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Author: midnightcatprowl Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 14985  
Subject: Re: Starting business Date: 4/4/2010 2:51 PM
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Coming very late to this thread and also from across the pond, I'd just like to add some comments.

I have in fact been through this sort of planning exercise (and had feedback from this board about it) when I toyed with the idea of opening a second business near to my shop. I was thinking of providing what seemed to be lacking in the area which was a good 'sit-in' cafe - there was already a not too bad if not very exciting takeaway sandwich & snacks place - and I was mulling specifically on an ice cream parlour type thing. As it happened someone else opened up a simple but nice sit-in Cafe with decent food and friendly service which let me off the hook even if the new place was definitely not an ice cream parlour. My thinking throughout was the need for something which kept footfall within this particular shopping area and which attracted local people to come and shop rather than getting in their cars and going off to indoor malls elsewhere. So I was looking for something which would help my current business while also being profitable in itself.

My thoughts on your venture would be:

it is worrying that you are waiting for better weather before you go out to observe footfall patterns and so forth. I'd imagine that one thing critical to your business - especially as you are not in the warmest part of the US : - ) - would be what happens when the weather is bad. If you haven't checked you could find that customer activity and usage changes radically according to weather conditions i.e. they may avoid going outside for other than absolutely necessary reasons, and while coffee and muffins or pastries may be nice they are not 'necessary' and customers who think they are necessary may suddenly think otherwise in certain weather conditions. If you have those certain weather conditions for more than a small number of days per year it could tip your business model right on its head. (I've been caught this way as I moved my business from an area where footfall have gone down to what was then a thriving local shopping centre which just happens to be at the top of one of the few hills in the area. This never struck me as relevant because for the thirty or so years since I moved to this region snow and ice has been a really rare occurrence, so rare that adults as well as children will race out to play with snow while it lasts which is generally just a day or two if that. But last year and this year we have suddenly had extreme weather conditions in winter with deep snow and thick ice lasting for weeks. This region is poorly geared up to the deal with such conditions nor are the inhabitants geared to dealing with it. The effects on trade have been disastrous for me as well as for many other local businesses particularly coming as they do on top of the recession.);

where you position yourself in the market matters a lot. I get the impression that you are sort of trying to put two or three separate business concepts under one roof and that may neither be practical nor commercially viable. For example someone wearing overalls and workboots well dusted with plaster or paint may not feel comfortable in a certain sort of ambience (they may feel perfectly comfortable in the same sort of ambiance outside of work hours and work clothes hours but that is a different issue). But the same person if they do come in may want more than you want to provide, for example, the takeaway sandwich and snack place next to my own business does attract other custom but basically it appeals to what in the UK would be called 'the white van trade' i.e. workpeople - builders, plumbers, painters, delivery drivers etc who stop their vans and come in to buy breakfast or lunch for themselves and everyone else in the van and which they mostly prefer to take back to their van or lorry to eat. They tend to expect nothing very exotic but they do want an extreme degree of choice in each sandwich they are ordering to be made up on the spot, bread or roll, white or brown, salt or not, pepper or not, onion or not, spread or not, mayonnaise or not, salad cream or not, tomato or brown sauce or not, no tomato on that sandwich, hot sausage in that one but no bacon, hot bacon but no sausage for this one. The 'white van people' in the queue behind them tolerate the time this takes because they too will be ordering for several people and exercising choice over every detail of each sandwich, but shoppers who wander in there often wander out again because they can see they'll have to wait for too long for just a coffee and a bun and if they sit down to eat it in the small space available they'll be surrounded by milling white van people which will be very friendly but not exactly restful;

personally I'd never enter any eating place in which a TV was operating. As someone else has said, in a Sports Bar yes, elsewhere in anything supposed to have any sort of non-sports ambience, no definitely no. I do watch TV - sometimes - but if I wanted that much to watch TV during a break in the working day (well being self-employed I eat while working but that's another issue) I'd go out to my van (yes I've got a 'white van' only its red!) and use my netbook and dongle to stream my own choice of TV programme;

whatever you decide to do I'd think it was critical to do some serious timing of things - in your own kitchen for example with friends to help - of how long it takes to do any particular thing and then do the costing, if you don't think you can afford to price accordingly for the place you are in or the ambiance you decide upon for the process you are trying then you have to think again. I've been up against this in my own basis (non catering) where after working hard for a long time I sat down and costed out that no matter how hard I worked and no matter how good my staff were and no matter how hard they worked, for the model we were operating and the price we could charge for it in the area where we were based an adequate profit could never be made. It is very easy to get stuck into working very hard and think that one day this will make the business pay but actually it may never do so plus whatever your age group you can only work so hard for so long, most start ups have to work very hard for very long hours to make their concept work but in the long term this can only be sustained if you make profits adequate to allow you some breaks and to pay someone to make sure your business is kept up to standard while you take those breaks. Plus 'breaks' may not only be down time but some time to think about where your business is going and how you can make it work in the future as well as right now. Just the speed of say dispensing soft ice cream with a choice of easily scoopable toppings as opposed to the labour and speed of hard scoop could make the difference between success and failure.

I hope you are very successful in whatever you decide to do. Self-employmenht isn't for everyone and is in some ways uniquely challenging but given my time over again I'd hope for the courage to set up my own business right from the start.

Lynn
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