“ Success is relative: It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things. ”
— --T.S. Eliot
I can’t believe it’s been a year since we opened the doors. The time has flown.
There are many things about working in The Cup&Mug that have been quite a surprise to me.
There was the unsolicited advice we received at first – a bit like being a first time parent, I suspect: “no-idea’” is obviously emblazoned across your forehead and every passing stranger feels at liberty to tell you where you’re going wrong and how to rectify the situation.
What an interesting and diverse array of people pass through our doors. I have been pleasantly surprised at how social working here is. I’m not a shopper and didn’t expect to get to know people by name and engage in pleasant conversation – Tim had to tell me quite early on that I should stop talking to the customers because their coffee was getting cold.
I’ve loved friends coming in by themselves, ostensibly for a coffee or piece of pottery, but also as an opportunity to catch up. I’ve enjoyed my friends bringing their friends or relatives and then I meet them as well.
I’ve discovered how lucky I am to have such a talented, versatile, personable, jack-of-all-trades as a business partner.
However, I think the aspect which has most surprised me is the complete randomness of each day. We sell Polish (and Irish) Pottery combined with a small drink and food operation but in what proportions the day pans out is completely unpredictable. We have had a few days where we have sold only food and drink and no pottery, a few almost all pottery and no food days, and every other possible permutation - lots of food and lots of pottery, lots of pottery / little food, lots of food and drink / little pottery, lots of small pottery sales only, a few bigger pieces only, batch after batch of scones and no other food, only other food and no scones: the combinations seem endless and just when I think we’ve experienced them all another variation appears.
Some days we have an endless trickle – one person after another where we’re not exactly busy but not really at liberty to accomplish any other tasks. Other days we have hours with few people then we’re run off our feet for two or three hours straight.
At first I kept looking for patterns and routines, but honestly, there are none. At one stage we thought we could confidently declare that a Friday before a long weekend is bound to be bad or Sunday afternoon is afternoon- tea time but no sooner do we think we’ve worked it out and the theory is proved quite wrong. I remember being a new parent and my mother telling me to stop trying to work out the meaning of every episode of the baby sleeping or not sleeping, crying or not crying, happy or not happy. She told me not to bother because by the time you work it out the child’s on to the next stage anyway. Maybe business is like babies! Extrapolating from his restaurant experience, Tim assured me that business is random and just go with the flow.
Some people, even if they are not regular customers, will comment on the activity level. The person who happens to come when we are very quiet, thinks we are always very quiet. The person, who happens to come when we are busy, thinks we are always busy. Sometimes the person who already loves Polish Pottery and thinks they’re in heaven when they find us, will say, on being offered a cup of coffee, “Oh, you serve food and drinks, do you?” The person who is there for a social catch-up will, after being prompted about the true nature of the shop, will eventually tentatively ask, “Do you sell this?” as they vaguely wave in the direction of the pottery. We all see the world from where we stand. Is it possible to do anything else?
If you always come when things are quiet, how could you assume that things must be busy sometimes, or if you always see the bustling moments why would you assume there would be very quiet times. If you’re after a coffee you notice a café; if you’re already a Polish Pottery tragic you will recognise a Polish Pottery shop as you wizz past. How do we know that everything in life is not like this – maybe we can only see things from our own point of view much of the time. And how do we know when we have the whole picture?
May be I just think too much!