Don't go into business if you can't be arsed.
Updated: May 11
Our offices back onto an industrial estate, there's a local cafe on the site that primarily caters for the haulage drivers, factory workers, and production personnel from the estate. It does a great bacon and egg butty... unfortunately about 3 months ago the lady running it decided to close it due to retirement. A few weeks ago the new owners swung past our offices to drop off their new menu, telling us it was going to be bigger and better. The cheap, typo-ridden homemade leaflet didn't leave me with much hope. I decided to give it a go today, thinking about my favorite Club sandwich with chips, noting that it wasn't on the menu but they had all the constituent parts so was sure it wouldn't be an issue...
I was initially concerned when I got there at 12:30 and it was empty. Normally you'd be queueing out of the door at lunchtime. There was no activity in the kitchen bar the two (im guessing) owners cooking fried eggs and a young lass stood at the counter staring at me like I was some intruder in her house. I took a quick scan of the part-baked cold sausage rolls with a fly on, some bizarre salad that was a chopped up apple, a mountain of chopped pickled onions, a whole egg, some brown celery and a block of cold hard cheese and felt 'the fear' you know, that feeling you get when you walk into a shop and immediately wish you hadn't. You have to make some polite murmurings and loose comments on their products... 'oh you have some lovely stuff...'
Me - "Hi, can you do me a club sandwich"
Lady - "A what"
Me - " A club Sandwich"
Lady - 'What's one of them"
Me - "erm, well its like a BLT with chicken on toast... there's three slices of bread but don't need that in if it's a problem" (I resisted mentioning the cocktail stick that is normally skewered through with a fancy paper crown on... didn't wanna confuse her)
Lady turns to the woman on the grill...
"can we do a Club Sandwich?"
Cook lady - 'What's one of them" (real-life face plant...)
Me - "erm, well it's like a BLT with chicken or turkey (I noticed they had turkey too) on toast... there's three slices of bread but don't need that in if it's a problem"
Cook Lady - "No, it's not on the menu, and anyhow we've no chicken"
I did notice at this point there was a fridge with all the ingredients to make a club sandwich, including Turkey and could clearly see toast.
Me - "Oh ok"
At this point I notice a plate of chips, eggs and ham go past. Nice for dinner but a bit much for lunch.
Me - "OK love, I'll just have a ham baton with chips"
Cook lady - "tell him we've no chips"
Lady - "we've no chips"
Me - "you're a cafe on an industrial estate at lunch hour and you've no chips"
Lady - "errr no, think we ran out"
Me - "I'll leave it thank you"
Now... I'll take a fairly safe gamble they won't be in business by the end of the year. For starters, there is the most brilliant bakery, a supermarket, a fish and chip shop and a really good sandwich shop within a 5-minute walk of this cafe, on top of that they can't be arsed at a really quiet moment to try and accommodate a new customer? this confuses me, why oh why have they given up so soo? Is this the level they are used to, the level they think they should deliver, or is it that they think business should be on their terms and sod the consequences?
But being honest this isn't really about them, it's about business in general, about something we as business owners all fall foul of.
I'm not scared to admit that after 14 years of very good levels of success I/we got complacent, and for that, we've had to have a good hard look at ourselves and buck our ideas up across all the companies in the group. We've done that and we've come out of the other side relatively unscathed. I will say if it wasn't for my business partner having a dogged attitude to no debt and no investors that this may have been different.
So why do we do it? The cafe know how to make a bloody club sandwich, all they have to do is spend 20 seconds on Google to find out, it's not exactly Heston Blumenthal cuisine, I don't need the thing smoking or made out of foraged fruits of the forest...
Why do we let ourselves down? Why do we fall into a rut of the same old, same old? Why do businesses not maintain that level of vigor and ambition that they have in the planning stage, the first few weeks where everything is exciting?
Why do businesses shy away from innovation and development? What's the evidence that these are all bad for business?
Now I'm sure there will be a ton of companies reading this that will say they thrive on innovation, modernisation, futurism and never thinking 'ok' is good enough, and that's superb, you'll do ok, we've been the same, as hard as it has been for me as the CEO to try to convince the money guys that innovation, diversification is good we've managed just enough to have had a successful company for over 15 years now.
Innovation, not standing still, delivering remarkable when your competitors are delivering 'ok' is a sure-fire way to win at business. We live in a very busy, noisy world where everyone is fighting for the same pound notes. It's not good enough to not know how to make a club sandwich, it's not good enough to run out of chips.
Toast me some bread, slice some turkey, ham/bacon, tomato, lettuce and add some mayo. I'll even let you get away with not having the paper crowned cocktail sticks. I'll be moderately happy, and I may even come back.
But for the love of God, lose the apple and pickled onion salad. No one needs that.