What Big Businesses Can Learn from Small Businesses
I think about business—and business models and how to grow a business—before dawn every day.
The dog and I are out in all weather every morning at 5, and the action—and inaction—on the streets of South Philly is fascinating—small businesses showing the best American tradition of entrepreneurship.
Every place of business that I come in contact with—or see from the street—is a source for new ideas.
On the corner of Third and South streets is a Starbucks, which moved in when a rather disreputable, grungy pizza place moved out. The facilities are always clean and neat and in the very early morning you will see young associates—attired in green aprons and caps—scurrying around getting ready to open at 5:30 a.m. Customers throughout the day know that the coffee and pastries will be fresh and delicious. Starbucks is projected to have more than 14,000 stores worldwide by the end of this year. Maintaining absolute top quality—brand excellence—everywhere in the world is one of the toughest business challenges. Some places don’t live up to the standard. Just this past week the Chicago Tribune reported that the Windy City Department of Health shuttered the local Macy’s food court for violations that included an infestation of fruit flies. Talk about embarrassment!
Our walk takes us past Chef’s Market, a retail gourmet food store that came within a whisker of leaving the neighborhood when the rent went up, but decided to stay, because its catering business is so profitable. Not only does it cater office and private parties, Chef’s Market is also one of the few recognized purveyors of in-flight gourmet fare. The catering kitchen, just below street level, has a huge plate class window where passers-by can watch foods being prepared by a hard-working staff in pristine surroundings. In the pre-dawn hours, frequently four or five white delivery vans are parked curbside waiting to deliver the goodies to the gleaming private jets at Philadelphia International, Trenton Mercer, New Castle and Philadelphia Northeast Airports. A world-class operation with an interesting Web site—fabulous menu, but no prices listed. When 19th century financier J. P. Morgan was asked how much it cost to run his yacht, Corsair, he replied: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
This bagel store on Third Street is extraordinary on several counts. Hot Bagels opens at 7 a.m., but a baker can always be spotted much earlier in the back of the store hard at work creating products—plain, onion, blueberry and dozens more—for the store and for the top hotels and delis in Philadelphia and surroundings. Here is a small business dedicated to excellence with every facet of the manufacturing process controlled by one person. One of the great Sunday brunch treats anywhere in the world is a warm bagel, just off the Hot Bagels rack, piled high with fresh cream cheese and Nova Scotia smoked salmon sliced wafer thin from Chef’s Market.
Pennsport Fit 24/7 Health & Racquet Club
My wife, Peggy, joined this gym—three blocks away on Bainbridge Street—several years ago when it was down-at-the-heels, but had the essential equipment and a wonderful personal trainer named Barry that taught her how to work out. It changed hands and the new owner demanded a huge percentage of the fees generated by the personal trainers, so Barry left and went on his own. Pennsport underwent a major renovation. Open 24/7, it serves its clients that work by day, by night or the graveyard shift. The bright new blue awning proclaims a profusion of opportunities—some well beyond the business of simple workouts:
Health & Racquet Club: Philadelphia’s Most Complete and Upscale Athletic Club
Internet Café & Juice Bar - Massage & Physical Therapy - Dry-cleaning - Free Weights - Cardio - Strength Training - Boxing - Yoga - Pilates - Stretch - Spinning - Rock Climbing - Pool/Whirlpool - Sun Deck - Basketball - Wallyball - Sauna - Steam Room - Tanning
• Not mentioned on the awning: Heated lap pool, Jacuzzi, two racquetball courts, Taebo classes and towel service.