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Edition 249 – Miserable

Isn’t it amazing how quickly you get a feel for a business when you first walk in the door? First impressions truly are everything.

Recently, I had to drop something in for repair at a local family business. When I walked in the door, I could hear a voice, but not see anyone. Shortly afterwards, one of the owners appeared and, eschewing pleasantries, we commenced the transaction. Not long afterwards, the co-owner appeared and what commenced was a complete study into why these two need to get out of their business. In a less than 5 minute exchange:

  1. They blamed COVID for the impact on their business and why business was down.
  2. They disagreed with each other, in front of me, as to what their trading hours were.
  3. One chastised the other when the transaction on their point of sale didn’t flow through to the EFTPOS machine.
  4. They blamed their bank for not attending to their faulty EFTPOS machine recently, which left them unable to take card transactions for a number of days.
  5. They blamed COVID for people carrying less cash and thus not having an alternate form of payment when the EFTPOS terminal was down.
  6. They told me “we can’t repair this for almost a week” – which, whilst I wasn’t worried about, felt it could have been better conveyed, with a more apologetic tone.
  7. Neither of them smiled – at all.

When I returned home, I mentioned my encounter to my wife, to which she replied – “Oh! I don’t go there anymore. They’re always so miserable!” Funny thing is, the last time she went there was well over 12 months ago – well before COVID.

This is a business that has been around for almost three decades, won business awards in the past and it’s owners were a part of their industry association.

Let’s face it, it’s not COVID that’s killing their business. It’s them, their attitude and their open desire to really not want to be there that is sending the business south.

These are the things you don’t see in financial statements. Yet, when revenues and profits are falling, the first question I ask is “why?”.

Business is always changing. Nothing stays the same. As a family business owner, you have to be prepared to keep the business relevant in those changing times. Sometimes that change is structural, like Newsagencies which have gone from a constant stream of customers purchasing papers, magazines and cards to, essentially, a glorified betting shop with crappy gifts on the side of the kind that you buy the day before you need to give them to someone.

Other change is evolutionary. Like one of the local cafes I frequent which has decided to branch out and is planning on building a small wine bar inside their premises. They’ve seen COVID as an opportunity to “change it up” and appeal to a different market. Sure, I can grab a glass of wine from just about anywhere, but I prefer a place that isn’t surrounded by poker machines and TV screens with the latest race from Upper Combucta West blaring away. This business owner has identified a market opening and is running with it.

When you roll up to your family business this week, take the time to notice the people that work with you. What’s their approach to the day? How do they interact with your customers? Do your customers and clients feel wanted and appreciated? If not, it might be wise to find out why, which starts with asking yourself some difficult questions as they could well be reflecting your own behaviour.

Most family businesses have an aura that reflects the personality of the business owners. That can be incredibly powerful, whichever your perspective happens to be.