There is a sandwich bar across the road from our office that’s been there longer than we have. When we first moved into Clerkenwell in 1989, the area was a little bit of a ghost town and other than this small sandwich bar and ourselves, there weren’t many businesses at all in the area never mind many that have survived.
I watched that sandwich bar thrive over the next 20 or so years and got to know the owner very well who just by chance lived very nearby to me. She was meticulous about the way she ran her business and was extremely successful. One particular point that was apparent about her operation was that the quality of the produce that she made and sold was paramount. There was a certain element of love that went into her home made soups and salads and even though she bought in much of what she sold, she still placed a great emphasis on quality.
She sold the business a year or so ago and whilst she continued to help out the new owner by working there from time to time, she has now left for good. As someone who has seen that business grow over the last 20 years and now watched it under new ownership, it is so easy for me to see how a once thriving business can be so easily run down by small decisions. Whilst smart uniforms and logos may be popular in certain types of business, its all too clear to me that the quality and freshness of the produce is just not what it was. Perhaps the biggest problem with this particular business, and this is relevant for every business, is one of consistency. People expect a similar experience from the businesses they use day after day. When that experience varies, it causes a certain feeling of discomfort. Studies have shown how the consumer does not like regular changes in supermarkets to the layout of the store. To many changes in a business, and particularly ones that lower the quality of the consumer experience can be fatal.
I still get my cappuccino at the sandwich bar every day, but I no longer go there for lunch having found another cafe nearby, albeit more expensive, where the food is just wonderful. When I do go in to my old haunt, I almost always hear someone complaining that the croissants aren’t fresh and I can tell by the displays that used to be overflowing with produce and are now somewhat bare, that this business is struggling.
There is a message there for all of us. Business is relatively simple. Do what you do as well as you can and stay consistent.