Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mister Know-it-all.

Well, I may not know it all, but I know something.

I used to be leery of giving advice, not because I didn't think the advice was any good, but because my own business has mostly struggled to make money. What right did I have to give advice? Not that it might not be spot-on advice, because you learn from failure, more than you do from success.

Success can hide things that aren't working. Failure pretty much highlights them. I've done a ton of things wrong, and I've stumbled on a few things right.

The last 8 years or so, we finally became a going concern. Both stores are doing well, especially considering how awful the economy has been for the last 5 or 6 years.... I feel like I know what I'm doing.

(There are things wrong with my store, and I'm aware of some of them and not aware of others; but space has limited my options. The trade-off is: Long-term presence in a vibrant downtown, but limited space. Or a leap into the unknown, leaving the above for more space. I've chosen the former because of where I am in my career. So, yeah. There are lots of things that can be improved in my own store....)

Anyway, on our travels, we visited a bunch of shops. We'd always introduce ourselves as "two bookstore owners."

The lack of curiosity on the part of the 95% of the people was astounding. To me, utterly inexplicable.

Here's the thing: If you walked into my store and told me you owned a store of any kind, I'd immediately start picking your brain, asking you questions.

Most of these people didn't even respond. Not so much as a "where are you from?"

I can tell you that it only took a minute or two to see what most of what these guys were doing right and doing wrong.

"In YOUR opinion, Mister K.I.A."

No, really. Obvious stuff they were doing wrong. Either they had lived with it for so long, they didn't see it. Or they just didn't know it. Or -- in the worst cases -- it was obvious they didn't care any longer to improve.

There was one store that I told Linda after we left: "Give me $200.00 for two days work, and I'd completely transform that store into a nice place -- I'm make it look fresh and vibrant. Give me $50.00 for a couple of hours, and I could improve it tremendously...."

It was mostly ergonomics -- the efficient use of space. But it was also marketing -- what to display, and where, and how much. And so on. Just a little jiggling, a little tightening, a little freshening up.

When I walked into the store, I thought it was dying. I thought it was old and tired. But I looked around for a few minutes, and the store actually had a lot of good inventory. The basic setup wasn't that bad. It just "felt" old. All the basic ingredients were there for a good store, but they'd set up a store that gave the opposite message.

Ah, well. Like I said, most of these folk didn't even want to chat, much less be open to advice from a stranger. In every place, there were at least 1 or 2 things I could have told them that would have helped their operations. I'm sure of it.

What a shame.

I have to remind myself that if anyone comes in the door and looks like they know what they're doing and are willing to give advice, that I should be open and receptive.


H. Bruce Miller said...

"There was one store that I told Linda after we left: "Give me $200.00 for two days work, and I'd completely transform that store into a nice place"

Maybe you should start a consulting business. But you'd have to charge $200 an hour to have any credibility.

Mr. Teacher said...

I have already told you a couple times that you should teach a class, or write a book about helping small businesses.

Maybe consulting is a better idea though...