Your Wants Don’t Matter, Your Business’ Needs Do
Marketing lessons from my failed sandwich shop
I’ve written a lot about my failed small business attempt. It seems to be the cornerstone of my life experience thus far, besides raising two amazing children. I keep coming back to it, because, after a year of reflection, I can’t help but dissect what went wrong.
My husband and I opened up a small sandwich shop in the spring of 2016. We were in a new city with zero networking contacts and big dreams floating around in our green entrepreneurial brains. I was in charge of all of the marketing for the business. I had been writing online for years prior and had done well in promoting my work, so I figured snapping pics of delicious sandwiches would be a simple chore to advertise our business.
I had always been successful in bringing humour into my writing and advertising, so I had decided to stick with this tactic when advertising for the Hot Wire. People love a good laugh, and food puns are an easy sell to bored Facebookers.
I didn’t realize at the time how careful marketers must be to assure they are reaching their full potential of clientele, though.
Below are some things I did wrong when advertising the business:
Joke About Drugs
This one seems obvious, but it’s not. I promise. This was before the legalization of marijuana in Canada, and our city of Lethbridge, Alberta, has a mixed opinion on the topic as the vast majority of the population is made up of young university students and very conservative farmers.
We decided it would be a riot to make a public social media post on April 20th (4.20, the famously known day for smoking pot on city property) to glamorize the day. My husband and I have always been very open-minded to the legalization bill and wanted to use our growing social media account to throw our view out there. We regularly served cream puffs and took a photo of us passing a “puff” to one another with the caption “Puff Puff pass at The Hot Wire Panini today.”
Mostly the post was well received. People liked that we were down to earth. However, a few days later, an elderly couple came in telling us that they thought the post was crass, and they didn’t appreciate the reference to lackadaisical drug use. By putting our wants before our business’s needs, we inadvertently offended a section of our clientele.
Get Involved in Politics
About a year and a half after opening the shop, a supervised consumption site opened up a few blocks away from our location. Many of the small business owners were outraged, saying that the people using this site were driving away their potential customers and giving the neighbourhood an unsafe vibe.
Me, being the unapologetically left-leaning person that I am, figured it would be courageous and earth-shattering as a business owner to come to the site’s defense and explain that we as a business hadn’t been affected in the slightest. The backlash was hard-driving and extensive. As business owners, staying neutral on these matters is always the best policy, especially when there is such a vast divide on the issue. By outright supporting the site, we lost a lot of clientele.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t rally for social issues. I love gathering on the topics I feel passionate about. However, when marketing for your business, staying neutral on hot political themes is always the safest choice to ensure you aren’t driving away potential clientele.
With that said, every year, we held a huge bake sale during Pride week and donated our earnings to our local Pride committee, and that publicity helped us immensely. We donated to both right and left-wing charitable foundations. We made sure that we weren’t airing our political agenda to our customers. Because, really, they just wanted a tasty sandwich in the end, not some long drawn out spiel on the logistics of our political stance.
Yeah, this one is a bit of a sore spot for me because, possibly, it was the biggest mistake we made. I talked about it briefly in “Why Our Popular Sandwich Shop Failed” but would like to go into more detail here.
We named it The Hot Wire Panini because we were looking to piggyback on a media theme to incorporate my husband’s love of food and my love of writing and media. This was our first mistake. We would have been better off calling it “The Sandwich Shop” then at least people would know what sort of business it was.
Again, our want to personalize the business to us specifically was a detrimental move. Nobody knew what panini meant. Furthermore, panini is the plural of panino, which translates to “small bread,” which was doubly incongruous because our sandwiches were the size of a small adult’s head.
Many, many people came into our shop during the three years we were in business brazenly telling us about how wrong everything about our business’s namesake was, can you say, awkward?
When we weren’t dealing with the fact that apparently, we were borderline illiterate, many didn’t understand the concept at all. They’d drive past our shop and see Hot Wire Panini with the logo, and assume our place was a locally owned radioshack-type business.
I ask myself in present days, why we chose that for a logo? Of course, it was confusing. Why couldn’t we have just kept it simple and slapped a picture of a sandwich on after the name?
The ego is a strange and beautiful thing sometimes. But in most cases, it only causes us to make decisions based on our wants rather than our needs. We wanted this business to be so integrally a part of who we were as individuals we forgot to consider our potential customer’s needs. They needed to know what the company was at a glance, and we failed them miserably.
As a Mom and Pop Shop, the “Any Publicity Is Good Publicity” Mantra Does Not Apply
Two years into the grind, we had two high ranking corporate employees from a famously known coffee house come into our shop. They began loudly talking about how we’d be out of business within a year because we weren’t charging enough for our food, and our decore was clearly DIY. They were very rude individuals.
It irked me that these men would come into our place of business, loudly spout off about how well their franchises were doing, and then bad-mouth us right to our faces. So I took my outrage to social media. I immediately discovered this was the wrong decision. Although I didn’t share anything on our business page, my Facebook profile at the time did not have any security settings on, and it was easy enough for trolls to find out what business I owned.
Immediately they started saying that I was a lair and that no self-respecting franchise owner would ever put themselves in such a vulnerable position. This did not help our business as many people decided that the owners of our shop (us) were specifically on a mission to hate on all corporation-type franchises.
Things I Did Right When Advertising Our Business:
- Inserting humour into our daily advertising. People love to laugh; that’s just a fact.
- Taking Pictures of my small children sweeping and doing dishes after-hours at the shop and leaning hard on the “family business” aspect of our Mom and Pop shop atmosphere. Although we did get a couple of people telling us we were violating our “childrens’ rights” by forcing them to be our little slaves, we just laughed it off. A little elbow grease never hurt anyone.
- Talking earnestly on our social media outlets about our love of small business and how we aimed to create a community around good food and strong community ties.
- Learning how to make a hot-pressed sandwich look fabulous in a picture with nothing but a checkered paper tray liner and a bit of natural sunlight.
- Reply to every single comment on each social media post in a timely fashion.
- Addressing any complaints, we received online courteously and with the mentality that the customer is always right. Even though I know that the customer is usually never right, some times, we must swallow our pride and suck it up.
As the keen reader will notice, in this last section, “Things, I did right,” all of the points are driven by the need for the business rather than my wants.
The errors I made when trying to market the Hot Wire were all born from a need to uplift my wants in life. I am a natural-born performer and love to be in the spotlight. In these instances, when we flopped, it was because I was putting my egotistical wants before our business’s marketing needs.
I don’t know if it was my blunders in marketing that broke us, or if it was a broader picture in the works. However, from these personal experiences, I found that accountability in marketing and learning the difference between your individual wants and your business needs is critical when calculating your marketing strategy.