As a business owner, the sad truth is that every single worry, concern, or problem that arises within the business is yours to deal with. In other words, you absolutely never get to clock out. I got reminded of this today when I came into the shop early morning excited to work on some new marketing materials I had an idea for. I walked into a hot shop and found that the swamp cooler had stopped working. As we are on an extremely tight budget and have absolutely no money for something like calling the swamp cooler repair man, I climbed up on the roof and gave it a look. Two or three trips to Home Depot, and three and a half hours later, I sat satisfied in the dine-in and pulled out my computer as the swamp cooler blew cold air on me. It was about five minutes in, when I had just pulled my email up that a nasty sound came through the vent and I came to find out that a new part on the swamp cooler had broken yet again. The rest of my day and well into the night was devoted to working on this swamp cooler (I imagine a good portion of tomorrow will be too).
I came to realize that this is just sort of how it goes when it comes to owning a business. Sometimes what you want to get done isn’t what you get done, because stuff happens and problems arise, but that’s just how it goes.
One cool method I have found to drive business at a low cost is seeking out local outlets that have a large pool of prospects, or potential new customers, and giving them free product in hopes to win them over! To apply this to my situation, each week (or every other week) I choose one or two local businesses to bring a free drink delivery to. This can be an office, a bank, a print shop, a school or anything! I go down to the office, introduce myself and tell all the staff about my new business that is just down the road from them, and then I go around and take orders (using my take out menus) from all of the staff! They get to try some of our awesome product, they get to meet and interact with the owner, and it adds some happiness to their day! My cost per drink is generally very low so to do an order for an entire staff of an office is not very expensive and yet it makes a deep impression on every one of them. The reason I say deep impression is because they didn’t just see Thirst or hear about it, they got to meet the owner, hear the first hand story about the business and try some product for FREE! This is the definition of guerilla marketing because it aggressive and takes more work than the typical advertisement but it is cheaper and pays off ten fold! When we first opened for business I did a free drink order for every single one of the teachers at a school just down the road from my shop. I went around to about 80 different classrooms in an hour and a half and took everybody’s orders. I took these order back to the shop, filled them all myself and delivered them. The whole order cost me about $83 dollars. Today the teachers and faculty of the school are about 20 percent of our total daily sales, not to mention that the teachers tell their students, who tell their parents, who then make up a large portion of our sales each day as well. Creative, aggressive, and CHEAP marketing continues to drive our sales because of efforts such as these free drink orders.
I had a brilliant idea of cutting costs about a month ago. We pay a linen service about fifty bucks a week to come swap out all of our rags, mops, mats, etc for clean ones. In an effort to do away with this cost, I figured I would install a washer and dryer in the storage area of my soda shop and do it all in house. Brilliant right? Well yeah it actually is a good idea. So I got a used washer and dryer, installed water lines, the necessary power outlets, and drainage and got them all hooked up and ready to go. The investment was probably around three to four hundred bucks (I got them used) after all the utilities hook ups and such. The cost didn’t really bother me because I figured I would make my money back in about eight weeks at most after doing away with the linen service that is costing me fifty bucks a week.
Well here’s where it gets awesome. Once I spent all of the time and money to get my washer and dryer hooked up, I went ahead and called the linen service to cancel our account. Come to find out, in the hustle and rush of opening a year ago, I signed a contract locking us in for service for the next five years. Regardless of if this was my arrogance, or a detail that the salesman “forgot” to mention, if I want out of that contract I am forced to pay about $1700.
Shortly after this frustrating (and expensive) situation, I went ahead and tried to change my garbage service to a cheaper company and realized I also signed a contract with them locking me into their expensive services. I really just don’t want to know how many other contracts I signed that are going to continue to cost me money, but one thing I know for sure is that I will be reading the entirety of service contracts before signing them in the future!
As I’ve previously mentioned, my business partner and mentor taught me early on to refer to people that work for you as “team members” rather than “employees”. This is because team members that work together to build upon the vision of a company work harder and more dedicated than employees that just work for the man, put in their hours and head home.
I learned last night that small moments of connection are what makes relationships with team members strong. I was closing up shop with one of my team members after a busy night of drink making. We were doing the usual cleaning procedures and chatting about our music taste. We both agreed that an Disney song from many years prior was our jam and so we had to turn it on. We cranked up the music and had a dance party to old time Disney songs while cleaning up shop that night.
It seems like a small and meaningless moment, but it is the small connections a manager builds with their team members that makes them work harder, be more dedicated, and care about the business. This small moment with my team member improved our relationship and I specifically noticed an improvement in this team member’s performance since that night. To such a degree that this team member was specifically mentioned in an online review for their superior customer service while working the drive-thru window. Use small moments to connect with your team members. When team members buy into a manager, they buy into the manager’s dedication to the business.
At my soda shop we have something called “battle ready”. The idea behind battle ready is that when the shop is slow or before opening, you must prep the shop, procedures and stock to accommodate a line of customers a mile long. We always tell our team members that “a battle (rush) is coming, and if you are not ready, you will not be able to provide a superior customer experience”. I think there is a sick, twisted god of business up there somewhere testing your systems in the most annoying way by sending every customer at the exact same time. The reason I say this is because at my current and past business ventures, everyone always seems to come at once. We could be slow (and I’m talking dead slow) for two to three hours and then all of the sudden we have a line down the road! It is not a thing that has happened once or twice, this is actually a fact. For the past couple years I have been trying to put some reasoning behind this fact. I have come up with a few reasons such as: people see other people in line and therefore it reminds them that they also want our products or that some type of synchronization of scheduling happens between traffic and work that brings people to a business at the same time, or maybe it is just fate, I have no idea. One thing I have taken from this unfortunate fact about business is that you can never let your guard down, a storm is coming and you must be prepared. I think the idea of “staying battle ready” applies to business as a whole and your system of operations. Your business may be slow or maybe has yet to have taken off and gain a large customer base, but stay faithful in your focused and diligent business plan and marketing and they will come, and you must be ready. Perfect systems and operations to accommodate the largest crowds possible. It may seem silly while you are slow or small, but the customers will come with time. Use the time when your business has yet to take off to prepare for the time when it does because when it does take off and you are not ready, you will not be able to accommodate the large amount of business that you have always dreamed of.
Pinpoint your demographic and go after them! This thought came to me in bed the other night so that’s exactly what I did! The target demographic at my soda shop is mothers with lots of children. So I asked myself, where can I find these mothers? Costco!!! So that’s exactly where I went. We made a flyer that was a fourth of a sheet and it said “Attention Costco Customers: a brand new soda and treats shop has opened just down the road!” It had a coupon for a free drink and some delicious looking pictures of drinks and treats on it. They had every reason to stop in. It’s just down the road, it looks delicious, and they have a FREE coupon. We flyered about 700 windshields at Costco with these flyers. This was a very small cost to me and it brought in tons of new prospects. Decide who you want to market to, find them, and go after them aggressively!
The brand at my soda shop is focused on a “happy” experience for our customers. Everything we do is designed around this happy experience. The way we interact with customers, our colors and menu, logos, attire, and much more is all based around this experience.
As I strive to make anything and everything with my company encompass this brand, I realized just tonight that in the stressful, long work I have been putting in to achieve this, I forgot to live the brand myself! An experience that I had tonight in shop reminded me of this! A van full of autistic ladies and their care taker came into the shop for a fun night out to grab some drinks. I was overwhelmed by the happiness on each one of their faces when they walked in. The thought of a soda and cookie brought each of them so much joy! I put aside all my other concerns and focused on them and interacting with them while they were in the shop. I had so much fun and it made me so happy! The rest of the night I provided genuinely happy interactions to each one of my customers. In conclusion, when building a brand, you must first remember to live it yourself before you accurately translate it to your customers and team members. Small happy moments are everywhere!
Just wrapping up a sixteen hour day in shop. Today we did a big marketing push at the local baseball stadium and then stayed open late to honor coupons that we had handed out. In the extra two hours that we stayed open twelve people came. We gave out about 700 coupons advertising our late opening for the night…
On this day, after feeling sorry for myself because I’ve been here since open, I realized that I must keep my head up and stay consistent to see results. The results you want to come from your marketing will not come the day you implement the campaign! It may take days, weeks, months, or years. So pack it all up and do it again tomorrow because results are on their way.
I think business is a bipolar girl. It just never seems to make up its mind as to how it wants to act. It is a constant roller coaster of things running perfectly and sales rolling in to everything hitting the fan and sales plummeting. In order to stay positive, you need to allow yourself small victories. Anything that is a step in the right direction is a win for you. Be it your best day of sales or even just one small successful customer interaction, you need to celebrate your victories. If you cannot stay positive and motivated in your business ventures, you will be left behind by someone who is. When the bad days come, and you’ve had only a couple sales for the day, it is at that very moment you are defining yourself and your success as a business person. You have to respond to the bad days just as well as you do the good days. Bad day in sales? See this as an opportunity to get your ownership duties done, creatively market, and prep yourself and your shop for the next big rush.
In conclusion, if you have a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad couple of months or year, just take a deep breath and know that you are on a roller coaster. Have faith in your business plan and marketing strategies and be patient.
At my shop, we pride ourselves on the experience we provide. A large part of that experience is customer interaction. Customer interaction is something that is only noticed when it is really good or really bad. I believe this is a large part of what sets businesses apart. Every single customer interaction is the most important one. What I tell my team is that no matter how bad a mood you are in, if everything is not going your way, or you have a line of cars two miles long, your number one priority is providing the most exceptional interaction for that customer. Go above and beyond. Be genuine and aware of the customers needs, letting them know that you care. I experienced first hand why every single customer interaction is so important last weekend. We are closed on Sundays, but I happened to be at the shop working on some stuff. A car rolled up looking at the menu and hoping we were open. Although I had had a long week of making drinks, I stuck to my guns of believing that every single customer interaction is the most important one. I was extremely outgoing and helpful to these customers and made them some drinks and got them some cookies. They were extremely grateful and happy towards my customer service and they went on to Yelp and left us an outstanding review. In conclusion, no matter what the situation or how you are feeling, be sure to remember that your interaction with that particular customer is the most important one of all.