For Small Business, Change is the Only Constant

Posted on February 3, 2018 in Planning & Advisors

When I have writer’s block–or just need a change of pace–I have a favorite cafe that I like to go to.  Free WiFi, a vast selection of teas (hence the name of the place: SubtleTea), delightful servers, cool Sirius jazz music wafting gently in the background.

Until today.

I left the apartment with visions of my favorite corner seat.  I knew exactly what I was going to eat while I was there (avocado and cheese sandwich on 12-grain bread with a large rooibos tea).  So I happily sauntered my way over to their location … only to discover that the shop was being dismantled. Okay, so it had been about a month since I was last there, but every time I was there it was packed! I would even get up extra early in the day to get my favorite seat! How can they possibly be closed?  For a brief moment, I pretented that they were just doing inventory. Or spring cleaning. Or remodeling. But then I saw the sign on the door: STORE CLOSING SALE. TWO FOR ONE SALE. And I knew the worst: my beloved “muse” was no more. Shuttered. Gone.

I decamped to a Starbucks a couple of blocks away. Yes, they now have free WiFi too. Food selections? Certainly not the healthy sandwich I had been hoping for (I ended up with a Greek yogurt thing, but you know how it is when you have visions of something else). Tea? Only 2 selections of non-caffeinated herbal tea (SubtleTea had about 12).  I stammered out my order, asking for a “large” instead of a “venti”–and for a moment, the barista has no idea what I was talking about. She shouted “venti calm tea” to the beverage maker, who repeated “venti coffee”–which I caught and corrected mere nanoseconds before pouring the liquid. And while vintage BeeGees has its place, it’s not my cup of (Subtle) tea (ha!). Have I mentioned that the sun in shining right in my eyes? And there are flies. So much for the calming, comfortable creative environment I was hoping for.

What am I going to do now?

I’ll do what all small businesses do: adapt.

Sure, SubtleTea is a loss (for me). I can stand and stomp and snort at the corner of 30th Street and Madison Avenue all I want but that won’t bring the cafe back. Likewise, there may be favorite vendors (or employees) or alliance partners or clients that you loved to work with, yet are no longer in your orbit. What can you do when market conditions change?

  1. Research alternatives. I know the criteria: I need a place where I can sit for extended periods without being disturbed, eat/drink as I work, and let the creative juices flow.  I can ask other like-minded, creative entrepreneurs about the places they like. I can walk around the neighborhood, doing my own exploration. I can search online.
  2. Evaluate your needs. Do I really need an “office-away-from-the-office? What is it about my current circumstances that brings up this need? Is there anything about the way I work now that I can change so that I can put this need in its proper perspective?
  3. Accept that all things change. One of my mother’s favorite lines from literature is “It’s all a matter of getting accustomed to not getting accustomed.” (Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroger, in case you were wondering). As sad as it is to see a beloved small business go out of business, it’s also an opportunity for me to become more independent. Or, in other words, to shake my dependence of this one business, this one location. Like other facets of business, if you rely on one supplier, one client, one key employee for your company to function, you’re taking a big risk. For “nothing lasts forever but the rocks,” and the only constant in business is change.


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