Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Business Owners Can Learn From Visiting Relatives

For real you’re asking! I’m a small entrepreneur!  What in the world can I possibly learn from visiting relatives other than the old saying “They stink like fish after a few days?” Believe it or not, you’d be surprised and you may be guilty of some of the faux pas we found!

My daughter, son-in-law and grandson recently visited Austin for a week—they hail from Wasilla Alaska. During our one-week, full-of-fun trip, I learned a lot from the businesses we visited—both good and bad.

Fredericksburg Texas

This is a German heritage mecca—well at least their website says they are.  I’m not sure I get the “German” influence here except for one beer pub producing German ale—yes you can buy and drink beer on the streets and a German restaurant boasting German food and tasty delights from this historic country. They also claim fame to lots of shopping and here’s where Fredericksburg falls flat.

We arrived at around noon, ate lunch at a wonderful café where you can get Pie on a stick—Yum—and then started our shopping adventure. Main Street does have a lot of shops but they close early—real early, some at 4 or 5 p.m. and after 6 p.m., unless you want to eat,  your shopping adventure is done.

The Lesson: I could literally open any type of store in Fredericksburg and keep it open until 8 p.m.—even later and I know I’d sell stuff because there were so many folks walking the streets looking for something to buy at 6 p.m. but had no-where to turn. Tourists don’t want to leave a place they’ve driven to without a trinket or two!

San Antonio River Walk

This is a free place to visit (except for parking) and it’s full of fun, history, eateries and boat tours. You can even take a boat taxi to the shopping mall! The boat tour companies need a business lesson or two. For $8 bucks ($2-6 for kids depending on age) you get stuffed (literally) into an open barge-type boat with a tour guide.

First off, you are constantly kicked by your neighbor and if that’s not bad enough, the tour guide is impossible to hear—at least clearly. I heard people laughing but only those sitting closest to him benefited. And, for a state so military enhanced, you’d think they’d offer a military discount.

The Lesson: These companies have tons of boats and the line moves quickly because they pack as many people as possible in one boat. I’d make the seating arrangements more attractive—more like row seating, not side-by-side and equip the boats with better sound systems. They need to pay attention to our military folks as well—many visit the River Walk after boot camp graduation. As far as dining goes, how many ice cream and tacos can one eat in a day? Be innovative restaurateurs and come up with something unique? How about Pie on a stick?

Sea World (San Antonio)

You really can’t say much about the Shamu show—these large mammals are the main attraction and do pay attention to the “Splash Zone” seat warnings because YOU WILL GET WET—VERY WET. There’s also a great show called Azul and it’s a must-see if visiting Sea World.

It’s nice there’s a one-price ticket to enter all events (ride-included tickets are also available) and there are lots of benches for old grandparents like me. My daughter, son-in-law and grandson got in for free because he’s Air Force—he even got 30 percent off all food (except the buffet in the park) and discounts on rides.

For our eating adventure, we chose the buffet in the park promising cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips, condiments galore and drinks with free refills. This place was horrible so don’t waste your money! The food was cold, the drink line (which you must do first before you get food) was so long with one person handing out drink requests of Coca Cola products and much of the food promised wasn’t found!  When we arrived there were no cheeseburgers, only cold hot dogs, dried out buns, something that looked like pudding and the potato salad was nowhere to be found! When workers did come out to refill food, gone were our hopes of a hot cheeseburger and instead we got hamburgers with no cheese and they were cold to boot.

The Lesson: Eight bucks is a lot for this kind of food. Sure it was nice to eat by the lake but where is the supervision on replacing food and keeping it hot? It’s really not that hard and I felt I was robbed—big time. This eatery needs some supervision and better heating equipment.

Austin Bat Tours

There are a few companies offering bat tours on Lady Bird Lake. If you don’t know what a bat tour is, it’s just what it sounds like—you’re on a boat, have a tour guide and he takes you to the bridges where bats fly from all directions making for quite the scene!

These bat boat tours are cheap and our family of 4 adults and 1 kid got in for around $30 bucks. You can BYOB and even food if you want although the tour only lasts one hour so we brought an entire picnic with no time to dig in and eat.

These bat boats seem to tour all day long and I have a problem with “bat tours” and “daylight.” There are no bats if you take the day tours so stop calling those tours “bat tours!” Call them Downtown Austin Scenic Tours on Lady Bird Lake but skip anything that even hints you’ll see a bat.

We luckily chose the 7 p.m. tour so we did see bats and it was exciting. The tour guide was funny and I learned a lot about the buildings in downtown Austin. The guide even pointed out a dog park which is leash-free with a place where dogs can swim—no human swimming, however. This guide knew his stuff and was well prepared.

The Lesson:  These boat tour companies need to describe what you’ll actually be seeing depending on the time you take your one-hour boat tour based on the time of day. In addition, do not pack a big family picnic because you won’t have time to eat it—nor do they provide any place near the boat launch where you can sit on picnic tables and enjoy your food before or after the tour.  I’d like to see them change the names of boat tours based on content and time of day and heck, put up some picnic tables near where these boats launch! We ended up walking into the Hilton, pretending we were guests and utilized the tables by the hotel pool. I know—this last part was wrong but heck, my husband looks important—he’s got that walk and possesses an atmosphere of “Don’t you know who I am?” My daughter also inherited this same trait; unfortunately my son-in-law and I ate uncomfortably looking for Hilton Hotel security! The grandkid? He could care less!

So, you can see there are indeed some things these tourist attraction, inviting, must-visit towns and venues could improve on—it only takes a little innovation and in the instance of the bat tours—a free and simple name change!

How will you change your business this Spring and Summer? If you're a business owner in Texas, leave me a comment on your seasonal success or ideas!

Image Credit: San Antonio River Walk Boat Tour by J Scheid

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