Dating is great, isn’t it?
I mean you get free food, sometimes free drinks. You get to know a person. You get to dress up and put your best face forward. I loved dating.
My first confession is this: it took me a very long time to learn to enjoy dating, personally. I was always very serious and never wanted to “waste” my time on someone who I knew wasn’t really going to work out “in the long term.” Eventually I came around and realized that hanging out with people over dinner can be really fun and that you should do it every chance you get. Then I got married (holla!) and now I always have someone to hang around over dinner. What’s the point, you ask?
I learned very early on to date professionally. No, I don’t mean getting paid to date, that is an entirely different conversation. I mean, I learned how to date the people I wanted to work with and it paid off tremendously.
Let me explain.
When I was preparing to open the store, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to wear every hat necessary to make my business run. I knew that my forte was creating the space and I needed other people to be really great at everything else.
So I started dating.
I went online and found all of the roasting companies that were either local and/or so badass I couldn’t resist starting a conversation with them. I then sent them a quaint contact email in which I attempted to charm the pants off of them in order for them to believe in my dream at least half as much as I did. A few wrote back, a few didn’t. I went through this same process for cup providers*, bakeries, and most of my contractors.
Once we established a line of communication I would simply start inviting myself over and spending time with them. Sometimes I would show up with an agenda and a long list of questions regarding their products and services, other times I would show up simply to chat and enjoy a cup of coffee with them.
Why is this important, you ask?
You need to love who you work with. At least, I need to love who I work with.
There are so many moving parts involved in keeping the doors open, the lights on, and the customers happy that I needed to know my vendors were on my team. I needed to know they believed in what I was doing and would be there for me, rather than simply waiting for my next order. I found this by dating around.
I chose the roasting company I did because they welcomed me with open arms. They also helped me find some of the equipment I needed at a lower price. They are the first to show up when everything breaks and I am hiding in the back room from unruly customers (truth: that last part hasn’t ever happened because I am extremely fierce and we rarely have unruly customers, but they do always run to rescue me when things break). They were extremely warm and always loved hearing about the next stage in the process and have been so interested and involved with keeping my store running. The last thing that won me over was the blunt nature of our communication and the openness to cursing. We all know I can appreciate some colorful language.
Sure, there are some vendors that I have no relationship with, but I work with them anyway. Obviously this system isn’t fool proof. I will say though, I find myself much more eager to grow with the vendors that I am more relationally invested in. I am also more patient with them because I know, ultimately, they have my best interest in mind and sometimes shit just happens.
When it came to finding a contractor to pal around with me during the build out process, I was #blessed with some serious dumb luck. I was introduced to Dan (whom I am always and forever indebted to) by a friend of a friend and he graciously took on the project. Dan and I basically revived the sad old building that Vintage Heart now occupies. We spent so much time together between destroying hideous pre-existing fixtures to sharing terrible Subway sandwich lunches in 100+ degree heat, that I had complete confidence that any sub-contractor he chose would be up to the quality standard I had set. For me, this was huge. Almost three years later I still call upon my electrician and plumber when things I am not capable of fixing myself happen to explode. I don’t worry that they are charging me unfairly and I never worry they will show up when they say they will.
Because we dated. We have history. And we like each other.
I like to think I’m a pretty good date, too. I can pull myself together and provide witty banter with the best of ’em. These dates allowed me to gain confidence in presenting my plan as well as myself as a business owner. Alternatively, my vendors got to know me as a person and the dream behind why I chose to go down the (sometimes exhausting) road of entrepreneurism and they said, “Sure, we’ll come along!” Knowing these people were in on the dream from the beginning and still chose to stick around is only further encouragement to keep pushing. I have found these relationships to be so crucial to both the success of my business and my own sanity.
*Like some great relationships, your needs change. Everything started out great until we couldn’t reach a compromise on some product changes. We tried to work it out, but ultimately it was time to move on. I had to transition cup/paper providers and the break up was hard on both of us. I still highly recommend dating around to find “the one,” but know when to call it quits and move on. There are more vendors in the sea and you shouldn’t feel obligated to stay with someone if it isn’t working out anymore.