“How’s business going?”
I get that a lot in my little popcorn shop. The truth is that thanks to the unseasonably warm winter and complete revitalization of downtown, business has been pretty good. When Popped! was nothing more than an incomplete business plan, I only hoped that I would sell enough popcorn so as not to bankrupt my family. I’m happy to report that my first quarter sales have not bankrupted anyone. (As a business owner I have learned to set very realistic goals and then celebrate them with a latte and a cupcake.)
Unfortunately, I don’t have any framework or crystal ball with which to gauge my success, so when people ask me how things are going I usually just chirp “great!” It would just be too disconcerting if I blurted out “I don’t know! Good, I think! What’s going to happen when the city closes Erie Street??!!!"
My general lack of business experience has really freed me up to operate as haphazardly as I choose when it comes to most things, but there are some aspects of business where a little experience or education would probably come in handy.
For example, how am I doing? Should I hire someone to help out on busy days? Should I invest in some additional equipment? Or, should I just hang on to every cent and wait to see what comes once all the construction dust settles?
These are questions that I like to think get answered in business school. I imagine there’s a whole semester devoted to “How and When to Hire Your First Employee” or “What to do When Your Little Shop is Surrounded by New Construction that May, or May Not, Impact Your Business.”
What I would really like is someone to ring up sales, so I can make the caramel without either ruining it from lack of attention — or ruining a customer’s experience from, well, lack of attention. Before I commit to employing anyone, though, I have a couple things I need to figure out first. So far, all I've figured out is that hiring someone costs lots of money and time.
Hiring someone should be really easy. Every third person who walks in the door, so it feels like, is looking for a job. (There’s another blog post entirely about how not to demand jobs from people wrestling with boiling sugar in a shop full of waiting customers.)
Hiring someone seems like it should be easy. The application, complete with intrusive legal questions regarding citizenship and prior felony convictions, is completed by the future employee along with a stack of other forms, and it all gets handed over to the accountant. Easy, except I don’t have an accountant. Wading through the new hire paperwork is on my to-do list right after I learn how to hand-temper dark chocolate and perfect almond dragees. (It has not been very difficult for me to find excuses to get out of learning the complexities of worker's compensation and state and local tax withholding.)
If I hold off on hiring an employee, I’ll be able to purchase fun new ingredients like Belgian chocolate and cocoa nibs. Also, not knowing when the road construction on Erie and DePeyster is going to be completed, or how it will impact my foot traffic, has become another actually legitimate reason for me to postpone hiring anyone. Although I feel that an even stronger argument for not hiring anyone is the fact that I’d really much rather spend those wages on myself!
In fact, I just spent my yet-unhired-employee’s wages on ingredients for the candied pecans and honey roasted cashews I introduced last week. Last month, I spent phantom-employee’s wages on lemons and fresh ginger for the lemonade, and before that I picked up a backup cooker mixer. At this rate I’ll probably never want to hire anyone.
At some point, however, I truly hope I’ll be so busy ringing up sales that I’ll have to hire someone else to do it so I can devote my time to popcorn and candy making — this is the best of all possible outcomes.
When the plaza in front of the shop is complete, and the black squirrel statue is guarding the courtyard, and Erie and DePeyster have been rebuilt, I’ll have a more accurate picture of how things are going.
If I’m in the shop going a little nuts with new ingredients, and there’s an employee at the register, business really will be great!