The big commitment I made to myself back in 2009 when purchasing the place was to not get caught up in the cycle. (It’s actually a very old commitment, or, perhaps, core value, which has guided me in making other, similarly big decisions in the past.)
This meant doing things differently. It meant not taking on traditional ideas. It meant not doing the same thing everyone else was doing or taking their idea and moving it to another night. It meant starting small and growing at the same pace as the community was able to manage, and at a pace at which I could feel (dare I say it) authentic. It meant sticking to seemingly non-commercial principles. It meant “giving first”, aiming only to run a great business…and then seeing where it would all go.
At all times I have relied on the trust, smarts and support of all of you to guide this business. And to give me feedback. And confidence. This feedback loop, to be truly honest, played a massive part in my being able to “manage” this place and trust that things were being done even though I was not always physically there to oversee. I am so very, very grateful for this. I will take this opportunity to thank you and to return the courtesy by explaining to you my decision to close.
So. Recently I’ve realized that to remain true to my original commitment, I must pivot course. Ten years ago, I set out to run a truly hometown place where all felt welcomed and at “home.” I was a good person to do it – I had marketing skills and experience and a platform. And I was cool with copping the flack. I loved that we were able to build from the ground up, conversing the whole way with the community. It was a “gentle and kind experiment” in which we all benefitted.
But success is a funny thing. It requires feeding. It requires growth. Which makes one become caught up in the cycle eventually, sometimes without realizing. To be able to take the business where it had to go next, I would have to change. Many in my position get excited about this. It’s where most businesses have to go when you get to a certain level of success. But the particularities of the business, and of my value system, my role in the business and my personal goals, just don’t sit well with such a path.
I’m going to be really honest here because I believe this decision I’ve made might invite a different conversation around the water cooler. One that goes beyond lazily and unkindly speculating that the business was failing (it certainly wasn’t and out of full respect for our general manager and the talented and loyal-to-a-fault staff I will defend this suggestion forcibly), or that I was mentally unable to handle it (oh, yes, the suggestion has been made before, to which I say......surely we know the statistics and history of high-functioning anxious types running the bulk of the most successful businesses in the world by now?).
We set out, initially, to sell the business to a respectful soul to whom I could hand over the baton. They could keep some of this and maybe even make it better/different. They could make the money and enable the staff to grow their careers. They could take the message further and dial up the impact on people’s enjoyment. This seemed the most responsible thing to do.
But here was the rub: Normally with such a sale, the owner is kept on for a time to continue the brand and image messaging for customer. Golden handcuffs you might say. I could not and would not do this. And put up a reduced sale price to compensate. Indeed, at one point we even floated the idea that we’d give it away and just let another manage, but the psychology and logistics of this proved impossible, too. Perhaps selfishly, I knew I couldn’t watch as a new owner steered my work and values in directions I didn’t agree with. I could not sit back and watch. It wasn’t me. And, if I’m to be less Pollyanna-ish here, I’d be crap at it. I’d let everyone down. But, you see, for a business that has the owner's name and reputation all over it, my stance didn’t gel in the market. I suspect many also had a hard time understanding why I would want to walk from a successful business.
And so, after months of a protracted set of discussions with various parties, some who came within millimeters of purchase, I have had to make what I believe is the best decision I can: I’m closing.
Things have changed during these ten years. I also have changed and grown. In my experience in this space, I see a recipe for eventual disaster. I’ve watched such a storyline unfold many times over. Instead, I now hand the baton to you, the community. The information is out there. Use it. Please spread the word. The work of everyone who’s been part of this won’t die and hopefully a new visionary will come to take The Cove on its next journey.
I did not want to deceive anyone. Transparency and honesty is what I believe we’re all craving. In life. As I say, there’s an opportunity to do things differently, and decently, here. My team is a fantastic one, and I have been blessed with their love and loyalty. I hope we can all go out with a bit of a bang.
Without a doubt this has been the second most agonizing and carefully mapped out decision of my life so far. The first was the one I made a bit over seven years ago to choose a different path and to not get caught up. I hope you respect it’s not been made lightly, nor entirely selfishly. Yes, admittedly, my health – mental and physical – and my belief in living a life motivated by values were considerations. They always are. But, again, a hypocrisy seeps in if I remain someone who sacrifices my own wellbeing and values for money and success. This is the ultimate disservice to the message I’ve peddled for years. I have to walk my talk, otherwise, what the hell is it all about?
As a final note I want to pay full respect to Brittany Johnson, the general manager at The Cove, and the whole team of people along the way. I hope I have managed to thank them each in their own ways for their contributions. They joined my business to further their careers and gave their heart and souls to this business. In many cases they made many sacrifices, working crazy hours, in multiple roles, and some took paycuts from Big Jobs to have a hand in something they felt was true. I owe them the courtesy of being as true and respectful with this process as I can. And to ask all of this community to join me in this.
Thank you everyone for being part of this experience. You are wonderful and truly appreciated.