Even When Business Growth Looks Bleak, You Have Options

I love to read and am rarely without a pile of books I’m working on. One of my favorites, which I found years ago in my sister’s room because she had been assigned the novel at school, is The Princess Bride.

At first, I thought it probably wasn’t something I’d want to read (very much me judging the books by its cover and title!) but it almost immediately surprised me, and on nearly every page it had me laughing my head off.

Most people know it from the movie, which is also good, but the book has three times more jokes in it than the movie did and even 30+ years later still makes me laugh.

Towards the final climactic ending of the adventure, there is a great scene where the three heroes are trying to figure out how to storm the castle. The movie dialog goes like this and is nearly the same as was in the book:

“There is but one working castle gate. And it is guarded by sixty men.”

“And our assets?”

“Your brains. Fezzik’s strength. My steel.”

“That’s it?!? Impossible. If I had a month to plan, maybe I could come up with something, but this…My brains, your strength, and his steel against sixty men. I mean, if we only had a wheelbarrow. That would be something.”

“Where did we put that wheelbarrow the albino had?”

“With the albino, I think.”

“Why didn’t you list that among our assets in the first place?!?” 

And as it turns out, with the addition of a wheelbarrow they are able to storm the castle, gain entrance, and accomplish their rescue and revenge mission.

The reason I like this story is it exemplifies how it’s easy to overlook your assets because you see them every day and maybe to you, they don’t look like anything special.

Here’s how this relates to business. Today I went over to the local deli by our office. The deli owner is a great guy who is there every day with his wife and he’s had the business for over 20 years. He told me today yet another large tenant is moving out of the building. 

This will make the building he is in nearly empty, as are most of the surrounding buildings as well.

We’re in an area of all offices, with almost a third or less full compared to what they were before COVID with so many people now permanently working from home. His walk-in traffic – the only kind he has – has shrunk by the same amount.

I can tell he’s having a hard time seeing a positive ending to this situation. And at first glance, I don’t blame him. It does seem like the chance of growing this business is slim to none – the offices aren’t suddenly going to fill up again.

But… let’s look at what he does have and what else he could do – there might be more options than he imagines!

Now I am sure he has thought about how to recover his sales but I bet he hasn’t really thought about all the ways he can do that.

Let me start by listing out what his assets are:

  • A small commercial kitchen, only in use currently from 8 am – 2 pm Monday through Friday.

Doesn’t sound like much at first!

Right now, he just makes food to order for people who come into the business and place an order. But given what he has – a commercial kitchen with a lot of unused capacity – I can think of a lot more ways he could generate income:

  • Offer evening and weekend cooking classes
  • Rent time to farmer’s market and home-based small food operators who need a commercial kitchen to use
  • Rent time to emerging food truck owners for prep work
  • Run a “ghost kitchen” evenings and weekends for delivery-only orders
  • Run a meal prep business
  • Develop a catering menu for events at local offices and beyond
  • Use the kitchen to prep his own specialties to sell at farmer’s market
  • Teach lessons for aspiring restaurant entrepreneurs

That’s just off the top of my head with five minutes of thinking about it. I would bet he hasn’t considered any of those ideas and has only focused on the fact that fewer and fewer people are walking in the door.

Unfortunately, you can’t make more people walk in the door if they simply aren’t in the area like they used to be. But you can devise other ways to make use of your assets and reach people who would never have walked in your door in the first place by using what you have to do something different.

If you aren’t able to see a way to grow the business you have doing what you are currently doing then you might need to get creative. List out your assets (all of them!) and things you can do with them and consider other ways people may find value in them or other ways you can use them.

Sort the list from least expensive to most expensive to try and most likely to least likely to succeed. Start with the intersection of the best fit between cheap to try and likely to succeed. Test and grow and pivot as needed.

For example, from the list above, I might try checking out some of the local farmer’s markets and street fairs and consider making something in the kitchen to sell there.

You can get a table at most of those venues for well under $100 and I spoke with a guy not long ago selling $1500 per four hour Saturday session of his custom fancy doughnuts at the morning market. There’s likely as much profit in that as the deli currently sees all week.

If you already have the commercial kitchen space and everything you need to try this, all it costs you is the food cost to make some things to sell at the market and the cost of the table. Whatever you don’t sell you can offer to your regular deli lunch customers. They can even be the guinea pigs for new concoctions to then try selling at the weekend markets.

If you can be creative, think outside the box, and put whatever assets you have to work, even if it’s not as originally intended, you can often find a way to grow out of even a seemingly lost cause situation.

Maybe not, but it won’t hurt to try and you may surprise yourself. But don’t wait for things to go downhill – start branching out now and making the most of your assets and grow your business sooner rather than later. You’ll be glad you did! 

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