October 13, 2022 at 3:37 p.m.

Who owns the pickup?

#4: Real time stories - hospitality

By Richard Koenings-

To this point in this small business advisory series, we have considered several initial steps in gauging your readiness for the entrepreneurial “plunge.” Said another way, rating your current EQ or Entrepreneurial Quotient; do you have the mindset, the energy and persistence, and the information likely to lead to success? 
Let’s now pause our start up analysis process for some real time stories. This article will look at several local businesses in the hospitality industry. We’ll look at other local industries in future real time stories versions of this column. 
To say the last couple years have been challenging for hospitality businesses in the Northwoods understates the length, width, and depth of the issues confronted, so here we go. There are dozens and dozens of local profiles that could have been chosen, I’ve merely selected a few representative “stories.” 
I believe you will notice some consistent themes running through these two, which I will summarize later, but let’s explore them separately now.

First, “something old”
Otto’s Beer & Brat Garden, Minocqua.
Otto’s is no start-up, having been a fixture on Minocqua’s “main” street for 25 years with its iconic Bavarian statue out front, but like all businesses over the last few years, Otto’s had to scramble to adjust to a constantly shifting landscape of uncertain scope and duration. Bob Paul and his wife have been managing this landmark local establishment for the last 16 years. It has an inside capacity of some 35 guests and an outside (the “garden” part of the business) capacity of another 50 or so customers.
One of the biggest challenges Bob confronted was finding and keeping employees. How did he respond? By reducing days open from seven to five. So why the shortage? A significant contributing factor was the loss of the “J-1” visa program with college age employees from overseas; it was shut off by Covid, and is just now starting back up.
Another major issue was and is constantly rising costs, not just employee costs, but everything costs, to say nothing of delivery issues, and with increased costs comes increased prices to the customers; the whole cycle. One thing Bob mentioned was the great understanding and support from the owners, without which lesser mgt/owner structured businesses would not have survived.
He is optimistic for the future, and hopefully, the light he sees at the end of the tunnel is not the proverbial oncoming freight train, but he will stay vigilant and nimble to react to whatever comes; it’s the only way!

Next, “Something new” 
Birch Lake Bar & Resort, Harshaw.
Ali Mccalmont and her uncle Patrick are native southern Wisconsinites so they grew up knowing of Up North their whole life. Family responsibilities, experiences, and dreams pushed them to the jumping off point. They have now been in business for a year-and-a-half, bad timing if you think about the pandemic, but maybe not. Patrick comes from a resort and restaurant background, Ali from a desire to team up with Patrick “Up North” and be close to other family members while continuing a full time remote job.
What mindset drove them and drives them? Stubbornness and persistence were suggested (without which I have found there cannot be entrepreneurial success). They shared a vision of what they wanted to do, and where and how. The location vision was a lovely lake view. The context vision was a family management style, a family employee style, and a family customer style. It even went further to their great and happy surprise. If they needed something/someone to fix or assist (prior owners were there for 25 years and had gone through one fire/rebuild process years prior), they could openly talk about it with those three management/employee/ customer “families” and always there was someone who knew someone who knew someone who could respond and be helpful.
Did they anticipate all the issues to be faced? Of course not, but they were prepared with the mindset to tackle them and the flexibility to adjust priorities in response. In such a business, I don’t think you can anticipate the problems that will arise even though you have tried to investigate and plan for contingencies. What you can anticipate is that they will arise. Like how about the good turn of events in growing fairly quickly the restaurant customer base. Great, right? Oh, but the A/C size couldn’t handle the customer growth, and the cooler size couldn’t handle that the food needs growth. Be careful what you wish for because there will be derivative consequences. 
Of course, their rural Harshaw location has connectivity issues, like so many of us Up North do. What to do? Taken from the recipe book of lemons into lemonade, Ali and Patrick market the quiet North and the opportunity to unplug both computer and phone and enjoy the surroundings and people! 

The common themes from the above
It’s the people, first and foremost, that make the business survive and prosper. And it’s not just the owners and managers and their employees people, but also their customers and suppliers and services providers. The more you can grow your people families, the quicker you will address the “surprises” that you will surely encounter. Though necessary and helpful in all respects, it isn’t financial resources, it isn’t technical expertise, and it isn’t even product and market research that determines success, it’s people.
In all my years of business, I cannot think of a success without the qualities of dogged persistence and fair dealing in relationships. Funny thing about luck and satisfaction, it seems to be closely associated with hard work and fair dealing.

Up next 
It’s time to talk about a local “favorite,” John Dillinger, and what he had in common with all successful businesses; genius is so simple! 
Richard Koenings is an instructor and professor at Nicolet College and Concordia University, an executive manager of small and large businesses, a founder of three businesses, and has 30 years of experience as a business lawyer.


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