Reflections in the midst of a recession

December 29, 2009 2008 - articles, Columns, Working Your Creative Enterprise

by Atim Annette Oton, June/July 2008


After my last article on Food 4 Thought, a Brooklyn restaurant, I was thrilled to see their re-emergence in the same space with a slew of partners that included Brother Solomon, the guy who created Solomon’s Porch and the Sankofa Collective, a locally based Bed-Stuy organization. My wish for Wil and the new crew is success – and more customers.

Following the re-opening, I was asked a question about how Brooklyn food and retail businesses will survive this current recession. I optimistically said “creatively”. As I said this, I was thinking about some of the changes at Food 4 Thought that needed to be addressed and identified the some of the components that would make Food

4 Thought and other businesses stay in business during these precarious time.

Four components that keep some busineses active are: partnership, repeat and new customers, location, and marketing and they require entrepreneurs to creativity work effectively and strategically.

Partnership:

It takes two to tango…the saying goes, and two partners running business can keep it going more efficiently and effectively. Partnerships involve bouncing ideas, sharing responsibilities, and work division among partners. Stores like Pieces and Harriet’s Alter Ego in Prospect Heights (now closed) come to mind when I see the success of this potential leverage. In each of these partnerships, there is a “front-man”, sic, woman, a person who is the face of the company and in truth -the marketing brand ambassador, and behind, there is the operations person: the one who handles the money and logistics. Each role is vital…and without each the business can fall apart. Single owners can have a more difficult time balancing this and it is a lonely road to walk, in sluggish times.

Repeat and new customers:

If you run a good business, the goal is to get repeat customers – i.e. – have people who come back to shop with you over and over. They make the bulk of your sales and are the soul of your business. I love repeat customers – I call it my affair – as it is a relationship I am having time after time. I get to know them and they get to know me. What a concept! My business goal this year was to get 5-10 new customers a day via this magazine, our storefront, our existing customers, our website and email. That’s a small number, you think? Well, this number translates to 1800-3600 customers per year and with an average purchase of $25 per customer, for a total of $45,000-$90,000 a year. Yes, it is that simple and I always do the math so I can see what the simple statement of 5 -10 new customers really means.

Location:

In November, a store owner on what is considered the strip to be on in Prospect Heights: Vanderbilt Avenue was discussing how their business location was compromising business sales. And it made me wonder about that particular strip. Washington Avenue, where my store, Calabar Imports is located, is a people magnet…in other words, from Eastern Parkway to about Park Place, people walk this strip – it is busy most days and as such has potential. This location is an advantage but it has taken about 2 years to fully understand the dynamics and benefits. The location has the advantage of being on a subway stop route, a bus stop across the street, the Brooklyn Museum and a major car travel path (even the cars seem to travel slower on this avenue). Locations define your business and can be a potential advantage.

Marketing:

I have written and talked about marketing so much that I sometimes wonder if anyone is listening or reading. Marketing is the lifeblood of a business…but it is how you do it that makes it worthwhile long-term and short-term. I look at Chinese restaurants as inspiration when it comes to marketing. I have 5 of them where I live and I get a flyer from them each week not including the flyer I get when I order. If I had that kind of budget – what I would do with my business would be sensational. This repeat marketing actually forces most of us to order from these restaurants.

What these restaurants do is take a risk that you and I will order from them at least once or twice a week…and the repeat advertising reminds us of the restaurants each week. To make it more interesting if you look deeper, a good number of the restaurants print their menus at the same printer and collectively as a unit, thus reducing costs. Just look at how the menus almost look the same. This is guerilla marketing 101 and creative sharing of expenses. Need I say more?

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