Why am I showing you a photo of a woman holding a hair dryer? Because that’s Tabatha Coffey, the former host of the hit Bravo TV show Tabatha Takes Over—for me, the best reality show on television while it lasted. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Tabatha—a successful and highly professional stylist—would visit a number of struggling salons, identify the issues preventing success, and help the bosses turn their business around. Of course, every now and again Tabatha would run into a lazy or indifferent owner, one that had no real interest in hard work or progress, and give them a stern talking-to. She would invariably tell them:
“You clearly don’t care about your business.”
Being Australian with a thick accent, when Tabatha says the word “business” she pronounces it more like “beeznis,” which I would have a field day with at home. After a long day at work, I’d be telling my wife about all the struggles we were facing and I’d say to her, completely deadpanned: “These people clearly don’t care about their beeznis.”
“And you wonder why no one takes you seriously,” she’d reply with a sigh.
Tabatha has been on my mind lately as I’ve navigated the network of small, independent liquor stores in Los Angeles, talking with a surprising number of corner shop owners who have little to no desire to put any effort into their business whatsoever. Their reluctance to change, think outside the box, or invest in better technology in the face of struggling sales and an evaporating clientele is more tragic than it is frustrating, and with the rise of third-party delivery services like Drizly, Instacart, and Postmates, the writing is on the wall for wine and spirits retail. Namely, if you’re not engaging a new generation of consumers with software and social media, you’d better have the lowest prices, a great selection of products, and the best customer service known to man in return.
Unfortunately, most of the places I’m referring to have a very basic selection of spirits, pricing that’s nowhere near as low as their main competition, and customer service that borders on abusive at best, so I’ve been wondering what they see in their own personal crystal balls. “We need to get more people into the store,” one person told me last week, as we reviewed a very basic strategical playbook. How about an in-store tasting? Meh, they’re hit or miss. How about a website with great content? Meh, that’s expensive to do. How about changing up your inventory with some niche products that attract a different set of passionate consumers? Meh, no one is asking for those brands. So basically you want everything to be like it was before, where customers came to you automatically, and all you had to do was sit there and collect the money? Yes, now that sounds like.a great idea! How do we do that?
Being a successful business owner in the modern age requires one or both of two things: consideration for your customers and passion for the services that you’re offering. You don’t have to care deeply about wine or spirits (in fact, I’ve met at least five store owners that don’t even drink), but you do have to care about the experience of your consumers. At the same time, I’ve met more than a few assholes in my career who have put together a great selection of well-curated bottles and found their niche. The point is: you can be a jerk so long as you’re passionate, and you can be a novice so long as you’re nice. But you absolutely cannot be a passionless prick. I’ll use my current landlord as an example of the latter.
I’ve been emailing and texting my landlord this week about the multitude of repairs my apartment is still in need of, despite the fact that he had advertised the unit as “completely remodeled” in the listing. When I eventually called him a liar and told him that I was bringing in my own safety inspector as evidence, he seemed genuinely upset. “This is a lot of work you’re asking me to do,” he wrote to me in a text message. I responded by writing: “I understand you’re frustrated, but all of this could have been avoided if you had made the necessary repairs before I moved in. This all should have been handled long before we got here.” What I’ve discovered about my landlord is that he neither wants to be a landlord, nor does he give a shit about my experience as a tenant, hence why I’m currently reevaluating my living arrangements. If anything, he resents me for holding him to a reasonable standard, not unlike a retailer who thinks his customers are the problem.
As I was investigating my rights in preparation of a potential suit, I found this wonderful line on a legal site regarding the general responsibilities of a landlord: The theme of the law is not complex. If you intend to make a profit from renting living space, you will have to provide living accommodations that meet certain habitability conditions and if you do not, the tenant may make those repairs or terminate the leasehold. If you have allowed unsafe conditions to exist on premises within your control and foreseeable harm results, you may be liable.
The theme of retail is also not complex. If you intend to make a profit from selling wine and spirits, you will have to provide customers with an experience that meets certain consumer conditions and if you do not, the customer will go elsewhere. If you have allowed for substandard conditions to exist on premises within your control and foreseeable displeasure results, you will be liable and eventually you’ll go out of business.