5 Red Flags Your Business Might Be Waving
Many a business owner, concerned about the lack of success in their chosen trade, has cried into the night, “Why oh why is nobody buying? The doodads I sell are of the finest quality and fairest price!”
Besides the possibility that the bottom completely dropped out of the doodad market, the reason a business owner is not doing the brisk business initially projected could be that the business is waving big, bright “red flags.” Red flags are the alienating, off-putting quirks that overshadow the business. Customers see and remember them first and last, and when red flags are flying high customers stay away. The doodads don’t stand a chance.
The most depressing thing is that most entrepreneurs are oblivious to the fact that they’re waving them at all. These entrepreneurs remain blissfully unaware they’re driving people away with their odious antics, like your Uncle Ralph when he takes off his shoes. So are you waving big red flags like Uncle Ralph? Swallow your pride and ask trusted confidants if you seem to be…
1. Giving of the air of desperation
Nobody likes to be made to feel sorry for a business. You deal in doodads, not pity. Guilting people into patronizing your doodad shop might get business initially, but in the long run it can create resentment.
Gazing longingly out the window wondering where the doodad buyers have gone, being overly effusive in thanking people for their business, even little things like commenting on how much you depend on a person’s business to that person—these kinds of things can make people feel uncomfortable and manipulated. And most customers don’t like that.
2. Too many signs, too much information
Like a college freshman’s car densely cluttered with bumper stickers, too much business signage feels like somebody is trying to tell you everything about everything in one single breath. It’s overwhelming, off-putting, and, frankly, obnoxious. Besides, nobody wants to walk into a business and right off the bat feel like they need a manual.
Yes, you might want a sign because you’re tired of always saying the same thing to customers. You might have tired of telling people not to um… taunt the doodads. Maybe you’ve decided a sign would be the perfect solution to end this doodad taunting once and for all. But for the 98 percent of customers who’d never think of taunting the doodads, you’re giving off a “get off my lawn” vibe before they’ve even had a chance to look around.
Like the college freshman should do, pick one or two things to highlight. Take a breath and leave the rest of your space free and clear.
3. Rude or disappearing employees
There is almost no bigger red flag than the disappearing employee who cannot be summoned. Well, besides having present employees who are rude or condescending. But a customer shouldn’t have to choose between the two extremes. It’s like asking whether they prefer to be neglected or abused. How about something completely different?
But remember, there can be too much of a good thing. A business owner—and by extension his or her employees—should aim for the middle between disappearing and hovering, rude and uncomfortably friendly. Employees should aim to be distant yet easily summoned to answer questions and/or solve problems, friendly but not creepily so. Basically, the target, in terms of general employee personality, is to hit the mark of an affable shop ghost.
Service that doesn’t hit that “ghost mark” will prop up a big red flag. Be mindful of it.
4. Mixing the personal and professional
Despite warnings to never mix the two, people just love mixing the personal and professional. And it’s sure to drive people to a doodad shop that isn’t full of drama. Yes, your significant other just left you and took the car and the Labradoodle. Leave it at home, or at least out of view of customers. Customers have enough problems without having to deal with your sad-sack tales of woe, too.
This includes discussing politics as well. Your customers just want service; they couldn’t care less about your thoughts on the way things oughta be. You’re using a platform-—your business—for your own musings. It’s like an actor who writes a book. Nobody cares. Stick to what you know.
5. Outdated décor and storefronts
This is the most expensive red flag to fix, which is probably why it’s the one the flies the longest and proudest.
The fact is, tastes change, and obsolete appearances just bum people out. Now, one doesn’t need to single-mindedly obsess over trends like a doodad-peddling Patrick Bateman. But if it’s been a couple Presidents since you’ve given your place a makeover, it’s probably time. This can be as simple as a repainting, rearranging, maybe updating a few things here and there. Any kind of movement will do, for this red flag is rooted in the firm ground of stagnation. All it needs to be taken down is a little jiggling, a little Feng Shui.
And maybe a new couch.
Jacob Harper, Co-founded clothing store/apparel brand Vintage Vice
Jacob Harper co-founded clothing store/apparel brand Vintage Vice in 2006 at the age of 23. Jacob sold Vintage Vice in 2009 (the company still operates successfully today) and has been working as a writer and teacher ever since. He is currently a head writer of the weekly political sketch show Top Story! Weekly at the iO West in Hollywood.