Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I am FREAKING out.

In the last four months at the store, I've dealt with a lot of things. Personnel, of course. Equipment, naturally. Starting a delivery program that's gone pretty well (last Friday, we delivered more food to 14 people than we sold in 11 hours to 70 people.) We've begun serving a hot cooked breakfast, 6 days a week. An article about us on the front page of the Sunday Metro section of Memphis's Commercial Appeal just came out.

I have done all these things and yet, I feel like I'm failing.

I said it.


Ever Monday, I hand out checks to my four part-time, two full-time employees and the baker. Every week, I juggle which supplier has to be paid right now, who can wait until later. I just found out yesterday we owe our most relaxed supplier, gourmet cheeses and meats, $1500. Every week, I can't afford to both pay my overhead AND replace the inventory that I've sold.

It's fucking depressing.

Why is this happening? Despite produce prices and deli prices being the same as Wal-Marts (who incidentally, is not down the street, but a solid 25 minute drive away), despite Water Vallians swearing up and down that all they wanted was another grocery store, despite me adding everything that's made sense: sandwiches, deli items, casseroles, soups, ice cream, yeast rolls, and now, breakfast.... people just won't buy at my store.

They'll buy a few tomatoes. Or a cookie. Or a two-dollar sandwich. Or a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, two packages of meat and cheese. But they won't wheel a cart around the store and buy groceries. Because, somehow, we don't sell groceries in people's minds. We're not big enough, with numbered aisles, and plastic bags, and a mammoth parking lot.

Here's what it would take: 100 people spending about $50+ per week on groceries with me. The lunch and breakfast and random drop-ins would take care of the rest.

100 people.

I can count 100 people who all live within a mile of my store.

But they drive to Wal-Mart or Kroger, 25 minutes away, instead.

It's maddening. It's heartbreaking. It haunts my dreams and makes me cry and diminishes my time with my family because I have a huge albatross on my shoulder all the fucking time.

Why don't I just quit?

Because I'm an optimist at heart. Because I have employees who use the money I give them to put food on their tables (sometimes, even bought at my store). Because it would gut the optimism on my town's Main Street-- we're not the only new business.

Because some weeks, we're so close.

But it's been 16 months now, and we're going into fall and winter-- a food-retail desert, I've discovered-- with no reserves.

I wonder if we'll still be open come spring.


cdavis said...

So sad to hear! I hope it all works out! If I lived there, I would shop at your store!

Anonymous said...

The economy and people's perception are failing.
Not you.
You have put your heat and soul in to this store.
It is a great store you have created.
You have so much more to do in your life.This is merely the beginning.
You are not failing.
Hang in there!
Happy Birthday!

ssjoberg said...

A, don't give up. This is such an amazing place. I long for a slower paced life and a store we can walk to for fresh items and ice cream!!! Here in NOVA we do our main shopping at Trader Joe's and head to Giant for the things we can't get there, like saran wrap and garbage bags,,,maybe it's the closemindedness of a small town or a one stop shop is the most convenient thing for people. Whatever it is I hope they wise up and stay local!!! Good luck!!! Stacy

Anonymous said...

It has been most famously said " it takes a village to raise a child"---and it takes a village to raise the food, harvest it,nurture the soil and sustain the village itself---it is a mindset that needs to change/not your failure. ANd if that mindset does not happen, if we do not nurture our community, this island planet dies.
I am so very very proud of you.


D'nelle said...

oh darlin'...
I'm scratching my head, because I loathe going to WalMart, but I go simply because the prices are lower - way lower - than the local place here that I love, The Turnip Truck. They, too, are doing everything right. They have a fantastic selection of the bargain-basement things that I need and the really quality things that I aspire to.

of course, i'm in the city, and that changes my perspective. I also have a unique personal situation that changes my habits.


but but but.

there's got to be something that can change people's understanding of who BTC *is*...


I think that the article in the commercial appeal is a start, in that it's telling your story.

I think the trick here is figuring out how to get people to both listen to and engage with your story...
which, of course, when it comes to that, you're a genius.

My intial questions are:
- What stories are people telling themselves that make WalMart a better option? Maybe it's the feeling of it being a trip, it being an event (certainly, when i was a kid, WalMart was an event for us).
- Are people listening to you tell your story? you do a great job of it on the facebook, and I have no doubt that anyone coming in your doors can't help but listen to you personally. So the question becomes...
- who's not listening? and, subsequently...
- what *are* they listening to, and how can you insinuate yourself into their earshot?

I'm serious in asking these questions. I also know that you have enough on your plate without having to think about one more problem to tackle.

But I think, maybe... just sit and let these questions marinate.

You of course know how to tell a story that will draw people in and make them fans for life. But observe what people are currently listening to instead of your story, and then in a month, let's talk about it.

I miss you so much. A visit is always on my mind, and as soon as i'm capable, I promise that I will be heading your way.

love love.


Marta of Earth said...

Dear AP, please hang in there! I don't live anywhere near you, but would definitely stop by your place for all the goodies and nice atmosphere you offer. What kind of marketing are you doing? Any chance you can get the local tv/radio involved? Send them a breakfast/lunch sampler for a quick mention on the air? Word of mouth is slow to build, but priceless, as is gorilla marketing. Good luck!!!