If you don’t already know me I own several businesses but for the last 13 years, the most challenging has been a small 40 seat restaurant in our little town of 1900 people. In the last 13 years, we have lost our only drug store, our only grocery store and every other small business on Main Street but mine. Stafford’s is the only place on Main Street where you can walk in the door and buy something and walk out. In retail, we are the lone survivor. We are the little store that could.
The crazy part is we are now in a more financially stable place at Stafford’s than at any time during our 13 years here in Drew, MS. I have thought a lot about why that is. In fact, the most money I ever lost is when we were a 60 seat restaurant and bringing in much more money than now. I have started to ask myself why we have been able to make it work when others haven’t. I am not sure this list is accurate but it is my assessment of how we have made it so far in an industry famous for its first-year failure rate.
Know your goals. I knew the day we opened at Stafford’s that the future of Drew was most likely troubled. I knew we would never make a million in sales in a year. What I did know was that Drew needed a restaurant and I was willing to sacrifice to make it work. It was a labor of love for my town and for my love of entrepreneurship. My goal was never to make enough money to buy a nice Rolex or fancy car, but just to survive. I knew what the realities were and I was ok with that. I planned from day one for the worst case scenario. I wanted this not for the money but for the legacy. I have never personally been in any business for the money. Your goals should and will be different. The point is you will just wander around if you don’t know where you are headed.
The debtor is slave to the lender. We bought the location for Stafford’s on a budget. Being in a small town, buildings on Main street were incredibly cheap. I bought two buildings with money I had earned guiding duck hunts in late 2002. It took me two years of renovations at my own hand to make one of them ready to house a restaurant. I would have never made it in a small town with a big debt payment or rental payment. This has been a huge part of my success and is especially crititcal in a small town. I have had other businesses that stumbled and even failed due to a high debt load.
Cash is king. I got the chance to meet billionaire Keith Cunningham once and he gave me some great advice. The profit you see on a P&L statement means nothing to anyone but Uncle Sam. It’s only real purpose is to tell you how much taxes you owe. You cannot spend profit. You can only spend cash. You have to spend every day in your business figuring out how to get your hands on cash. I can’t tell you how often I have come up at the end of the farming year and owed more taxes than I had cash in the bank. This seems like common sense to me now but when I opened my first business at 22 I didn’t understand it.
If cash is king, marketing is queen. You cannot open a business and not have some strategy as to how you will get people in the door. I am not talking about advertising here. Most ad people are selling a very overpriced product and trying to get you to buy way too much of it. I am not downing ad people. Advertising is a very real piece of the marketing pie just don’t stop there. Everything is marketing from your choice of location, to what color the storefront is, to what order your menu or store selection is laid out. When you go to the high school basketball game and ask a friend to come to your store, that is marketing. In a sense, this may be the best time ever to be in business. I can literally stock a product and market it worldwide through the internet. Never before in the history of man has this been possible. We use social media very well in our marketing for free but we execute with a style all our own. There is nothing worse than poorly executed social media.
Put in the work. I see you out there on Instagram. Hanging at Coachella while I am washing dishes. Sunning at the beach while I am on the farm. Going to the club while I am at the bank. None of this works without hard work. Especially if you are young. If you are in your 20s and have no kids I have a great plan for your new business. Go home from your 9 to 5, hug the dog, and bust your ass from 5:30 until 1 AM. Delete fortnight from your phone and put in the F*&%ing work.
Do what you say you are going to do. In fact, it is our goal at Stafford’s to over deliver. We want to give you more than you expected. A man’s, or woman’s, word is their bond. If you consistently miss the image that you have so skillfully marketed people will stop coming and nothing you ever do will bring them back.
Stafford is a small business expert in Drew, MS. He owns Shurden Farms and Main Street Deli LLC. You can email Stafford at email@example.com for speaking events.