This week’s Page 1 exploration of the business factors that forced the closing of venerable Dixie Cafe and last week’s news that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre was shutting down even before the end of its season carry the same lesson:
There are no guarantees in life, and there are especially no guarantees in the life of a business.
Habits change, tastes change, demographics and housing patterns change. And that’s before considering competition. Operators who develop a winning business model will find themselves facing competitors who can do it well enough. Sometimes, perish the thought, a competitor will come along who can do it even better
Nostalgia is not a business plan. “Their customer base tends to be aging out is a kind way of saying what’s going on,” food service consultant Maeve Webster said of casual dining establishments like Dixie. Her kindness is appreciated, but her point is clear, and one not lost on those of us in the ink-on-dead-tree industry.
Loyalty, even to something as demonstrably good for a community as an artistic organization like The Rep, cannot replace enthusiasm for a product. In a particularly cruel reality, philanthropists are less likely to support an organization that is struggling than one that is financially healthy. (This was a factor for Ecclesia College in Springdale, where a desperate search for revenue led the former president to an illegal kickback scheme. But we digress.)
Fortunately for our state, we still have a highly competitive restaurant industry with newer operators and fresh concepts that are being replicated and exported. And while we still harbor hope that The Rep can be revived, central Arkansas has a vibrant live theater community that can fill the void that they may have helped create.
Cautionary tales are valuable if they make the rest of us ask what our businesses are doing to stay relevant. Sometimes the hardest part of management is acknowledging what isn’t working.