A coffee shop recently opened at the bottom of my building. Well, sort of.

When I received a flyer in my mailbox for a “Grand Opening Special” of a free coffee, I was excited on so many levels! I love independent coffee shops. I’m always thrilled to see a vacant space get taken over by a small business owner rather than a large chain store—especially in my own hood. The sheer proximity of this new coffee shop to my apartment sent chills down my spine.

On the morning of the advertised grand opening, I left for work early and stopped in to the small but impeccable space. I welcomed the team behind the counter to the neighbourhood and asked how business was so far. One employee made a face, while the person who appeared to be the owner simply sighed, grabbed a broom and headed to the furthest corner of the shop. The guy who offered me a cup for my coffee admitted it was a lot slower than expected.

I asked to purchase an Americano.

“The machine didn’t get delivered in time. But we’ll be serving more than drip coffee shortly,” answered the guy behind the counter. I looked around and realized that the shelves were quite bare. Apparently a lot of items did not get delivered in time.

My husband called me later that day to tell me that by the time he had arrived at the coffee shop, three hours later, the coffee was lukewarm, the pastries looked like they were left out all morning, and not one staff member smiled at him.

Long story short, this was not a great opening. In fact, it has been three days since this fateful Monday morning and the coffee shop has not opened its doors since. Hopefully, they are simply waiting for that espresso machine to show up.

The truth is that a grand opening that turns out to be anything but grand is a common experience among entrepreneurs. Even Walt Disney had a disastrous launch of Disney World. If a business gets off on the wrong foot, though, it does not mean they’re doomed to fail.  I strongly believe that success is related to how you deal with failure. I like to deal with failure immediately, while it’s happening, in a three-step process.

1. Determine what I could have done differently

I don’t do this to beat myself up, so I make sure to frame my questions as “If I find myself in a similar situation, I will instead try…” In the case of this café, they could have had a soft launch rather than jumping into a grand opening. I recommend this strategy to virtually every entrepreneur, whether they are opening a new location, launching a website, or about to offer a new product line. This way, they can have everything delivered, in working order and debugged by the time they’re ready for a hard launch.

2. Determine what I can do right now to mitigate the damage

This requires some creative thinking and help from your prospective customers. In the case of this café, I might have provided a pen and paper to each person who did walk in and said something along the lines of: “Our shelves are obviously a little bare. It’s important to us that we stock items that our repeat customers want. Please write down the top three items you would like to see in this café.” I would even go so far as to say: “And if you suggest an item that makes it to our shelves, we will give you 50% the first time you buy it. Just write down your name and email address so I can be sure you get the coupon.”

3. Focus on the positive and don’t give up

Things aren’t going well, but that doesn’t mean EVERYTHING sucks! In the case of this café, serving old coffee and stale pastries was clearly a sign that they had decided success was simply not happening for them that day. They gave up (temporarily, I hope) when they should’ve realized that they now had the advantage of knowing what went wrong, how to plan for a better outcome in the future, and thanks to being forced to think on their feet, they could come up with some great ideas that otherwise never would have occurred to them.

My final piece of advice is this: once you’ve survived your un-grand opening, get a good sleep and then get out of bed and go open those doors! Chances are you are not the only one rooting for you. Besides, a bad experience can turn into a really good story—especially when you’re a seasoned small business owner offering advice to Canada’s next batch of young entrepreneurs.

Written By: Darcia Armstrong, Manager, Online Sales and Marketing, CFIB

About Darcia:
Darcia Armstrong is a marketing communications expert who specializes in online marketing. Throughout her career, Darcia has focused on serving the needs and interests of small business owners in Canada. At CFIB, she has planned and implemented many initiatives to fulfill the needs of members, provide support and guidance to first-time entrepreneurs and advance the small business landscape in Canada. Learn more about CFIB and their My StartUp program for first-time entrepreneurs. Darcia invites you to connect with her via LinkedIn.

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