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things my father taught me…

November 7, 2014

Oh boy, did I ever have my father’s voice in my head today!

My dad was the consummate business man, and so whenever I see bad business practices I can’t help but hear his voice in my ear.

There was a time when I was a boy, when he would happily explain to me the “ten golden rules” of running your own business. (1.Location. 2.Fill the niche. 3.Cleanliness. 4.Customer Service. 5.Attention to Detail. 6.Honesty 7.Pride 8.Empathy 9.Sincerity 10.Humour)

He had just left a good management job – a position that would have set him up for life with a solid middle-class income and retirement package – for a chance at a hope-and-a-prayer.

He had had an uncle who had a country store and he had watched what worked and what did not work.

First he found the location.

And he knew that the tourists wanted Rockwell, and that the locals wanted honesty.

His first store was straight out of a Norman Rockwell ideal of rural Ontario – right down to the old dog laying on the front step – and he was proud to tell me everything he knew.

He was the master of the family business model and in the proceeding years he grew reasonably wealthy in the process.

So here’s why he was in my head today. Here’s what happened: I bought a ½ sub and I was taking it down to the café to have with a lattè and my book. It’s a rainy day here in Halifax, I’m on the overnight at work, and my girlfriend is off looking at some woman’s collection of Gilbert and Sullivan costumes for a play she is costuming. So I’m on my own, and I’m having one of those get-a-dozen-errands-done kind of days (bills, banking, groceries, laundry…). Which was now all done, so I treated myself to a sandwich and I was going to have a coffee and read some Joan Didion for an hour or two.

But you need to first appreciate that the two farts who run The Trident Café are, after twenty or thirty years in the business, completely indifferent to how successful their café is, nor do they care to acknowledge you 99% of the time with anything but complete indifference.

Their coffee, while once ahead of its time in Halifax, has long been surpassed by the younger, hipper, coffee connoisseurs who brew my addiction at The Narrow (no seats for reading), and Steve-O-Rinos (too busy for reading). Even Uncommon Grounds (horrible space) has recently upped their coffee game, making them preferable to The Trident’s idea of what good 1980’s coffee tastes like. Add to this that The Trident’s pastries actually look like they came from the 1980’s and you can start to see how out of touch they are.

The 60-something-year-old couple who own the place have no problems berating their barristas in front of customers – and usually over the most trivial of things. Save for their friends, they do their utmost not to engage anymore than is absolutely necessary with their customers, and often seem quite irritated when they have to.

Essentially, they run the place in the exact opposite way my father ran his business.

If it were not for the fact that the café is a comfy combination old bookstore/café, and that they have Jenn, their excellent barrista, I doubt that we would hardly ever go there at all.

But it’s the city, so I’ve learned to put up with a lot of indifference – and I just wanted a comfy space to have a coffee and read my book by a window.

So, I walk in on this rainy Friday afternoon to find that ½ the café was closed off to the public because they decided that today was a good day to roast coffee.

An entire room of tables was closed off.

Did I mention that they decided to this on a Friday afternoon?

Did I mention that The Trident is closed on Sundays? (Wouldn’t it make more sense to roast coffee then? Or perhaps in the morning?)

There are no tables to sit at, and when I mention that it was too bad ½ the tables were out of commission, I was told I could always come back tomorrow.

That’s the business spirit!

Just tell your customers to come back tomorrow! (Like you were still the only cafe in town!)

In the short time I was there, myself, and the 4 customers behind me all left without ordering a single thing.

And it’s not like The Trident is the anywhere near the busiest café in town. Far from it! It’s location is mediocre at best, and if it wasn’t for its reputation as one of the oldest cafes in town, and the last used bookstore in downtown Halifax, people would come even less.

If I was teaching a business class at Saint Mary’s this would be a classic model of everything not to do with your small business.

If it were my dad, his first inclination would be to buy the place and run it properly.

Not that The Trident would care; one way or the other.


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