What Happens When Your Business Goes Bananas?

Hint: An Amazing Customer Experience and Stellar Business Results

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When have you experienced an exceptional fan (or customer or client) focused experience? What do you do to provide one?

I was crystal clear for weeks preceding a two-day trip to visit our son in Savannah, GA. I wanted to repeat something we had done on a previous trip, which in my words, was the most fun I’d had since the pandemic. On no uncertain terms, we were going to the dueling piano bar on Thursday night. Period.

And then, my son mentioned the local baseball team and how he’d heard it was “kind of fun.” We pulled up the schedule. The only game that they were in town was Thursday night. We inquired about tickets. Sold out.

I was initially relieved. Piano bar it was! And then I reconsidered. I just explored getting tickets with the idea that we could do both. But they were sold out, so back to the piano bar.

But with more thought, I went from finding reasons NOT to go to the game to a quest to find tickets. My husband and son love baseball. It was my son’s birthday. And so we got tickets on Stub Hub, and off we went. To the Savannah Bananas. A collegiate-level team owned by Jesse Cole, who shows up every game in a yellow tux. Not any old yellow tux, a bright banana-colored yellow tux.

I’ve been to plenty of ball games in my life, from professional games to T-ball games. I’ve never experienced anything like a Savannah Banana game. And I’ve never had so much fun at one ball game.

Cole bought the Savannah team in 2016 and faced an uphill battle. Low on cash, in a beautiful but dated stadium, and in a town that prides itself on long-standing traditions and southern charm. Oh, and then not long after there was this little thing of a pandemic.

Cole brought a passion for the game AND the fan experience to Savannah. An acolyte for the industry icons that created magical entertainment (think Disney/PT Barnum) – Cole set off to create the ultimate fan experience, turning baseball games that are slow, long and boring into a festival of fan-focused entertainment AND baseball.

Jesse Cole has written an entire book (Fan First) on all how the Savannah Bananas engage and entertain and create memorable experiences, but let me name a few to give you a sense:

The dance team is the Banana Nanas – and you guessed it. These are not the typical troupe of twenty-somethings who look like they stepped out of a fashion magazine. They are “nanas” – older women with varying degrees of dancing ability but with a shared passion for having fun.

The cheer squad is the “man nanas” who are a wildly enthusiastic group of men with “Dad bods” dressed in outrageous banana-themed gear, pom poms, and lots of enthusiasm.

The first base coach provides non-stop entertainment, break dancing along the first base line.

Included in the ticket price are all the hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, chips, soda, and cookies you can eat.

Players engage with the fans from pregame to post-game. They are in the stands, deliver roses to young ladies in the crowd, ask young fans to autograph their shirts and hats, and several times during the game break into dance routines or funny skits.

You might think all this is monkey business. But make no doubt, this is real business. And the numbers tell the story:

  • Even with the “all you can eat included in your ticket,” fans spend two times on concessions at the park than at other stadiums.
  • The games are sold out, even at a ticket price of $100 for general admission.
  • The waitlist to get tickets is in the thousands.
  • Even when they did a “one city tour” to Mobile, AL, a place they had not played, both games sold out immediately.
  • They sell over $1MM in banana merchandise, shipping banana gear all over the globe.
  • And they win baseball games. They won the night we were there. They won last year’s championship. They prove with every game that you can play good ball, provide an exceptional fan experience, AND run a profitable business.

I must admit that I, like so many others, have become a Savannah Banana fan. I read Jesse Cole’s book, ordered banana merchandise, and rethought the experience our clients and customers have with a different lens. And now I’m blogging about it.

And I’m not regretting that we never made it to the piano bar that Thursday night.

Please share: When have you experienced an exceptional fan (or customer or client) focused experience? What do you do to provide one?

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About the Author: Kris Taylor

Fueled by their shared passion for people-centric organizations that achieve business results, Kris Taylor joined Joe Indiano to found Apeiron, where professionals join together in an abundant, entrepreneurial community to grow sustainable businesses by collaborating together. Bringing together highly skilled consultants across functions, Apeiron is creating the “workplace of the future”, where talented professionals come together to service clients with an agile, collaborative approach to tough business problems.

Kris is also the founder of Evergreen Leadership in 2004 and has worked with over 80 companies across the US to develop customized leadership development programs focused on 21st-century skills.  Evergreen Leadership is known for its high-impact retreats, coaching, and learning programs, specializing in fostering agility, collaboration, relationship building, accountability, creativity, and innovation.

Kris writes, speaks, teaches, and coaches leaders at all levels, from the C-suite to high-potential emerging leaders. She is committed to giving back in meaningful ways, most visibly with Evergreen’s Annual Community Builder Award. Since 2015, fifteen leaders across the mid-west have come together for the Connect and Create Retreat.

Her many years of work experience are rich in variety – beginning in education and non-profit for ten years before making a career change with RR Donnelley. In this Fortune 200 company, she fulfilled many roles from Human Resources to Operations to a corporate role in Learning and Development over fourteen years.

On the faculty of Purdue’s Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation for seven years, Kris developed and taught a course on consulting, as well as a course entitled Your Entrepreneurial Career. Kris is also the author of author of Owning It: Take Control of Your Life, Work and Career and  The Leader’s Guide to Turbulent Times: a practical, easy-to-use guide to leading in today’s times. She holds a Master’s Degree from Krannert Business School at Purdue University and did her undergraduate work at West Virginia University. 

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