As the saying goes, experience is the best teacher. It’s true in life, and it’s true in business. Experience teaches all kinds of lessons about your customers, products, staffing, and even your marketing strategy. As 2016 draws to a close, it’s worth taking the time to reflect on what your own business experiences have taught you this year. Here are a few of the lessons learned by some local business owners this year that might help in your own reflections and future planning:
“We had a hostile move pushed onto us this year by our landlord. Because of our good relationships with our customers, not only did they follow us to our new location around the corner, but they arranged a cash mob on a Saturday to help cover our moving costs. Our customers really came through for us.”
—Carla Dorato, founder, The Artful Heart Gallery, a shop featuring the work of local artists in Arlington Center
“This past year we took on an espresso bar across the street that had lost its lease. It was one of those crazy left turns that wasn’t part of any well-thought-out plan, but as it turns out, it was one of the more brilliant moves we’ve made in 14 years. It brought in a wider spectrum of customers, and hey, who doesn’t love coffee and books? Being open to the unexpected and meeting it with flexibility and creativity can yield the next breakthrough for a business.”
—Peter Reynolds, owner, The Blue Bunny, a book and toy shop in Dedham
“So much of a new business’ success is predicated on deals done before you even open up the doors, so you really have to take time to plan. Where is your business located? What does the lease that you’ll be working with for the next 10 or 15 or 20 years look like? How big is your space? These are the elements of your business that impact operations for years, and that are highly difficult to change after you’ve opened, so you have to think them through. We’re only six months in and we feel really good about the choices we’ve made, but time will tell.”
—Jefferson Macklin, business manager and partner, Bar Mezzana, a coastal Italian restaurant in the South End
“When I first started my business, I relied solely on my gut feelings. But as we grow, I need to rely on facts, numbers, and statistics. For example, I have a bad habit of boosting Facebook posts that I love so that more people will see them, but it can be costly, and the immediate return on investment isn’t that great. Although social media is awesome for brand awareness, the effectiveness needs to be quantified.”
—Holly Daniels Christensen, founder of Dune Jewelry, a fine jewelry manufacturer in Hyde Park
“In a hectic digital world, customers are starved for relationships and are looking for a personal connection in their lives. The experience of shopping in our stores is everything. Knowing our customers’ names, understanding their preferences, and staying in touch builds a relationship that keeps them coming back.”
—Jim and Rick Penn, co-owners of Puritan Cape Cod, a fashion retailer with four locations on Cape Cod
“We have been struggling with a diminished pool of licensed craftsmen, a lack of a diversified workforce, and excessive demand. Our industry and vocational and high schools should be presenting the skilled trades as a viable alternative to young people of all backgrounds as a rewarding career. But that’s not happening. We have entered a period for the trades in which we are experiencing the cultural loss of a generation. It should be a call to action for the trades, companies, schools, and municipal and state government to provide incentives and a clear recruitment to this generation.”
—Dennis Maguire, master plumber and owner, the Maguire Company, a plumbing, heating, and mechanical contractor in Newton
“Our firm made its first acquisition in December 2015. We’re accustomed to moving quickly in this industry, but the process of acquiring another firm forced our agency to slow down in order to do it right. Onboarding, working in teams cross-office nationwide, and being receptive to a new culture doesn’t happen overnight. Teams needed time to cultivate relationships with each other so that they could trust one another. You have to make acquisitions people-focused if you want them to work.”
—Philip A. Nardone, Jr., president and CEO of PAN Communications, an integrated marketing and public relations agency in Boston
“Success starts and ends with each and every employee. After all, they are the direct conduit linking your brand and the customer. If you treat them well and believe in their potential, and if you help them get ahead in their own lives, they will be without a doubt your best ambassadors. That’s a simple formula we abide by, and we are reminded of it every day when we look at our customer surveys.”
—Paul Sullivan, vice president of Sullivan Tire & Auto Service
“Our overhead is increasing, yet at the same time the retail prices of the products we sell have not changed. This scenario is great for the consumer but has a bad effect on our bottom line. So we have to optimize every sale.”
—Anthony Farina, Farina’s Bicycle Center and Power Equipment in Watertown
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