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3 Things Agents Can Learn From a Cheesy Mexican Restaurant

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Want to know how to tell if someone’s a native Coloradoan? Don’t bother asking whether they drive a Jeep or if they ski. Stop inspecting their clothing for pine needles and Broncos logos.

Instead, just say these two words: Casa Bonita. A non-Coloradoan will look at you blankly. A real one? Expect a lot of excitement.

To every current and former Colorado kid, Casa Bonita is a sort of Mecca, a spot all children must visit annually (at least) for a birthday party. The pink-domed Mexican food restaurant is home to an indoor waterfall, fire jugglers, rope bridges, cliff divers, piñatas, an arcade and a bandana’d character named Black Bart, whose “scary” cave is open for exploration. Growing up, I used to befriend kids just so I would have more opportunities to go to Casa Bonita for their birthday parties.

So, of course, when my aunt, her son and his children visited Colorado last weekend, we insisted they see this beloved institution. We fought a traffic jam on I-25 to get there. We paid $15 a plate for lukewarm food that came straight from a can. We shelled out $50 for arcade game tokens that earned us tickets for prizes worth roughly 92 cents.

And it was all totally worth it.

But why? Casa Bonita has been hugely popular and successful for decades, even though it’s kind of robbing parents blind. What keeps people coming back?

Three important points stood out to me, and I think they’re valuable lessons for insurance agents, too. If you want to keep customers around, or even serve multiple generations, consider these lessons:

- Pay attention to atmosphere. Ask any kid if he’d rather go to a regular, table-and-chairs restaurant or one with its own lagoon, a roaming mariachi band and a Tootsie Roll-filled treasure chest. Which one do you think he’ll pick? Do I even need to ask? Casa Bonita knows who its target market is — kids —and it acts accordingly, right down to the décor.

Who’s your target market? Does your office space fit that market’s expectations? If you’re trying to woo high net-worth prospects on a frayed, Brady Bunch-era davenport, you might want to hire a decorator.

- Hook ‘em when they’re young. I am 27 years old and have no kids. I’m picky about what I eat, and I’m a notorious cheapskate. And yet, I experience Christmas Eve levels of excitement every time I go to Casa Bonita, despite its too-expensive, too-bland food meant for the children and parents that I’m not. It’s nostalgic to go back; it feels like a tradition I have to uphold, even if I’m starting to outgrow it.

Why can’t more agents take advantage of this sentimental attachment? It surprises me how few producers target younger people or even offer activities for their clients’ children. Most are busy going after seniors and boomers, two crowds already long set in their ways. What if a producer offered fun financial education activities for kids in his community? Year after year, kids would go to the classes/activities/events. When those kids grew up, their own kids would attend, and so on. As all those kids became adults, I’m willing to bet many of them would become that producer’s clients, because they learned to trust him growing up, because it’s tradition, because there’s a personal bond now. (And if you think it’s impossible to make financial education fun for kids, check out Denver’s Young Americans Center for ideas. It’s been doing just that for 25 years.)

- Recognize what parents will do for their kids. Casa Bonita might be a kid’s paradise, but it’s not what most adults would consider an optimal dining experience. Casa Bonita might be the only place I know of where the children’s menu has a broader array of options than the adult one. (You want chicken fingers? You better be under 12!) Diners have to carry their trays of food off a buffet-type pickup line to their table — which usually means mom and dad end up juggling multiple hot, heavy trays across the crowded restaurant. (Many a Casa Bonita visit has been spoiled by tray-balancing “I got it, Dad; I got it!” kids realizing that, in fact, they don’t got it. You haven’t really experienced Casa Bonita until you’ve eaten sopapillas while covered in cheese enchilada, Coke and your own tears.) The bathrooms smell like dirty diapers and sweaty feet.

Does Casa Bonita worry about any of this? No. It could care less. Why? Because as long as the kids are happy, it knows the parents will keep coming back.

That’s something most life insurance agents already know, right? I hope so. If you’re selling life insurance to parent clients, it’s not about what’s in it for them. It’s about what’s in it for the children they’d leave behind in the event of an untimely death.

Who knew you could learn so much from a place that employs a gorilla named Chiquita? Tell me about your local version of a Casa Bonita in the comments section below!

For more from Corey Dahl, see:

No Fear

Simplicity Sells

A Sales Lesson from Nora Ephron (That’s Right, Nora Ephron)