Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Short Rant About "Personal Touch"

With the hasty demise of our Square/iPad register, some observant and well-intentioned folk bemoaned the passing of that system's finer points.  Among other things, one of our IT oriented staffers commented that some of our clients would miss a computer that "recognized" them every time they came in, that "knew" their drinks and their history (and their credit card number)...that the camaraderie created by Square made regular customers feel validated.  He thought Square made people feel like they BELONG here.

I remember getting my first credit card (yes...this was so long ago that credit cards were made of stone) and being pleased when my name appeared at the bottom of each receipt.  Somebody's computer recognized me!  I was SOMEONE! 

That didn't last.  As Uncle Chet wrote, "the thrill is gone".

As a business owner, when I am offered an "easy" way to solve a complicated situation, I always wonder: is it TOO easy?  Does it really SOLVE the problem, or is it like morphine...something that makes the pain go away but leaves the bleeding wound unstanched?  Having a computer make my customers feel "included" sounds great...but I don't believe that it works.  I don't think my customers fall for it.  Moreover, customers that DO fall for it will just as easily be made to feel "included" by everyone else's "smart" register.  It ain't much of a commodity.

Inclusion and community may be a sizable part of what our customers want.  After all, they ARE human beings, right?  But the reason that inclusion is so valuable, though, is that it simply can't come from an iPad.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Evolution and the Hot Pink Gecko

Our first cash register came out of a dumpster in 1999.  That's not hyperbole.  It really did.  I climbed right into the dumpster and salvaged it myself.  It was a TEC MA-1400, and that register served us faithfully for 11 years.  We quite literally rang millions of dollars of sales with it.  Our dumpster register shared an organic sympatico with Kaladi Coffee.  It fit like an old shoe.

In keeping with old-shoeness, though, it also got to be a little dull and ratty.  The evolution of Square and the iPad register made us want something new.  So we bought an iPad and a new cash drawer and a fancy printer. 

I always expect change to hurt.  For a time, the confusion and angst and cash flow morass that came out of the new register felt like a normal growing pain.  My staff and I had to learn something new, and the learning hampered our ability to do business. I was determined that we should evolve.

But then there came a Magic Moment.  A Terrible, Awful Magic Moment.  The pain was normal became Definitely Not Normal..  It was that 3:00 AM instant when you realize your bad-gas stomachache is actually a rupturing appendix. It was time to ditch Square and the iPad.

Our culture worships newness and youth and sexiness and evolution.  It is very easy to get caught up in the hype and the shininess of the great new things around us.  But we need to remember that in and of itself, newness is not necessarily goodness.  Change is not necessarily Progress.  It is easy to forget that the vast majority of evolutionary change results in extinction.

From its ordinary green parents, the gecko that happened to be born with natural camouflage sand-colored skin did just fine.  Its three brothers and sisters, though...the ones that came out blue and orange and hot pink?  They were a beautiful breakfast for a hungry buzzard. 

We can't run away from evolution, or from the pain and fear that come with it.  To stay in the same place is in some way to ensure our imminent passing.  But we have a great advantage in that we can THINK about our evolution and CHOOSE our own path.  We can evaluate what may kill us, and what may make us stronger.  And when we have made a well-intentioned misstep, we can choke down another fat slice of humble pie, correct our error, and get back to business.

Happy Thanksgiving to the 99%, to the 1%, the 47% (I guess there's a corresponding 53%, eh?) and any other percents that managed to escape the pigeonhole.  I personally appreciate the way each and every one of us contributes to America and to the world in which we live.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Teaching and Learning, Part 1 of 2

We speak of the joys of small business much the way we speak of the joys of parenting: we acknowledge nocturnal vomit and bad SAT scores and the occasional visit from a nice local police officer, but by and large, we are almost serious about such joys.  For honestly...what else do we really have?

One of the joys of Kaladi Coffee is that we are almost always in the process of helping other people get into the coffee business.  We assist independent operators start five to ten small businesses per year.  With regard to formal instruction, we limit ourselves to coffee knowledge and barista training; we provide our clients' point-people with the skills they need to prepare perfect drinks and to speak authoritatively about the coffee they sell.

But as time has gone on, we have identified other significant and specific aspects of small business management that get neglected...often to the detriment of the operation, its employees, and its owners.

Next up: Spreading the Love

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Be careful what you work for...

This weekend we're in Portland at the SCAA show.  While waiting for the expo to open this morning, I went with our singularly well-favored client Johnny J to the national semi-finals of the World Barista Championship. 

It is indisputable that all of the contestants had honed some esoteric skills.  I would not ever say that I can do what they do so well.  For those unfamiliar with formal barista competition, the parameters are strict, the judges are omniscient, and the competition is fierce.

But at the same time, I had to ask myself: if a chihuahua wins first place in a dog show, does that make it a good pet?  Does it make it a good friend?  Does it make it a lovable family member?  Does winning a dog show make a show dog anything beyond a dog show winner?  Would I want to live with a show-winning chihuahua?  Would I trade my deformed (defective?) Basset Hound for it?

I have no problem with competing or with hard work or with sacrifice.  On the contrary, I love work because to me it is the tangible, visceral cost of building and improving and of making my life meaningful.  But I like to keep track of the connection between "winning" and "meaning", both for myself AND for my business.

What we choose to work for defines us every single day of our lives: it shows us and others what we believe to be important.

Is there anything more tragic than working hard for many years, and finally succeeding at great personal something that ultimately doesn't really matter to us?  Whose competition have we entered, and why?

What do we work for in our businesses?  In our relationships?  In our lives?