This post is the first authored by a guest contributor. If you would like to submit to this blog visit the Submit page.
by Jake Haws
There is a certain vacant building on North Canyon Road which, at one point, was home to Pizza Pipeline. After several years, they closed it down and a new pizza place took over called Big Daddy’s. After a year or so, Big Daddy’s closed and American Pie took over. Another year or so went by and American Pie closed down, this time with DK Pizza taking over. That lasted for several months but now the place is closed down again and has been for a few years. With this kind of luck, you’d think it was the site of an ancient Indian burial ground or something.
You can see pizza history repeating itself on Center Street: Pier 41 to The Parlor to Two Jacks to who knows what will be next. In the 6 years that I lived in Provo, I’ve also witnessed a string of other business come and go: boutiques Coal Umbrella, Mode, and Maddux Couture; cafes Pennyroyal, Vermillion Skies, and F-Stop; and restaurants Maestros, Rooster, and Nellie’s, to name a few.
In a town that was ranked by Forbes as the number one “best place for business and careers”, one has to wonder what’s going on.
Allow me to frame my views with a few lines from Arrested Development:
Tobias: You know, Lindsay, as a therapist, I have advised a number of couples to explore an open relationship where the couple remains emotionally committed, but free to explore extra-marital encounters.
Lindsay: Well, did it work for those people?
Tobias: No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but…. but it might work for us.
In my mind, the reason some of these businesses failed is that they were unable (or unwilling) to learn from the mistakes of the past. They don’t do their homework and lack an understanding of the local market. They think to themselves “Sure, there have been three failed pizza parlors in this exact location…. But it might work for us.” They think that they can do the same business in the same way and somehow expect a different result.
I would often hear people say things like, “I want to open a [insert hip sounding business] because Provo really needs a cool hangout spot,” when in fact they were standing right next to a few of them and were completely ignorant of a handful of others in the area that had closed down in the last couple of years.
I think people are also attracted to the certain romanticism attributed to running a business. They want to “be their own boss,” unaware that this can often mean 60-80 hour work weeks and some very big headaches.
There are obviously several other reasons why businesses fail — little or no marketing, poorly managed finances, lack of strong initial funding to get off the ground, external events beyond your control, etc. — but my point is that you need to understand what you are getting into when you open a business in Provo. You are dealing with unique challenges such as a large portion of the population coming and going every year, fighting a mentality that “there is nothing to do in Provo,” and selling to an extremely frugal crowd (count the number of cars in the dollar theater parking lot on a Friday night sometime).
Now before you label me as a jaded cynic, my purpose isn’t to deter you from starting a business. Win or lose, there is something to be said about taking a risk doing something you are passionate about. There are many successful examples to look at of how to make a business in downtown Provo work.
I’m simply pointing out that you need to do your homework. Talk to the business owners — the failed and successful — and ask them what happened with their business, what things they have learned, and how you can run your business differently so you don’t repeat their mistakes. Look at the successful businesses and identify factors that will most likely be the key to your success. Make sure you are truly fulfilling a need instead of convincing yourself the need exists just so you can start the business.
After you’ve done that, take a deep breath and go for it! Everyone goes through struggles but be adaptive and course correct when necessary. If you can pay attention and learn from other people’s mistakes, than you can avoid becoming part of the graveyard of Provo’s failed business history.
Jake Haws is an online marketing professional and web analyst. He recently completed an MBA from the University of Utah and has worked for Raw Data, a market research startup. Jake also owned and managed Muse Music Cafe for six years until he sold the business in 2011.