Ever since I have been a solo operator and freelancing full time, I tend to visit a lot of cafe’s. I read from them, work out of them or just hangout with a coffee and chill. I love the cafe culture Melbourne offers and to be honest it’s one of the main reasons that this blog exists.
But what I love most is to dissect WHY a cafe is doing so well. It turns out 100% it’s culture. All culture comes from the leader of an organisation. If the staff are happy and vibrant, you know the culture created by the leader is positive and giving. If the staff are unhappy and rude, you can bet your house it comes from a lack of leadership and championing from the top.
One cafe that has become a more recent favorite is Pillar of Salt in Richmond.
The thing is, I live 25 minutes away from Pillar of Salt (without traffic too. With traffic it’s 45+ minutes). I would probably pass 300+ cafe’s at least to get to Pillar of Salt. So why is it that I travel that far for a cup of coffee and some breaky?
One word: Culture.
This morning I got the chance to have a great chat with owner/operator, Kosta, and ask a few questions. It was impromptu and stemmed from me introducing myself and Kosta being nice enough to share with me 20 minutes of his time and discussing his journey so far.
It confirmed the theory that all culture is built from the top down, and I want to share with you what I learned this morning.
Treat Everyone the same.
Being in a popular spot, with a hip menu, it doesn’t surprise me the variety of customers that Pillar of Salt attracts. Celebrities, AFL players, Politicians (have seen Jeff Kennett there many times), High End Executives, and of course regular, every day people looking for a caffeine fix.
The thing is, in business, attracting customers is only 25% of the business model. The other 75% is ensuring the customers’ experience is above and beyond what they would expect with the goal of turning that one time customer into a repeat business customer.
Now on his sixth business, Kosta acknowledges the fact that with age, comes wisdom. He never used to adhere to the rule of treating everyone the same, but over 18 years in the cafe game he has learned a thing or two about how to treat people.
After starting his first cafe at 23, he noted that if someone was rude, they would be kindly asked to leave and never return. Yet, now at 41 (and 18 years deeper in business ownership/life experience), he mentioned that if someone is rude, instead of fighting fire with fire, he does the complete opposite. When someone throws their Ferrari keys on the table or clicks their fingers for service, instead of becoming aggravated, Kosta decides he will treat them equally as if they were anyone else. They don’t get special treatment, nor do they get rude service in return.
It’s about letting the ego go and realising that everyone has their own battles. Everyone has their own story and quite often it’s not about you. If someone is rude, it’s their problem. Just do your best to help with the request in an assertive and competent manner.
Have Good staff and Treat them Well.
The second thing that is noticeable as soon as you enter, is the funky staff. There is no strict uniform, and they are free to allow their personalities to shine through. Some sing, some dance and others are a little quieter, but it’s obvious the staff enjoy their time there.
Kosta talks to them, jokes with them, and is more of a leader than a boss or manager. His job is to inspire and champion his staff, not micromanage and belittle them. It is clear there is a level of resp
ect from both sides, which is the key to staff retention. I also have no doubt that if a staff member needed to be pulled into line, he would do so in a respectful manner, but for the most part it is evident they have been trained well.
Good Leaders are on the Floor
On the 3 occasions I have been there this week, each time Kosta has been on the cafe floor. Not only greeting customers and providing additional energy to the cafe, but with a pad a paper, he serves, delivers drinks, cleans tables and responds to requests. Too many business owners are not present in business. They ‘expect’ staff to do it all, while they should just be able to sit back and watch the money roll in.
As a business owner, you need to be on the ground. You need to know how customers are feeling, what they’re saying, how they are responding and also how they’re acting within your business. Ask questions, get to know them, create raving fans and watch the difference. If you aren’t on the ground actively, it is impossible to do this.
All good leaders understand this.
Do Your Market Research and Know Who You Serve
Too many businesses are aiming all of their services, at all of the population. They try to be everything to everyone and end up being no-one to anyone.
Kosta was very clear on not only who Pillar of Salt services (down to a specific age and other demographics), but even knows which side of the street the sun shines (his side btw). After owning 6 different facilities over the past 18 years, Kosta knows just how important identifying who your ideal clientele is, what they’re all about, and what to look for in a location. If you can figure out these three factors, you’re well on your way.
Humility is Underestimated
In a review of over 150 leadership studies, it was found humility is part of the top 3 attributes of a leader. The first is Integrity, honesty is second, and humility is third. Kosta is a humble man. He doesn’t flash watches or wear a suit on the cafe floor. In fact, each time I’ve seen him, he is wearing a fashionable hoodie, nudie jeans and some nike sneakers.
He was also very open about one of his six businesses not performing well when he had it. Instead of trying to hide it and coming off as super successful in everything he touched, he was humble, real and down to earth. The only chat we had ever had was the one we were having right at the present, and he was completely open about ‘failing’. Yet we all know it isn’t a failure if we learn from it.
To be a good leader, Humility is essential.
Kosta is approachable, friendly and acknowledges every single person that walks into the cafe. A true leader.
Congratulations in what you and the team have created at Pillar of Salt, Kosta. I look forward to continuing making the trip over to Richmond and enjoying a good coffee.