What I Wish Customers Knew About Small Local Businesses

What I Wish Customers Knew About Small Local Businesses

Have you ever heard the phrase, “kill your darlings”? I hadn’t until this year.

To me, as a business owner, my “darlings” are the business-related things that I love the most-- and hold onto selfishly or against logic because of my emotional attachment to them

On paper, it can seem black-and-white. This service is profitable, so we will keep doing it. And if this other offering is much less profitable-- then we should cut it.

However, in the real world, it rarely works out that way. I’ll give you an example.

At Climbing Vines Cafe and Play, we used to host a “Kids Night Out”, where local families could drop their children off for 3 hours on Friday nights so they could go on a date-night, run errands, or just have a much-needed break as a parent.

While our customers (and even I) loved the idea of this, it never quite worked out for us. Despite making tweaks that made this offering much more profitable, at the end of the day, it took too much time and too many resources away from other, more important aspects of our business.

However, I did not make the decision to cut this initiative easily.

As I mentioned, I tried different things and made a bunch of changes and held onto it WAY longer than I logically should have, all because I loved being able to provide this break to local parents. I knew that people loved the service and did not want to disappoint them.

However, it all reached a breaking-point during our second year in business where it became clear to me that by holding onto this service for emotional reasons, I was draining my employees and my energy that we could have been using to fuel our main focus-- birthday parties.

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It was a Sunday evening and we were on the third party of the day-- the 5th that weekend. I could tell that all of our employees were exhausted and were just not physically capable of providing the level of service that was up-to-par with our standards. 

When I asked them why they were feeling so “emptied”, it all came back down to that past Fridays’ Kid’s Night Out. The two employees who had worked it had to stay about a half-hour late because parents were late picking their children up (again, even though we charged by-the-minute for lateness). They were frustrated, tired, and felt undervalued. 

Even just the 30 minutes they needed to stay had derailed their night enough to bring down the morale for the entire weekend.

And because they were frustrated-- they rushed while closing and left tasks undone for the Saturday morning staff to accomplish. You can see where I’m going with this I’m sure. One thing from Friday night rolled into another, causing a snowball of resentment and frustration that wiped out our entire staff’s positivity.

And while we have instituted rule after rule, policy after policy, and late charge after late charge-- we still hadn’t quite figured out how to get the customers who booked the Kids Night Out service to respect the team’s time or that they had lives outside of work (an entirely other topic for another day).

Once I uncovered that this recurring situation on Friday night was resulting in a decrease in our birthday party clients’ experience, I finally knew I had to (like our most popular birthday Character, Elsa, says) let it go.

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When I finally “killed my darling”, my team was much happier, weekends went much more smoothly, and our birthday party service went right back to where it should have been all along. Had I kept my business “blinders” on and kept offering Kid’s Night Out because I felt emotionally attached to it, we would have lost birthday business and a LOT of profit.

So, anyway-- back to the main point of this post.

As a marketing consultant, I sometimes help small local businesses. One of my local clients came to me one day last week and let me know they had finally decided (after years of struggle) to “kill one of their darlings” and shut one of their locations down.

They had held onto it for years despite dismal sales, because it had been their first ever location and they didn’t want to let the customers down who had supported them in their early growth.

But, it was finally time to use the time and resources that had been devoting to that location to growth and innovation elsewhere (they were seeing great success in other markets), and they asked me to help them transition their website and social media pages for that first location from “open” to “closed”, and it REALLY opened my eyes up to how customers treat local businesses.

So, here are 3 things I learned throughout their closing process that I wish other supporters of small business knew.


1. People Take Small Businesses for Granted

After I posted the notice of their closing, post after post began to roll in. The posts were saying things like, “this is devastating”, and “I am so heartbroken”-- and people were tagging their friends to let them in on the news as well. However, after seeing the conversations unfold, it became clear that most of these people who were sad to see the location close hadn’t actually visited or spent money at the business in six months or even longer.

So, if you love a small local business-- support it. Had even a fraction of those posters eaten dinner at the restaurant once a month and encouraged their friends to do the same (the ones they were tagging with the news), they may have not had to close.

As consumers, we vote with our wallets. The businesses we spend money at are the ones that stay in our community. So please think of that next time you choose to support one business (say, an international chain like McDonald’s) over a small family-owned business (like the one that closed). If you would like McDonald’s to stay and the other businesses to close, then that is absolutely fine and it’s your right to make that choice with your hard-earned money.

However, if that is the case, do not post on the pages of the small local businesses when they announce they are closing asking , “what happened”, or “I loved your place”-- because those comments are the MOST heartbreaking to read as an owner.

Please keep this in mind when you make your daily spending choices.

2. People Like to Speculate 

Speaking of asking, “what happened?”, I have definitely noticed that people loooove to speculate when a business closes.

Even though they have no visibility to what happens behind closed doors, we were reading comments from customers that said things like, “they were never busy on Sunday’s, they should have ran a special”, or “maybe if they offered more kids options…”. . 

These comments are also frustrating to the people with actual inside knowledge because what most people DON’T understand about small businesses closing is that it was very likely the LAST resort after months or even YEARS of trying EVERYTHING to remain open.

As a customer of small businesses, please choose to wish the owners well and resist the urge to speculate. You will never know what truly happened, what their expenses were like, or what the owners were dealing within their personal lives.

And even if you did, would it make a difference?

The business would still close, the owners would still be torn-up over it, and they would still need KINDNESS over speculation from the community.


3. People Tend to Assume the Worst

Speaking of speculation from the community, another hard truth I was forced to learn while helping this business close is that people often assume the worst.

People had been posting that the location that was closing was doing so in order for the owners to “pad their pockets” with the busier locations, with no regard for the customers who wanted the original location to stay.

This could not be further from the truth, at least in this case and for other businesses I have seen close.

So this is another plea for you to PLEASE let the business owners disclose what they’d like to, keep private what they’d like to, and have some peace while they go through a very difficult time.

Sure, some business owners are just in it for the money and can close at the blink of an eye without any precautions made for their employees or their local customers.

However, I have found this to be the EXCEPTION and rarely actually happen, except in the case of some big-box retailers and restaurants who tend to look ONLY at numbers and get less emotionally involved in the communities they serve.

There could be mental or physical health issues, deaths in their family, or HUNDREDS of other extremely valid reasons for closing.

Or, the owners could simply just wish to retire or move on, for whatever reason.  As business owners, we often give SO much of ourselves to our businesses and so closing can feel like a part of us being amputated. Actually, it can feel like a limb is being hacked-off, leaving an open-wound gushing blood out of us (apologies for the graphic image, but it’s true).

So try not to assume the worst. Again, this is an extremely difficult time for business owners regardless of the circumstances of their closing. Please respect their privacy, do not spread rumors or false information, and do not slander them on the internet or in conversations you have.

Think of what it would feel like for YOU if you had to close a business, one you may have been slaving over for years or dreaming of since you were a small child. 

Or, think if you lost your job, and had to post about it for your entire CITY or STATE to see, leaving your job performance personal life open to speculation or interpretation? Maybe people would cite your productivity or your last failed idea, or they’d wonder if you REALLY gave it your all.

It is likely a scary thought for you. Well, it is for us as business owners too.

Wish them well and move-on. I beg of you. Remember, businesses almost always start off as a dream. And they take TIME and an incredible amount of time and effort to operate. None of us go into these ventures expecting to close or to disappoint people.


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