Selling The Place?

Buyer Beware!

SellingThePlace

Recently, I was on vacation in Columbus OH. I’ve been going there every October for more than a decade and I always stop at my favorite restaurants when I’m in town. I admit, I’m a creature of habit. When I find someplace I really like, you can expect to see me there on a recurring basis. There is comfort in the familiar. I also tend to eat the same favorite menu items. Being a vegetarian, my choices are usually limited to begin with.  I was a little shocked when I made my annual stop at this great Indian restaurant AMUL INDIA, only to discovered that my favorite dish, a vegetarian thali, was no longer on the menu. I had an awesome waiter who went above and beyond and was able to finagle the meal from the chief for me anyway, even though it was NOT ON THE MENU.  Evidently, the long established business had changed hands, and the new owner felt the sampler dish was not as profitable despite being popular. Fortunately my waiter had remained during the business transition and he remembered me from prior years. It pays to know people.      

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Nothing lasts forever, and if you live long enough you’ll have more tales of places that used to be in business than you have hair on your head.  Every year hundreds of thousands of business come and go, or change hands. Some are new start-ups built from scratch, some are franchised businesses, and some just change hands.  Buying an existing business is not without its risks, but a savvy investor can reduce or possibly eliminate those risks entirely IF they are diligent and gather enough information about WHY the business is for sale. 

Before you do anything, sign anything, or agree to anything make certain that you have a certified public accountant and a lawyer of your own. They, along with someone from your financial institution like a loan expert, or business rep.  will be key to forming a business acquisition team. These experts will be able to prevent you from making a costly mistake by examining the books, reading the fine print etc. 

What’s in the back?

As a customer, you are limited to the places intended for customers. It is rare for non-employees to glimpse much of anything locked behind the doors marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. As an interested potential buyer, it is essential to visually inspect ALL AREAS of the business you are considering buying. It’s my dream to open a coffee shop. There are several key pieces of equipment that every successful coffee shop MUST HAVE. You can’t make espresso if you don’t have an espresso machine.  There is a very big difference between residential and commercial kitchen equipment.  A cheap home kitchen espresso machine costs $50 and will make one shot of espresso in about 3-5 minutes.  A NUOVA SIMONELLI group two commercial espresso machine can make four shots of espresso in ONE minute, and retails for $8999.99

It is imperative to have a firm knowledge of what is the proper equipment needed for the business you want. The wrong machinery will put out of business faster than you can say “double flat white, extra sweet”.

Obtain a list of all business equipment, inventory, and assets.  Be sure to note condition, age, make, model, and shelf life.  Were those coffee beans roasted last week, or last year? Is that ancient espresso machine on its last legs?  Does the ice machine make ice?

You Owe Who What?

Make sure that the business you are considering buying has all its financials fully disclosed.  You’ll need to have your CPA go over their books. If they are not turning a profit after being in business for so time, there could be a serious problem and your accountant should be able to help you pinpoint it. Make absolutely certain that all outstanding debts and liabilities that the current business owner has and been settled BEFORE you buy the shop, or you might be facing a slew of past due bills for unpaid stock or other bills that will bankrupt you. A former acquaintance of mine whom I once considered to be  a friend had this happen to him. Actually he made EVERY mistake listed above and below. He ultimately lost his Shoe Repair Shop and ended up owing tens of thousands of dollars to at least three other individuals besides myself, and it ended our friendship.

Make certain you have money, LOTS OF MONEY.

Buying a business is not cheap. You’re going to need to have several months of working capital in the bank to cover operating expenses such as employee salaries. If some of the businesses’ assets or equipment need to be repaired or replaced, you’ll need to be able to cover the cost. Merchants who supply you with stock will probably expect you to be in operation for some time before they extend credit and will expect payment at the time of delivery especially during your first year of operation. Make certain that all licenses, permits, and if (you’re dealing with food services) health code inspections, and zoning codes are up to date and paid.  Lapsed permits, operating a business in a residential zone, or having heath code violations will force you to shut down.  Plus in dealing with the public, you may have to modify the building to comply with ADA standards.

But I just moved in…

I you are leasing the property for a business,  make sure that it’s a lease you can afford and have your lawyer read it BEFORE you sign it.  Triple Net Leases are quite common and will require you among other things, to pay for building maintenance, landscaping, property taxes, parking lot maintenance, etc IN ADDITION TO your monthly rent.  Snow removal in a large parking lot after a blizzard is expensive. As a result you could find that suddenly your rent was a lot higher than your initial agreement. Also make sure to sign a decent multi-year lease. You don’t want to be making a killing in the perfect location and end up having to move or pay double because the landlord realized he can get a lot more for his property then you are paying him and decides to price you out.

 Does she come with the place?

Will the staff stay on during the transition, or will you be suddenly be all by yourself running the shop with no help, and no clue. Understand that many of the staff may not be happy being under new ownership, with new rules. They may be used to doing things ‘the old’ way and you could encounter friction. Also remember that these employees and the former owner were the face of the business, and certain customers may be upset with the change in ownership and staff. You may find that you don’t have as many customers all of a sudden.

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Do they still sell those?    

Times change, tastes change. Remember my former friend and his shoe repair shop that I mentioned a few paragraphs back?  In addition to all the rookie new business mistakes, perhaps the most serious one that he made was buying an antiquated, niche business with a rapidly declining customer base. Shoe repair is a dying art. Scott was an employee of the first shoe repair chain at the mall. They were acquired by another chain, which franchised its stores. The guy who brought the franchise decided to cut bait and tried to recover his losses by selling it to Scott, who still worked there and enjoyed his job, so he jumped at the chance. He was very quickly in over his head, and for a while was able to use ponzi schemes to keep the wolves at bay. Ultimately he was evicted, his assets seized, and after a civil suit showed that he had nothing of value, he kept a very low profile and faded away leaving his backers with substantial loses. If you’re not a role model, you’re a cautionary tale.  

I’ll do it differently!

What has been will be again,  what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun.  – Ecclesiastes 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

No one who ever started a business did so with the intention of bankruptcy and failure. Yet not a day goes by without some business shutting its doors. The best ways to avoid mistakes are to learn from the mistakes of others and do it differently. Knowledge is power and if you do your homework, and lay down the proper foundation for your business from the beginning you’ll be off to a good start.  A great location, with fantastic customer service, superior products, and competitive  (but still low) prices, along with a friendly and knowledgeable staff should be able to provide everything else you need to succeed!    As always, I wish you success and happiness!

FROM THE GROUND UP!

Building Your business from scratch.

From The Ground Up

All business ventures involve an element of risk. There are ways to minimize your risks but there is no way possible to totally eliminate the possibility of failure. Whether you start your business from scratch, franchise, or purchase an existing business, what you don’t know will hurt you badly. Since starting a brand new business is the most risky of the three ways to get a business of your own, this is the one which requires the most amount of background work.   

I spent more than a decade dreaming about opening a coffee shop of my very own before I started taking my first steps towards attempting to realize that goal.

Step one: Learn all there is to know, and take notes!

My earliest research into the grounds of the coffee business involved visiting a lot of cafes and observing their operation. Field work is essential to determine not only what everyone is doing, but also to know what they need in order to do it. Espresso machines are not cheap. You want to make sure you buy a commercial machine which will be able to handle the demands of the consumer. You want to make sure there is adequate seating, and that you have something that brings people back, it could be the food, or it could be a gimmick.  Get it right, because people will talk and their words will go far. You want to be remembered for being great, not for being so bad that people have to see it to believe it.

A tale of two cafes.

‘The Bohemian Coffee Shoppe’.  

Several years ago, I visited a very strange coffee shop near the end of North Queen Street in Lancaster PA. It wasn’t in operation very long.  The only signage was a flag that read COFFEE. The woman had a small espresso machine that made one cup at a time, it was not a commercial machine. I think it was a De’Longhi. Coffee was served ONE SIZE in a 12oz cup, black, no creamer of any kind. The only sweetener she had was  rapadura . Rapadura is unbleached, unrefined dehydrated cane sugar juice. It’s brown in color and has a molasses taste to it. And like the flag on the outside of the building proclaimed, coffee was the only item to be had in that establishment. I paid $2, then sat at a very large dining room table, the ONLY table. It was covered with newspapers and magazines.  I remember thinking to myself that this had to be a joke. I went there two, maybe three times in total and brought my friend Talley with me the last time I went. For years after the fact, we jokingly referred to  that nameless cafe as The Bohemian Coffee Shoppe.  It certainly was unorthodox.  

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Snakes and Lattes.

I first heard about this unique coffee shop from a friend on Twitter. I then drove 500 miles north from the USA to Toronto Canada to check it out. I ended up spending 11 hours in that cafe. Their gimmick was that they charged a cover fee to enter, which allowed you access to use their vast collection of board games.   I played game after game sitting at various tables with complete strangers, and I had a tab run which was settled at the end of the night. It was also the first cafe where I ever saw computer tablets being used to record customer orders.  A couple of years later, I drove a hundred miles to The Board and Brew in College Park MD. The owner had also visited Snakes and Lattes and had cloned their business model. I too had had a similar thought upon  my initial visit to Snakes and Lattes, because you can’t copyright an idea. My lack of knowledge of gaming was what quickly made me abandon that plan. I’m a coffee man, not a game boy.   

Step 2: Learn the basics and practice.

The very first cafe that I ever tasted espresso and espresso based drinks like lattes was at The Monk’s Tunic . I became addicted to these drinks very quickly, so I purchased a very basic espresso machine and several espresso bartender guides and spent years studying the books and making my drinks at home. There’s a reason why the coffee at cafe’s taste better, they have much better equipment and their beans are  usually much fresher, having been roasted very recently and freshly ground for each drink. Better ingredients and better equipment equals better product, especially when made by the hand of a skilled barista. You can’t do latte art with a home unit. The machine just doesn’t have the right temperature and pressure to generate a proper crema on the espresso or the micro foam in the steamed milk.  There are only really a dozen basic drinks that form a basic menu and they are easily learn-able once you know the basics of how to operate the machine.

Step 3: Beef up your bank account.

Banks do not loan money to new business start-ups. The majority of all new business fail in under 5 years, and a fair amount shut down within months of opening.  This is often because they underestimated the expenses and ran out of money. If you plan to open a business you will need money. Lots and lots of money. You will need to self-finance, and possibly enlist the help of friends and relatives as potential backers. Cash flow is the life blood of business, and if you run out of money, you are out of business. You will not be able to prolong the inevitable for very long.

Step 4: Hire competent professionals and consultants.

The very first person you should seek out is a qualified CPA (certified public accountant) and a reputable business attorney. These two should be able to help you set up the paperwork and ground work to set up an LLC, open a business banking account, etc. LLC (limited Liability Corporation) status will protect you from losing everything you own including the shirt on you back should the business fail. You’ll also want to run a check on the name you intend to call your business to make sure no one else is using that same name, or you could face legal action. I once worked for a video game arcade that made the mistake of calling themselves Jolly Time Inc. They had the  same exact name as Jolly Time Inc, the Popcorn company. They were forced to re-brand the arcade to Pocket Change. Never use your personal banking account for your business. Open a business checking account. Open a P.O. Box for the business, never put your home address on anything for the business. A few months ago, I purchased  a jar of Salsa at a food festival. The proprietors at the stand were from Columbus Ohio, where I happen to be on vacation this week. There was an address on the jar which I assumed was their local storefront. I drove there and very quickly realized that this was their home address when I saw all the town houses in a residential neighborhood. This is why you open a P.O. Box.

I would also recommend contacting consultants in your field of business.  If you live in the USA, I would contact the S.C.O.R.E. Association. The Service Corps Of Retired Executives has been in operation since 1964 and is a 501 nonprofit organization that provides free business mentoring services to prospective and established small business owners in the United States. They will provide all sorts of advice and contacts.

If you are looking into the coffee shop industry as I am, I fully recommend contacting Crimson Cup. https://www.crimsoncup.com/ They are a franchise alternative and are consultants and suppliers for independent coffee shops. They have over twenty five years of expertise and experience, and have helped over 400 small coffee shops open. When I finally do open That Coffee Place, I will be proudly serving Crimson Cup coffee. They are awesome! The Better Business Bureau rates them A+ status.  If you are serious, really truly serious about opening a coffee chop, buy Greg Ubert’s book, Seven Steps To Success. It comes with a sample of their coffee and teas, and you get a phone consultation. It’s worth the $69.99. When you do sign up with them, their fee is about $30,000, but that includes a lot including shop design, staff training,  and coffee supplies for your store.  These people are the cream of the crop!

Next find a good business realtor. I have looked at over a dozen potential sights so far. Nothing has stuck yet, but some were very close. When you do locate a property, you’ll also need to hire an architect , a building engineer, and a construction crew if the landlord doesn’t have their own. This is all before you even open your doors. My first year of attempting to open a  cafe generated thousands of dollars of business expenses, and I still don’t have a shop. The point is, by going through the process, doing everything in order, dotting all my ‘i’s and crossing all my ‘t’s, I’ve protected myself from potentially disastrous mistakes while establishing a firm foundation for my future business venture. Hopefully, you will do the same. As always I wish you success and happiness!   

Do You Want Franchise With That?

What’s in a name?

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Each month hundreds of thousands of new businesses open nationwide in the US. A third of them will go out of business within two years, and only half will last five years. Owning a business is risky, and what you don’t know will hurt you. Many small business fail because the owner failed to take into account some vital piece of information which would have shown that their brilliant plan wasn’t so brilliant after all. It could be anything from foot traffic, to utility costs, to labor utilization. What you don’t know will hurt you, often in the most painful way, at the worst possible of times. Trust me, I know. I’ve been trying to start my own coffee shop now for going on five years, and I have faced setback after setback. Although I have lost thousands of dollars in the process, I have gained valuable insight and protected myself from some truly significant financial pitfalls which would have occurred had I not been as diligent in my research, and hired qualified consultants, and legal and financial advisers first. I’d rather invest a few thousand dollars than suffer a million dollar bankruptcy.  No business is ‘risk free’.  

There are really only three ways to have your own business.

  • Start it from scratch – very risky
  • Buy out an existing business –  risky
  • Buy into a franchise – not AS risky, but still has risk.

“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” – Ray Kroc

What is a franchise?

A franchise is a business which pays a licensing fee to a parent company in order to sell products under that company’s brand. Usually there are strict guidelines and corporate policies which must be adhered to, which failure to follow will cause the loss of the license, and a possible expensive lawsuit. By franchising, YOU are representing that brand, even though you own the business, the brand and all its intellectual properties belong to the licensing corporation.

There are pros and cons to this.

The pros include selling a known brand, and operating under a proven business model. Everyone knows what the coffee at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts is supposed to taste like, and they are drawn to the familiar industry standard product they know and love. 

The cons are that those same industry standards and products are forced upon you. If you are barely scraping by, and the parent corporation implements a national sales campaign, more often than not you are required to participate. Likewise when chains like McDonald’s offer their McCafé®™ drinks at only $2.00 for any size, every McDonald’s franchise in that geographic area  has to offer that product at that price, even if they are losing money to do so.

When an industry leader announces a new product or sale, other chains scramble to offer a comparable offering. Prior to Starbucks offering cold brew coffee, that was something that you could only get at third wave coffee shops. Now cold brew coffee is everywhere, even at convenience stores.   When Starbucks began selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes earlier than normal this year starting on Labor Day Weekend, Dunkin’ Donuts and other chains quickly followed suit. This meant that the owners of every franchise suddenly had to purchase additional supplies needed for the drinks.

Franchises are not cheap. In most cases you have to pay to build the store to company specs, and buy all of their required equipment as well as pay an upfront fee.  Dunkin’ Donuts franchise fee is $40,000, minimum initial cash required is $250,000 with a net worth at least $500,000. Starbucks doesn’t do franchises, but they will sell you a license to sell their coffees at your cafe for just over $300,000. McDonald’s charges $45,000, requires you to have liquid assets of $750,000 and start-up costs  run  $1-2 Million. One of the cheapest franchises to start is SubWay, which begins at $15,000 with start-up costs ranging from $100,000 to $400,000.

Once you pay to start the franchise, you still have franchise fees on every product you sell for as long as you own the franchise, and IF you decide to sell the franchise, in some cases you will need to pay a franchise transfer fee.   

Can you make money owning a franchise?

Yes, and no. According to a report on food franchising by Franchise Business Review, 51.5 percent of food franchises earn profits of less than $50,000 a year; roughly 7 percent top $250,000, with the average profit for all restaurants coming in at $82,033. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you factor in the initial investment.

Business is business? What a Kroc!

Ray Kroc was a traveling salesman.  He had been a paper cup salesman for Lilly Cup.  After fifteen years, he switched companies and  started selling a 30lb, five-spindle milk shake mixer, The Multimixer for Prince Castle.  There wasn’t a great demand in the food service industry for this device, he was lucky if he could sell one to a restaurant. That was until he received an order in 1954 for eight of the machines placed by a single restaurant in San Bernardino CA. After confirming that the order was not a mistake,  he made a trip out west to see with his own eyes this business that needed eight Multimixers.   The place was a tiny burger joint owned by two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald. Ray Kroc was so blown away by the way the brothers had re-invented drive-in burger joints that he mortgaged his house and pulled every string he could pull to get the brothers to agree to not only allow him to buy his own franchise, but sell future franchises to perspective buyers.

Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he opened his first McDonald’s franchise. For each future franchise he sold for the brothers, a franchise fee would be charged of 1.9% of sales, .4% would go to the brothers and 1.5% was for Ray. Needless to say Ray Kroc was struggling to keep his head above water before long, and tried to re-negotiate his deal. Dick and Mac refused. Ray had signed a contract and he was legally bound to it. Unfortunately for the two brothers, Ray was a salesman, and they were not. A salesman’s number one job is to convince someone to buy. Ray managed to find a work-around by creating a land acquisition company.  He bought and leased the land that McDonald’s franchisees would need to  build on and charged them rent. As a condition of their lease agreement they had to maintain quality control in their restaurants, or lose their franchise.

He began mass selling franchises, and the money from the land lease agreements made him wealthy. He then paid a hefty fee to the McDonald’s brothers of $2.7 million dollars to break the 1954 contract he had signed, and take ownership of all holdings and intellectual property, including the brand name. The McDonald brothers couldn’t even have their name on their own restaurant. He then opened his 100th store right across the road from the brother’s original store, and drove them out.

History is written by the winners.

The first time I read the Ray Kroc story, it was in his auto-biography GRINDING IT OUT The Making of McDonald’s. From Ray Kroc’s point of view, he was the victim, fighting his way out of a bad deal. I had found the book to be inspirational until I saw the 2016 film THE FOUNDER starring Michael Keaton. This version of the story made Ray Kroc look like the Serpent  in the McDonald brother’s Paradise. He was the epitome of every sleazy, used-car salesman stereotype you can imagine.  There are two sides to every story, your side, their side, and the truth. The point is once you sign a contract for a franchise or a lease agreement, be prepared to stick to the agreement, because unless you have more money and lawyers than the opposition, you will be in hot water quickly. It’s probably best to avoid the situation altogether. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

Any Business Lately?

Why places close.

Any Business Lately

It happens to all of us. You travel to your favorite place of business and arrive to see the place shuttered. Another shop closed. How did this happen? Sometimes we can see it coming, but other times it comes as a complete shock, tragic and disheartening.  This year alone, two of my favorite products stopped being made. My favorite hot pepper jam, because the company apparently folded. The website says online items are all out of stock, the phone call I made went unanswered to voicemail, and the owner was absent at a local food festival. Just this week, I went online to order a few cases of this awesome specialty iced tea, not sold in stores. I always order six to twelve cases at a time, extra of  the diet blueberry flavor. I was devastated to learn that Two If By Tea  had been discontinued due to rising production costs.

As upsetting as it may be for us, often it is many times worse on the owner of the business because although we were loyal patrons, the business was their brainchild. What do you do when your dream dies?

The reasons why places shut down are as varied as the businesses themselves, but there are often several main reasons business close.

Declining customer base.

The first espresso bar to open in Lancaster PA was The Monk’s Tunic. It made the local newspaper. (That local newspaper has since folded also.) When you are the first business you often inspire imitators.  Competition for customers is often fierce when several shops of the same type open in close proximity. Customers are the life-blood of a business, and losing too many customers will kill a business. Although it is speculation on my part, I blame the press release, because within the first year of business, at least a half dozen similar cafes opened all within two blocks of each other.  That same newspaper article also mentioned a national bookstore chain that was opening at the mall, BORDERS BOOKS which would have a sit down espresso bar.

Why do I blame the newspaper? Think of the California Gold Rush of 1848 which brought over 300,000 prospectors to California when newspapers announced gold had been found at Sutter’s Mill.  Here was the local newspaper proclaiming the discovery of ‘Black Gold’ in the city.

I did manage to visit all of the cafes which opened during the ‘Great Espresso Rush’ to sample their drinks. I’m a coffee snob, so it takes more than just what’s in the cup to leave an impression on me. The ones that offered poetry readings and live music often brought me back rather than the coffee, all of which tasted pretty much the same. They must have all been using the same local roaster. The Monk’s Tunic put up a valiant fight, outlasting all of the newcomers except BORDERS, which in turn folded a decade later. Each of these shops were unique in their own ways, but I really miss both The Monk’s Tunic and BORDERS the most.

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Location, Location, Location.

Where you sell your goods is often as important as what you sell. Unless you sell a highly coveted item and have a rabid fan base clamoring for it, customers will not usually go out of their way to visit your establishment. A highly visible location with vibrant signage and easy access and exit are key. If your customers can’t see you easily, or get to your shop, they won’t stop and just pass on by. And don’t forget about parking, no one wants to fight for a space, or pay to park just to go to your store.

Accessibility.

Most new construction in the USA conforms to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The ADA sets standards for construction of accessible public facilities.  However, if you buy an older property built prior to the establishment of the ADA to house your business, you may need to make modifications. This can include ADA bathrooms for customers, a designated check-out counter space set lower, designated seating and parking for disabled people, ramps, and even wider doors in some cases to accommodate wheelchairs or motorized carts.  Depending upon the modifications, this can be quite costly.

Staff.

When I was a young boy, I used to walk two extra blocks to a small grocery store to buy Pepsi for my aunt, because it was a nickel cheaper per bottle. The store was run by an old man. Two weeks in a row I went in and he was out of Pepsi, and I had to go back to the bigger grocery.  So I stopped going to his store for a few weeks. Sometime later, I went back to his shop, and there was one six-pack of Pepsi so I brought it. As I was walking out, I heard the old man grumble angrily to himself how ‘the boy doesn’t come in for weeks, then buys his last six-pack’. I NEVER went back to that store again.

You and your employees are the face of your business. A customer should always feel like you appreciate their business, not like you are doing them a favor by being open. Staff should be friendly, courteous, clean, identifiable, competent, and well versed in your product. Your employees may be well extremely versed, but NO ONE should know more about your business, or be more skilled at it than you. You should be easily reachable by both staff and customers to solve problems that your employees may encounter.  Yes, there are SOME high-maintenance customers who think the world revolves around them, but they are the exception, not the rule. I try very hard to be nice to ALL my customers, including the ‘difficult’ customers. IF you have a ‘difficult’ customer, it may be necessary for you or a trusted high-level employee to personally  deal with them. By isolating this E.G.R. (Extra Grace Required) customer, you are protecting your staff from them, and vice-versa.

Word of Mouth.

Do your customers rave about you and your shop? Do they leave positive reviews on social media? Do they even know you exist at all?

Thirty years ago, most people looked up businesses in the Yellow Pages phone book. They saw advertising on TV, in magazines, newspapers, and on bill boards. Reviews were often by word of mouth. Today however, social media is the main go-to.  It is very important to have an online presence. Although I am still in the process of trying to establish That Coffee Place, I do have a Twitter and a Facebook page already established. Both have been dormant for years waiting for my brick-and-mortar location to open someday.  When it does, I’ll probably expand my online presence to Yelp! and Trip Adviser, as well as Google. When that does happen, positive reviews will be very important. One bad experience at your place of business can be all it takes for a disgruntled customer to leave a negative review online which can harm potential sales.

Incompetence and mismanagement.

The saddest reason a business can fail is because the owner failed to do their homework. There is much more to opening a shop than signing a lease and hanging an OPEN sign. As the owner of your shop, you need to know everything there is to know about your business and the location BEFORE you even open the door. I know of a struggling pizza place that is barely keeping its lights on because they opened in the same ‘Turn-Key’ location as FIVE other pizza places before them, all of which folded. In the same little strip mall, there is an empty restaurant which was a ‘Turn-Key’ restaurant that in the last seven years had 3 different Spanish restaurants, 2 African restaurants, and a Jamaican restaurant.  Just because it’s a ‘Turn-Key’ location selling all the necessary equipment and furniture included with the lease does NOT mean it’s a great place for a restaurant.  There often are very good reason these shops closed.

The neighborhood changed.

When you’re surrounded by a large population of very poor people on public assistance, these people do not dine at restaurants often, if ever. When a neighborhood goes into decline, litter, graffiti and crime increase. This alarming trend often discourages patrons from more affluent areas, who tend to avoid such slums and favor more inviting places.

Parking.

Not having a well-lit attached parking lot with adequate spaces will discourage patrons.

Tastes changed.

What you’re selling may no longer be desired.

Staffing issues.

You can’t pay people enough to stay, or find good help.

Money Issues.

You ran out of working capital and are robbing Peter to pay Paul. No Ponzi scheme on Earth will keep your Money Pit open long term.

Health Issues and Retirement.

No avoiding it, we will not be young and healthy forever. Everyone one of us will grow older, feebler, and eventually die.  When this happens, we are often forced to downsize, and this will also include either shutting down, passing on, or outright selling our businesses.

The Pancake Farm in Ephrata PA will be shutting its doors in eight weeks on December 1st, 2018. The owners are retiring. The business has been these since 1960, and owned by them since 1982

The owner of The West Reading Diner sold the business to his son, who re-branded it as The American Diner.

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After decades of business, my guitar teacher Ken Rohrbach shut down Ken’s Music Studio on 10th St several years ago,  and retired. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I may be a coffee expert, but I’m no guitar player. I could probably earn a fortune standing on a corner asking passers-by for tips for me NOT to play my guitar. Just goes to show, pobody’s nerfect. As always, I wish success and happiness!

GOING CLUBBING?

Membership has its rewards.

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Last weekend, Wegman’s held a grand opening for its newest store in Lancaster PA. This would be the second largest supermarket in the county. (The largest is Shady Maple.) It was a rainy day, but I kid you not when I say it was standing room only. Everyone and their mother living in a twenty mile radius was there. People were lined-up ten deep in three different queues to sign-up for the store loyalty reward program. You could not move one foot in any direction in the store without encountering someone with a shopping cart, and state police were directing traffic into and out of the fully occupied parking lot as drivers circled the lot, jockeying for position. It was a total madhouse. I left after 15 minutes without buying a single item.

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Now there may only be ONE Wegman’s Supermarket in Lancaster county, but there are more than a hundred supermarkets owned by at least a half-dozen chains. Wegman’s has things that you cannot get anywhere else. It is the ONLY place I have ever seen that carried Oaxaca cheese! Oaxaca is a white, semihard cheese from Mexico, similar to unaged Monterey jack, but with a mozzarella-like string cheese texture.

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Loyalty has its rewards.

It seems that every chain store in the world encourages people to join their loyalty rewards program. Signing-up is free, you save money on specials, and you get a wallet card and or a small fob for your keys that you have to scan at the checkout.  I have so many of these that I ordered a small loyalty-card holder for my key ring to protect and organize these flimsy, plastic-coated card-stock tags. 

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Aside from the initial hassle of filling out the application, it’s a smart way to save money for the customer, often on products you already use.  On  National Coffee Day, I got a free cold brew coffee from Sheetz, after I downloaded their app to my smartphone and ordered online. A minor inconvenience for a free $2.99 drink.

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The downside is that you’re supplying personal info and shopping habits with that company. I know people who refuse to provide their contact info and insist on asking the checker at the register for ‘the store card’. Some chains used keep a card at each register for people who ‘forgot’ their card, which they would scan so you can still get the discount on the specials, but this is slowly being phased out.  As more and more people have smart phones, loyalty programs are switching over from cards and fobs to apps you download right to your phone.  Stores really want you to sign up for these reward programs.  It provides their company with vital market research as they track your purchase history. Knowing what brands and items you buy allows them to stock greater quantities.  Knowing where you live can help them determine the potential viability of opening new stores in your neighborhood. I used to shop at Wegman’s sporadically because prior to last week, the nearest store was over 35 miles away. The same goes for Trader Joe’s, I’d love to have a local store.          

Membership has its rewards too.

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” – Groucho Marx

There are several store chains such as Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club which require an annual membership fee for people wishing to shop there. This may sound crazy to some people.  Who would want to pay $60 a year for the ‘privilege’ of shopping at a wholesale ‘club’? Firstly, let’s go back to my harrowing tale of the Wegman’s grand opening.  You NEVER encounter crowds like that at a wholesale club. EVER. Every person with a cart paid their membership to shop there.  If you’re curious and want to look around just to determine if a wholesale club membership is for you, you can go to the customer service desk and they will allow it (and probably offer you literature and an application form). I used to belong to BJ’s years ago when I was in charge of supplying drinks and snacks for the employee break room, until the honor system broke down and the till dried up. I don’t understand people stealing snacks and sodas when we get paid as much as we do.

Wholesale clubs eliminate the cost of shipping and distribution of items from the warehouse to the retail store, because the warehouse IS the store. Also because these items are special packed in larger quantities, the per-item cost is much lower for the consumer. So if you have a large family, buying in bulk at a wholesale club will save you a significant amount of money, and allow you to recoup the initial investment you made when you brought your membership. 

But what’s a single person going to do with a hundred-roll case of Charmin?

Fortunately there IS an online alternative to the warehouse wholesale club. There are two members-only online shopping clubs that I know of. Like the warehouse clubs, you pay an annual fee. BUT you get free shipping IF you buy a certain amount. You are also buying only their unique brand, so don’t expect to order Pepsi or Doritos. Now there are store brands that meet or exceed the quality offered by national chains. The organic specialty health food chain Trader Joe’s sells almost exclusively their own unique brand with very few exceptions. I LOVE Trader Joe’s. They really have the best groceries, but they are pricey. Again, many  of these items are organic, free of artificial preservatives and chemicals, and are much healthier so they are better for you. (Isn’t your health worth the cost?) Costco sells KIRKLAND brand exclusively, GNC sells its own brand, I could go on.

So back to the two members-only, online shopping clubs which offer only their own brand. Both launched in past two years.  Their mission is to provide the customer with a high quality product at the lowest cost possible.   

They offer factory direct non-branded products with simple black and white no-frills labels with just the company , product name, ingredients, and nutritional info. You won’t see a photo of a tomato on the tomato sauce. It will say TOMATO PASTE. From the few examples I’ve seen online, the labeling is ONLY in English, which I consider to be a plus because it always irks me when foreign language is forced upon me in my native country by social justice warriors in the name of diversity and inclusiveness. I would never think of living in any country where I didn’t have a firm grasp of the local language. It may be true that the USA has no official national language, but since the country was founded it has been the consensus that it is English.  

The ONLY two possible drawbacks I see are that the new companies might fold, as new business have a high failure rate, and that you can’t sample the goods before you buy them, so you really have to rely upon customer feedback. Most of the reviews I’ve read have been favorable, and I do plan on trying out both companies in the very near future. I always believe in supporting small businesses and  the independent operators. Without customer support, these companies cannot last. Their prices do seem fair, and a smart consumer should be able to seamlessly work these goods into their personal budget plans to both recoup the cost of membership and save money in the process.       

The two companies  are: BRANDLESS and PUBLIC GOODS.

BRANDLESS https://brandless.com/

Only $36/year after your free trial.

BRANDLESS Their mission is to provide better everything, and sell it at a fixed price of just $3. Since every item is $3, be sure to check the size. You’re not going to get a pound of organic coffee anywhere, even at BRADLESS, but ounce per ounce it will be a better deal than Starbucks.

PUBLIC GOODS https://www.publicgoods.com/

Public Goods. They too are attempting to provide healthier alternatives to commercially available products at cost, making as little on the item as possible. It’s a counter-intuitive business strategy that relies upon the sales of the memberships to cover costs. I think it’s an interesting social experiment, but only time will tell if it’s economically viable for a company to operate long term under that business model. I am intrigued enough that I’m willing to gamble on a LIFETIME membership deal, offered through KICKSTARTER  until November 8th 2018.   

Only $59/year after your free trial.

If you want to gamble on the LIFETIME Membership deal like I did yesterday here’s the link for that ‘possible’ money saving offer: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/494595922/public-goods-healthy-wholesome-food-affordable-to

Hopefully, these suggestions will provide money-saving opportunities that you can take advantage of. Always remember that every dollar you can save, and every cost-cutting measure you can find will get you closer to attaining wealth and achieving your dreams. Good luck! As always, I wish you success and happiness!

LIVE BOLDLY!

Don’t DREAM it, BE it!

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Almost a year ago, on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:58 AM I launched my blog.

My first article was The 52 Week Challenge, and the purpose of that first post was to serve as both an introduction, and as a source of encouragement. Every Labor Day Weekend I enjoy a fun-filled vacation at the shore in Ocean City MD. It’s my ‘happy place’. If you followed the advice of that first post, by saving away just $25 every week, then you too should have been able to afford a fantastic getaway vacation to a destination of your choice. This year I spent even more days at the shore going down every weekend in August. I jet skied and even parasailed for the first time. I had a blast being 800 feet in the air, strapped to a parachute, while being towed by a speedboat.  

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I was not always as wealthy as I am today, but I did not get to where I am by accident. I helped myself by reading self-help books and studying the habits of highly successful people. The knowledge I gained helped me grow as an individual and I’ve changed for the better as a result.

For years, I tried imparting the wealth building tips and tricks to friends and family, but sadly many of them ignored my well-meaning advice. I want everyone to be happy and successful. Now, through the magic of the world wide web, my blog posts have been read by people in 48 countries around the world. Hopefully each and every person who visited this past year found some useful and encouraging tidbit they could utilize in their own personal journey.

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Climb every mountain 
Ford every stream 
Follow every rainbow 
‘Till you find your dream…

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” Song from the  1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.

We all have dreams of a better life and a prosperous future. These things don’t happen by accident and rarely are they handed to us. We need to work hard and plan if we want to be successful in our endeavors. Sometimes, this means long shifts at the day job. But if you’re working to have just enough to cover your bills, your dreams will disappear in a cloud of smoke. I’ve known people who toiled away at dead-end jobs, or who took meaningless ‘promotions’ that were paid little more than their underlings, but were filled with nightmare time demands and far more responsibilities.  I’ve had co-workers who died young from fatal heart attacks due to stress. My own father died at 57, never living to see retirement. Life is too short to be miserable.  If you’ve worked at the mall, or waited tables for years because ‘you like it’, or ‘it’s easy work’, then the only thing you’ve accomplished is to help someone else fulfill their dream.

It amazes me when I hear people advocating for a higher minimum wage because they can’t live on minimum wage. Minimum wage was never intended to be a ‘living wage’. I do understand that sometimes it’s hard to find a better paying job. When I was in college, I worked three different minimum wage jobs each week. I applied for my current job five times, and went to eleven interviews before I was hired, as a temp! The entire time I spent working multiple minimum wage jobs, I was doing little more than working or sleeping, but the point is that all the while I was also seeking the better paying job and actively pursuing it.  I never considered staying at any of my low paying jobs longer than necessary than to establish my credentials and prove that I was deserving of better jobs with higher salaries.  I also never gave up striving to improve myself.

You need to examine your life, as well as your financial situation. It’s the quality of the time you spend living your life vs. the quantity of time needed at work to reach your goals. A minimum wage job will not cut it.  The purpose of a minimum wage job is to provide training to a new employee, establish a work history, show responsibility, and prove dependability.  No employer will retain or promote a new employee who constantly displays irresponsible behavior, or a lack of dependability. If you have a history of quitting jobs, finding employment will also be challenging. No one is going to hire someone who is going to quit shortly after being hired. Your reputation is important.

Your attitude and charisma will open almost as many doors as who and what you know.

For several years now, I’ve been trying to establish a coffee shop. I’ve done a lot of research and leg work on the subject  as I’ve been building my resources. There have been several false starts. I’ve scouted more than a half dozen potential locations, and met with several potential allies. Three years ago, I received a phone call from the owner of a property I was actively and aggressively attempting to lease. I believed that this location in downtown Reading PA was a prime location as it was located near a movie theater, a community college, and a art gallery, as well as a block away from the bus terminal.
After several phone messages to the number on the leasing sign went unanswered, I crafted a courteous and well-worded business letter, which I mailed to the property owner, along with my business card and a very nice stainless steel coffee mug bearing my cafe logo.

Two days later, I received a personal phone call from billionaire department store tycoon Al Boscov. That ten-minute phone call was the most uplifting and empowering message I have ever received.

Mr. Boscov told me that he was impressed by all I had accomplished thus far, and that he was very proud of me. I can’t tell you what it meant to me to hear those words from such a successful businessman. Even thinking about it today brings tears to my eyes. It was like hearing the words of validation and praise I longed to hear from my father, had he lived long enough to see the man I grew up to become.   Words have power, and you can change the course of a person’s entire life when you give them encouragement and guidance at a crucial juncture.  Although I THOUGHT that the location was ideal, Mr. Boscov gave me several reasons why it was not as great a location as I believed it was. If a billionaire philanthropist tells you a location is not good, you listen. He saved me from a potential bad investment which I was too inexperienced to see. Before he ended the call, he told me that if he found a prime location in the city that he thought was suitable for a cafe, I would be the first person he called. I was on cloud nine for months after that phone call.  Sadly, last year Mr. Boscov passed away from cancer on Feb. 10th, 2017 at the age of 87.  Although I never met the man in person, I will never forget his kind grandfatherly voice, or the wonderful words he said.

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To dream the impossible dream,

To fight the unbeatable foe,

To bear with unbearable sorrow,

To run where the brave dare not go.

“The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” Song Andy Williams from the musical Man of La Mancha.

Don’t quit!

Life is not a destination, it’s a journey. As you travel down the road of life, you will meet many people who will try to discourage you, or dissuade you from pursuing your dreams. Just as it is important to examine your life, it is equally important to examine their lives. Always consider the source. Never take advice from people who are less successful than yourself. You’ll encounter many a wise guy or know-it-all who is filled with anecdotes, but has little results to show to back up their stories. That’s why I studied the habits of highly successful people and learned from their examples.  Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the easier it is to see through charlatans and phony pundits.

Always keep in mind that the hopes and dreams of these detractors and naysayers died long ago.

Because they were not successful, they don’t want you to be successful. Because they are poor, they don’t want you to be rich.  You’re smarter and better than them, and they are just jealous. Don’t let these emotional vampires suck the hope and dreams out of your life.

You will also encounter many false starts and set-backs as you pursue your dreams, but the important thing is to persevere! Don’t quit! Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Sometimes the end of one opportunity is the beginning of another. As I mentioned previously, I’ve scouted a half dozen possible cafe locations which all fell though, including one that was 99% a sure thing until someone threw a monkey wrench into the deal.  I’ve lost some money in the process, but it’s only money. You’ve got to spend money to make money and the knowledge I gained in the process provided me valuable insight.  My coffee shop dream is on hold at the moment while I regroup and rethink how next to proceed. I have not given up and continue to build up my cash reserves in preparation.   

As for the immediate future, I plan to edit, collate, and adapt the past 52 weeks of blog posts into an e-book. Not many people read blogs, but there are people who will download an e-book into their tablet to read,  especially if it’s inexpensive, so I might be able to reach a broader audience with my message.  If you’ve been reading http://www.InstantCoffeeWisdom.com from the start, then you’ll have read 100% of what the potential e-book will contain. Sales of the e-book will hopefully add a second revenue stream towards eventually opening That  Coffee Place.  I’m not sure what other financial topics to cover in the coming weeks, I’ve covered everything I’m familiar with, and I’m running out of ideas.  I’d love to hear any suggestions on money topics you’d like my opinion on.

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

― John Wesley

We will not be young forever, nor will we live forever. Enjoy your youth and take advantage of as many exciting and fun opportunities as life presents. Collect memories, not things. Go places, try new things, meet new people and leave your mark on life. Be the best person you can be, and treat everyone with fairness and kindness, even the ones who don’t deserve it. You could be the bright light that leads that person from their dark place.     Make the world a better place when you leave it than it was when  you entered it. Experience in person all the great things that life has to offer, don’t live vicariously through others, or waste your life addicted to your electronics. Take pictures and record your adventures!  There’s so much more to see of life when you don’t waste your time staring down at your smart phone   constantly texting, tweeting, or playing game apps.

As always I wish you success and happiness!

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Say Cheese!

Don’t Lose Those ‘Kodak’ Moments!

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Louis Daguerre produced the first daguerreotype (an early photo process) when he shot an image of the Boulevard du Temple, Paris in 1838. Film cameras didn’t develop until 1888 when Kodak invented his film process. In 1900, the $1.00  Kodak Brownie camera was introduced, and modern photography was born.  For most of the twentieth century, photography was pretty much the same. Cameras may have varied from company to company, some boasting better optics, wider shutter length settings, or built in eclectic flashes, but they all used film. Eastman Kodak pretty much dominated the market, but some swore Fuji Film was more vivid. The drawback of film is that you had to send it out to be developed at a film lab, and  then wait for the prints to arrive in the mail, or at the FotoMat booth, or the drugstore.  If you were willing to invent in a home dark room, and the chemicals needed, you could do it yourself, but most folks were content to leave it to the professionals. The only other alternative was the Polaroid instant camera. Like the early daguerreotype, the Polaroid process produced an instant print that was one of a kind, it had no negative, the print WAS the print, the only existing copy. If you wanted to copy a Polaroid photo, you needed to have the original photographed with a film camera, and of course there was slight loss of quality as this was a copy of a copy.

Today, more pictures are shot in a single year than in all of the last century. Each year over a trillion pictures are taken thanks to smart phones with built-in cameras.

Back in My day…

I have maybe five photographs of my father. My mother didn’t take pictures, she was never a photo bug. There were a few years when she arranged for a professional photographer to come to the house for baby pictures to be taken, or family portraits, but she couldn’t be bothered to buy a simple camera. The few pictures she horded were given her by family and friends, but most of those were lost as we moved like gypsies after she lost her second husband, my stepfather.

After my stepfather Alfred died, my mother had a boyfriend named Bill. In reality, this was a teenage crush that she bumped into many years down the road. He was a shutter bug, and owned a Polaroid Instamatic Camera.  That was the first camera I ever used.

Years later, when I was about 12, my aunt Arleen gave me a Kodak Instamatic. Essentially Kodak had copied the Polaroid Instant Camera and were sued into dropping the new clone from their production line. You were able to buy the film for it for a little while, but eventually it was totally obsolete after the film stock expired and new film wasn’t manufactured.

My second job was working for Olden Camera in NYC, in their computer department. It was then that I purchased my first real 35mm camera, a Nikkon automatic. This point and shot camera was pretty simple to use and lasted many years. Eventually I did get a ‘real’ camera, a Minolta SLR with various lenses and accessories.  It was a lot of weight lugging about that loaded camera bag of accessories, and it was annoying trying to explain all the settings and how to use the camera when I passed it to someone to shoot if the self-timer function was impractical and I wanted to be in the picture. Then disposable cameras came about, and I started using those as everyone knew how to work them.  The point is, from the time I brought my Nikkon in the 80’s, for  nearly twenty years I shot 35mm film.  I have boxes of negative files, and envelopes of prints, as well as photo albums.

For almost the first thirty years of my life, you were limited to film cameras, and the most you could shoot on a roll was 36 exposures. So when you went somewhere and saw something that you wanted to remember forever, you selectively shot one or two photos of it at most, because you had limited shots, and buying film, and getting it processed and printed was expensive.

Nowadays,  most of what we shoot is digital, and we send the pictures we want to share in e-mail or texts.

The sizes of the digital storage media has even changed, with most of the early media obsolete.  Yet, because the photos are digital we are taking more pictures than ever because smart phones  have built in cameras that are getting better with each new model. You still take better pictures with a dedicated digital camera than you do with a smart phone, but  even I will use my phone to take pictures if it’s all I have on me.

Pictures have value. We prize them and treasure them.

A couple of years ago, I lost a SD card with pictures that were not yet copied to my hard drive.  I was packing to return from a trip to the shore, and I think I left it on a table at the hotel. It was never recovered.  If you use a digital camera like I do, back it up frequently if not after every photo shoot. Even if you use your phone to take pictures, copy the data.  Theoretically, smart phones back-up their data to the cloud, but I still don’t trust that. This is why it is vitally important to frequently back-up and copy all your image files. If your electronics suffer a catastrophe, you don’t want to compound the blow by losing your precious ‘Kodak’ moments.  

Pictures, or it ‘never happened’!

Organize your old prints and negatives. A few weeks ago, I was searching for some old vacation photos from 16 years ago, I needed an image, and I could not find either the prints or the negatives. It was very frustrating. It’s probably packed away in a box somewhere in the bottom of the walk-in, but damned if I know where.

  • Frequently copy your media cards.
  • If you have obsolete media, copy the data off the cards while you still have an appropriate reader. Media is useless if you can’t access it.
  • if you have old Polaroid’s or prints, scan them into a digital file.
  • If you have old negatives, invest in a good quality negative scanner and digitize them.

The time, money, and effort you put into preserving your treasured photos will be returned when you can locate and share your Kodak moments. As Always I wish you success and happiness!