The summer college baseball season is in full swing. If you've never heard of college summer baseball, you're not alone--the games aren't usually well attended.

It's a different show in Savannah, Georgia--literally. How baseball became the family event of the season in town is a master class for anyone who wants to turn customers into raving fans.

Most Savannah Bananas games at Grayson Stadium through August are currently sold out. In fact, the team has sold out more than 60 straight games since it launched in the 2016 season. The waiting list for season tickets is in the thousands.

Just three years ago, very few people believed that team owner, Jesse Cole, could make baseball work in Savannah. Minor-league teams with significant resources had tried and failed. Fortunately, Jesse's wife, Emily, believed in him. The couple sold their house, emptied their savings, and slept on an air mattress to make ends meet.

The Coles were broke.

Today, the team captures national attention, sells merchandise in all 50 states, sells out every single game, and has been featured on ESPN and MSNBC.

A few months ago, Jesse sent me a hand-written letter on a yellow card and a photo of himself in a yellow tuxedo. He thanked me for writing a book, The Storyteller's Secret, which inspired some of his creative ideas. I soon learned that reading books--a ton of them--is one of the secrets behind his success.

Our ensuing conversation resulted in four creative tips from the Savannah Bananas success story that can help any business stand out:

1. Ask better questions.

A good entrepreneur asks questions constantly, Cole told me. After reading books about Walt Disney and other entrepreneurs, Cole asked questions that unleashed his creativity.

The most important question Cole asked himself was: What business am I really in? Although he played baseball in college and was bringing baseball to Savannah, he decided that baseball wasn't actually the business he was in.

Instead, Cole decided to be in the entertainment business. "Our fans aren't buying baseball. They're buying fun," he told me.

The questions you ask have profound impacts on your startup's success. When Steve Jobs started the Apple Store, he asked his team: "How do we enrich lives?" The answer turned out be a retail model unlike any other. You can do the same.

2. Have the courage to be dramatically different.

When Cole chose the team's name--Savannah Bananas--he was hoping for a response. Any response. He succeeded: Critics immediately pounced.

Cole says he was "crucified locally" until the name went viral. The team began selling merchandise online to customers from around the world with the team's mascot, Split. Local news stations covered opening day.

Word spread that families could enjoy pep bands, a dancing first-base coach, crazy antics, and players handing roses to girls in the stadium. It was dramatically different--and apparently irresistible. When the announcement of the team's name started trending on Twitter, Cole felt like his fortune was about to change.

Give your customers something to talk about. If they're silent, you're done. 

3. Create shareable stories.

After reading The Storyteller's Secret, Cole came up with an idea. At the end of every game, his staff gather together to share stories of memorable moments they created for fans. He gave me one example:

A local high school baseball coach asked to exchange his tickets. He wife had died unexpectedly and he had seven children to take care of ... When the family arrived, they were upgraded to reserve seating and the players presented them with signed baseballs and bats. They also gave the father a specialty jersey with the number 24. It represented the numbers of years the man and his wife had been married. The man called the next day and said, for the first time in since his wife's passing, a "spark" came back to his family.

Experiences are valuable. If you make every customer feel like the most important person in the room, your customers will reward you with their loyalty. And often, going the extra mile only costs you time.

4. Read obsessively.

Cole is rarely seen in the ballpark without a book in his hands. In one he wrote himself, Find Your Yellow Tux, he lists more than 50 books that inspired him. Cole even pays his staff to read books and submit a book report on what they've read.

"We've paid thousands of dollars for our staff to fall in love with learning," Cole told me. "We want our staff to be growing and hungry." That tracks with my own research: Almost every successful entrepreneur I've interviewed is a voracious reader, and they constantly share their newfound knowledge with their teams.

You don't have to wear a yellow tux to grab attention. If you follow the Savannah Bananas approach to business, you'll stand out, have fun, and hit consistent home runs.

Published on: Jun 5, 2019
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