Monday, October 22, 2012

Blaming the Economy

Does anyone else think it strange that people always seem to blame the economy when a business closes it's doors?

A restaurant in my small town closed this weekend. I'm not sure of the exact date it was established, I believe it has been around my whole life (so... est. circa 1984). From my early memories, I knew this place was the fancy place in town for no other reason than that I never went there. My mom went there a few times with her friends, but I was not invited and until very recently I had still never even seen the inside.

I became intrigued a few months ago when I started to hear rumblings about the place and how it looked like a library inside and was essentially out of fashion, yet almost kitschy, and had a happy hour menu.

Please understand that there are very few happy hours in this town. I was psyched.

I invited a group of friends, eight of us in total, to get happy hour on a Friday afternoon. We sat in these high-backed loveseats drinking cocktails straight out of the 80's (lots of rum), eating delicious fried zuchinni and potato skins/boats/whateveryoucallthosethings, and observing the round back brass and leather chairs, bookshelves and poker memorabilia. We sat there for three hours and ate nearly everything on their menu and had a great time checking out the crowd. A table of lawyers sat next to us and some other groups came in for drinks and appetizers, along with all of the patrons sitting in the dark wood booths across from the bar.

This place was kind of great. Not only that, but it was busy while we were there.

Why did it close?

Well, according to the local newspaper's story, the businesses profits had been declining over the years and had taken a particular dip in recent years. However, they were in the black at this time and figured they should end on a high note.

The newspaper's headline disturbed me. With a sense of doomsday, it declared this business another victim of our plummeting economy (in some other words similar to that).

Here's my theory. This restaurant was once thought of as the only fine-dining establishment in town, maybe in the entire county. It was on-trend in the 80's and 90's and had a great clientele. Since then trends have changed and, as far as I can tell, their branding and marketing efforts did not.

Now, to all of you reading this, when was the last time you went to any restaurant that called itself a "fine dining" restaurant. This is a working class post-industrial miller lite drinking community. Nobody is getting dressed up for a big night out. The local idea of a special night out involves driving to Olympia to eat at the Olive Garden.

Could this restaurant had survived if they became known as a local establishment with history and a great price on steak and beer? Maybe. Or if they revamped their happy hour menu and cocktail list to suit a younger crowd? Probably.

Yet one more issue that I believe killed this business. They have zero web presence. No real Facebook page. No website.

I'm a total product of my generation. When I'm going out to eat, I use my Yelp app on my phone to see what's around me. Even in this small town where I grew up. I look at their reviews first. Second, I look at the pictures of the place. I like to know what I'm walking into. Third, I like to review the menu, even if it isn't priced, I just like to see what my options are before I commit.

Remember how I had never been there until a few months ago? I literally had no idea what it looked like inside. NO IDEA. It could have been covered in gold and the dress code required sequins for all I knew. People always said it was a fancy place, and that turned me off. Why would I go somewhere fancy when I could go to the local pub for a burger and a beer in a relaxed atmosphere? A typical evening with any of my friends looks something like this: We get hungry. We say "well where should we eat"... we think about it for about 10 minutes and can literally only think of 2 places (neither of which are this particular restuarant). We go to the same place every time.

So, I'm here to claim that this restaurant closed not because of the economy, but because of a lack of understanding of their market and failed/zero efforts to re-brand.

I hope someone comes in and picks up the pieces to start something new. And I hope that our local newspapers and community members will not continue to blame the "economy" for all of their business problems. There's so much room for greatness in this economy if people are willing to put in some effort and understand the need to change.


  1. My mind is drawing a blank. I can't think of what restaurant you mean. Does it begin with an M.? I went there once. I got some booty afterwards, that's all I remember.

    I know it's hard to run a business. But I also see businesses ignoring the many issues you mention - or maybe only paying lip service to them. I'm not saying getting a FB page and courting Yelp reviews and learning about a few trends will save a business, it's just I see a lot of businesses who don't appear to try. They're probably overwhelmed and burnt out. It's a bummer but talking about "the economy" seems like a red herring. The U.S. has enjoyed many years of "plants and animals disappear off the planet to make room for your fat ass" and there is a very entitled attitude... like we should always have the resources and good fortune we've had in our memory. Like it's a birthright.

    J.F.D.I., man! :-)

  2. Kelly - the place I'm talking about is in Aberdeen and starts with a B. I would post the name up here, but I don't want to feel like I'm calling anyone out.

    Yes! Entitlement. It drives me crazy. And it drives me crazy that so many people try to label the younger generation as the "entitlement generation." EVERYONE in today's world seems to act like their entitled to something. Old and young. When things at my business aren't going well, I always start to feel like I should blame some outside source but then I stop and realize that nobody OWES me their business. If I want their money, I better have the best product, marketing plan and nicest customer service there is. If all of that fails still, then maybe I've just proven that the market doesn't exist here for what I'm trying to sell. People are still buying stuff they need (and a ton of crap they don't need) and it's up to the business owners to figure out how to get it to them in the way their target customer prefers.


    I should also point out, that the economy does matter in a "macro" sense. Cash flow is hard to find, raw materials costs are increasing, staffing costs are increasing... meanwhile everyone shops at big box stores that bully wholesale companies into keeping their prices unreasonably low so that all of the American jobs must then be shipped off shore where people only make enough to live in dirt shacks. People scoff at the prices of American made goods then go and scoff at the fact that their children's toys are made in China. You can't have it both ways, people.

  3. Yarp. I pretty much agree with everything you've said here. I think it's great you have a positive attitude while running a business. I know from watching friends, that crap can start to feel personal and grouchy.

  4. Thanks Kelly. It is by no means easy. I'm sure you've experienced some of this with your sewing biz as well.

  5. I will just say that we recently moved to aberdeen from olympia and I am astounded (and horrified) about the lack of web presence for pretty much every non chain store in town...don't they realize that people want to silently stalk them before actually (if ever) making a shadow in their doorway!!