Reality TV—is this your business?

Dear Ken Keller,

I enjoy watching reality television shows, specifically those that are business related. I have picked up some ideas from a few shows. Do you see any of these shows and what can you share from the ones you watch? — Gino M.

Dear Gino:

I have watched a number of shows through the years but candidly admit that of all that I have seen, “Bar Rescue” is my favorite. I must confess that I don’t watch the show as often as I have in the past because the constant commercials drive me nuts.

If you have never watched it, try it. Host and bar expert Jon Taffer goes into a bar because it is failing financially. The core reason every bar owner turns to him is because the bar suffers from (pick one or more): outright owner neglect, indifference, a poor attitude based on past event, failing revenue, growing debt, or simply burnout.

The common theme is that the owner and staff lack the technical understanding of how a bar makes money. This all makes for entertaining television.

In all of the “Bar Rescue” episodes I have watched, and in thinking about some of the business owners I’ve met and perhaps consulted to, I’ve witnessed these characteristics that explain why the business is financially failing:

-The owner thinks they are working hard, and may appear to work hard, but often don’t do either. And, while they are proud to be the owner, they don’t really want to either lead or manage.

-The owner does not supervise. Subordinates never hear praise and rarely get direction or feedback. Formal performance appraisals never take place. Employees are often told “Good job,” but it is never in reference to anything specific.

-Owner follow-up and follow-through is really non-existent. While always talking a good game, the owner often fails to honor commitments. Employees cue on that and use it to their advantage.

-The owner is afraid to fire anyone. Every owner grumbles about the mistakes that employees make. But that is all they do. Employees know the bark is far worse than the bite. Eventually, they ignore the barking.

-The owner never trains their employees. The owner assumes people hired know what to do. Training is considered too much work and too big of a hassle with minimal returns.

-The owner has the attitude that “growing the company is okay as long as I don’t have to work any harder for it to happen.”

These owners also lack two other things that have caused their bars to decline. The first is lack of vision; they do not see the lack of cleanliness and disrepair of their own facility. They fail to see that new customers are not being acquired and that old customers are not returning.

The second is their ambiguity related to trust. Being total control freaks, these owners will not allow anyone to make decisions about how the bar runs; yet the lack of control at the point of pour is the primary reason each bar highlighted has major financial issues.

These are critical takeaways for anyone in business who watches the show. But, seeing challenges and then doing something about them are two very different things.