survive in a town of 2,000, only half an hour from a major regional shopping centre, you need to be bold and creative. Small business is getting harder, it�s a struggle. Only those who are prepared to think outside the box can survive in our business sector�. Belief in Woodford – Nick Comino has a burning desire to see the small town of Woodford retain its population and services, grow and flourish. His belief and confidence in what it offers is a strong motivating force in his business approach � �I want people to come to Grapeland, to laugh, sing, dance and experience what I love about this town. Until you see and experience this community, you are certainly missing one of life�s great adventures�. ADVICE TO OTHERS CONTEMPLATING RURAL BUSINESS CREATION Nick�s advice to establishing a successful rural business is simple, yet succinct:- Be bold and game; Attempt to make your business fun and enjoyable; Do not underestimate the challenge, and Add that personal touch�. For more excellent case studies from inspirational businesses in rural Australia, check out Peter Kenyon’s book ‘Good Enough Never Is’. You can purchase a copy direct from Bob’s Books by clicking here ……