What keeps a business in business? Why do some retail establishments weather changes, and others not? What makes a business a destination that people flock to, even when one main aspect of the business is subpar? I found myself pondering this question on our family vacation this week to Hilton Head. I may be left with more questions than answers, but questions are a good place to start. Asking the right questions gets us closer to answers.
I have three examples of this from our week in Hilton Head. I often focus on “threes.” It works for the Trinity, why not for other things?! My three examples are two restaurants, The Salty Dog Café and Skull Creek Boathouse, and a retail establishment, Fresh Produce.
The Salty Dog Café is a destination restaurant on the water within the Sea Pines development. To access the restaurant, one must pay to go onto Sea Pines property, presently $9 per vehicle, which is not reimbursable by the restaurant. One can consider it a tax levied for the privilege of accessing the property and eating at the restaurant.
Our family always goes to The Salty Dog, and always complains about the food. While we eat there, we do not really go for the food. We go for the experience. The experience of waiting in line one to two hours to eat outside on the water. The experience of spending lots of money on merchandise that advertises the product. Our family of 12 had an enjoyable time, and although The Salty Dog is a restaurant, the least enjoyable part of the experience was the food.
Skull Creek Boathouse is a restaurant that has some similarities to The Salty Dog Café, but the quality of the food is not one of them. The food at Skull Creek is excellent. The similarities are waiting in line at least two hours for the evening meal, eaten outside by the water when it isn’t raining. Valet parking is complementary, and there is no cost to access the property. While there is a company store, the merchandise at Skull Creek is a minor part of the experience. The beauty of the setting and the quality of the food are the best parts of the experience.
Fresh Produce is a clothing and accessories store located at the beach end of the island. The name comes from a clothing and accessories line that went out of business several years ago, selling its assets to another company. While one can still find Fresh Produce merchandise in some locations such as Hilton Head, the failure of the Fresh Produce Company is sad to those of us who have loved the brand for many years.
I went into the Hilton Head Fresh Produce store to try to find a pair of shorts like the ones I had on. I wear these shorts so often that I am afraid they will eventually fall apart. While the store had some Fresh Produce merchandise, they did not have my shorts. The store clerk showed me another clothing line similar to Fresh Produce, but that line did not interest me. She said the store will eventually change the name of the store, once they have “gone through all of the many bags they have!” This conversation precipitated my thinking, “What keeps a business fresh?”
What creates a loyal customer following? What makes many people willing to spend hours waiting in line to eat subpar food? What makes one spend lots of money to wear a brand’s logo? What keeps a business fresh? What keeps a business in business?
First and foremost, a business remains strong when it creates a positive, memorable experience for its customers. An experience that keeps customers coming back even when all aspects of the experience are not what they should be.
Of course, a business must have capital, and strong financials. But these alone will not keep a business in business. What keeps a business in business is a loyal fan base, loyal fans that keep coming back. Like what The Salty Dog Café and Skull Creek Boathouse have created.
And Fresh Produce? I do not know. I just know that I regret its demise.