Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mom and Pops are Thriving?

I've mentioned before that most business books are pretty useless when it comes to Mom and Pop stores. So I was all pumped to watch a Book T.V. session on c-span, for a book called The Mom & Pop Store: How the Unsung Heroes of the American Economy Are Surviving and Thriving (Hardcover)
by Robert Spector.

How disappointing.

It was basically a paean to the virtues of the good ol' Mom and Pop.

One questioner tried to get at the nuts of the problem, by saying, "If Mom and Pop stores are 'thriving,' why am I seeing so many go out of business?"

Which the author tossed off with a, "Small businesses have always been around and will always be around."

Great. Thanks for the reassurance.

Here's the thing. Every Mom and Pop industry that I'm familiar with has probably shrunk in half over the last decade or so. Seriously. I can't speak to service businesses, or for restaurants, but I can tell you that most of the pop culture type stores I'm familiar with have been crushed. Books, games, toys, cards, comics, records, and so on.

There are individual success stories -- there always are the exceptions; which are usually run be exceptionally hard-working, or smart, or lucky individuals. But you can't base an industry on only the exceptional.

But isn't it just wonderful that have Mom and Pops! All the corporate refugees will start new businesses!

Oh, yeah? With what?

Credit cards? "Credit Card Financing by Small Businesses Gets Crunched
Lower limits and higher interest rates pose problems for some small-business owners."
U.S. News and World Report, 10/10/08.

"Small-business owners are likely to feel the effects of these changes more than almost any other group of Americans. A survey released this spring by the National Small Business Association found that 44 percent of small-business owners use credit cards to finance their businesses—more than any other type of financing."

Small Business loans? "Banks cutting back loans to business" Marketwatch, 10/9/09:

- U.S. banks are reducing their lending at the fastest rate on record, tightening the credit squeeze and threatening to leave many otherwise viable businesses unable to borrow money to expand their businesses, meet their payroll or refinance their maturing debts."

Their corporate Nest Eggs?

Well, they can do that and throw their last life preserver into the maelstrom. But they won't succeed unless they scale down their expectations dramatically, and from what I observe, that's exactly what they DON'T do.

I hate to keep picking on the Greenlight Bookstore. I really do wish them success, but -- to me -- they are throwing out all the wrong signals. They announced they would open by September, and here it is mid-October, and the last two posts have been all about 1.) their friggen logo, and 2.) their friggen sign.

I've mentioned before, the book Growing a Business, by Paul Hawken. One his major points was that most new business owners get way too caught up in the accouterments of business -- the logos, the stationary, the signs, the furniture, the carpet, the procedures. And here's the Greenlight Bookstore hiring architects to design their store, and have custom made bookshelves, and spending -- apparently -- days choosing a logo.

What fun! Almost like playing 'bookstore owner'.

But a real bookstore owner would have slammed some books into the space, starting selling, and grow his business from there. Because it's about creating the intersection between the customer and product, and all the rest is just Wizard of Oz stuff.

Anyone with real design sense will "make do," and probably create a functionally fung shui space because their focus is on selling what they got. The form will follow the function.

Spending all your time on the form, instead of the function, is a way to spend lots and lots of money before you know what you're doing. The focus should be on books, not the colors of the carpet. Not on how cool the logo is.

1 comment:

Duncan McGeary said...

Say no more, R. I'll be quiet.

Geez, it's a small world nowadays.

Good luck! I really think running a bookstore is the best (minimum wage) job anyone (eveb middle aged guys) could ever have.