Bad things happen to good people and vice versa
One of my failings as a business consultant/advisor/mentor or whatever other moniker you’d like to put on what I do, it is that I become deeply personally engaged in what I am working on. I take on-board the pain, the fear, the anger and the frustration of my client. I feel the urgency of making things happen and I often stand in for the client when they don’t feel up to taking a call or a meeting. I want to make things better for them. It’s kind of my job and sometimes it just isn’t possible.
I have a client now who will go unnamed. He is from another country and is warm, gentle, passionate about his family and his business. He has been trading for 20 years successfully in Auckland and has always taken a view that all things will work out and all people in the end will prove to be decent, honest and up-front.
He owns two restaurants in Auckland. I think I may have mentioned him before but things have happened since back then. It has been incredibly sad to watch this man discover that not all people are good and their intentions are not always benevolent. I’ve watched as he has struggled to recover from the first COVID lockdown and then the subsequent lockdowns which have each been hammer blows to his business.
I’ve watched the latest of his four landlords try to put his rent and expenses up during the pandemic and I’ve seen how they have watched him suffer with glee because they really want his restaurant to fail so they can begin their development plans.
Weeks and weeks ago I was advising him to get out of this restaurant and focus all his attention on growing the other one so it can match and exceed the earnings of both.
Unsurprisingly this advice has not been taken because the restaurant is loved like his own child and abandoning it unthinkable. But, everyone has their breaking point and the latest Auckland lockdown coupled with the impossibility of the City Rail Link and its endless disruption has made him realise the hopelessness of this battle.
The problem is, he isn’t able to compartmentalize his world. If he can’t make this restaurant work, he has failed and just wants out of the business altogether. His two restaurants are like twin children and the death of one will take a long time to grieve and mourn.
So, what we are trying to do is use social media and mail drops and maybe even some door knocking to bring the second restaurant up so it is full every night and every weekend. It is not impossible and we will give it everything to achieve it.
Sadly, we aren’t doing this so he can carry on better and stronger. In his heart he is already gone from the business he has spent his entire life in. He doesn’t know what will come next but he’s even considering taxi driving. We are building this restaurant so it is a vibrant and profitable entity for someone else to buy and enjoy the fruits. My friend will do what he does best, which is being an authentic restaurateur, “mine host”. When the numbers look right he will sell and possibly Auckland and New Zealand will have lost some of the most delicious and real ethnic food available and he’ll be left with enough money to start something new somewhere else.
You have to ask yourself, what does someone who has English as a second language and is already middle-aged and is trained for nothing else do?
This was a business and a situation where I really wanted to make a difference. In the end, I failed. You can blame me. You can blame the landlord. You can blame COVID. You can blame the City Rail Link that has decimated his foot traffic and made getting to his restaurant a near impossible maze. You can blame anything that takes your fancy but in the end, he is exiting with his tail between his legs. Looking on the bright side, I will have a loyal friend for life and won’t stop looking for ways to help him.
This story is not unique. It is happening all around us. Quiet desperation ending in quiet failure. So much of it is inevitable as we move from one societal reality to another. Do the arseholes always win? Not necessarily. Sometimes the goodies win but don’t be fooled. It is pretty random.
I have no magical answers for this or any other problem in business. But, there is one thing I do know and would like to share with you now.
Every time you open your mouth; every time you speak in response to someone, it has weight and meaning. It might be your husband or wife. It might be your boyfriend or girlfriend. It might be your boss or employee. It might even be the person who you buy your coffee from in the morning. Words are precious and meaningful. Don’t spray them around like weed killer. Think of them as the delicate tools you have to influence others. You can make someone’s day with a word or you can catapult them into a crisis.
You think you aren’t powerful and nothing you can say will make any difference or you think you are omnipotent and everything you say affects everyone. In both views you are probably kidding yourself.
If you can make someone else’s day a bit less fraught, a little easier to handle by reinforcing them somehow, you’ve made a difference that counts. Your own day might be shit on a stick but you’ve done something that matters.
Think of my lovely man losing his livelihood. What would you say to him? Be gentle and thoughtful. Now find your own person whose life is disintegrating in a way they can’t comprehend and exercise your enormous power to make a positive difference. I dare you.