This week’s topic: “If I opened my own store, what would it be?” Well, I am one who actually had her own store.
It was a bakery/restaurant in a neighboring town, and I had a ball. When the man I was working for called it quits, my niece and I thought we would give it a try. We wanted to change it from being known as a donut shop and lunch place.
We made our own specialties.
My niece made gourmet ice cream on the premises.
We got creative and we branched-out with fancy luncheon boxes for the busloads of tourists who came to tour Jerry Bruckheimer’s mansion and buy antiques form his wife’s store.(They bought a great deal of that town; actually, they were our landlords.) Sometimes the tourists came in to take some of the pasta salads, sandwich filling and desserts home.
We made requested food-items, some of which I had never tried before, like grape coleslaw.
I expected to make from-scratch cakes, but I also I found myself doing something I never expected: wedding cakes.
We had breakfast and lunch, eat-in and take–out, with ready-made items on the side. Regular customers came for our breakfast burritos, (which were our most popular item); people who passed through town liked our (homemade, cream) biscuits and gravy. Bagels and homemade ham or bacon sandwiches with eggs had regular buyers as well.
We had flavored coffees and a punch-card coffee club.
We sponsored a morning radio show and had call-ins to give away breakfast burritos.
We carried drinks, (some locally bottled) and some dairy, (locally produced).
Lunch soups, (variety; homemade) and sandwiches, (like tuna-nut), were the biggest sellers, although the quiche and twice-baked potatoes were liked, (went over big with a local writer). When sales were down, I lowered our standards to big-selling chili-dogs. (Yes, I sold out.)
Sunday dinners were a big part of our business in that location. Some ate-in, but many carry-outs were carried-out (!) Lasagna and baked turkey were very popular, as were the meatloaf dinners. I developed a baked spinach dish because we ran low on sides once and it became a standard; (when I later did some personal cheffing, it was often requested).
The biggest dessert sellers were my Cakes, Apple, Cream Sicle, Chocolate, our Iced Banana Bars, and Seven-Layer Bars.
Some came out of the way just to get my Lemon Tarts, Banana bread, Cheese rolls, Cookies and and fat-free Blueberry Muffins, whose fans considered them better than regular muffins.
I had a few people that I called to tell them when their favorites were being made. We put out weekly menus and handed them to regulars and local businesses. (The Postmaster and local Pharmacist were regular customers; I made special salads for the latter.)
We did catering, and made gift baskets and plates.
We had some very interesting encounters with customers.
All of the above sound like we were doing quite well; we weren’t. The location was bad. Sundays carried us, when the tour buses weren’t coming in. Where my former boss made his money off of morning donuts, the traffic got too bad for passers-by to stop. He made many lunch deliveries to schools, but they stepped-up their game and that venue dried-up. He made specialty cheesecakes, but getting them out of that small town became impossible to him. We found many of the same problems.
I won’t go into all the whys and wherefores of the demise of the business. My niece and I had every intention of continuing and expanding after a move, but it was not to be.
What we could not do in that location, (but hoped to introduce in another), was to add books and periodicals. We wanted to expand to a snack counter, and expand our carry-out, and have no meals as dine-in, but some heat –and-serve. It would have worked; we had several opportunities of which we could have taken advantage in the town where we live. We were asked to take care of several gaps in the needs of the rapidly-booming town and to make breads for a booming restaurant in another town…and the only bookstore was closing.
Alas, many things came crashing into our lives at once.
So, what would I have if I had a store?
Books and good food, but only what I wanted to produce.
Do I still think of what might have been?
Most people think it’s all fun and games to have their own place. Although I actually did have “a ball”, there were headaches.
But I can tell you that I was lucky at the time, because I rented an equipped kitchen/dining/sales portion of a building. Start-up costs for it all would have been impossible for us without a huge loan. We were willing to try that later on, and we may have made it, because we found a used-equipment supplier, but finding a building that already had a ventilation system was difficult; (although we would have been ‘allowed’ to put one in, at our expense, in several places). No one realizes that equipment is ridiculously expensive. Even if you have only a purely sales business, there are shelves, displays, business machines and the like.
Rent. Good business locations are expensive and believe me, location is everything. Finding one that is zoned for your work, has any structural needs for your business (such as ventilation, which is needed for many businesses, not just food: nail/hair salons, pet services, repair shops, many others), and parking, (which was a problem for us in the old place), may be difficult. Finding a landlord who is easy to work with and will take care of his building and your needs in a timely manner is a rarity. Buying in a business area is impossible for most start-ups. Even if you do, you have so many regulations to follow and upkeep. It is a lot to deal with and, again, expensive.
Another thought about location: Look for rivals for your business,but also make sure that you are welcomed to the area. Some sections of cities and a number of smaller towns are notorious for boycotting new businesses for very minor reasons; even the wrong name on the storefront, the wrong colors chosen or an inadvertent advertisement ‘goof’ can be found offensive where certainly none was intended, or simply not being a “Local” or of the same ethnicity can get you off on the wrong foot immediately. Small businesses do well in towns where there is a mix of backgrounds. All of the cozy mysteries and romance novels with tales of people starting up small businesses where they take-off immediately and have the money to leave employees running things while they chase murderers or their intended mates are more fallacy than them catching or marrying spies! A small town where you can quickly make it would be a rapidly-growing place with many other newcomers starting their own businesses. In cities, look for a lack of your services, but a need for them.
And have more than one iron in the fire, but don’t spread yourself too thin. That is another juggling act that can only be determined by trial, (and hopefully, not too much ‘error’).
Your time is not your own when you have a business. When you aren’t actually working, you are thinking about what you need, what you need to do, what you want to do.
Time. Even if you don’t have a business where you have prep and/or cooking, you still have to be there to set-up and clean, and stay after to do the same, plus inventory, dealing with suppliers, shipments, accounting and personnel.
You are never prepared for how much all that actually costs, either. Inventory is the hardest and most expensive part. Whatever you are selling, you need to have enough and not too much. That part is just about impossible to balance. (At least you can eat and eat well when food is involved; not so much with just sweets.) I have known people who had successful businesses for years, but for one reason or another, had to give it up, and here was their money, tied-up in their business, and it’s hard if not impossible to get someone to buy it all out. The business owners looked good ‘on paper’, and the income was sufficient, but when it stopped, it stopped and no one wanted their inventory and equipment, which is where most of their money went; you can’t run a small business and expect to take all of the profits out and not put a big portion back in.
Most restaurants take at least three years to turn a profit; some retail take more. You have to have enough to start-up, but also enough to live on before business takes off, IF it takes off.
I knew photographers who needed to leave the business, only to find themselves without income from their expensive cameras, lighting and what-have-you. No one would buy their equipment for anywhere near their cost, and they were up a creek.
I’ve known hair stylists stuck with working equipment and tools of the trade, plus hair-care supplies which no one wanted when they folded.
Bolts upon bolts of material, shears, cutting tables, notions and displays were left rotting in storage from more than one fabric/upholstering company when the owner could not continue the work.
A friend who ran a baker/candymaker supply and wedding salon did very well, but when her daughter/partner became ill and another business opportunity which she could run with her husband and son appeared, she jumped on it, but then found that she had accumulated inventory, (boxes, cake boards, stands, pillars, candies, decors, candy-making supplies, so much more), but more from the other side,(wedding dresses, shoes, bridesmaid dresses, mother’s dresses, tiaras, etc., plus tuxedos, shirts, ties, cummerbunds, and dishes, cutlery, servingware, serving equipment, floral stands, ribbon, runners, and I don’t even remember what else), all that no one would, or probably could, make up for her to recoup her pay-out. Even though she was lucky with some of her purchases, she only had a moderate income, yet what she had accumulated was worth over a million dollars, which she took a huge loss on.
When it comes to personnel, you can’t do it by yourself. You aren’t super-human. You are going to be ill, a family member is going to need you, things happen in life. It’s easy to burn-out. Suppliers, inspectors, etc. show up during business hours, while you have customers/clients, (hopefully, you have customers/clients). If you have family members to help or partner with, good, but then, that doesn’t always work. (I’ve heard horror stories where family members were a disappointment, or unsuited for the work, or for business dealings to cause riffs that never existed before in their relationships.) To hire people is easy, to find the right people is hard. When you find that employees aren’t working out, (unless they are doing something really wrong, like stealing), it’s hard to fire them. You not only have salaries, but taxes, and the needs of those who work for you. It’s easy to be too lenient and get taken advantage of, yet you really don’t want to have to be a harsh task-master.
Then you have people who want to talk you down in price. You cannot undervalue your time; you have to make a profit. If you are in the food or any other fabrication business, (sewing, welding, whatever), you have to take not only ingredients into consideration, you also have prep, cleanup, electricity for your work and place of work, any and all presentation, (boxes, wrappings, etc.), plus your TIME, which is worth a great deal. In any business, you still have the time that you are spending on that discount customer which could be used working with more lucrative customers or making something that would bring in more money.
And then you may encounter business rivalry. Seemingly nice people in a like business who you find will find do not want you in business. Jealousy is an ugly thing that, under the influence, will cause many to stoop very low indeed.
It happens all too often.
Not to say that there aren’t many, many small businesses that are successful and FUN.
You just need to be prepared for the realities of it.
All that being said, yes, I wish that we could have continued in a changed business, because we learned our strengths and tested our weaknesses under the fire of retail, and came out better for it.
Am I jealous when I see people enjoying treats at Barnes and Nobles, or the cold carry-out in the Italian Market? No…but I am a bit envious.