Mar 27, 2015

New York

I have heard the phrase "I'm from New York" used as both an introduction and as a kind of proof that the person is self-professing a certain street sensibility and/or an inherent sense of know how.

Mar 26, 2015

We Need You To Promote the Community (#6 continued from previous post)

#6 Community - "This will help the community"
Statement: Don't you want to show everyone what we offer here in Chattanooga?

Chattanooga is a city with it's own promotional budget. It has money allocated for ads to promote tourism. I like this town. However, we do not have a budget, per se, for ads to promote us. We've worked the social media machine and every free venue we could muster to get where we are. Chattanooga has to pull it's own in the way of marketing. (I'm laughing to myself after writing this - as it suggests I could ever be in a position or have the gall to make a statement like this. Like some super macho ad exec from MadMen* or something.)

Thank goodness we make things that (most) people like. We like to think we're humble. We conceived, created, and operate the business as the two people who started it - not as a group of people. The business is not a community or Co-Op type of operation. We consider our employees (in many cases) to be like family, but when it comes down to decision making; it's all of two people who decide.

Are we thankful to be in a supportive community? Of course. You couldn't have a steady business without community support.

My notion of the relationship/structure between a business and community for now (I say "for now" because I'm sure it will change as we grow & experience changes in the surrounding community), is that if you offer a good product and establish a good place for the product, then the rest is up to the community. In other words, the business owner has already done the work to get the thing up and running and can only stand back and cross his/her fingers that the community will support it and accept it. Many times you see stores (of varying business models) open and close time and time again in the same exact locations/under the same roof, with no success. It's as if the community is saying, "We don't really need a shop right there, or it's not worth making the effort to navigate to that spot." As everyone knows, there's way more that goes in to business closures, but I like to think that these two things are a big part of it:

Is it needed?
Is it worth going out of the way to obtain?

The coolness/acceptance/legitimacy factor:
I don't think I should carry the weight of citywide coolness upon my shoulders. I'm not vain enough to think I'm even a contender for that hot mess. While I'm all for building a sense of a community - and I'm proud to be a part of the entrepreneurial scene - I cannot blindly assume that everyone is in it for the selfsame goal I am pursuing. Wendy and I were seeking a career in something that was not previously offered in the area. We created our jobs with less concern about the "hip" D.I.Y. ethos involved.

We once wrote a proposal for a local arts grant and received the amount requested. We put it all towards the business. I learned quickly that others who pursued the same type of funding were less concerned with turning the money into a lasting thing. Right before we were to go before a room full of arts grant recipients to speak about how we had spent the money on equipment and travel study, I overheard a couple of recipients talking quietly to each other about how meaningless the "art speak" was. Something along the lines of, "I can't stand all this art talk crap." They were essentially putting down the very thing of which they were taking part (and money from) by suggesting, in so many words, that everyone was standing around in stereotypical berets while trying to talk "BIG." I should've spoken up and called them out for it by asking something like, "Oh, are you referring to the artistic concepts and discussion included within your own proposal that you wrote and were granted money for?" It was like watching a high school football player who also sings in choir attempt to call everyone else "pansies" - maybe out of some weird shame? Shouldn't you enjoy talking about the craft you put into your work? Shouldn't there be some hopeful motive behind craft - instead of just something like, "well I do this because I don't have anything else to do"?

My main point with this is that the members of a shared arts community were blatantly admitting that their own proposals were merely written in a way that would win them money. Their actual feelings about their endeavor were masked behind some idea that they had to sound "artsy." Suddenly, there was zero soul behind their words. It was a ruse. This type of behavior has made me grow leery of blindly accepting the concept of a community for the sake of being part of a community.

Motives behind ideas can be completely different from person to person. It would be naive to think everyone's on the same page and shares the same goals - because truthfully, there's some people out there just looking to avoid a day job. There's some people looking to start something that can be sold to a larger company so that they can walk away from in order to start another thing to sell to another company. The general public could care less about the amount of time and work that goes into my business. I don't expect that they should care. Some people will always expect us to blindly support whatever it is just because it's Chattanooga-built and we are a Chattanooga startup.

I do, however, value my own time. As a community, we should value each other's time and craft. No one should assume things (identity/brand/goods) should be handed up in the name of a collective, especially if there's no strategy for how the collective will operate. Communities and collectives take time and are fickle in nature. One group member has something else going on and doesn't bring the signs, tent, or table to setup for an event. Or maybe everyone is looking to each other to create flyers and logos and such and so nothing gets done at all. Or suddenly, you see that your logo has been used as an advertising scheme just because it's assumed that you're okay with it. "You're part of the group aren't you?"

I think it's better to wait and cohabitate with businesses that compliment your own ideas in order to slowly determine the members of your own business community through shared experiences. It's not a thing to be rushed. You watch other business and how they operate and take notes, until, maybe you decide to do something with them. And then you still take notes and notes about how they handled their end of whatever. I wouldn't show up at a random Chattanooga business and expect them to embrace my latest business idea just because I'm also in Chattanooga. I would hope the business would be wary of associating their name/brand/identity with mine - as I would theirs. I don't assume everyone is into the same things and shares the same business model that I practice. I suppose I am guarded in that respect. I think you have to be. I think anyone with a business should be. If they're not, then they're reckless. Your independently owned and operated business is yours first and belongs, secondly, to the community.

*I have never seen MadMen.

Mar 25, 2015

We're opening. Can you donate something for it?

Kinda in the same vein of the argument that "we'll be helping to get your name 'out there,'" we're occasionally asked to donate something for the opening of either a business or event. I asked Wendy whether or not we did anything of the sort when we opened and reminded her that our coffee supplier (Chattz Coffee) had loaned us a dual coffee maker to brew their coffee with, and she responded with, "Well, we use their coffee." I think some coffee vendors put machines in place when you agree to carry their product, so they know that the flavor of their coffee is not being compromised by less than adequate equipment.

So, in short, I don't think we asked anyone for anything but their time (as friends and family helped clean, organize and make the space ready for opening day.) If you knew our incredible friends and family, they were more than willing to pitch in to see it all come together and never made us feel as though they were looking for compensation for time and energy spent.

I suppose I could've asked my dad to borrow his truck with a promise to him that I'll "get his name out there."

If you have a business that you're looking to launch, it's up to you to do the research, do the advertising, spread the word, prepare a budget, and everything else that goes into day one. You should not expect everyone to be generous when you hit them up for donations or information. If there's the notion that it will be beneficial for the community, then provide a strategy for how this is to take effect. Proof that it has worked before or that other communities are working in a like-minded manner. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. We scratch each other's back and here's how everyone in the community benefits. Something along these lines would be beneficial to your cause/event. A blanket, "we'll get your name out there" does not provide enough to entice anyone.

Speaking of information; the concept of "donating information" is another thing I hear startups speak about when crazy stories about day-to-day business interactions are being shared. It usually goes like this: a person who is thinking of starting a business drops in, calls, or emails, to ask to speak to the owner about how the business was started. The person goes on to ask about specific equipment or training that goes into starting the business. Then, and here's where it gets straight-up rude, the person has the balls to ask where supplies are purchased and how much money is needed for the operation. I've heard way intrusive stories about people really digging in and even acting offended when their line of questioning is called out for what it is: invasive, infringing on trade secrets, and, most importantly none of their business. 

If I've done the research to build something, you can do the same research if you're devoted enough to your cause. The information is out there, it's just that some folks hope to slide by without having to do the hard (and most necessary) work. If you're prying a vendor at a local farmers market for trade info because you want to raise and sell the same things they do, then shame on you. I hope your patch of land sees zero precipitation for years and dries to dust.

Information (be it craft/skills or material acquisition) that has been culled together and scrutinized by the business owner is more valuable than the final product itself. Don't dare expect to freeload off of me.

Mar 17, 2015

Reviews. What's their purpose?

If I feel that I have been wronged by a company; as a last resort, I will post a review about my experience with the company but - and here's the most important part - only after I have reached out to the company and expressed my concerns that the company/business is not fulfilling its promises. If the company has done nothing to resolve the issue and/or if no explanation or refund has been offered up; only then, will I seek out a social media outlet or review platform to express concerns about how the company should cease to exist in order to ease my suffering.

Isn't that what reviews are all about? Aren't reviews meant to bolster or destroy a business that has offered up something for critique? Or do they function merely for that one person who wishes to knock down a business that is seen as performing in a sub par manner by his/her standards and, in the process, exalt themselves as a connoisseur? It's the culture of Food Network and Pinterest addicts that is ruining the review format.

There are a select few among our business' reviewers who order one thing (usually the cheapest thing - something like a double-dipped chocolate cherry) and base all scrutiny around his/her experience with that one item - as if the one item is all the business offers. We do an extremely awesome tiramisu, but is this what some cheapskate orders before deciding to try out their new self-proclaimed status as a "foodie?" Nope. Not at all. (A brief side note: TripAdvisor allows people to categorize themselves as a "foodie" when their profile is created.) It's the solitary inexpensive non-committal item they go for.

We're always getting reviews stating that we're "pricy," and I've since taken to challenging people to compare our pricing against any company offering anything close to what our shop is offering. There's no argument. We've compared prices across the board. How much does Applebee's get for one of its molten lava cakes? Or how much is Starbucks' frappe? Individual truffles in other prominent shops in the region? All compatible to, if not more than, what we're selling items for. I've recently taken the strategy of maxing out whatever price range is offered on the particular social media platform in an attempt to quash any notion that we're cheap. It's disheartening. 

Some shops make cakes with cake mixes; and in the South, it's either Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. I think it's because that's what predominantly shows up at every church gathering or family birthday party across the Bible Belt. It's what the region is used to. So when a shop creates things from scratch, suddenly the texture is different and the reviewers seek a sympathetic ear to cry out to that the cake is "stale." Does the reviewer consider that this could be because the cake doesn't contains tons of oil and Crisco that coats the inside of the mouth with the customary weird artificial moistness? Nope. 

There's a tone in every negative review that leans towards the idea that "Well, this is not like every other cake I've ever had, so it must be wrong!" I often wonder to myself if these folks are like grown children who were not lucky enough to have friends or family around to suggest that they "try the Brussels sprouts, because you won't know if you don't like them until you've actually tried them."

There's a second part to my musings which suggests that the reviewer does not have the forethought of "what's next?" Does the poor review merely stand to ward off others who wander in? Does it secretly hope to unravel the business model until the business plummets into obscurity? What's the upside to this? Another mom & pop shop shudders its doors? Does the reviewer wish that there be a void in the storefront where the business now exists? Or is it a personal vendetta against someone trying to make good? Any way you slice it, it's spiteful.

A solution to any issue would be to contact the business first. If you purchase a new TV and get it home and it doesn't work, would you rather just go online and rant about it or would it make better sense to contact the manufacturer (or reseller) to express that something did not meet expectations. With this in mind, I have come to see reviews as mostly cowardice. The term "troll" works for most people who wish to hide behind the false guise that interactions on the Internet do not involve real people on the other end of accusation and/or slander.
If there was a way to restrict reviews online, I would. This is mainly because the majority of "reviews" are no where near the definition of a review. There's rarely any specificity to them. The biggest issue I have with them is the fact that EVERYONE is qualified to leave reviews. If you've only ever eaten Hershey's Chocolate (and you love it), then you're evidently qualified to say that our chocolate is too rich or not sweet enough. It's like the Wild West. If I could have the opportunity to review the reviews for content and substance (as well as grammatical errors), I would appreciate the platform a lot more.

For now it's all one-sided. There's no way to say, "Well, you were a rude customer who we tried to please, but obviously never will." I say this because we've had reviews from this type before. You do everything in your power to please, but it's just not good enough. If I could have all of the social media and/or travel sites minus the option to leave a review, I would endorse it whole-heartedly (and would give it 5 out of 5 stars.)

Solicitation and Bottom Lines

Since I've transitioned to full-time co-owner of the business, I've realized the extent to which the average visitor has no concept of what goes into owning a business.

Hagglers don't care. People looking for donations don't understand.

There's some super rude and messy customers out there - tossing wrappers on the floor or putting feet up on tables - who think everywhere is their living room.

People want to talk directly to the owner - even when their question could be answered by anyone on staff.

With tons of items in the shop, people still want everything that's not available.
(I was recently asked for deep fried Oreos? I wondered to myself, "Does our atmosphere reflect that of a carnival or state fair?)

But across the board, everyone seems to want to tell you how to do things to suit their personal tastes - even if you're already trying but cannot afford it, or are in process of implementing whatever it is is being suggested.

I'm constantly amazed by Wendy throughout this whole creative endeavor: the way she deals with curve balls, keeps her head up, and gets the job done. We're such a small business but still have a bottom line to meet.

I know some of our past employees have expressed their opinion that we're trying to be "corporate" (or "selling out"?) but I'm here to say that if an owner is not considering his/her bottom line and operational costs, then the employees will not have a place to work.

Jan 28, 2015

Some Business Myths For a Specialty Shop.

In an effort to work out the logic that some folks direct towards small businesses, I'm going to attempt to begin making posts about little things here to possibly help facilitate some type of understanding behind a few assumptions.

#1 Exposure - "Get your name out there"
Statement: I should get this cheaper from you because I'm helping you get your name "out there."

Typically, when something is given to someone as a gift, it's seen as a gift from the giver - not from the company whose name is on the package. It should not be cheaper because you claim you are providing "advertisement." If that's the case, then I should get get kick-backs from Ford for driving their car because everyone can see their name is on it. Support a small business by being proud to purchase goods at the price they need for them to keep the lights on and the doors open.

#2 Specialty - "I need you to make this especially for me"
Statement: I only need a couple of an item; but they need to be different from other items you sell.  And they should be priced at the same amount as other items, right?

Being a specialty shop does not mean that everything is custom made to everyone's whims. A shop (dealing with food/ingredients) has to have set guidelines and recipes for items created or else the pantry and freezer would have to its own grocery store. Most shops have a production schedule and deviating from the production schedule costs time and money.

#3 More - "More = discount?"
Statement: I should get this cheaper because I'm ordering more.

Generally, unless the order exceeds five hundred of the same item, a business is not going to see a real price break ingredients. If items are being produced in-house, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that it should be cheaper because the cost of labor is not going to diminish based on a bulk amount. Workers still have to be paid for making things even if it's more of one thing.

#4 B2B - "It's for my business"
Statement: I should get this cheaper (or tax-free) because I'm ordering for my business.

Unless you're reselling an item or are a non-profit entity, then you should pay taxes for things purchased for a business. Only if you have a wholesale agreement with a business stating that you will be ordering something regularly, then the price should remain a retail price with tax included.

#5 Wealth - "Owner = Money = Expendable Income"
Statement: Are you the owner? I need to speak to the owner. I need to request a donation.

The owner of a specialty shop (with less than fifty employees) is probably making less than many of the shop's employees. If the owner is legitimately part of the day-to-day operations of the business, then an hourly breakdown of time spent before, during, and after actual business hours will more than likely reveal that the owner is getting short-changed. There's an assumption made (by the general public) that the owner of a brick and mortar business must be wealthy. Here's where the donation part stings because everyone assumes there's money to burn (or give away). Products and gift certificates are merely cash in another form. Handing over either one is like opening the register and handing over free money. Also, look into gift giving where tax write-offs are concerned. You have to give more than you'd think before any type of tax break kicks in.

Dec 16, 2013

HI McDunnough

Jul 17, 2013

Summer Bruise makes me feel hurt.

I may or may not be starting a band with someone doing metal versions of Seals and Crofts hits. Maybe... Maybe not.