End of an Era, or New Beginning?

A typical week for me is split between the big city of Chicago and the little town of Woodstock, IL. The contrast is welcomed by me as both offer so much. This week it wasn’t the differences in my locales that held my attention, but the similarities. On Monday I found myself in my Chicago office reading an article about the closing of Ohio House Coffee Shop, a diner described by ChicagoBusiness.com as, “a River North classic with more than 50 years of history.” Wednesday night I was in “downtown” Woodstock at Angelo’s Restaurant. I don’t know exactly how long Angelo’s has been in Woodstock, but I do know it’s much longer than I have. It was the first place my mother worked when we moved to Woodstock in 1994. I have memories of me and my younger brother riding our bikes to the restaurant to get free ice cream and most of her tips to spend at our next “downtown” stop: the card shop! Angelo’s is a Woodstock staple to say the least.\n

\nI wasn’t at Angelo’s Wednesday night as a patron however. Angelo’s, much like Ohio House Coffee Shop, is struggling to keep their doors open. But before they succumb to the pressures of financial debt they decided to try one last thing, a “Hail Mary” of sorts. They asked Robert Irvine and the Restaurant Impossible crew to come in and save their diner. He accepted. Wednesday night I was in Angelo’s as a member of the Restaurant Impossible crew trying to transform one of America’s numerous failing diners into a relevant, profitable business. This was exciting but it got me thinking about why it seems there isn’t a place for “Mom & Pop” shops in America anymore. Not just diners but bookstores, record shops, general stores and the like.\n\nGreg Kot, Co-host of NPR’s Sound Opinions and entertainment columnist for the Chicago Tribune states that there were over 7,000 record shops in America in the early 90’s. Now there are fewer than 2,000. He goes on to say that vinyl record sales have steadily increased over the past decade and are up 200% in the past 2 years.\n\nAnother example – bookstores. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group, said that, over the next decade, the chain will reduce its outlets by about twenty a year to reach a figure of about 450 to 500 consumer stores, down from a peak of 726 in 2008. Borders (remember those places?) closed their final brick & mortar stores on September 18th, 2011.\n\nAt first glance one might see the end of an era and get a tear in their eye. The above examples stir up more emotion than most business conversations because they are woven into the American story. This is where we spend our afternoons and find our “me time.” With closer look these aren’t necessarily the final pages in a sad story or the final groove of a broken heart ballad. These are simply stories of transition and adaptation. As technologies change, purchasing trends change and markets shift from mass to niche and back again to niche. It’s a cyclical inevitability and Mom & Pops are along for the ride. If you’re in the front seat of this 7-loop rollercoaster, here are a couple tips to ensure you enjoy the ride instead of losing your cookies.\n\nBe Smart and Be Honest\n\nWhen you wrote your business plan you had to take an objective look at your market and assess whether or not it was viable for you to start your business when and where you did. That same objectivity needs to remain as you continue to run your business. If you become complacent in your offerings because of what you think and feel instead of the reality in the market surrounding you, you’ll find yourself unable to connect with customers. Stay in tune with your industry and stay honest with yourself.\n\n \n\nLocation Location Location  Adapt Adapt Adapt! \n\nIt’s easy to fall back on the excuses afforded by a harsh economy and many people do. But those who embrace the challenge of finding new ways to thrive in a constantly morphing economic climate are the ones with their doors still open ushering in new customers. Barnes & Noble is finding a new balance between brick & mortar stores and digital technologies. Record stores are selling most of their merchandise online through eBay and online stores while keeping the musty bins available for lifers. There are countless other examples of businesses taking curve-balls and hitting them out of the park as well.\n\n \n\nFind Good Help\n\nGood help doesn’t have to come in the form of a celebrity fronted business rescue mission. It can be as simple as hiring part time help to assist you in areas of your business affected by changes in the latest trends. Have a bright student run your social media or a recent college graduate weigh in on buying habits of their generation. Be able to accept advice and help in areas that aren’t your strong suit. With a little help from your friends, you’ll get by.\n\n 

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