another one bites the dust

these are the days folks. if you aren't running a tight ship, you're going to sink.

another local business has shut down in my neighbourhood. and i can't say i'm suprised. first of all it's a statistical fact that 90% of food businesses fails within the first 5 years. isn't that horrifying? opening a restaurant or food service establishment is a huge risk. but i believe that if you have a plan, and follow some pretty obvious conditions, your chances of survival increase.

i guess they aren't obvious to everyone. but i have always figured that to run a successful business, it is best to "do one thing, really, really well."

yes the folks at steam whistle have it coined.

i've been working in food service-retail for 7 years. And it's been my observation that the most successful businesses that i've worked at have always had the most focused business plan. when shops begin as a bakery, but end up selling take out food... it starts out well. but slowly, perhaps as anxiety about sales and wanting to connect with their perceived niche market, these types of shops begin to fill up with.... stuff.

You cannot sell sandwiches in the same shop as tea towels. What begins as a simple desire to stock the shelves with 'impulse purchases' for stroller mommies... ends in a shop which simply has too much for sale. Think about it. If you walk into a shop that is supposed to be a bakery, but also sells assorted olive oils, wine decanters, jams from Niagara, eco-friendly travel mugs, and bread from another bakery uptown... what do you want to buy? the answer is nothing. customers, upon being presented with too many options, simply cannot choose. the same goes for menus that are too long and elaborate. im sure you've seen gordon ramsay ( how i loathe to even bring him up but anyway...) chop down 10 page menus to a simple 3 options which sees the restaurant through to not only higher numbers of orders but also better organization in the kitchen aswell. there are only so many products you can put yourself behind before it becomes impossible to master and maintain the quality of each one.

I believe that Pantry fell victim to this. It opened about 2 years ago on a slowly up and coming section of College st which is slowly seeing dingy hair salons and empty bars turn into indie coffee shops, bicycle stores, and spruced up laundromats frequented by the oh so trendy and their friends. The neighbourhood seemed to need a food shop - a place to go for a muffin and a good coffee, or a gourmet dinner on the go. It's quite close to the YMCA and a starbucks so you know there are a good number of wealthy artsy/liberal/lets-eat-organic-produce parents who have more money than time and need a place to buy a gourmet dinner on the way home from work between walking the dog and taking the kids to soccer practice. They all want to eat slow roasted locally raised pork but who has the time to cook it? Bingo. Pantry seemed like just the thing our neighbourhood needed.

Housed in a lovely narrow and long space, comfy seating befitted the entrance, next to a brand new display fridge stocked with expertly executed gourmet meals with darling tags handwritten with each dishes' title. Portions were ordered, scaled out and priced, and shoppers could also choose from several ready-t0-go desserts, or bottles of fancy sparkling water, to accompany their ready made dinner. In theory it began quite well.

Unfortunately over time, the shelves became cluttered with other businesses' products. SOMA chocolates, Thuet bread, jam from Niagara, cheese from Lanark county. Although these products are certainly high quality and fabulous accompaniments to what was being made at Pantry, I believe it may have taken the focus away from what they were doing, and thus left the customers feeling a little ... confused.

To grow a healthy and loyal customer fan base, you need to have confidence. Standing by your own products and developing a service or product which makes people love you, and want to come back, is probably the most important first step. If you're behind what you're doing, so are they.

Secondly, i believe that focus is part of the success aswell. Not only do you need to focus your products, but you need to focus your entire image aswell. Design is important - the ambiance of the space should match the feeling of the products. -Who wants to buy hand made 'country style' products in a space that is designed to look like a futuristic space craft? It doesn't work. I went to a self proclaimed ' gourmet burger shoppe' ( what they do to deserve the extra 'pe' at the end is yet to be determined) -and as I ate my $12 hamburger I realized that my chair was basically a institutional folding chair covered in rust which seemed like it had been dug out of the basement when they took over the space. Laying down my four 5 dollar bills at the end of my meal I wondered how a place that sells a burger and fries for $20 gets away with having chairs that make my butt feel like I am sitting on a wrench. Actually waitress... cancel my order. Here's twenty dollars. Please put this chair in the dumpster and save up for some new ones.

Your staff should appear happy to be there. How often have we all been somewhere that the person serving you clearly cannot wait to leave? Which totally pops you out of the experience bubble and makes you start to think about leaving aswell. Service is probably one of the most important elements of not only building a reliable customer base, but also the longevity of this following long after you've surpassed the 5 year hump. I don't know if it's just Toronto but lately I have become so bitter and displeased with our customer service standards. I always encourage people to complain complain complain if they ever encounter something that disappoints them while dining out. Not only will this contribute to correcting the specific problem, but it will push the standards we hold in this country for what good service is. If we don't communicate, the businesses don't know they are making a mistake, and contrarily they are able to keep getting away with it. The more awareness we raise about bad service, the better it will become! I think Canadians are quite shy in general... and so we prefer to complain behind eachother's backs than come forward and demand better treatment for a service we are paying for - in the moment. I feel quite strongly about this. I'm getting heated just writing about it. seriously, it amazes me what people are willing to pay for and how shy they are to stand up for themselves. I suppose it gives observant young fledgelings a better chance to beat the odds. If most places have iffy service, and you open a shop in the same stretch with outstanding service, then you can guess where the customers will end up frequenting.

Unfortunately Pantry didn't really seem to have a very fine tuned staff. I didn't go there very often, but mostly this was because the few times I did I was met with quite an aloof attitude, and a feeling of frantic rushing by the owner behind the counter whenever I attempted to make small talk with her.

The places that do keep me coming back are those in which the servers make me feel valued. My business is important to them, and it's all about me. How was my meal/coffee/sandwich. Can they get me some water/condiments/a new tablenapkin/a better tasting coffee etc etc
And lastly they finish with 'have a good day' or 'thanks'
Wow! A shop where customers are thanked for their business! Instead of the more common use of the word thanks. Like when after waiting for 5 minutes, looking around and feeling like a loser at the highschool dance, the guy behind the counter at the bike shop stops chatting to his friend about his' wicked time lastnight' and ringsyou through for the grossly overpriced bike tube you're forced to buy from him because you're trapped with a flat tire in his neighbourhood. Or the girl at Tim Hortons that stuffed the wrong sandwich into a paperbag and handed it to you has finally, after 4 customers worth of ignoring you, replaced your sandwich, with a side of irritation of course. Because GOD FORBID you interrupt her from her obviously ridiculously stressful job of serving people. No one understands how hard she is working right now. No one on staff with her works as hard as she does. No one acknowledges her efforts, the customers are jerks, have impossible demands, treat her like a robot, make her remake sandwiches on purpose because they are assholes and HER LIFE IS SO HARD.

So.. when she finally remakes your sandwich and hands it to you with supreme attitude.. you say... Thanks.

Pantry didn't have terrible service, but it didn't have remarkable service either. And I think this may have contributed to it's demise.

Walking by a week ago I saw their curbsign "After 2 great years Pantry is closing it's doors. Thank you for your business" Too bad they didn't thank us enough when they were open.

A week later, the windows are already dirty. Trinkets in the window are starting to look like sad artifacts from a past age. The lights are off. Customers peer in and wonder what happened.

It's too bad that it didn't work out. But I learn from watching places like Pantry rise and fall. I always keep my eyes open and my mind working. I will keep paying attention and one day I'll put all my little ideas to good use. Look out people there's going to be a place for your to come and eat something tasty and feel like you are the happiest bug in a rug.

Leading by example I hope to change the way customer service is perceived here. The more it improves, and the more we push for it to change, the better it will become.

Thanks for reading. Please try to speak up the next time you feel like something you ordered, or the way you were served didn't live up to your expectations. Canada is still young and we need to set the bar for what qualifies as good service - one complaint at a time. And if a server is extra kind to you, or a dish you've enjoyed has surpassed your expectations, make sure you communicate that aswell.

over & out!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well put!