Chobani's Secret to Making Customers Feel Like Family

Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com 

In 2005, Hamdi Ulukaya noticed a classified ad for a yogurt plant in Upstate New York that was recently shut down by Kraft. At first, he threw the ad away, then had a gut feeling and decided to fish it out of the trash. He visited the plant that same day and bought it on the spot.

Hamdi was disappointed that Americans were happily eating sugar-filled yogurt. He wanted a better product and brought his friend Mustafa from Turkey to the U.S. to work on perfecting the recipe for Chobani. It hit retail shelves 18 months later. To this day, Mustafa is the yogurt master of Chobani.

Hamdi pushed the product to mass retailers, wanting to give everyone access to it. By 2012, Chobani had a factory in Australia and was in the midst of building a production facility in Idaho. They were planning for new products and new packaging, testing ways to be available to people with allergies and planning to enter new markets across the globe.

Few companies as large as Chobani live their brand, but even mom and pop shops can learn something from this company.

1. Create a family culture at work. This is a top priority for Hamdi. Chobani’s offices feel like home. All of them have open-air layouts and room for collaboration, including a long kitchen table for eating together. Although employees aren't expected in the office every day, the comfortable space and ability to collaborate gives them an incentive to be there.

Chobani hires talent for a culture-fit. Stressing work/life balance and a flexible work environment allow employees to stay focused. Other perks of working for Chobani include a corporate gym membership; free catered lunch meetings; Friday happy hours and Apple products. The unending supply of yogurt doesn't hurt either.

2. Live by your core values. Chobani lives by their core values. They are present in every aspect of the business from internal communications and social media outlets to the hugs the boss gives his employees.

These core values led them to sponsor the Olympics. They had a huge celebration in Upstate NY inviting the entire community near their plant, their farmers, and their employees. They constructed a huge screen, handed out yogurt, and connected the community around them.

3. Forge relationships, not business deals. Chobani’s favorite marketing campaign was Real Love Stories where fans shared their love for the product. One man biked miles and miles to the plant just to see where his yogurt was made and documented it. Their latest effort was to open Chobani SoHo to meet their fans in real life.

The company does business with people and Hamdi believes that being transparent and real are top priorities. For example, when people tweet Chobani, they receive a personal response back from someone at the company.

4. Make yourself known to customers. Leadership is the most important part of growing a business. Hamdi is involved in every aspect of the business. He spends time outside the SoHo store in order to listen to his customers and makes sure to visit every office.