Rais­ing the bar on man­age­ment

Los Angeles Times - - WORK LIFE - By Ron­ald D. White through a team. I al­ways ad­mired that.” ron­ald.white@latimes.com Twit­ter: @RonWLATimes

The gig: Con­sul­tant Jon Taf­fer, 60, is the star and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the Spike TV re­al­ity se­ries “Bar Res­cue,” nowin its fourth sea­son. He’s the au­thor of the 2013 busi­ness book “Raise the Bar: An Ac­tion-Based Method for Max­i­mum Cus­tomer Re­ac­tions.” In the showand the book, Taf­fer lays out his strat­egy of “re­ac­tion man­age­ment,” which in­volves shap­ing cus­tomer re­sponse to im­prove sales. Shak­ing things up: Taf­fer’s style is di­rect, with no punches pulled. In the first year of “Bar Res­cue,” for ex­am­ple, he trans­formed a dive in Corona called An­gel’s into Racks: Bil­liards and Bour­bon. Pro­pri­etor Re­nee Vi­cary then com­pared Taf­fer’s vis­its to “try­ing to hold on in an earth­quake.” On-the-job learn­ing: Taf­fer says his work with bars re­ally hap­pened “by chance” at the Univer­sity of Den­ver, where hewas study­ing cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy and po­lit­i­cal science. “Iwanted to go into pol­i­tics. Bar­tend­ing was a side­line. Who knew?” Taf­fer’s first bar job was at a Colorado steak­house where he didn’t know how to make the drinks cus­tomers wanted. “There was no In­ter­net, no Google. I had to learn from my cus­tomers. That­was how I had to do it.” Dif­fer­ent drum­mer: Taf­fer also felt the pull of a po­ten­tial mu­sic ca­reer. Af­ter two years of col­lege, he ended up in Los An­ge­les play­ing drums and mak­ing ends meet by tend­ing bar at the Trou­ba­dour in West Hol­ly­wood. One day, owner Doug We­ston “threwa large set of keys across the bar and yelled, ‘Here, you run it. I’m tired of it.’ ” Bar hop­ping: Af­ter the Trou­ba­dour, Taf­fer man­aged another Los An­ge­les in­sti­tu­tion, Bar­ney’s Bean­ery. Then came Grossinger’s Ho­tel in the Cat skill Moun­tains re­sort area of New York. In the 1980s, Taf­fer be­gan of­fer­ing his ex­per­tise on howto rein­vig­o­rate bars through his com­pany, Taf­fer Dy­nam­ics Inc. “Therewere no books on this stuff. There was no one else do­ing this.”

It’s all an­thro­pol­ogy: “I al­ways had this in­sa­tiable de­sire to un­der­stand hu­man be­hav­ior,” Taf­fer said. “Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter of Shop­ping Cen­ters, 60% to 70% of all peo­ple who walk into a mall will­make a right-hand turn. That stuff both­ers me. If I can fig­ure out away to get them tomake a left-hand turn, I’ll have some­thing worth mil­lions.” Un­der­stand­ing and in­flu­enc­ing be­hav­ior is the core of re­ac­tion man­age­ment, he said. Suc­cess­ful man­agers “un­der­stand that ‘my fu­ture is based more on the re­ac­tions of those around me than it’s based on me.’ ” Butt fun­nel: Part of Taf­fer’s sys­tem­for cre­at­ing ex­cite­ment in a bar or res­tau­rant is the “butt fun­nel,” a key de­sign el­e­ment. “Any route to the dance floor had to be no wider than 28 inches or so. Why? It in­creases in­ter­ac­tion. You walk through back to back and butts are touch­ing. Do it face to face and you have eye con­tact. Peo­ple meet. It just works.” In his blood: Taf­fer’s grand­fa­ther, Saul Sus­lock, was one of the pioneers of di­rect­mail mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. “I grewup in a mar­ket­ing fam­ily,” he says. Taf­fer’s un­cle, Norm Sus­lock, told him: “Don’t ever seem richer than the client you are try­ing to sell to. He taught me a cer­tain hum­ble­ness I’ve al­ways re­mem­bered. Don’t walk into your boss’ of­fice to ask for a raise if you are wear­ing bet­ter clothes and a bet­ter watch than he has.” In­spi­ra­tions: Taf­fer was inspired by Thomas Jef­fer­son’s abil­ity to “de­velop re­la­tion­ships and pull peo­ple to­gether rather than pull them apart,” Taf­fer said. Another was bil­lion­aire avi­a­tor, film pro­ducer and busi­ness ty­coon Howard Hughes. “He had the abil­ity to pro­vide a vi­sion, then del­e­gate it and ex­e­cute it Res­cu­ing bars: Af­ter Taf­fer, who is also a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, ap­peared at a Bud­weiser con­ven­tion in Las Ve­gas, an au­di­ence mem­ber sug­gested that he should try tele­vi­sion. “I did a write-up for a showand took it to Para­mount. Iwas told I would never be on tele­vi­sion. Iwas too old. I wasn’t good-look­ing. It will never hap­pen.” Rejection turned into in­spi­ra­tion. “Hear­ing that, for­get about it. It be­came a vendetta for me.” Taf­fer shot a three-minute “siz­zle reel” in Her­mosa Beach, us­ing his own money, “pret­ty­much justme scream­ing and yelling at peo­ple. I brought it to three pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies. They all wanted it.” Rules for busi­ness: “Have a check­book with some re­serve funds in it be­cause you are go­ing tomake mis­takes,” Taf­fer said. “Bars don’t lose; they run out of money.” And don’t make ex­cuses. “Your bar will never fail be­cause of Pres­i­dent Obama or be­cause of con­struc­tion or bad­weather. It will only fail be­cause you failed.” Per­sonal: Taf­fer has been mar­ried to his wife, Ni­cole, for15 years. She has ap­peared on some of the shows, ac­com­pa­ny­ing him on about half of the trips to var­i­ous cities. He­has one daugh­ter, Sa­man­tha. The Taf­fers split their down­time be­tween homes in Bev­erly Hills and Las Ve­gas. His hob­bies in­clude driv­ing his tour bus, fly­ing drones and play­ing with his dogs, Win­ston and Moxie.

Spike TV

CON­SUL­TANT JON TAF­FER, the star of the Spike TV re­al­ity se­ries “Bar Res­cue,” is shown at Agave Junction Cantina in L.A. in 2014. “I al­ways had this in­sa­tiable de­sire to un­der­stand hu­man be­hav­ior,” he said.

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