We all get busy. Our personal and business lives are full to the brim with things to occupy our time and mental space. So, it’s easy to zip through life and miss things.
The world is constantly telling us things. Whether we believe it or are even aware of it, we have signs all around us, guiding us.
I think of the movie, L.A. Story (1991) starring Steve Martin. While trying to find meaning in his life, Steve Martin’s character discovers the highway signs in Los Angeles are sending him messages. (They’re written in plain English so it’s hard to miss them.) In time, he learns to pay attention to his signs and his life becomes more purposeful and less chaotic.
The older I get the more I realize the importance of reading the signs the world gives us. Maybe this is because I’ve gotten better at reading them and I’ve seen the impact on my life.
When several independent things happen in my life that point in the same direction, I take that as a sign. When I try to avoid or ignore something and it keeps coming back, I see that as a sign. When I keep making the same mistake over and over and then someone or something helps me pull my head out of the sand so I see the error of my ways, I take that as a sign.
As we manage our businesses and careers we have many choices to make along the way. Sometimes we never know if we’ve made the right choice or not. Other times it’s abundantly clear. Like the time I bought a used car without getting it checked by a mechanic. It made a few funny sounds but I ignored them.
Then I went to sell the car and the buyer told me those "funny sounds" were probably the transmission getting ready to die.
Last week I was talking with my dad about coffee shops. He said he thought penetration of coffee shops in the US market is a tiny fraction of the market potential. I agreed because every time a Starbucks or Caribou opens a store in our area they’re immediately flooded with new customers. They don’t even have to advertise. People find them.
But, this doesn’t mean all you have to do is open a coffee shop and you’ll be successful.
In the last several years I’ve seen many independent (non chain, non franchise) coffee shops disappear. Some last a few years. Others only survive a few months.
As I witness this phenomenon, I see some consistent differences in how the independents operate compared to the chains or franchises.
The independents tend to have shorter hours. They’re rarely open after 5:00 pm. They have smaller staffs and though they’re often very friendly, they’re not always as well-trained.
Their locations are usually not high-traffic so they’re harder to find. Yet, I’ve seen very few independent coffee shops do much advertising.
Some of the independents are very clean and well-decorated. Others I’ve seen are inconsistent in their cleanliness. Or their décor looks like it was rescued from a garage sale.
Finally (and this is my biggest complaint with the independents) they don’t always serve fresh coffee. They’ll brew a batch and, if it’s not sold out, they put it in a airpot or thermos to keep for later.
By serving coffee from an airpot or thermos, they are serving two kinds of coffee: fresh and not fresh. They lower the quality of their product.
The chains and franchise coffee shops always serve their coffee fresh. Because they understand the importance of delivering the same product every time. Quality and consistency are key.
The independent coffee shops do a lot of things differently than the chains and franchises. And they don’t stay in business as long.
Is there a lesson here? I think there is.
If I were going to open my own, independent coffee shop, I’d visit several of the chain and franchise shops. I’d make a list of what seems to be consistent across many brands.
These are signs.
They’re easy to see. But, for some reason, many people who own independent coffee shops never see them. Or they ignore them.
Then they wonder why the Starbucks across the street has a line of people out the door while they’re barely surviving.
The more we learn to read the signs in our lives and our businesses, the better we will be at making the right decisions. We’ll accomplish more and probably feel less stress. Life and business gets better when we read the signs.