The Business Watch
by Richard E. Noble
If you are about to open a small business be prepared to meet members of The Business Watch.
I don’t know if they are a Fraternal Organization, like the Elks or the Moose or the Knights of Columbus, or what, but you can be sure they will be there. They will pop into your business even before you open, just to check you out. They usually make some excuse - like they need to use a bathroom, or to ask if you would like to make a donation to the sightless, blind, burnt-out or diseased people of the world; or contribute to the United Undisputed Church of the One and Only, Really and Truly, Cross My Heart and Hope to Die, Really, No Kidding, True God. But what they really want to know is what the hell you are up to, and what makes you so foolish to think that you could ever open anything here in this wilderness that could be successful.
When and if you are stupid enough to tell them your idea, they will shake their head and say “tish, tish, tish”. Then they will tell you about their brother-in-law who tried the very same thing years ago and lost everything; or who is about to do the very same thing just down the road - but better than what you have in mind and with more money than you have. Or, they will tell you what a wonderful idea you have and then when they leave you will hear them laughing all the way to the parking lot.
When you finally open your small business, members of this Business Watch will drop in all the time to inform you of the number of cars that are parked at your competition; or to inform you that they were just at your competitor’s and had a wonderful time and, of course, so did the rest of the community who were ALL there.
If they happen to come in when you are slow, they will look at you very sadly and say; “Well, you’ve done your best.” or “Has it been like this all day?” or “Have you ever thought of serving soup and sandwiches ... or giving out free samples? ... or putting an ad on national TV. You know what this town really needs is a bowling alley or movie theater.”
If they happen to come in while you are busy, they will stand in some in-the-way spot with a shocked look on their face, just grinning stupidly, while trying to get your attention. When they do get your attention they just shrug their shoulders, say nothing, and keep grinning bewilderingly. Obviously, they are in total shock - as you should also be - at what appears to be the success of what anybody should consider a completely ridiculous idea. Occasionally, if they do think of something to say, they might ask you if all these people are a part of your family reunion or something, or if a tour bus got lost in the area.
They usually try their best to order or buy nothing. Their main goal is to take up as much room as they possibly can; occupy all the bathrooms; keep all the help not doing what they are supposed to be doing, while pretending to be your oldest and best personal friend. If they get your attention, they will ask about your wife or family, show you their last operation scare, pictures of their grand baby, their son in uniform or they might want you to go outside and take a look at their new car - or pet ... a new baby gorilla.
Sometimes they just drop in to say hello and give their kids a place to play for an hour or so.
They know about every impending disaster, hurricane on the way, tornado on the bay, the legislature having plans to discontinue the road out in front of your business, famine, contagious disease and possible war.
If you sell food, just before they sit down to eat, they will tell you how they recently got food poisoning at the best, most successful eatery in the community, and had to be rushed to the hospital at two o’clock in the morning to have their stomach pumped. After which they usually ask if what they are about to order is fresh or frozen, or prepared today. But usually they just want a large glass of water with lots of ice, and don’t be afraid to charge them for it, they advise. If you do charge them, they will either give you a thousand dollar bill, ask if you’ll take a personal check, or run out to their car for an hour, gathering change up off the floor, but all the while remembering to leave someone inside apologizing in a loud voice for not having the money ... TO PAY FOR THE GLASS OF WATER.
When and if they do come in to buy something, it is usually on the Fourth of July weekend, or Memorial day and they arrive unannounced with two or three hundred of their friends, or the entire congregation from their church, or (da-da-da-da, da-da-da! anybody play the banjo?) the entire family reunion.
They always need desperately something that you don’t have: a Band-Aid, aspirin, high-beam headlight bulb, or an emergency room intravenous feeding machine.
Their interesting news usually consists of telling you that the kiddy pops you gave out for free last week turned their kids poop blue. Or that they sent a large group of friends down last week and you were closed. “When are you open anyway?” they ask constantly even if you are open seven days a week.
“Do you really make any money here?” is a common Business Watch Group question: ‘Why did you pick this spot?”; “You’re not from around here, are you?” Often they want to show you that HUGE obstacle in your parking lot that they didn’t see and just ran over, damaging their drive train and bursting the oil pan on their 1953 Oldsmobile.
Sometimes they will walk in, holding their knee painfully, asking if you have insurance. Other times they just like to stop out in front of your place for a family picnic, or to wash and dry a few of the baby’s diapers on your picnic tables or drop off last week’s trash in your dumpster.
On occasion they might just park and yell to one another from out their car windows, or just listen to their boom box in front of your entrance for an hour or so.
They love to talk about the local real-estate and how ludicrously expensive everything has gotten around here ... “Why even this dump that you have here is probably worth a fortune,” they suggest.
They love to use your business phone to make hotel reservation in Dallas, or to call back home to find out how Elmer is coming with his Key-mo. Sometimes they leave the water running in the bathroom just to see if you are really paying attention. They will often take something off your display shelf, bring it to you, point to the price tag and ask you if you are really serious. They usually leave the object right there for you to put back.
If you manage to keep the doors open for more than a year and take in more money than you pay out for a month or two, they spread the rumor that you have more money than God, and are one of the cheapest S.O.B.’s that was ever born.
Sometimes you will even know them. You will wonder how long it has actually been since you had last seen them before you opened this business. They will then spend a quarter, after which they will ask if you could possibly sponsor their son who is number 2543 on the list of Questa hopefuls in the upcoming, possible, maybe someday Olympic trials in Bangladesh.
If one of your employees falls down or cuts themselves in front of one of them, they usually have a good supply of business cards from personal injury lawyers that just happen to live near-by.
But, let me be the first to wish you the best of luck on your new business idea. By the way, why are you opening a business anyway? Are you just trying to hide some cash from the IRS or do you seriously think that this foolish notion of yours has some kind of remote possibility of being a success? Do you know that one out of every five small businesses in America fail in the first year? That’s about the same success rate as marriage. How long have you been married anyway? Are you prepared to end your marriage if this business gets difficult? But seriously, is there something wrong with you? Are you incapable of working for other people? Are you too stupid or obstinate to get a real job? Do you hear voices? Don’t believe what they say. Take it from me, you are just crazy!
Listen to me, the reason you see so many people still operating their own little, small business is because they are now so far in debt that even if they close the place down they couldn’t get a job that would pay them enough money to pay off their loans - no matter what the hell they used to be! If they own the building, you can be sure they have exhausted all the equity and even if they could find some sucker to buy the place - they wouldn’t realize a dime. They have to stay in business! They have no choice! Believe me; they ain’t making no damn money!