This past week my husband Chuck, and his daughter, Jenny, and I went on a Lake Michigan circle vacation tour. From Chicago, our first stop was Portage Point, Mi. From there we headed to Mackinaw Island but made a quick stop at my old high school, Interlochen Arts Academy. (What a fun trip down memory lane.) After a wonderful few nights on Mackinaw Island we then spent the last few days of our trip in Door County, Wi.
Each night in Door County we attended theater- 2 nights with American Folklore Theater where we saw Bone Dance and the premier of Life on The Mississippi. In between these performances we saw a sci-fi comedy called Comic Potential at Peninsula Players.
While Peninsula Players is just 1 million shy of successfully completing a 7.2 million dollar capital campaign, to build a brand new enclosed theater, I have to say that the simplicity of sitting in the woods and watching American Folklore Theater with their minimal set designs, and the whistle of the wind swirling underneath actors dialogue, much more calls my name. After all, why do most people come to Door County? To camp, swim, bike ride, golf and take a spin around the lake in a boat; to do most everything they can outdoors. While the support from Peninsula Players’ capital campaign has allowed them to build a beautiful state of the art theater in their 75th year, I question if they are forgetting what audience they are here to serve.
And yet, clearly Peninsula Player former tented theater and meager quarters for actors were in need of improving. The theater was drafty and cold to sit in; you always needed a blanket over your lap. And yet that was also its charm. But I am sure all Peninsula Players could see was that without a doubt something had to be done because their patrons were filling the tent night after night and the overflow of patrons they had to turn away was costing them money. But does more business always mean you have to change? Or is it better to stay the same? What is it really that is attracting your audience to you? Can you risk change? It’s pretty easy to see how a growing business can produce some difficult problems to solve.
Take for example, our favorite pizza place near our house on the lake, Tammy’s Pizza. We love their pizza and frequently order pizza to go. On a weekday it takes less than an hour to pick up a pie, but on the weekends you can wait for 3 hours. Clearly this costs them business. We surely have been unwilling to wait this long for a pizza so others must feel the same way too. Tammy’s is a charming little “country” place with a nice friendly bar you can wait in. Peanuts are served at the bar and the shells are welcome to be thrown on the floor. Tammy’s is always full of lots of locals hanging out.
Any yet with all the increased demand for their pizza on the weekends, they have refused to enlarge their kitchen. Surely, opting to grow would mean increased risk, having to take on additional debt or the strain of a capital campaign to raise money, like Peninsula Players. But it seems Tammy’s is happy with who they serve and how often. Maybe the local crowd they serve Monday through Thursday more than makes up for the business they lose on the weekends? Or maybe they don’t care if it doesn’t because the business they built was meant to serve only the local crowd? Choosing to remain the same ensures them of a certain level of success and income that simply may satisfy them.
So is it really necessary to grow your business when demand increases?
This past week of vacation, while great fun, was not an ideal time of year for me to take a vacation. Lisa’s Clarinet Shop can be hopping busy this time of year with college and high school’s starting. As a result, I had to make a decision about how I wanted to handle the week. Would I post an “On Vacation” banner and set email up for auto-reply or would I respond to emails and answer my phone? I opted for the later because I decided a long time ago what audience I serve. Regardless of if I have been a landlord, a retail shop owner, or the founder of a school, every single one of my endeavors, including those I most admire and want to emulate like American Folklore Theater, is not one that revolves first and foremost around how I can earn more income. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying– I am proud of the money I earn and every business created must produce enough income to support itself, the owner and the staff it needs to remain a going concern. But what I am trying to say is that providing a valuable experience or service to your audience, when they need it and how they value it, will produce a far bigger income stream and an easier one to earn.
My customers expect me to be there when they call; especially at the beginning of school. It simply was not an option for me not to be there for them. This week I generated over $35,000 in new orders simply by being available to speak my customers. They did not mind that their order would not get filled until next week; that was ok. What they wanted was my time to share with me their concerns and needs and help solving their clarinet problems.
While not every customer has the same needs, most come to you for a short list of reasons. When you identify why they have come, and give them what they need, managing the growth of your business will eventually become a concern. And when this moment comes, will you know what growth means to you and your business? Will you need to change how you serve your customers? What will this do to your business if you do?
My goal for Lisa’s Clarinet Shop was and always has been 1 million dollars in revenue. The last couple of years this goal has been achieved. I have opted to be a bit more fussy with customers I don’t feel I can well serve, which has allowed me to control my growth and maintain it. I simply am comfortable at this level of business and feel I can serve my customers well. Of course, this does not mean that there are not times that I have to work to find more business. Every business has a natural ebb and flow. I just hope you will consider as soon as possible how to build a model that will fill your income needs and the needs of your customers for the long term. While this is a challenging question, it will help you understand what audience you truly wish to serve.