Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Knows No Scale.

I've been thinking a lot about the matter of scale.

It's been bothering me ever since that nice Victorian-style house on the corner of Mirror Pond was torn down, and replaced with a Jabba the Hutt monstrosity with its belly hanging out over the river.

Like my first sighting of a Hummer, it was a harbinger of things to come.

Linda was saying that she "Kind of liked" the Franklin Crossing building. When I looked closely, I decided I liked the first two stories of the building, which has simple brick facing -- before it rears its ugly head on the third and fourth and fifth stories.

But the biggest problem is that it is just so out of scale with the rest of the buildings on that block. Whose design I prefer. Small town America. Versus -- what?

Pretentious and overweening design.

Same could be said for several other of the new buildings downtown.

I don't expect everyone will agree, or have the same taste as me, but that's how I feel.

Merenda was another example of something that I thought was out of scale for Bend.

Another example is more recent and pertinent. DiLusso has closed their Galveston location. Why does this ring a bell? Because Dilusso bought out another business that I thought was out of scale (and which our county commissioners in the infinite wisdom saw fit to loan a buttload of money): Royal Blend Coffee.

I thought at the time that that DeLusso was taking on an outsized business, and adding it to their own business, that made it even more problematic. I don't know the reasoning behind the scenes, but it just seemed too much for a local.

The big chain stores, of course, Know No Scale. They build as big as the local community allows them to build, with a generic architecture that apparently appeals to the majority of consumers. (Old Mill, Factory Outlet, Forum Shopping Center, and Cascade Village.)

But if you're a local business, you probably better have a pretty good handle on what the local economy will provide you.

I'm convinced that most newcomers totally and completely overestimate the scale. They look at the population of Bend, they compare it to communities that have same sized populations, and if those communities have two of something, and Bend has one, they see an opportunity.

Or if Bend's outlet is smaller than the outlet in the other community, they see a chance to be bigger and better.

Problem is, I'm convinced Bend -- mostly because if its isolated location, as well as other factors like having no Interstate, no real four year college, and mostly minimum wage industries -- faces unique challenges.

Above a certain minimum, I suppose, just about any business can survive -- if it has the proper scale. Too big, and you're playing catch-up on finances from the beginning. Too small, you can always ramp up.

The psychology of Bigger is Better doesn't always work for the little guy. Because, you're the LITTLE GUY!!!

Certainly, it's possible to go fairly big and succeed. I always have Deschutes Brewery as an example, but most of the time I think one would be more prudent to plan on a smaller scale, and then grow the business.

Finally, another reason to start humble and then grow is that -- unless you have actually run a retail business -- you may not be aware of the true customer counts.

People often shop at the same time -- weekends, Christmas, and so on. They look around and see crowds of people just like them. What they don't see is that just about every business has 'down' times, when it's pretty quiet.

It's supposed to average out.

But because they have in their heads the image of busy stores they see on T.V. and movies, they think it's just a steady flow of customers. The last few years have been completely misleading about how much business is normal for Bend. I suspect if you want to get a reasonable estimate of sales over the next five years, you'd be better off looking at the numbers from, say, 1998 to 2003.

So it can be a real shock to have an hour of twiddling your thumbs. Especially, if you built out of scale.

(I do have to point out that there are exceptions: any smaller, and I think the Bookmark wouldn't have worked. Like I said, there is a certain minimal size needed for the business model.)


Duncan McGeary said...

I was talking to another downtown business owner, and he was marveling at the level of activity in the Old Mill, and a little worried that downtown was losing it's edge.

I've also noticed how busy the Old Mill seems, but I think of it as the current "MALL Alternative" which has always existed.

I think the majority of the public prefers generic blandness, always have, always will. Big and New and Brand Name.

We aren't that.

H. Bruce Miller said...

Re Franklin Crossing: Not only is it grossly out of scale with its surroundings, but it's also a hideous mish-mash of materials and architectural styles. It's like the architect was trying to see how many design elements and different textures and surfaces he could cram onto one building. A monstrosity.

I like the bronze plaques with the trees on them, though.

Re Deschutes Brewery: I have some knowledge of this business's history. Rather than pursuing growth for growth's sake, Gary was smart enough to let its growth be demand-driven. He added brewing capacity as demand dictated, rather than adding capacity and then trying to find a market for the extra beer.

He never set out to become one of the biggest brewers in the NW; in fact all he wanted in the beginning was to have a nice little brewpub. But he was lucky enough to catch the coming wave of the craft brewing explosion and smart enough to ride it.

tim said...

Just fix the "it's" please. You don't have to approve this comment!

"with it's belly"

tim said...

Thanks. And now...

"rears it's ugly head"

"because if it's isolated"

Yes, I'm a pain in the ass.

Bend Economy Man said...

I think the majority of the public prefers generic blandness, always have, always will. Big and New and Brand Name.This reminds me of how I feel whenever I hear or see people in Bend hankering for an Olive Garden to open up in Bend. Olive Garden?

H. Bruce Miller said...

"This reminds me of how I feel whenever I hear or see people in Bend hankering for an Olive Garden to open up in Bend. Olive Garden?"

Megadittoes! Olive Garden is to Italian food as Taco Bell is to Mexican.

And you know if an Olive Garden ever does open here, people will be lined up outside the doors -- while good local restaurants go broke.

TV advertising is a powerful force, and usually a negative one.