Norm Brod­sky The path you’ll take is rarely the one you planned

Some­times, the path you take is one you never planned for

Inc. (USA) - - CONTENTS - Norm Brod­sky Norm Brod­sky is a vet­eran en­tre­pre­neur. He is the co-au­thor of Street Smarts: An All-Pur­pose Tool Kit for En­trepreneurs. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @norm­brod­sky.

IT’S RARE, I’VE FOUND, that you’re able to stick to the plans you make when you’re start­ing out in a new busi­ness. Some­thing al­most al­ways comes up that forces you to change course. It could be an ob­sta­cle, or it could be an un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity. Ei­ther way, your plans of­ten need to be rethought.

I ran into such a sit­u­a­tion with the chain of fast-ca­sual Ja­panese restau­rants I’ve launched with three part­ners— Kobeyaki. Long­time read­ers of this col­umn may re­call that we opened our first two restau­rants in com­mer­cial parts of New York City with high foot traf­fic at lunchtime. They’ve both done a huge vol­ume of busi­ness from day one.

It was a fan­tas­tic start to­ward our im­me­di­ate goal, which was to raise enough out­side fund­ing to build Kobeyaki into a na­tional chain. We first had to prove the model and the concept. We fig­ured we could do that by hav­ing five to seven prof­itable out­lets through­out the city. So we were al­ready 20 to 30 per­cent of the way there.

At the end of 2014, we launched our third Kobeyaki, in a res­i­den­tial area on the Up­per East Side of Man­hat­tan. We chose the spot be­cause other fast-ca­sual restau­rants were well es­tab­lished in the neigh­bor­hood, but this one ini­tially bombed. The street had very lit­tle lunchtime foot traf­fic, partly be­cause of con­struc­tion down the block. We did less than half as much busi­ness there as we were do­ing at the other two lo­ca­tions.

So we changed our plans. In­stead of open­ing two more restau­rants in the city, we had to fix num­ber three. We knew there were po­ten­tial cus­tomers liv­ing in the apart­ment build­ings around us. To lure them, we printed new take­out menus and leafleted the area. We also did mail­ings with coupons for dis­counts. Our main prob­lem soon be­came ap­par­ent: The lo­cal res­i­dents didn’t like go­ing out in the even­ing. So we had to do some­thing we’d never planned on or wanted to do: de­liv­ery.

At the time, that meant hir­ing our own de­liv­ery peo­ple. To hold onto drivers, you need a lot of or­ders, be­cause de­liv­ery peo­ple get paid mostly through tips. But we didn’t have a lot of or­ders. We solved that prob­lem by sign­ing up with some food-or­der­ing ser­vices. Sud­denly, we had plenty of or­ders. Then Uber got into the act, and of­fered a ser­vice that, for a larger com­mis­sion, would han­dle the de­liv­ery. Grub­hub soon fol­lowed suit.

De­liv­ery proved cru­cial to our turn­around, although there were other fac­tors too. We handed out gift cer­tifi­cates at prep schools in the neigh­bor­hood, and stu­dents be­gan show­ing up af­ter school. The city fi­nally fin­ished the first phase of the Sec­ond Av­enue sub­way line and took down the con­struc­tion bar­ri­ers on our street, which re­sulted in more foot traf­fic in the area. Fa­mil­iar­ity and word of mouth also played a role. It took a cou­ple of years, but we dou­bled our weekly sales, prov­ing we could op­er­ate prof­itably in res­i­den­tial ar­eas as well as in com­mer­cial ones.

Mean­while, a cou­ple of other things hap­pened that we didn’t ex­pect. We were in­vited to open a Kobeyaki in Madi­son Square Garden, where the NBA Knicks and the NHL Rangers play, and we did that a few months ago. Then an air­port con­ces­sion­aire con­tacted us about open­ing in one of the ter­mi­nals at JFK In­ter­na­tional. We ex­pect to have a restau­rant there this sum­mer. Mean­while, we’ve signed a lease for a Kobeyaki in Jersey City, New Jersey. Af­ter that, we’ll prob­a­bly ex­pand to Bos­ton. If we can demon­strate the ap­peal of our concept in both com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial ar­eas, an arena, an air­port, and three states, we’ll be in great shape to start look­ing for the cap­i­tal we need to go na­tional. It’s not how we planned it. But plans change. That’s one thing you can al­ways plan on.

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