Literal Thinking

Real stories of workplace follies

Archive for the ‘Small Business’ Category

Small business planning

Posted by A Friend on 27 April 2009

Small Business Some people aspiring to start or get into a small business, especially those with available equity, often take proper business planning for granted. A proper business plan is typically required when applying for a business loan, but some people who do not need to apply for such loans may also tend to forget about the business plan, often to their detriment.

Take the case of Elsa whose eldest daughter Terrie was graduating from college. Like any good parent, Elsa was planning to give her daughter a good career start, and she thought getting her to manage her own business was the way to go. Problem was Elsa never had a background in business herself, so she did not really know where or how to start.

Elsa’s sister Brenda, on the other hand, married a local businessman and it just so happened that they had a small internet and arcade gaming business that they no longer had time to manage; or so they said. So they approached Elsa and suggested that it may be a good idea for her to purchase the business from them, with the eventual goal of getting Terrie to manage it after she graduates.

Elsa looked at this gesture as a benevolent offer from her sister and she gratefully accepted it without much thought. Meantime, Brenda offered for Terrie to work in the business part time to both learn how to run it, as well as have some idea of projected cash flows. The business was fairly simple to run, and cash flow was also reasonable.

What Elsa and Terrie did not know was patronage in the business was in fact declining, something that would have been readily apparent had they looked at historical revenue and profit records. They also did not know that a lot of the equipment used in the business needed constant replenishing, monitoring, and maintenance.

Elsa bought the business from Brenda in good faith, thinking that her sister was doing her a favor. But Brenda was in fact only disposing a business off that was already in its early stages of decline. It was only a year later that Elsa began to realize that she might have been taken advantage of by her own sister. Two more years later, she was forced to close the business down.

Roger is a slightly different case. He is Asian, and he comes from a fairly well off family of small business owners. He also just got married, and he and his wife Marcy are looking to start a business of their own.

But while the young couple has enough financial capital to start their own business, they could not really think of a good business idea. In the end, they decided to start small and low risk by buying a coffee shop franchise of a well known global brand. The only problem is despite the brand being popular globally it was fairly new in Roger and Marcy’s market.

However, instead of doing their own research to determine the feasibility of the franchise, Roger and Marcy relied heavily on information provided by the master franchise holder, which were all very positive. That and they also went to various religious temples and performed rituals asking gods and ancestors for blessings.

One ritual was to ask basic yes or no questions of the ancestors. To determine the answer, they will throw flat incense sticks in the air with labels on both sides. If the number of incense sticks landing with the right side up is more than those landing with the right side down, then the answer to the question is yes; otherwise, it’s a no.

The quirky thing about this process is if you are not satisfied with the answer, you can ask the ancestors again and again, like a child begging a parent for ice cream before dinner until the elder relents. Suffice it to say that Roger and Marcy did not leave the religious temples until they got all the blessings they wanted to start their own coffee shop business. The coffee shop business lasted less than two years.


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Two girls in the cafe

Posted by A Friend on 4 April 2009

Girls in the Cafe One of our few personal indulgences is a lazy weekend brunch. We have been regularly going to this small café just a short stroll from our place in the last two months, and every time we ordered the same thing: bacon and eggs on toast, special request for the eggs to be scrambled, and a long macchiato.

We have had two ladies serving us alternately depending on the time and day, and the way they have gone about their business has been an interesting case study on good customer service and taking personal responsibility for us.

The first appears to be no more than 18 years old and is most likely a full time student waitressing part-time for extra pocket money. We observed that she is a very efficient worker and seems to know her way around the café very well. We actually half expected to confuse her with our order as it was not in the menu, but we were pleasantly surprised when she got our order right first time.

She made a mistake the second time we placed the same order with her: she took our money and order right, but she failed to tell the chef that we requested for the eggs to be scrambled. The scrambled eggs were really just a preference, so we let this pass without even mentioning the oversight.

We got her again around two weeks later, and we placed our usual order. To our surprise, and without our prompting, she said that she felt really bad about getting our order wrong the previous time. The mistake was not really a big deal to us, but it obviously was to her. Not only that, she remembered us, and she remembered to apologize. We were suitably impressed.

The second lady is more mature, probably in her early 40s, and she appears like she’s a career waitress. In contrast to the young girl, this one seems unsure of herself, and she totally got lost the first time we placed our “special” order with her: she actually had to ask around whether the order was possible, and we had to even tell her how much it cost (she charged us a dollar less).

As with the younger lady, we did not really mind the small inconvenience. This was after all a small neighborhood café, and it might have been possible that our request was not so common. We did not even mind when she repeated exactly the same mistake on two other occasions.

However, just last weekend, she stumbled again. This time, she actually got our order wrong, and instead of giving us the bacon and eggs on toast, she only gave us scrambled eggs on toast, a different item on their menu. We brought this to her attention, and she promptly took our order back to the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later, with our correct order. Then she said: “Apologies for that, it was the chef’s mistake.”

It was clearly her mistake. She took our order, so she knew exactly what it was. She would have given the order to the chef, and even if the chef got it wrong, she would have had the opportunity to immediately correct this before taking the food to us. She did not do this, and instead of just unreservedly apologizing, she decided to put somebody else in trouble to cover her own inadequacy.

The two girls are a contrast of each other. The former is a quick learner, is customer focused, and takes personal responsibility. The latter does not seem to learn from her mistakes, does not remember her customers, and is quick to blame others for her own shortcomings.

This story also shows that good customer service and taking personal responsibility knows no age boundaries. These can be learned at a very young age on the one hand, but can also be totally missed by more mature aged persons despite their years of industry experience on the other.

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