Saturday, August 27, 2011

Quality Sells

Since opening Zeus Digital Theaters last October, I have been put to the test on my beliefs that quality sells. When I designed the theater, I made the leg room of every seat to be 12" greater than any other theater in the area. In addition, I put in stadium seating, rocker leather chairs, a great sound and projection system and expensive carpet.

The carpet, in my mind is the most important feature of the lobby. It isn't the huge columns or even the nice furniture. The carpet is something that you see and feel constantly. If the carpet isn't clean, you will notice it. Heaven forbid the carpet is sticky (which can happen in a theater).

A huge portion of my quality proposal to my guests actually is in the carpet. So it is no wonder that I will spend better than $15,000 this year in cleaning and maintenance on the carpet.

Another big part of our quality is the bathrooms. A smelly bathroom, regardless of how clean it is can kill your theater. A dirty bathroom that doesn't stink is just as bad. Some national chains get their baths cleaned every night by an outside crew. I have my regular staff clean the baths every 30 minutes. It makes all the difference.

Finally, the concept that quality sells is shown in how a nice theater performs, even at a higher ticket price, compared to a run down theater. We have a theater nearby that charges $7 for every show. We run our prices at $8-$13 with the average ticket price just below $10. So if the price was "elastic", then a lower price should mean greater attendance. Right? Wrong! Our theater does anywhere from 20-30 times the revenue of the lower priced theater. Price is not everything. Quality is what really matters.

The challenge is keeping the quality up. That means constant maintenance and improvement. Painters should touch up every 6 months. Carpets get professionally scrubbed every 90 days. Broken seats are fixed immediately.

To steal the old tag line: Quality is Job One!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My List of Business Startups

It's no secret that the economy is in tough shape. Locally, we enjoy a 6% unemployment rate, which compared to the national rate of 9.1% is pretty good. However, the fact remains that opportunity is hard to come by today.

Of course, everyone would love to have some big company roll in and put in a shiny new manufacturing plant which would employ thousands of people at a livable wage. However, the odds of that happening are slim to none. Real job growth will have to come from the little start-ups. I would rather have 100 companies start up that employ 10 people each over 1 company that employs 1,000 people.

Of course, not everyone is suited to go out and start up a dot-com or other tech company. Access to capital, knowledge of the technology and realistic chances of success push those types of businesses into the realm of impossible for most of us.

Instead, I say there are real needs in the local market that could be satisfied by someone who just puts one foot in front of the other. Below are my favorite first-time startup businesses with the estimated investment required. Feel free to use them all you wish.

Under $500 Investment
Pressure Washing 

Go buy a nice pressure washer, print up some good looking fliers and business cards, then hit the street. Look for the houses that face the South. That means their back decks face the North. What happens when you have wood that never gets direct sunlight? That's right! Mold and mildew. People are more than happy to pay someone a reasonable rate ($100-$200) so they don't have to deal with it.

Under $1,000 Investment
E-Bay Consignment Store

I am a pretty tech savy guy, but I hate selling stuff on E-Bay. In fact, I have a whole bunch of stuff I would happily sell if it weren't for the hassle. To sell on E-Bay, you need an account with E-Bay and an account with Pay-Pal. You need to take lots of pictures and write up the description. You then need to answer questions from buyers, watch the bidding, collect them money and ship the product. That's too much for most people to go through.

However, if someone would get off their butt and provide this as a service, they would do well. The secret is to make it easy. That means pickup service for the seller. Full service on getting the thing sold, shipped and paid for. Once the sale is done, you simply collect your fee and send the remaining amount to the seller. Do a good job and they will open up more stuff for you to sell. There is no need for a storefront since you would be picking the stuff up. Eventually, you might add a store front or better yet, set up a drop off location at the local UPS Store.

Under $500 
Lunch Delivery Service

I work long hours and often forget to eat. Wouldn't it be great if I had a website I could pop onto that had the menu's of all the restaurants in the area where I could select what I wanted and have it delivered to me? Simple business idea. You charge a fee for delivery, collect tips and build from there. The secret is to treat each of your clients like they are staying at the Four Seasons. That means getting them to accept your text messages with simple decisions such as "Good Morning Mr. Hayes, would you like Chinese or your usual Mexican lunch today?"

Under $500
Personal Servant

I know this sounds like a crap job, but hear me out. In everyone community there are people who are too busy to handle the little things. These people would love to have someone run errands for them, but don't have  enough work to keep a full time assistant occupied. Plus they don't want to have to deal with all the hassle involved in hiring someone.

Along you come with a cool service: Personal Servant. You or one of your employees would be available to take the car to get the oil changed, pick up the dry cleaning, shop for groceries, or whatever is needed. You would be paid and tipped according to an hourly rate. Even if this remains just you doing it, it sure beats sitting around waiting to find a job or working fast food.

To get started, you would simply need a nice looking polo shirt with your logo, a box of business cards, and some fliers. Hit the street and find some clients who would fit your profile. They are out there and would be more than happy to hand off the mundane items to you.

I know, these business ideas sound like a job. They are just that. That's the whole idea. You need to start with something that doesn't take a huge amount of money. If you treat these like real businesses with good record keeping, marketing, operational improvements, etc. you will quickly find them growing into something more.

One of my earliest businesses was just me doing desktop publishing for other people such as the PennySaver and others. The benefit is that I eventually had several clients. The more clients you have, the more secure your income stream. Face it, the normal job is not very secure.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blog Back Up & Running

I am finally getting my blog back up and running again.

Since we last spoke, I have completely changed around my businesses. First, I shut down Black Bear Title. It made sense give the crappy housing environment. It fell into the "don't try to go against the current unless you are a salmon" rule.

Then I sold RentQuick. RentQuick had been my baby since I opened it in 1998. However, my focus was shifting to Zeus Digital Theaters and I knew I would not have much time for RentQuick anymore. This one fell under the "you can only stare at one thing at a time" rule.

So now I have Zeus up and running. We just had a great summer. July was way above my target numbers and we are hitting on all cylinders. We had a run of big block buster movies that brought out all kinds of new guests. I am still tweaking the business a little, but I expect it to be fairly stable going into next year and beyond. Not too bad for a startup in the middle of a global financial meltdown.

That brings us up to date pretty well.