Photo of Lundy Lake by Kevin Chavez
When was the last time you spent several days in a row with no television, computer, cell phone or radio? I mean zero.
I did, last week. Funny how this has become a badge of courage. Actually, there was little courage required, as I had no choice. My family and I spent the week in a remote fishing resort in the Eastern Sierras. Lundy was once a booming silver mining town in the 1800s, with a sparkling freshwater lake at its center. When the mines were closed, it was transformed into a fishing village for tourists like us, who nestle into rustic cabins under the pines, cast a line in the lake, and soak up the breathtaking beauty.
And by rustic I mean … well, rather primitive. The cabins are nearly a century old, with minimal modern upgrades. Duct tape is a common interior feature (painted over, of course). Mice and chipmunks can occasionally be heard scampering through the cabins (there are a few holes in the floors and walls). And, bears have been known to roam the grounds in the middle of the night. Most cabins (including ours) have no toilets and showers, requiring that we use the community facilities on the property.
Truth is, all of this “roughing it” adds to Lundy’s unique charm and sense of adventure, not the least of which is going cold turkey from our electronic addictions. There is no connectivity there to anything. On the first day, we all go through withdrawals, habitually grabbing our cell phones before remembering they are useless.
Slowly, as the hours pass, we start tuning out from our individual digital realities and tuning in to our shared reality. By the next day, our detox is complete, and we are newly present to each other and to ourselves -- hiking, fishing, playing games, singing around the campfire, laughing. A sense of peace, even relief, settles over each of us. And the other guests at the resort feel it, too. We have all let go of the same things and are discovering the beauty of that, together.
On my second evening there, a woman with a glossy black dog approached me and my sister-in-law outside our cabin. After introducing herself, Carol asked me how long I’ve been coming to Lundy. “Fifteen years,” I replied proudly. “And you?” She smiled back at me. “I’ve come here every summer for 60 years.”
I struggled to grasp the scope of this. “Sixty years! Do you mind if I ask how old you were when you first came?” Carol said she was five. In fact, she used to play hide and seek among the trees with Suzie, the current owner, when they were children.
“What keeps you coming back?” I asked.
“It’s gorgeous, of course. And everything is exactly as it was 60 years ago. When Suzie and her husband bought it decades ago, they didn't change a thing. It’s what the guests wanted, and she knew it.”
For the rest of the trip, my marketer’s brain mulled over this information. I always knew that Lundy Lake was in demand … reservations are hard to come by and require several months advance booking. But 60 consecutive years? That’s longer than most marriages. How could a simple (and extremely rustic) fishing resort garner the kind of brand loyalty other businesses would kill for and, in fact, are spending huge budgets trying to achieve?
It was Lawrence Welk, one of the most prominent entertainers of the last century, who said: “The audience is always right.” In other words, know your audience, know what they want, and give it to them. That’s what Suzie has done at Lundy. Suzie was once the audience, the customer. As such, she knew precisely why people loved Lundy. Once she owned it, she held true to her commitment to keeping it exactly the same.
And, like Mr. Welk, who for 30 years filmed his television shows before live audiences, Suzie is front and center with her customers every day. She works the quaint general store on the resort grounds, brewing coffee in the morning, selling tackle and ice cream, listening to fish tales at day’s end, and watching the kids grow as the seasons pass. Her constant connection means she understands them perfectly, year in and year out.
So, perhaps with Lundy, the lessons are as simple as the resort itself: Know your customers deeply, and understand the kind of experience they want. And, give it to them, consistently, by creating a constant, authentic feedback loop.
Could it really be that basic? Driving home from Lundy, back to the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles, I decided not only that it could be, but that it must be. Without those basic ingredients, no business can sustain success. In the new world of digital marketing, it’s easy to get distracted by the shiny objects, to hyper-focus on the latest and greatest. But before you do, make sure you know your customer’s soul, and how your service or product is going to feed it. After all, that’s how Suzie helped to turn Lundy Lake, an old silver mining town, into gold.
Christa Chavez is a principal of Kudos Image & Media, a video production company serving corporations and non-profits in the Orange County and Los Angeles markets.