Until a few weeks ago, there was a café just opposite my office. It was handy when we had visitors as we could nip over there for lunch, and the food wasn’t at all bad.

It passed through the hands of various owners over the years but generally seemed reasonably busy and I assume profitable.

About a year ago, the latest new owner turned up. He changed the décor a bit, got some new furniture and tweaked the menu. Nothing too drastic – just a bit of freshening up to keep things interesting and attractive.

I thought that was a sensible start. There’s a lot to be said for a pragmatic “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to taking over an existing business. See how it goes for a while before making dramatic changes.

It’s like when you move into a new house in the winter – don’t dig up the garden immediately; see what grows over the next year, where the sun and shade are, what the drainage is like. Then decide what you want to do.

About a month after the new owner took over the cafe, a small notice appeared on the glass door.

I read the notice, went into the office and boldly predicted to one of my managers that the café opposite would be dead in six months. I was overly pessimistic – it lasted nearly a year before it folded.

The place is now an empty shell. No doubt it will soon be a betting or charity shop – apparently we can’t enough of those in my part of the world.

This is what the notice said:

CASH ONLY
NO DEBIT/CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED

A very short commercial suicide note. Why would anyone only accept cash during a headlong rush towards a cashless society?

Why would anyone refuse custom on the basis of the preferred payment method of the customer (assuming they aren’t trying to barter with shiny beads or chickens)?

How could a rational business owner decide that the logical response to the commercial reality that merchant service providers charge fees is to effectively bar most of the customers?

A truly bizarre decision and ultimately fatal, as it will increasingly be to any business that operates along the same lines.

Cutting your nose off to spite your face, my mother would call it. Wouldn’t it be cleverer to accept the way the world has changed and maybe increase your prices slightly? Or, if the business works in this way, add a surcharge to the price for card payment? Hardly controversial.

The lesson here is not just that a stubborn refusal to accept that this isn’t 1950 is unlikely to lead to business success today.

It’s really that if you want to ensure a steady flow of customers and business, you have to identify and remove the barriers that stop that flow.

Barriers can be many and varied. Payment method is an obvious one. A crappy, impossible to use website is another. A “customer service” phone system designed by sociopaths (any high street bank). Disinterested and unfriendly customer-facing staff. An inability to confirm a sensible delivery window. The list goes on.

What barriers exist in your business? Sometimes it’s hard to see things objectively when you are so involved, so think about getting others to “mystery shop” and report back.

It will pay dividends.

Chris Martin

Chris Martin is a chartered accountant and business advisor and has been helping franchisees create and grow wonderful businesses for over 20 years. He is a published author and has written extensively on franchisee tax issues. He passionately believes that whilst franchising is a deservedly successful business format, franchisees are often let down by their franchisors’ failure to offer support and guidance regarding the financial side of running the business. This leaves franchisees frustrated, overwhelmed and unable to grow their businesses to the extent they should. Chris has developed simple systems, support and guidance to ensure franchisees create businesses that provide them and their families the lives they so richly deserve.

Chris Martin is a chartered accountant and business advisor and has been helping franchisees create and grow wonderful businesses for over 20 years. He is a published author and has written extensively on franchisee tax issues. He passionately believes that whilst franchising is a deservedly successful business format, franchisees are often let down by their franchisors’ failure to offer support and guidance regarding the financial side of running the business. This leaves franchisees frustrated, overwhelmed and unable to grow their businesses to the extent they should. Chris has developed simple systems, support and guidance to ensure franchisees create businesses that provide them and their families the lives they so richly deserve.