Peak Your Profits: Will you please pass the lagniappe?


If a 25th wedding anniversary is silver, then the 20th must be the year of the Ford Windstar. Huh?

In 2002, my wife and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. So, how’d we spend it? With caviar, candlelight and soft music? What, are you kidding? With three kids, romance is replaced by necessity. Like shopping for a new minivan. I know, frightening!

Hey, who needs romance, when you’ve got the sensuality of automatic sliding doors and the family security package! Now, what’s especially interesting about this Windstar is what happened after the sale.

Within two weeks, we received a letter from Ford, stating: “Congratulations on your purchase. We thank you for your business and intend to make your ownership experience as special as the vehicle itself. Included with this letter is a set of two deluxe fold-out chairs, packaged for your convenience in an easy to carry tote. The new custom chairs will make any sporting event, camp outing, tailgate party, or leisure activity more pleasurable. We wish you many years of enjoyment both with your new Ford Windstar and unique custom chairs.”

Then, two weeks later, Ford sent us touch-up paint to remedy any accidental bumps and bruises. (For the van. Not us!) Whoa. Cool stuff!

These are classic examples of “lagniappe,” a Louisiana French word or Cajun idiom meaning an unexpected extra. Lagniappe is the baker’s dozen. The bonus donut. The fabulous freebie. The surprise gift. The unanticipated goodie. It’s just a wee bit more.

The Acadians first brought this practice to New Orleans when they sold grain to their customers in a woolen cloth called “la nappe.” To compensate for grain that spilled or stuck to the bottom, the Acadians threw in a little more without charge. They’d exclaim, “C’est pour la nappe,” (This is for that caught in the sack.)

In Nawlins, (aka New Orleans), businesspeople still offer lagniappe to deepen friendships, breed goodwill and generate repeat customers. For impact, a lagniappe need not be expensive, yet it should be an add-on that’s meaningful, memorable and purposeful. Folks wax rhapsodic about “value-added,” but all too often, it’s “value-dreaded!” For, if the “value-add” doesn’t improve, enhance or upgrade one’s life or business, it generates only a ho-hum, who-cares shrug.

Recently, my wife ordered some leather goods that included “free embossing,” so she requested silver imprinting. Instead, she got gold. When she called and said it wasn’t the right color, the owner exclaimed, “What’s the big deal, it’s free?” This entrepreneur didn’t get it. She mistakenly believed “free” entitled her to be wrong.

A lagniappe should create simple, almost monosyllabic responses, like; “Cool!” “Neat!” “Wow!” Which is exactly what I said when the Ford stuff kept landing on our doorstep. (Although I’m still waiting for a free Mustang convertible or replica Model-T.)

So how can you leverage lagniappe for your business? Here’s some stuff to consider:

1. What extra goodie (that’s part of your service or product mix) can you give with a sale, purchase, approval or agreement?

2. How will it create a sense of delight or appreciation?

3. Who can you strategically partner with, (to offer their product or service) as a lagniappe, because it complements your product or service? (For example, here’s what one of my kitchen and bath showroom clients did. When their design and remodeling team was creating havoc, dust and debris with the installation of new countertops, cabinets and appliances, they’d give homeowners free massages to eliminate stress.)

4. What type of word-of-mouth praise will your lagniappe generate?

5. Is your lagniappe meaningless or meaningful?

6. Is it consumable or memorable? (While extra donuts can be yummy, when they’re gone, they’re forgotten. However, Ford’s chairs for example, have longevity. And whenever we plop down in them, they’re subtle reminders and reinforcers of the Ford experience. Try to offer something that’s purposeful with permanence.)

7. What’s the risk and “real cost” of delivering no lagniappe?

Oh, by the way, as I’ve unfortunately and repeatedly discovered, it’s impossible to hop out of a minivan and look cool!

Jeff Blackman is a speaker, author, success coach, broadcaster and lawyer who lives part-time on Marco Island. His clients call him a “business-growth specialist.” Send an e-mail to or go to to subscribe to his free e-letter.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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