Take care of the small details

There’s no doubt that to be a successful businessman, you have to keep an eye on the details. But sometimes I wonder if you can take that notion a little too far.

This mind-boggling little beer shop I manage in Leeds has certainly hit its stride this year. I can’t put it down to any one thing, so it must be due to lots of tiny little things all falling into place. But as I say, I do wonder how tiny a thing has to be before it becomes insignificant.

A case in point came to light this week. Back towards the start of this year, we got a call from a customer who wondered if we could get hold of any beers from the Purple Moose brewery in Porthmadog, Wales. It’s not a huge brewery, but after visiting it last year, I know it bottles and distributes its beers fairly widely. So I set the wheels in motion to try and acquire some. In the end, they arrived with us as part of a beer swap.

Beer swapping with other retailers is a great way to add interesting beers to your range. The trick is to find one that is far enough away that it doesn’t impinge on each others’ business, but near enough that it is convenient to do so.

This whole process took a couple of months to see through, and when I finally called the customer with the good news, she happily asked me to put a bottle of each beer aside for her, and she would drop by in a couple of months to collect them. Feeling slightly miffed that this whole exchange was going to result in the sale of only four bottles of beer in a couple of months’ time, we nevertheless put them by. The collection date came and went, and as the bottles remained uncollected, they went back on to the shop shelves.

A month after she was due to collect the beers, we received another phone call from her. “Do you still have the beers – I’m so sorry that I haven’t collected them or called you” was the general tack of the conversation. The problem was, we hadn’t – we were down to the last few bottles, and only had two different beers left. Not to worry, she’d drop in and collect them in a couple of weeks.

With gently gritted teeth, I put the two bottles back in the office, but much to my surprise, she did actually show up to collect them. By now, the transaction was worth less than a fiver, and the actual cash value of it to the business may have been less than it cost for me to carry the bottles to and fro, and call her a couple of times. But she was happy with the outcome.

It was certainly a more profitable venture than the complicated docket system we had with a local school fair. It had missed applying for a temporary event notice for its bar, and so asked if it could refer fair-goers to us, on the basis that it received a percentage of any sales generated. We devised a system whereby the fair-goer would arrive with a docket, on which we would record the value of the transaction, and thus keep track of referred sales.

I’m confident that the sales generated didn’t cover the cost of the phone call explaining the system to Paul, our Sunday employee, because they totalled precisely zero. But you can’t quantify good community relations, can you?