Oysters Restaurant owner and operator William Bunch has supplied customers with home-style cooking for 20 years at his Crystal River restaurant.
Mom and pop stores have been in the spotlight the past couple weeks following a comment from Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni that those are the kinds of establishments he wants to see in his city.
But how do the owners of these small business establishments compete against their larger chain counterparts? Many already start off behind the eight ball when it comes to competing against the big boys on the block. The national chains have the capital, the product volume, the advertising budget and the advantage of customer familiarity,
The Chronicle talked with several mom and pop owners and asked them the secret of their success. Here’s what they said:
Oysters Restaurant, Crystal River
William Bunch has owned Oysters Restaurant for 20 years so he must have figured it out.
It’s really quite simple, he said. Make the customer happy, provide good food, have great customer service and keep the place clean.
Equally important: a mindset that puts the customers’ satisfaction first.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s what the customer wants and to make them happy.”
Bunch said catering has made his small restaurant stand out from the pack. Especially when snowbirds leave, it really keeps him afloat.
Keeping close community ties is also important, he said. He regularly caters the King’s Bay Rotary Club. This week he catered a Crystal River High School event.
Owning a small business takes time and hard work, he said. Especially at first when trying to get your name out there.
“You have to work at it to get established,” Bunch said. “You’ve got to get people to know you. You’ve got to stay on top of it. You can’t just relax.”
Bunch employs 10-15 people, depending on the season.
Bunch’s advice for someone thinking of opening a business: study the demographics of the community and offer something apart from the chain restaurants.
“Have something a little different from the next guy,” he said.
Maintaining an attractive website is also vital, he said.
And be consistent in operating hours and prices. Don’t hang a “gone fishing” sign on the door if business is slow.
And, of course, be financially prepared – especially during those tough first years.
“You have to have enough money to take you through at least a year,” Bunch said.
Ritz & Glitz on the Square, Inverness
As of May 1, Dorothy Fitzgerald and Brenda Gardner will be the new proprietors of Ritz & Glitz on the Square in downtown Inverness.
Fitzgerald said they will take the reins from Andrea and Winston Perry, who will continue to own the building. She said she can’t wait to introduce some new wrinkles to the place, which for years has been called Ritzy Rags & Glitzy Jewels, Etc.
The key to success, she said, is not being afraid to try something different, knowing your core customer base and breaking the rules to get people in the door.
For example, Fitzgerald said the boutique store already has something those big chains don’t have: Seamus, a cute-as-a-button mini-Schnauzer who serves as store mascot and unofficial store greeter.
Customers will remember Seamus when they come in to browse and buy. And how many big-name jewelry stores can break from corporate rules and bring in a cute pet to help set a mood?
Or sponsor the occasional in-store wine or massage night?
Yes, those are two more ideas Fitzgerald will soon start – all in an effort to enhance the shopping experience, engage customers and create buzz.
“We’re going to try and keep people coming in all the time,” she said. “To do that, we have to change it up on a constant basis.”
Fitzgerald and Gardner started on the sales floor four years ago and know what works and what doesn’t.
“You have to find the neighborhood niche,” she said. “You’ve got to find a way to get (customers) in.”