After a few years spent trying my hand at various types of sales jobs, I decided to go back into the restaurant business. This time, however, I wasn’t joining another cookie-cutter franchise with its 300-page operations manual telling you how to do everything from the amount of ice to put in a drink to how big a leaf of lettuce should be. No, this time I was going to do things my way and I was sure I was going to get it right.
Of course, before I could begin, I had to get the place open. I found a partner and we scoped out a location and got to work. We planned to open a sports bar and restaurant in a very nice area of Tampa known as Carrollwood. The only other sports bar in the area was on the other side of town, so we weren’t worried about the competition and we knew this area would support our new venture.
We were so sure, in fact, that we rushed to get the restaurant open, and though we ran out of money before we had everything we needed, we weren’t worried; we were sure that once the doors opened the money would come roaring in, and then we could add a few finishing touches—like walls, for instance.
We were certainly confident. In truth, we were too confident. We really didn’t think about the fact that you only get one chance to make a first impression. We thought if we had good food and a great game on the big-screen TV that people would ignore the fact they were sitting in a big, wide-open warehouse.
We also ran out of money to buy all the equipment we needed to efficiently run the kitchen. Our grill was too small to get orders out quickly, and we didn’t have a walk-in fridge that would allow us the space to store the bulk supplies we needed at a better price. We really didn’t worry too much about these issues, as we were certain that once we opened we’d make enough money to do things right. And since we needed the revenue, we had to open before we were ready.
So, we opened our sports bar, and we were somewhat correct. The people drinking beer and watching football didn’t care that it took a while to get their nachos. They didn’t care that there were no walls. Their eyes were on the big screen, but when there wasn’t a game… when we needed that lunch crowd during the week, those people did care, and that business soon fell off.
We didn’t think we had the time to do it right, but now we had to find the time to do it over. We also needed the money to do it over. I’ve heard it said that the two issues that most frequently kill a business are undercapitalization and over-expansion. Well, there was no doubt we were undercapitalized. We had to find another partner.
Luckily, we were able to find such a person, and with our new partner and his money we were able to add things to the business, like a properly-sized grill, a walk-in fridge, a couple of pool tables, some video games, and yes, walls. And though it took some time and us actually going to door-to-door giving out free food to get people to try us again, we were able to convince customers to come back, and soon the money we thought would come pouring in from day one was finally arriving along with the patrons.
Sadly, this good fortune wasn’t to last, as soon thereafter another restaurant serving similar food to ours opened across the street. Our business started to fall off and our customers started telling us that their sandwiches were better than ours. I thought this couldn’t be true. I’m using freshly baked, large slices of round bread and loading them with meat, and I was selling them at a good price. But it didn’t matter and though we were making enough money to get by, it wasn’t what our new partner—or us, for that matter—had signed up for, and so we put the place up for sale.
It didn’t take us long to sell the business, as some guy with his own dreams of owning a sports bar showed up and told us all the great things he was going to do with it and how, once he did, the money would come rolling in. We didn’t try to convince him otherwise and soon the deal was closed. In the end we didn’t make the money we had hoped for but we didn’t lose a ton either. Just another two years of my life had passed, and I wasn’t any closer to realizing my dream of financial success.
When the sports bar was no longer ours, Suzie and I decided to check out the competition across the street and stopped by for lunch. Much to my surprise, their sandwiches really were better than mine. They did cost more but I thought they were worth it. I should have checked them out sooner.
As Suzie and I sat there enjoying our sandwiches, (that, by the way, were also on large slices of round bread) Suzie asked me what was next. I told her that the guy who sold us our imported beer and wine had asked what I was going to do after our place was sold. He told me he could get me a job as a liquor salesman, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to work for someone else. I kind of liked being an entrepreneur, I said to Suzie. Suzie finished her sandwich and didn’t say a word.
- You get only one chance to make a first impression.
- If you don’t have time to do it right in the first place, where do you expect to find the time later to do it over.
- Make sure you have the money you need to get your business off the ground right. Undercapitalization is one of the most common killers of new businesses.
- Always check out your competition.
George A. Santino helps people who want to break down barriers, including self-imposed barriers, to success. Check out his Amazon bestselling book, Get Back Up: From the Streets to Microsoft Suites.