Lesson or Two from Montenegro

Lesson #1 – Keep your eyes and ears open for business and marketing ideas.

Fortress Kotor, Montenegro

Welcome to Montenegro.

A country on the Adriatic sea which has borders with five other Balkan states – Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.

I’ve just returned from a short break to Montenegro with my dad. Part leisure, part business.

And even in just a few days it was possible to observe and pick up lessons which can serve as reminders, ideas and opportunities – both for business and marketing.

Lesson #2 – When you make things difficult or frustrating for people it’s a BIG turn-off…

We flew into Dubrovnik in Croatia with the plan of getting a pre-booked hire car and driving across the border.

Both processes in the journey delivered frustration caused by inefficiency.

It took just a couple of minutes to find the hire car booth outside the airport. But it took almost 30 minutes to sort the paperwork and collect the vehicle. This is an international company – it should have been much faster and more straight forward.

We reached the Montenegro border control in less than 20 minutes. It took ages to reach the security kiosk and have our passports checked. Then we discovered that was just part one. Part two was the customs control. That took even longer – mainly because of a huge queue of traffic in front of us, all waiting to do the same.

In all the two checks and waiting time took at least one and a half hours. For Europe, that’s not very impressive.

Was it a lack of staff? Was it a slow service? Was it because it was (near) lunchtime? Was it because of a surge in traffic from the airport (or elsewhere)? Was it a deliberate go-slow because they don’t want people crossing the border?

I don’t have the answer to that. What I do know is this.

It was not much fun sitting in a car on a hot day and moving like a snail. At one point we made one mile in one hour! Hardly the welcome to a country a tourist or business person would be looking for.

Next time we visit, we may look at alternatives (even if that means taking two flights instead of one direct).

Lesson #3 – A shortcut is not always the fastest (or best) route…

The road from the border to Kotor, our destination, followed the line of the shore around a series of bays. At one point we saw a sign for a ferry (and wondered if it would provide a short-cut). In the end, we kept to the main road. Traffic was busy, in places very busy, but things were moving.

Another day we drove from Kotor to the ferry (on the other side of the bay to the main road) to test timings. It was about 5-10 minutes quicker than the way we had gone on the way in.


(As we had been advised by the manager at the hotel) the road to the ferry was very different to the main road. The main road provided a clear single-carriageway, with good width in both directions and clearly-marked central lines.

The ferry road was a narrow, single lane with passing places.

We had to negotiate sections where there was just road with no form of safety barrier or protection (one slip onto the edge would mean a drop into the water below). Sections where cars were parked and made it difficult to pass. Sections where we squeezed by cars coming from the other direction, with stone walls ready to scrape any misjudgement. Sections where we encountered a lorry, coach or caravan.

Plus, there were few or no pavements here. Holidaymakers heading for the little beaches dotted along the shoreline walked along the side of the road, in bare feet, flip flops or sandals. At times you wondered if they would have any toes left. The road was just too narrow for the amount of traffic.

On our return to the airport, we chose the longer-distance route along the main road. Much less stress, much less hassle and (because the traffic was lighter than on our inward journey) there was hardly any difference in the time.

Local knowledge and ‘testing’ gave us the most efficient and pleasurable journey.

Lesson #4 – Great service is a winner, wherever you are in the world…

The hotel we stayed at was super. Great location, good quality, lovely and clean.

What stood out was the level of customer service. A genuinely warm and friendly welcome at reception. Efficient check-in. Very good English spoken. Information offered without having to ask (for example, about breakfast arrangements and how to set up the wi-fi connection). Help and reassurance over parking places.

The service in the restaurant/breakfast room was also very good. One member of staff was clearly experienced, the other new to the role (it looked like they were being trained). Friendly, polite and good service.

They got all the basics right.

And guess what? Their efforts and the quality of the place meant we starting telling other people about it. Who knows what new guests the hotel will get because of our personal recommendation.

Lesson #5 – Bad service will cost you custom and business, wherever you are in the world…

Have to say I was very impressed with the overall quality of food, drinks and service in and around Kotor.

Some beautiful fish, great pasta and delicious desserts.

Sadly, not everywhere covered itself in glory.

Take the restaurant in neighbouring Budva which offered one of the most beautiful views of the bay from its outdoor terrace… but failed to acknowledge our arrival, failed to respond to our requests for service, failed to serve us in any way, shape or form.

After a patient wait, we both agreed to just get up and walk out.

The restaurant may be very good. It may have the finest food. But I’ll probably NEVER go there again. With that kind of attitude it deserves to fail. (If you want to know the name of the place, just message me).

Lesson #6 – Positioning matters…

Part of the attraction of the Kotor region of Montenegro is it now forms part of a EUNESCO world heritage site.

Money is being used to preserve and redevelop areas including those damaged in the 1979 earthquake. The focus today is on revitalising the fortress which sits imposingly on the hillside over the town and bay.

Each day we were there, hundreds of tourists made their way along the steep, zig-zag slopes to the top. Part way up was a stone gateway with a turnstile barrier and an attendant with a cash register. Entry was €8 per person.

Now this was a smart place to position the point of payment.

This gateway was not far up the hill. If the ‘entrance’ had been at the top, the attraction might lose custom. Because not everyone makes it to the top. It’s steep. The path is rugged and even a set of stone steps which have been added are so narrow it is single file – which forces people onto the rough stones.

By taking the money ‘early’, the attraction gets money in (whether people get to reach the ramparts and top deck or not).

The second example of positioning is the series of ‘refreshment stops’ along the way. These consisted of one or two people sitting down, with a large coolbox or two by their side. The chilled containers had bottles of water or cans of soft drinks inside.

A simple, hand-drawn sign on a piece of cardboard said “cold water… €1.50”.

On a hot day, with steep walking it was sticky going for tourists. These vendors were offering just what  was needed. And most seem to get some sales.

One thing we did notice was that some bottles of water, though the caps appeared sealed, seemed to contain ice. Which got us thinking “Are these old, used bottles which have been refilled with tap water and ice?”.

People may not have been buying what they thought they were getting. (So, another lesson is positioning is not everything. You have to deliver and meet customers’ expectations).

Lesson #7 – Connections and Conversations count…

My dad has been in business a long, long time.

And it’s easy to see why he has done well, both as an entrepreneur and consultant in the food industry.

He connects with people really easily. He listens really well. He has technical expertise and also keeps tabs on world news, so he always comes across as knowledgable.

He also has that rare quality I’m going to call charm.

He ca do small talk with ease. He listens. He gets to understand what people really want. Only then does he give advice. His clients regard him as a friend as well as a business colleague.

He goes out of his way to help.

We met a couple of dad’s friends (who have also been clients) and they treated us like family. It was obvious that my dad had made a significant impact on their business and lives.

And interestingly, this was achieved just with his knowledge, his values and the way he is with people.

My dad has worked hard for his is success. I hope one day there will be a book about his life and work in this niche industry.

He did not attend courses on personal development. He did not need social media. He did not require a coach or guru.

Dad just stuck to the basics, learned and researched the technical side, and took a positive, problem-solving approach to things.

Companies seek him out, not the other way around. There’s no arrogance when he tells me that. It’s just the way it is. He is at the top of his game.

Are you making your connections and conversations count?

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