Assuming you’ve got something people want, you deliver it with a smile, you’re priced to give customers a fair deal while making a fair profit, and your location is sufficiently convenient and comfortable, and you have a decent website, the most important thing you can do to grow and thrive involves marketing, and doing it consistently, in a professional manner, where your audience lives.
And the next day I knew it was the wrong thing to say. Not because any of those things are the wrong things to do — just that while to experienced business owners they are obvious points to get right, businesses who keep getting one or more of them wrong often don’t know what’s wrong, and are unlikely to overcome the detrimental effects even with the best marketing. So, yeah – those were some pretty big assumptions.
Don’t wear rose-colored glasses to a business startup
Problems that seem glaringly obvious to outside observers can be invisible when you’re both inexperienced and in the thick of things trying to open and run a business. And unfortunately, as I wrote in the post mentioned above, in the South most folks won’t tell you your location is inconvenient, your hours don’t work with their schedule, your lobby is run down or uncomfortable, or they get better coffee at the gas station.
It’s worth mentioning that few people anywhere will admit that while they really like what you have to offer, they don’t have the money to spend on your product or service. It feels somehow shameful to them – as if we’re all supposed to have six-figure incomes. My husband is “lucky” enough to have at least a few would-be customers every month tell him straight-up that his prices are “highway robbery.” Most of us won’t get that kind of unfiltered feedback, and demographics alone won’t tell you whether a market will support what you’re trying to do.
Trying to force something to work that’s a bad fit for you or potential customers is futile, but when the challenges are just the inevitable bumps in the road, experience and flexibility are valuable assets. If you get most things right, and adapt when something’s not working, loyal customers can be very forgiving about flaws. However, if your business’s shortcomings are of any significance they may visit less often. You’ll have to work harder to get and keep customers than someone without those challenges. It’s better to be realistic beforehand – especially where location is concerned.
R.I.P., neighborhood burger joint : (
While out running errands over the weekend, my route took me by a restaurant I really liked, but didn’t often visit. Their sign was gone, and the name of a new business was on the window. I felt sad that they’d closed, and bad that I hadn’t visited more often. But as much as I’d like to believe I could help, it takes a lot more than one person’s support to sustain a business.
This place got a lot right, in my opinion. Without a doubt it’s what kept them in business for so long. Maybe the closure was a decision to do something else rather than a financial necessity – I don’t know. When I mentioned to members of our local B2B group that they’d closed, a few people expressed sentiments similar to mine, while others had never heard of the place.
“They had the best wings!”
“The owner was a sweetheart – service was great.”
“I hadn’t been there in a while – I’m just never over that way.”
Location, location – and regulation
I think there were two factors limiting the restaurant’s potential. One was its location on more of a secondary road, in a strip attached to a gas station and convenience store and surrounded primarily by residential neighborhoods. The other is that they were takeout only.
The place was small, but they had room for a couple of tables. Local regulations, however, said that they couldn’t offer a place to sit without also providing a public restroom – something that was impossible in their space. So unless someone was getting food to take back home, or they didn’t mind eating in their car, they were out of luck.
I’m not sure about marketing efforts. I know they attended at least a couple of local festivals, but none of us in the B2B group could recall seeing any recent marketing. Coupled with the off-the-beaten-path location, they were probably not top of mind for hungry locals outside their immediate neighborhood.
Because my business is less location-dependent, my experience around location is based primarily on a couple of decades of observation. I wanted to see what others with direct commercial leasing experience were saying, and if there were ways to help overcome a bad location. I found a lot of interesting information, and am planning a follow-up post around it. Most of the time there really aren’t locations that are strictly good or bad, and what will work for one type of business may be detrimental to another. One commercial leasing consultant believes that even if a business is solid in every other way, in a bad location it will be a bad business.
When starting a business, there’s almost always concern about money. Obviously it’s foolish to not watch the bottom line, but focusing too intently on minimizing expenses may mean accepting conditions that may ultimately destroy your business.
Think bigger, start simpler, maybe?
It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, I know. But I do seem to tune in on what can turn off prospective customers, and I hate it when good people give up on a dream over one or two things that could have been fixed.
If budget is an issue, wouldn’t it be better to scale back, at least initially, and focus on delivering some smaller part of your vision – a part that people will find remarkable when you do it with excellence?
*These would-be customers are usually the same ones that buy low-quality ammo for their firearms and come in with live rounds stuck in the chamber, for which my husband charges $75. Getting the bullet out isn’t a completely safe process, though hubby knows what he’s doing. The would-be customer…not so much. Fortunately, hubby is in a unique niche, and people that understand the correlation between expertise and price have kept the business growing.