One of my more regular hangouts (when I'm actually in town) is The Villa Coffeehouse. It's in 'historic' downtown Idaho Falls, and is an independently-owned business with a fantastic environment.
The Villa has been the subject of an early observations post and is where I do a lot of writing.
This means I have seen the flow of traffic over the last 18 months. I talked to the old owner on a regular basis, and I chat with the new owners from time to time.
I'm considered a 'regular' and have helped them with business-building ideas from time to time. Like any good entrepreneur, the first bit of advice is always free.
When the new ownership took over, there was a lot of excitement on both sides of the counter. The customers were excited to see what new life would be injected into the business, and the baristas were hoping for more foot traffic (and more stability in their jobs).
Conversely, there is now only one barista that has been employed here for more than 60 days. Three (of their core of four) have left in the last 2 weeks.
One moved to Boise. Legitimate excuse to leave.
Another left because "it fucking sucks here" and she wants to go back to school.
The third left because financial ends were not being met, and getting a bump in pay wasn't going to happen. She left for greener pastures, and I wish her well.
That leaves one girl who knows what she's doing, along with a bunch of coffee-newbs. Customers are noticing this mass-exodus and are considering fleeing as well. I can't wait to see what happens to this place in the next 3-6 months...
So... what would I have done differently, and what would I recommend to small businesses everywhere?
|Marketing: It shouldn't be a scary word...|
First and foremost, I would make sure that there is enough personnel to handle the day-to-day business.
The Villa recently decided to open on Sundays, and are now open evenings on 4 nights (used to be 7-4 Mon-Sat). This meant the business was open an additional 22(ish) hours, yet their employee count remained the same.
It's always better to have a 'spare' employee when you're working in the foodservice industry. If one person calls in sick or quits unexpectedly, you can handle it without a spare. If multiple employees do, you're screwed.
Secondly, if you're going to expand hours of operation, make sure you fill those hours. On a recent Thursday, I was at The Villa from 3pm until closing at 8. Besides the one barista working, I was the only one there. No need to be open those extra hours if nobody is coming.
So let's fill the place, shall we?
Since over 60% of Americans go to Starbucks at least once a month, you are probably aware of the "hot in the morning, cold in the evening" promotion 'Da Bucks' has been doing lately. Buy a hot coffee in the morning, get a discount on a cold drink in the evening. It reminds people "Yes, we're open in the evening as well. Come get a Frappuccino" and it works. It's good for business.
Evening events at least once a month would be fantastic. There is a lot of "hang out" space to utilize, so turn this place into a social hot-spot.
Lastly, know your surroundings. It is 86 degrees outside right now. Not a good time to be a coffee shop. Promote iced drinks, italian sodas, blended drinks and the like. Snowcone booths are open and doing well, which means extra competition. Now is the time to focus on smoothies (and not soups or steamers).
As a small business owner, you need to be engaged in your business. Make sure you grow or shrink based on traffic flow. If business is slow, you need to shave off 'dead' hours or promote promote promote. Marketing can't be a 4-letter word. Most importantly, retain your good employees. If you don't treat your employees right, another employer will. One of the girls that left was the best latte maker of the bunch. Without being too unreasonable, I would have tried to keep her if I could. A coffee shop is only as good as their coffee, and their coffee is only as good as the baristas serving it. $1-2 an hour more to keep someone who pulls perfect shot after perfect shot of espresso sounds like a bargain to me.
Good luck, Villa. You still have my business while your doors remain open, but the empty echo in here is beginning to get on my nerves.... I hope to see this place packed to the gills with happy patrons soon!