Recently, my boyfriend and I visited Montreal and spent a wonderful evening strolling through the old part of the city. I was looking for a unique souvenir to remember the place by, but every store we entered had the same tacky, low-quality T-shirts and snow globes.
At the last store we checked, there was an older man behind the counter and, while browsing through a rack of generic postcards, I asked him how business was going.
“I’ve been here 15 years, and I’m down 150 percent,” he replied morosely.
“Why?” I asked. “There’s plenty of foot traffic.”
The man launched into an impassioned explanation of the challenges facing his business. A problem with the airlines had reduced tourism; demand for souvenirs was down, but worst of all, competition had increased and a couple of the newer stores were paying tour guides to take visitors to their locations while bypassing others. “I will not pay extortion fees,” the man nearly yelled.
Actually, it was more like a kickback, but I wasn’t about to correct him. The guy was angry and miserable, explaining that he used to have seven locations, but now was down to two and had laid off most of his employees. I bought a few postcards, mostly because I felt bad for him.
Continuing down the street, I thought about all of the issues the man had brought up and realized that his situation was actually a little different than he made it out to be. That store owner was completely focused on external problems facing his business, and his only response had been to close stores and cut staff. Yet there were other solutions he could have tried.
For starters, every shop in the area carried exactly the same junky stuff, yet consumers today are less interested in cheap knickknacks. Rather than complain about it, he should’ve changed his merchandise. I also noticed that many restaurants had pretty young women standing outside to lure in customers, which seemed to work, yet none of the souvenir stores showed signs of life at their doors. Why not hire a friendly person to give out coupons and the promise of cool, local merchandise inside?
That’s not to say his problems weren’t legitimate — just as the problems of brick-and-mortar stores in the pool industry are legitimate. Yet the best ones are able to figure out ways of outsmarting the competition and seem to be thriving in spite of daunting obstacles.