This is a business story. There are lessons to be learned here, more than about what is and is not the scope of any business.
I had a friend who had quite a good understanding of business, even though he had never gone beyond a high school education. I guess, he was a natural to some extent. I was thinking of him the other day, and something that happened in a little out of way tavern in the middle of nowhere several years ago.
It was about this time of year. The two of us had been traveling for a number of hours for a business purchase. We completed our business and were on the return trip. We were both tired and hungry. As we drove along some back road, a well kept tavern appeared on the side of the road.
We decided it was time to stop and rest. While there we would have some food and coffee, getting rested for the remainder of the trip. The building was very nice for being so far from anywhere.
The walls were paneled wood, and well oiled. The lighting was soft, but no overly so. The only employee present, the bartender, turned out to be the owner. He had owned the place for some years, and he prided himself on everything about his business from the building that housed it, to the paper napkins we would use during our meal.
The food was of course excellent. Nothing fancy, way better than the standard out of the way back country bar usually provides. I remember I had a cheeseburger. It was fresh and cooked to perfection with grilled onions, and cheddar cheese. I can still taste the burger when I think about it. The home made steak fries and coleslaw that came with my burger were also fresh, and very good.
When we finished eating, we asked if there was coffee. The bartender said there was, and it would take a few minutes to make if we would wait. Of course we would wait, the thought of coffee promised to be every bit as good as the meal we finished.
Coffee arrived a few minutes later, and it was very good. Not too strong, not overly hot, not bitter. As with the rest of the meal and surroundings, it was more than we expected.
Unusual however were the cups the coffee was served in. Not elegant, but certainly not run of the mill. They were very tasteful and unique glass coffee mugs. I had never seen anything like them before, and neither had my friend. He wasn’t sure what was better the coffee or the mugs the coffee was served in.
As we sipped our coffee and discussed the trip, my friend told me how much he would like to have four of these coffee mugs we were holding in our hands. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted four of them.
The bartender/owner came to the table asking if we would like a refill on the coffee. My friend told the man how much he liked the mugs, and could he buy four of them? He was willing to pay a reasonable price.
The bartender/owner remained quiet, and thought for a few seconds. He then told my friend, the mugs were unique to the business, and he purchased them through one of his suppliers. He continued he didn’t have any extra mugs he would sell.
I don’t know if was from being tired, or my friend wanted four mugs so dearly, but after listening he said, ”Would you rather sell me four mugs or would you prefer I stole them?”
I don’t know who was more shocked the bartender/owner or myself. My friend was was as honest as the day was long. I couldn’t believe what I just heard!
The bartender/owner was also quite taken aback, and I could tell from his expression he was on the brink of asking us to pay our bill and leave right now. Before he could continue that thought, my friend broke the silence.
He said, the building was exceptional, the food just as good, and the glass coffee mugs were indeed unique. However was it possible, more mugs could be purchased to replace the four mugs he wanted to buy?
I thought in this moment was to be had a brilliant business lesson. Here is a business owner, who is in business to make a living. Up until this moment he was doing this by operating a tavern and feeding his customers in a pleasant atmosphere. He took pride in everything about his business.
The bartender/owner walked away without saying anything more. I thought in the moment we had overstayed our welcome, and we were going to be asked to leave. He went into a back room for a minute or so, came out and beckoned my friend to the bar.
My friend went to the bar, and they conversed for a minute or so. Some money exchanged hands, and my friend walked back to the table with his four coffee mugs well wrapped and packaged.
The point to all this is what is the business of business? Up to that moment, the tavern owner never dreamed he would be selling his coffee mugs. My friend was obviously not driving across country in search of the lost mug. Yet business had been conducted, a surprise to both parties involved in the transaction with myself more surprised than both of them.
Business does not come naturally to me as it did for my friend. To the detriment of my bottom line, I may have asked us to leave, before I thought through all my options. If you own and operate a business, are you open to all avenues of income your business can generate? If you were the owner of the tavern, what would you have done?