How can some small businesses afford to play fast and loose like this?

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Fish Hoek beach, seen from the hills on the so...
Fish Hoek beach, seen from the hills on the southern end of the bay, looking northwards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A customer stormed out of a local Italian franchise restaurant on Sunday evening before 8 o’clock. He was shouting “you’ve lost a customer”, “you’ve lost a customer”, “you’ve lost a customer”. No one from the restaurant rushed out to calm him down or give him assurances.

The problem with this restaurant is that the manager had not informed this customer and others that the closing time had been changed on Sundays from 9 o’clock in the evening to 8 o’clock. No notices, no informing customers personally, nothing.

This is what happens when you get someone as a “manager” who spends her day behind her laptop learning to be a lawyer on business time. Staff are left to do what they want. Customer orders become a nuisance and they are greeted with sulky faces by the staff. This is no way to run a business.

In this tight economy and with the hostility that meets small business, is it really wise to play so fast and loose with customers. Consumers out there are under strain financially more so than one would be led to believe. A middle-aged woman the other evening at the local garage store told me that she had to bring in a flat mate to sure half the cost of the rental for a flat because she could no longer afford it. Others are downsizing or have downsized their motor vehicles to more fuel-efficient models as the price of fuel has gone skywards with stratospheric prices.

The economic signs have been around for almost five years now. This has been a crunch year for many small business owners. Those who could afford to take it easy and not do much to increase their sales from their business now suddenly have to clean up and chop away for survival.

Yet when one business goes to the wall another comes in with an ever hopeful owner. I noticed, for example, on a recent visit that a coffee shop which opened about a year ago on Fish Hoek Main Road, Cape Town, shut down after a year and has been replaced with a small fish and chip shop.

Even though times are tight, smart small businesses are gearing up for the spring and summer season right now. Merchandise has been brought in from around the country and from agents in other countries to take advantage of this summer season. To drum up business even old restaurants that have been languishing in the south of Johannesburg have run heritage and birthday specials to lure customers.

Now is not the time for complacency. Staff who don’t perform can take their attitude somewhere else. Suppliers who don’t deliver on time and offer cheapskate discounts can go find other customers. Business guru fan boys and advisers with their impractical schemes can shut up. Now is the time to take your small business seriously and weather the economic storm with a firm hand on your customer service, sales and expenses.

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