Finding the balance in business and personal beliefs
Every year some 20-30 people contact me to ask questions about opening a beer store. Some are looking to add beer into an existing store/business, others are more like C and I: We were tired of working for the man, wanted a place of our own, a place we could hang out and work together, and we knew a really great product that we both enjoyed: Beer.
Beer’s my hobby; maybe I’ll open a beer store…
A common theme across many of these emails is :
Should I turn my enjoyment of beer into a business, to run a retail store?
I can’t answer that for you. Only you can answer it. I can shed insight on the industry. I can shed insight on what it’s like to be a small business owner. I can share stories of things that you’ll be likely to experience… Do you have the backbone for it? Do you have enough support around you? If you think it means you’ll get to drink beer more often, you’re mistaken.
There’s no drinking on the job and you’ll be working some loooong hours. Forget going to that beer festival… You’ve got a shop to run!
One day you find yourself standing in your shop, missing parts of your hobby, wishing you were with everyone else at that special beer tasting. And you think, “Sometimes hobbies are meant to remain hobbies.” But then you realize: “My hobby is about sharing this great product, beer. I love this place.”
So, I’m not sure if you should look to change your beer hobby into a business. Maybe you should take up beer blogging, homebrewing, or become a certified pourer or cicerone? Just know that hobbies are no longer just hobbies once they’re your business. You may not enjoy it any less, but you’ll have less time to enjoy it. And always remind yourself, “It’s not about the beer — it’s about the beer!”
The merging of personal belief and business ethic
Lately, I feel a bit burned out. I’m being faced with new challenges and am learning to cope, to respond well. This is something that’s good and bad about being an independent merchant of beer…
You can run your business how you want it to be run.
Not everyone agrees with how you run your business. And they’ll tell you. And some will try to change your mind. And you’re not supposed to kick them out…even if they’re being a butt-head. And if you won’t cater to their whims they’re gonna talk crap about your business or give you a bad review online. Oh, and you’ll also have Federal, State and local laws your business must comply with and some people will get mad at you when you recognize the laws, by doing things like asking for their I.D. Yes, they’ll shout at you in your own store. And you have to be nice or at least hold a poker face. But I don’t have a poker face and they can see the look of amazement crossing my face, the disbelief that they are acting out in this manner, throwing a tantrum like a child. I am in awe that an an adult will act out like that in a beer store. The beer store should be a happy place, bring on a happy face! The look on my face is disillusionment.
My challenges of late seem to be relating to the core of my personal beliefs and how they relate to good customer service and business ethics. When people behaving badly come in, I tend to question these things more and more. How to convey, stand strong, not get bogged down.
Act equally, be fair with all.
I was raised with Protestant beliefs: That we’re all created equal, and to treat others as you’d like to be treated. How would I like to be treated? I don’t like pushy sales folk and ask for help when I need it, but sometimes I struggle and feel too proud to reach out and that’s when I need others to reach out their hand. I believe that all my customers are special, this means establishing rules of fair play and looking out for one another. Not all my customers share this view.
Not a month goes by where we don’t have multiple customers asking for special treatment: To have bottle limits waived for them, For us to squeeze in a trip to a supplier to pick up an item for them that they waited until after the deadline has passed to submit their request. People asking for help, but then saying “No” to everything you suggest — and when you ask for clarification they reply with emptiness. For bad reviews or critical comments, messages and notes from those you couldn’t help. Clearly there are enough people out there who don’t treat others like they’d want to be treated, and it is wearing on my nerves.
Our regulars are my most favorite customers (and I don’t waive bottle limits for them either). They come frequently enough that they’re likely to or have witnessed other customers behaving badly. On occasion, some still speak of incidents they witnessed three years ago. It’s so weird. We have this shared event, a connection, equal interpretation. It’s pretty cool that despite some shitty things that happen, you know that there are nice, good people out there.
Look out for others.
One day I was standing at the counter, with my back to the cooler. It was a long phone conversation– running through beer party planning and setting up a special order. A salesman walks in and sets two cases directly behind me. (I don’t see this; my back is to him.) I finish the phone call, step back to greet the salesman, and immediately fall backward over the top of the two cases. I am on the floor, like a turtle with its shell on the floor, arms and legs flailing upward. I am shocked, embarrassed,…
…five hands are reaching out to me, to make sure I was okay, to help me up. These extended hands are from my customers, my people. Of many customers I feel I can say not only acquaintance, but I can also say, “my friends.”
It was nice having customers look out for me like that. And I try to do the same for them. I am constantly running around picking things off the floor, preventing trip hazards that others are creating.
Treat others as you would yourself.
These are people who treat others they’d like to be treated, they lend a hand when they see it’s needed. They aren’t just there thinking about themselves. We’re equals, striving to make the world a better place. But we’re also individuals with our own weird little quirks. I like these people.
But there are people who prefer to be miserable cretans. They’ll shit on their own things and they’ll shit on yours. They are just miserable people who like to shit on everything. If you’ve lived a little, you’ve likely met a few. Some of these people are also my customers. I can tolerate some, but lately it seems like I’ve had more to handle. And I really don’t think I’m doing well. I post the happening on my personal facebook page and friends reply. Some advice is good, other funny. Sometimes what I post people find shocking. They confirm my sanity.
Community is important.
It’s important to have a sense of community, to be neighborly. Sure, we’re all independent — islands in the stream. But things live and breathe when people are there. We always dreamt the store would be a hub in people’s lives. A stop along the way, a place where they could pick up some great products to have at home or share with friends. Ultimately, it’s all about contributing to others’ lives. It’s about the community.
Bad behavior shouldn’t be rewarded.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s. My folks taught me to behave myself, to not act out in public. I became a consumer in the 90s and 00s. When I got my first job I started buying things. I never really thought anything about the person behind the counter or offering assistance. At a clothing store my usual question would be to see if they had something in my size. At a restaurant, I order off the menu, with no changes, just addition of tartar sauce for my french fries. I’ve behaved pretty well. If I buy something that I end up not liking, I generally keep it. I’d never dream of returning a half-opened beer because I didn’t like the flavor. When I rent things, I make sure it’s taken care of well and returned in good condition — it may need a cleaning, but that was covered in the rental fee, so I don’t worry about it. I’ve never destroyed things and then attempted to return them. You see, I’ve behaved pretty well. But then, I’ve had some bad customer service too. Like the time that…
…our clothes washing machine went out. We needed to do laundry, so I went to the most conveniently located big box store. I picked out the one I wanted. Then I waited for the saleslady. We made eye contact, she nodded at me. She was in conversation with a fella who wasn’t even going to buy anything. His parents had bought him an appliance, it had been delivered, and he wanted a different model…something like that. Fifteen minutes later I am still standing there, waiting. So I go over and push the “HELP” button. Overhead recording, “Assistance is needed in appliances.” The saleslady glares at me, stomps over turns it off and says, with exasperation, “I’LL be WITH YOU in a MINUTE!!” This guy’s B.S. continues…he wants a better model but in exact exchange. Who the hell is he kidding? Why would this chain…or any business…take a two hundred dollar loss because you don’t like what you got?! Ugh. And here I am wasting my time, when my husband is at the store waiting for me to get there. He is juggling orders, receiving, and checkouts. And I am waiting for this nonsense to finish. Finally, nearly 25 minutes later she walks over to assist. I walk her to the machine, “I’d like to buy this. Can I get it delivered tomorrow?” She tells me they “have none in stock,” I ask if I can buy the floor model. Then she looks at the computer again and says, “We do have two in stock.” Good. I’d like to order one. She attempts to schedule next-day delivery. The computer wont’ let her. She calls a manager. She calls the assistant manager. Neither will come to assist. She tells me they can help me at the front checkout to get a manager to get me on the next day’s delivery schedule. I go to front checkout. They call a manager. They call again. Manager won’t come help. At this point I freak out…a little…. “Really!? It’s fine. I’ll take my business elsewhere.” They lose a $700 cash sale. I take my business elsewhere. In this case, I feel that behaving a little badly as a customer, showing exasperation, is well deserved. If you’re treated like that the whole way through the experience, maybe the place is deserving of a bad review. Or a public freak-out. In this case, they behaved badly and I rewarded their behavior by taking my business elsewhere.
But, honestly, I have customers who walk in the door freaking out at the moment of greeting or shortly thereafter. Bringing in drama, cussing, spitting on my floor, yelling at me because they missed the week’s special order deadline, begging me to sell them additional bottles of a super-limited beer. And they think that buy coming in and freaking out, creating a scene, that I’m gonna bend over backward for them. Really? I just don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior.
Freedom of choice is a beautiful thing
C says, “I’m just a firm believer in the free market, if you don’t like the way a business is run then don’t shop there period. If enough people feel the same way then the business will fail period. This idea of passively leaving negative comments about a business on yelp or the store’s social media page, or some other web site is for people that have an overblown ego and an unrealistic sense of their importance in the world. IMO nothing speaks as loud as not spending your hard earned cash at an establishment.”
He is right. Why am I worrying about all this?
I guess is my innate sense of wanting to please everyone. My challenge is to stop worrying about people who cannot be pleased. To let the people behaving badly weed themselves out.
I need to let them go.
With the free market, we have the ability to choose where we shop. If you’re not happy that the store doesn’t have the bandwidth to make extra special concession for your personal desires, you should shop at a place who has the ability to do so. Or if you like shopping at the place, realize that rules are in place to keep the business running smoothly.
Case in point:
This week I had a guy email a complaint because I couldn’t bow to his whim. We have rules for special orders. He came in after the drop-dead cutoff for orders, despite knowing that he had an important party coming up. Our business is open 7 days a week; there were other days he could have come in. We even provide convenience of taking orders over the phone, so he didn’t even need to come in. But he chose to come in late to order. As a retail business owner I can’t just drop everything, close the business for two-and-a-half hours to run up and get him a keg because he got confused and didn’t order before the cutoff time.
Was he neglected? No. I just couldn’t help him. Was he offered another solution? Yes, I wrote down three places that offer on-demand kegs. Was the customer behind him neglected? No. I motioned him up to the counter, processing his sale so he didn’t have to wait while the guy coming in late to order complained to me. But because I wasn’t able to help the man by changing our entire business schedule, he feels compelled to complain. This is the part of retail I’m not cut out for. And I have a feeling that it’s the part that my dad meant when he asked, “Are you sure you want to go into retail?” This is the part that maybe by reading my blog, you’ll understand what you’re getting yourself into by going into retail.
I really try to do right by my customers. But sometimes the answer is “Sorry, no.” Dear customer, if the answer is “no,” please move on. Don’t delay other customers. Realize that when you treat others how you’d like to be treated, it’s by doing so within your means, not losing everything you have to cater to the whims of one person, neglecting the rest. One must look out for the community. This has me thinking: “It’s not about the customer — it’s about the customer!”