The $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker


Over the weekend I re-read Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture. It’s an amazing guide of how to live one’s life written by somebody who was dying of pancreatic cancer.  There are many fascinating stories in the book, but as a marketing professional I wanted to highlight one that struck me with its simplistic message of how interactions, no matter how seemingly small, can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

The $100,000 Salt and Pepper Shaker

Over 35 years ago, when Randy was 12 and his sister 14, their parents took them on a vacation to Disney World.  Towards the end of the vacation, their parents allowed Randy and his sister 90 minutes to explore the park by themselves without being monitored.  They all agreed on a spot to meet.  Randy and his sister wanted to show their appreciation to their parents for the trip and especially allowing them 90 minutes to explore by themselves.  They pooled their allowance money and headed for the nearest Disney gift shop.  They soon found the perfect gift, a ten dollar ceramic Disney salt and pepper shaker featuring two bears hanging off a tree, each one holding a shaker.  Randy and his sister were giddy when they left the store, excited to see their parents faces when they opened the gift.

Minutes later, tragedy struck when Randy accidentally dropped the shaker and it broke on impact. Randy and his sister were in tears.  An adult guest in the park saw what happened and suggested they should take it back to the store. Randy knew it was his fault but he decided to go back to the store not expecting a positive outcome.  After Randy had told the clerk what happened, both Randy and his sister were surprised and delighted when they were told they could get a new shaker.  The Disney employee even apologized to them for not wrapping the shaker appropriately and gave them a new one…no questions asked.

So Why is the Salt & Pepper Shaker worth $100,000?

When Randy’s parents learned of the incident, it really increased their appreciation of Disney World. In fact, that one customer service decision over a ten dollar salt and pepper shaker would end up earning Disney more than $100,000.   That small act of kindness made an indelible mark on Randy’s parents that they would take to a whole other level.

Randy’s parents made visits to Disney World an integral part of their volunteer work.  They had a twenty-two passenger bus they would drive English-as-a-second-language students from Maryland down to see the park.  For more the 20 years, Randy’s dad bought tickets for dozens of kids to see Disney World.  All in all, since that day, Randy’s family has spent more than $100,000 at Disney World on tickets, food and souvenirs! That’s a pretty large return on investment…wouldn’t you say!

Later in his career as a consultant for Disney, Randy would often ask Disney executives this question:

“If I sent a child into one of your stores with a broken salt and pepper shaker today, would your policies allow your workers to be kind enough to replace it?”

Randy stated that “the executives squirm at the question.  They know the answer: Probably not.”

It’s been almost two years since Randy’s death, but I’m sure his family still has that salt and pepper shaker and the memorable story that goes with it!

In the economic environment we find ourselves in…it’s worth noting…the little things really do matter…sometimes more than we know.

Rob Trecek
Director of Business Development