Enlightened Self-Interest and a New Sort of Charity

5 Mar

I  admit, I watch alot of reality-type TV (yea, yea) , and some of these shows and their “stories of inspiration” have inspired me to think about how such concepts can be extended, without the economic rent extraction implicit in the concept of “reality TV”.  The other day I was at a small local sushi restaurant in North NJ that had been open 4 years, but didn’t even have a website. No twitter account, no facebook page, no yelp or citysearch presence.  This is not east gibib North NJ; this is pretty affluent, close to NYC North NJ. This was my first time there, and the food and customer service were so delicious/friendly,  I volunteered to not only develop their website, but to get them set up on facebook, twitter, etc.

For free.

The managers/owners didn’t accept my offer.  I’m a damn-good bullshitter so I doubt my “salesmanship” was the issue.  I think it was more the fact that many small-to-medium size business owners are just totally out of it.  You don’t need a Ivy League MBA to run a business, not hardly, but you’ve got to “get it.”

Perhaps the ultimate inspiration for me is chef Robert Irvine’s “Restaurant Impossible” wherein he and his team are given $10,000 and 2 days to renew local, failing restaurants to success.  Of course what you see on TV and what actually goes down is markedly different, but that’s neither here nor there.  There are tons and tons (and tons) of local/regional businesses that impact our communities that could use help, whether its just a quick talk with the owner/manager or a real sit-down meeting or more.  I have little against multinational uber-corporations; its business, but I have a particularly affinity for entrepreneurs and for those who – despite the often poor odds in their favor – still start and run local/regional businesses.

My father, about whom I’ve wrote before, is an good example.  He’s an amazing (if not renowned) Dental Surgeon, but despite being far smarter than me, is not exactly the best businessman.  This, of course, is a function of several things, such as being preoccupied with the job at hand, and the fact that his significant training is in surgery/etc, not business management let alone accounting, finance, marketing, etc.  This is not the fault of my father (nor other students/graduates), although in almost ever field I think more practicality would be of great benefit (I’ve got a very long post criticizing my b-school experiences for another time).

But look, if there’s a local Chinese food joint, or Beer Bar, hardware store or whatever that you like, and you know business, why not offer to help?  100% the business owner/manager is going to tell you that you’re an arrogant shit, but that’s just denial and insecurity.  If you’re a real customer and you like the food/service/atmosphere/service/whatever, but know the place can do better, keep freaking trying.  You’re a regular, as pissed/drunk as the manager/owner may be, repetition pays (for both of you).  Eventually, you will get a conversation with The Powers That Be.

If you like this place, whether its a hardware store, skateboard shop, diner, bar – it matters not – once you get The Powers That Be to listen and trust you, good things will happen.  You’re incentive is to make sure the place you like stays in business.  If you get anything else out of it, that’s awesome.  They’re incentive is to listen to someone who might know a bit more about business than they, and that their business’ performance (i.e profits) will increase once you analyze and improve their processes/pricing/marketing/etc.

Maybe I’m out of my mind, and this is all BS, but I don’t think so.  Most local/regional businesses I’ve encountered in my life are staffed by people who are great at their trade, but can’t manage shit.  If they’re in my town/area, and they’re good at that trade/job, I’ll pay to keep coming back, in fact, I’ll work for them, for free, to not only keep them in business but to help them thrive.  It’s in my and their best interest to at the very least talk about it.

Think about it.

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4 Responses to “Enlightened Self-Interest and a New Sort of Charity”

  1. AndyWEllis March 7, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    I often like to think of the way I spend my money as “voting with my dollars.” Extending the cliche of ‘time is money’ (opportunity cost), then volunteering to improve practices has the same effect (probably a much greater/more efficient effect if you’re an expert).

    No idea if your dad is a general dentist, oral surgeon, periodontist, etc; but a constant complaint from dental graduates is that they’re ill equipped to manage a practice coming out of dental school. We now take several practice management courses, but they’re jokes. I knew I wanted to be a dentist coming out of high school and so I majored in economics. It doesn’t help me in my science classes but does reveal to me at how clueless a lot of my classmates are about business at a very fundamental level.

    I think that restaurants are a great example and really anyone who pursues their talent/passion through running an operation that fits their unique gifts/needs often times aren’t equipped to run the business side of things.

    I’ve offered to help a couple of people (though I’m certainly no expert) and have gotten mixed responses. I think that the attitude with some of the folks is that if they keep after it, finances will simply “work out” and they don’t want to be troubled with strategy. I’m also always paranoid that I’m coming off as a condescending jackass by taking an interest in what they’re doing (even though I’m genuinely curious and like to think about things out loud).

  2. the zeus March 7, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    what? come on bro. a mid 20’s kid is going to try and tell an experienced businessman what he should do with his business? and this advice will keep them in business. get outta town and outta of the textbook. pretty sure the owners know what’s best, and not all businesses need a twitter or facebook — it’s what keeps the local feel. owners no more than a critic.

  3. AndyWEllis March 7, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    “the zeus”,

    You do realize that restaurants as businesses have an incredibly high failure rate? It’s not typically because the person that opens them makes crappy food or gives slow service; the reason is generally because they aren’t ‘businessmen’, they are chefs.

    Working at a restaurant you see all kinds of inefficiencies and it is mind blowing the sort of bone-headed decisions that are routinely made.

    Sure, 20-something year old kids with a degree in one hand and beer in the other probably miss a lot of factors that experience brings, but their education may just bring a fresh take on a problem that is worthwhile.

    • The Analyst March 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

      That’s my point. Restaurants are most often started by chefs with little if any business education/experience. If you want to see what I’m talking about, watch the show I mentioned in the post and you’ll see how business-ignorant some restaurant owners are. You don’t need 20 years of experience as a strategy consultant at McKinsey to understand and apply lessons from management/finance/marketing 101…

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