There is a restaurant in a small town near where I live that has recently been closed and "bought out" by a new owner. The original restaurant was seemingly a perfect match for the small town folk it set itself up to serve. Unfortunately, it didn't last.
Here is a short story about what happened and the lesson to be learned.
For a couple months the small town restaurant did VERY well. Any time of the day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it didn't matter. It was busy. People not only came in to try it out, but also because they enjoyed the fact that they had a "new" meeting place, to visit with all of their friends and family.
Bottom line . . . business was good. And it looked like it was going to be good for quite some time.
But, as is often the case with small businesses, especially restaurants, business started to fall off. Slow at first, but eventually quite rapidly. And with little word, the doors closed unceremoniously for the final time under the old management.
Depending on who you ask, you will likely get different answers to that question.
For example, if you ask the owners, they will blame the economy and the "cheap" town folk. from their point of view, it wouldn't matter how good or how cheap the meals were, there just wasn't enough interest in the small town for the restaurant.
But. . . if you ask the patrons, they will tell you a whole other story. A story of inconsistent product and deteriorating quality that seemed to be common knowledge amongst the town folk.
So, what was it? The customers or the business?
Far too often business owners make excuses for the decline of their business: the economy, the new business across town, finicky customers, and / or even cheap customers. And rarely face do they face the real truth - they aren't meeting the needs of their clientele.
The truth is, most customers (people like you and me) love to find a place that we can call our own - a business that we can rely on and that makes us feel like we matter. And if it is really good, we will brag about it to every one we know - not only to help the business grow, but to be the show everyone how great we are to have found it first.
Unfortunately though, in order for us, as customers, to come back, not just once, but again and again, we have to know what we are going to get - we have to feel like we are going to get the same service, the same food, the same EXPERIENCE every time we walk through the doors.
And that my friends, is what this small town restaurant failed to produce - a consistent experience each and every time people came back for a meal.
You see, when they first opened, it was the owners that did everything. They cooked, they waited and bussed the tables, cleaned, and of course managed the entire operation. The experience their patrons had and the meals they enjoyed were born out of the pride of the owners. But very rapidly, the business grew beyond the owners' capacity to support on their own and they were forced to hire help. And so, they did exactly that - they hired good, experienced help.
They hired cooks with previous experience in short order cooking and a wait staff that was fully capable. And they did so, because the one thing the owners didn't know how to do was teach anyone how to do it like them - nor did they want to take the time to learn how.
With the new staff, came a NEW experience for the customer. Not necessarily a bad experience, but DEFINITELY not the one they got when it was just the owners doing everything. And so, slowly but surely a lot of the original, reliable customers stopped coming in.
Although the owners noticed a small drop off in patronage, there were enough new customers that were coming in that seemed to like the food and the service with the hired help that the business was able to survive. And besides, the owners liked feeling like they didn't have to do EVERY THING all the time.
Unfortunately though, as months passed, and the bills continued to exceed the sales, the owners had a make a decision - cut expenses or go out of business. So. . . they decided to cut in two arenas, they reduced (just slightly) the quantity of servings (that seemed only natural since most plates had lots of food left over after the meals) and they cut their experienced staff and hired some high school students with little / no experience (heck if McDonalds could do it, so could they).
Although it might make financial sense to impose these cuts (and often it does create a benefit in the short term), good financial sense doesn't always mean good business sense. And as it turns out, it was the beginning of the end of the restaurant.
In fact, it was only 4 short months later that this decent restaurant in a small town, aching for a nice restaurant, declared bankruptcy.
The Lesson To Be Learned
What it came down to was the fact that the owners failed to realize one VERY important fact when it comes to business:
It's easy to get new customers to walk through your doors - all you have to do is promise them an experience that appeals to them. But running a business isn't getting them to come in once - success in business is based on the ability of the business to deliver the same experience the customer enjoyed, again and again and again.
In the case of this small restaurant, it wasn't that their food or service were bad, it was that every time customers came in the door, they didn't know what they were going to get. Literally, it was like walking into a different restaurant every time they visited.
So with each visit, the customers got more and more disenfranchised and frustrated, until one by one, each decided to stop patronizing.
And in the case of this small restaurant in this little country town, there just wasn't enough potential customers in the pool to keep it afloat.
The lesson is simple . . . quality is great to get people to come once. But consistency is the key to long term success. And the key to consistency in product / service is to build your business based on systems, not people.