traffic light heart love sign

There are thousands of newspaper sellers who sell exactly the same printed product at precisely the same price, and even with the same pale blue wrapping plastic, but I have a new favourite newspaper seller, and I look forward already to next Sunday.

 

Johannesburg, South Africa – Anyone born up to the early 1970’s and having lived in Johannesburg will remember the old House of Sports Cars. It was an iconic place on the corner of Jan Smuts and 7th Avenue and it was used as a guide for giving directions – often as a starting point for any destination within five kilometers. These memorable places were important reference points, and even many years after it closed down, it was always mentioned as a kind of pre-google maps or ‘Waze’ trig beacon. Children of all ages and from all over Johannesburg would gather to gawk through the glass at the latest Magnum PI model Ferrari, or Bond Aston Martin.

I went often because so did my Father.

Just one set of traffic lights down 7th Avenue into Parktown North, on the corner of 7th and 3rd Avenue lives another icon. (You would think some town planner would have made one direction a ‘road’ and the opposite axis an ‘avenue’, but perhaps this just adds to the enchanting quirkiness of what is known as ‘The Parks’ in Jo’burg lingo.)

“I was told in glowing terms about this man over a Saturday night drink at a young friends’ birthday party, and as the sharer of this story, her radiance grew with every word. The impact this man has had on her all too regular time in the traffic made her large eyes expand even more with the hint of emotional moisture, and when she spoke about the lessons he had taught her children, she lit up with an even wider and abundantly enthusiastic smile.”

Being a Sunday, and needing my half dozen chicken samosas from Fournos, and Motherland cappuccino, I travelled way out of my comfort zone to find this inspirational fellow. Bongani sells newspapers, and along with the chili and caffeine boosts for the body, the Puzzle page of the Sunday Times provides me with motivation for the mind. Without one of these three pillars, Sundays are not quite the same. The laughing eyed Lady from the evening before had told me I would find him here as he is there every day, and that I should look out for his smile.

I noticed him from a hundred meters away. It did not seem possible that I would encounter two such engaging smiles in less than twelve hours, yet there he was, dancing gently on the painted line between opposing traffic flows like a young gymnast on the beam. With one arm cradling his papered wares, the other one is available for a quick transaction in a Johannesburg second, which is the infinitesimally small synapse of time between a green light and the first blast of an impatient hooter from behind. When not in a transfer of equal value paper on the run through a half open widow, the same free arm gestures in a relationship building wave as the cars fly past.

Bongani knows the line between a transaction and a relationship. Many more cars will drive past than will stop or even slow down to buy from him, but perhaps, one day, someone will drive out of their comfort zone by a few hundred meters, roll down a window with the fresh smells of samosas and coffee, and become a new customer. His wave and his smile are his marketing and his PR and his customer centric after sales service all rolled into one.

Danny Meyer is a New York City restauranteur and CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group. Among many other well established eating houses, he owns The Gramercy Tavern which has been consistently rated as New York’s favourite restaurant. In an inspiring You Tube clip, he emphasizes ‘Favourite’ over ‘Best’. If you say something is the Best, there is a potential argument over the ratings, the evaluations, the value for money, the quality of the food, the level of service, the neatness of the tables – even the ambience of the lighting. However, if something is your Favourite, there is an emotional attachment which cannot be argued.

Meyer proposes that the difference lies in something he calls HQ. Hospitality quotient. It is the way you are made to feel. It is all about the relationship and not just the transaction.

“I doubt whether Bongani has ever heard of Danny Meyer, but for over fifteen years this humble migrant labourer from Greyton, KwaZulu Natal has inherently practiced what Meyer is still trying to teach. He has seen a lot of restaurants on this very corner come and go, and one meal at any one of them for a single patron could be worth more than he makes in a week. Through rain and shine and the general negativity of each new batch of sensational headlines he carries around every day, he greets his world through the warmth of his being, and he keeps his three children in school.”

Leadership is about influence, and the lessons of resilience and relationships, of hard work and of hospitality permeate through the panes and the panels of the passing traffic as generations of young school goers learn the lessons of life.

Not from the newspapers themselves, but rather through the seller.

When I left with my newspaper and my new perspective, I was reminded of the words of Maya Angelou, an American poet and civil rights activist.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

There are thousands of newspaper sellers who sell exactly the same printed product at precisely the same price, and even with the same pale blue wrapping plastic, but I have a new favourite newspaper seller, and I look forward already to next Sunday.

And it is so in my new comfort zone.

Steve Hall

PS. Perhaps I chose the wrong title for this reflection. The Smile is sometimes the main course of service, not just a side dish.


Sources: Good Things Guy Opinion Piece 
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Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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