Last week I discussed some pretty horrible auto-responders which were set up by an agent. Judging from the comments, most everyone agreed that we need to put our best foot forward when communicating with our clients. Taking that a step further, we also need to make sure that our best foot is forward all the time and we need to realize what business we are in.
Rather than try to relate this story to travel, let me just suggest that what happened to Jimmy and his coffee shop is probably happening in some degree to many people struggling to survive as a travel professional. This is an extreme case, but take a look and make sure you don’t see yourself anywhere in this cautionary tale.
For all his life, Jimmy was a truck driver and decided he wanted to do something else to secure some extra income and perhaps his retirement and a legacy for his kids. Seeing the success of large and small coffee shops, he decided to open one.
He found an affordable location, but did not do his homework well enough to know that Caribou Coffee (a national chain) had already failed in the exact same location three years ago. He forged ahead and applied for the permits to modify the space. Not being savvy on lease negotiations, he continued to pay rent from day one, while the County took 5 months to approve the permits. Two months of construction (all without any income from the business) and he was open just before Thanksgiving. Sort of.
Now without any capital, he tried to make a go of it. Understandably, he was bitter about his experience. And like most truck drivers, he was not shy about voicing that bitterness. He took to his personal and business Facebook pages and began to bemoan his misfortune. During the first week of being open, he outwardly complained about the people of Annapolis because he was open at 6am and no one came in until 11am. He belittled his competition and his customers by saying they had “no taste” if they drank that “Starbucks crap.”
Jimmy had no money to decorate or market his coffee shop. The furnishings are early 1980s vinyl diner booths. There is a dusty 19” tube television perched on a ladder in the corner. The wifi does not extend out of the back office. The only sign is a small signboard that tends to be blown over more than it is upright. His marketing to date had been that same Facebook page where he complains about his customers, lack of business, landlord, and anything else that crosses his mind. People have told Jimmy point blank that they do not like it there because he is so negative. His response has always been that he is “honest.” I have spoken with people who have not even visited the coffee shop simply because they had heard about it. What a horrible reputation to have for being open for business less than 2 months. And even sadder is that his food and coffee are indeed a lot better than his competition.
I have to admit, the guy is a downer. I always see the bright side of things and Jimmy is my polar opposite. Sure he made some tactical errors; we all make them. But, had he done some deep down personal evaluation, he may have chosen a different path.
First and foremost, we are in a people business and we need to be aware of that in person, on the phone, in our emails, on Facebook , and on Twitter. If you have come from another industry that was not customer facing, you need to be particularly careful. If you have been a cubicle dweller for 20 years, it is a whole different world and you will need some brushing up. In our ever changing technological world, you are always on duty. Privacy (for all intents and purposes) is a thing of the past. Deal with it. And realize that no matter where someone sees you, you and your business are being judged. Everyone has different perceptions; your job is to navigate them by offending as few as possible.
It’s not easy. It’s something that needs to be monitored. It’s something that is vital to success! Twenty minutes ago, Jimmy called me. He told me he is giving up and walking away from his dream. I turned the tables and was “honest” with him and explained where I felt he could work and turn things around. It might not work. But then again, it might. After twenty minutes, he seemed to understand and agreed to give it at least one more month.
Which brings me to another vital trait you need to have as a successful business owner–never give up too easily. Remember what Andrew Carnegie said, “Anything in life worth having is worth working for.” But also be aware when you have exhausted all options. There are indeed times when throwing in the towel is the best solution.
Have you seen or made some blunders? Thrown in the towel? Do you have any suggestions? Please leave a comment and let’s get the conversation started!