Sep 2, 2012

ASQ global voices blogger - Quality Culture and Pigs might fly.

Quality Culture and Pigs might fly .... Paul Borawsky, head of ASQ, asked the ASQ Gobal Influential Bloggers to reflect on what a quality culture means. I was inspired by my home town, Thirroul, in its transition - a metaphor for many businesses facing paradigm shifts - change or die.

 Pre the early 1960's Thirroul, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Sydney, was a Workingman's town of coal mines, nearby steel mills/coke ovens /industrial brickmaking and a railway maintenance yard, with clothing factories to employ the women. Still largely recognisable from that depicted by the English author D H Lawrence in his 1920's novel Kangaroo - where he also spoke of the local rugby league football club, the Butchers, who today are playing their end of season Grand Final.

Thirroul up until even the early 1980's meant a couple of pubs and three workingman's style clubs (including the RSL - Returned Servicemen's Club). The food served at each was unpretentious and dominated by large quantities of meat with chips (fries) or a few heavily boiled veges. Plus some milkbars, hamburger joints and a couple of fish and chip shops. A Chinese cafe provided the exotica.


The World War 1 Soldiers Memorial facing winter afternoon sun in Fred Woodward Memorial Park, Thirroul, outside the now closed RSL (Returned Servicemen's) Club.

Flash ahead 10 years, closure and/or downsizing of coal mines, steel mills and factories, electrification of the State Rail line to Sydney, the Women's Lib movement, and growth of a nearby University, had generated change. An influx of young professionals and arty types moved into this Workingman's town - and a couple of young Thirroul women, came home from travelling in Europe. They decided to offer a different cafe.

So Pigs might fly was born (in fact its real name was just a little different). Serving alternative style (semi vegetarian and quiches) food to the usual Thirroul fare. Their largely professional class  customers loved it, eschewing the smokey bars and poker (slot) machines of the clubs. They lingered there over Saturday morning coffees, read the Saturday newspapers and chatted to mates.

Pigs might fly had met a key quality requirement - satisfying their customers in an ambiance and culture that their customers wanted. And the owners relished this. It was really the first inkling of a CAFE SOCIETY in Thirroul. As a 6th Generation resident, engineer, and the  local City Councillor married to a Sydney IT professional commuter, I straddled both old and new worlds in Thirroul. Pigs might fly was one of my favourites.

Time came for the owners of Pigs might fly to move on. They sold the business, generously offering their recipes to the new owner. He declined with some reputedly derogatory remarks about their menu.  Pigs might fly began to serve not dissimilar meals to one of the Workingmen's style clubs not 5 minutes walk away, and at slightly higher prices. The former clientele fell away, not liking the new ambiance and culture, as the fledgling Thirroul CAFE SOCIETY receded for a few years.

After a while Pigs might fly was replaced by an Italian cafe and renamed. I went there once for a late Sunday lunch with two family members - we were the only customers. I was still the local City Councillor and we were squashed onto a tiny table - told to leave the bigger tables alone  for any larger groups that might arrive. They didn't. We were the only lunch time guests. Sometime later the Italian cafe also changed hands and offered mid-week "all you can eat pizza and pasta". Later it closed too. A real estate agency, selling homes, moved in - the cafe restaurants were gone. From the 1980's the town was changing - but its evolution was unrecognised or resisted by some.

Ironically, ten years on, Thirroul has truly become a CAFE SOCIETY. A place for Sydneysiders to come down for a Sunday drive (or train ride) and a wander, followed by a coffee and light meal at one of the 8 to 10 cafes serving great coffee throughout the town. And lots of Thai restaurants too but no Starbucks yet !

 These new cafes had learned what previous successive owners had missed. The key customer focused quality paradigm well understood when Pigs might fly first opened. Satisfy your customers plus get that ambiance and culture right. Truly a metaphor for businesses across the economic spectrum who are facing paradigm shifts - change or die.

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