Tale of Two Donut Shops

We see a lot about the benefits of supporting local businesses. I think generally people do strive to do that, especially when it comes to their local bakeries. Most of us will pay a bit more for better quality bakery products that are something special we can’t get in the big chains. Most of us care about supporting local entrepreneurs gutsy enough to pursue their American dream or keep up the family business. However, sometimes small independent bakeries or restaurants make business decisions that don’t let us support them.

My town of about 20,000 people has a local donut shop that sells awesome donuts. Everybody in town loves them, recommends them and tells new residents to check them out. There is not a retail bakery in town, just two major supermarket in-store bakeries. So if you want a special taste of our town, you go to this donut shop.

Most residents have only good things to say about the donut shop except that you can never be sure if they’ll be open or have donuts. What? This can’t be. We moved here from Chicago, land of plenty when it comes to getting any kind of food pretty much any time you want it, including bakery products. So I decided to check out this donut shop. Sure enough, the shop wasn’t open the first two times I went. Attempt number three was a success, and yes, the donuts are some of the best I’ve had. (I’ve eaten a LOT of donuts in my years as editor of a bakery magazine.)

We’ve patronized the donut shop several times since we’ve moved here, and it really is hit or miss what you’ll find there. Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m….no donuts. Friday morning at 9:00 a.m….very skimpy selection left. Fat Tuesday 2015, a big day for donuts in most of the country…the store was closed. I wasn’t expecting to find the actual paczki that I used to find in the Polish neighborhoods of Chicago, but those closed doors represented disappointment for me as a customer and another lost opportunity for the donut shop.

A few months ago, a new donut shop came to town. It’s a national chain that I’m very familiar with from living and traveling east of here, but for most residents the new donut shop is brand new and highly anticipated. Its product line includes much more than donuts, from an array of coffee-based drinks to sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. And, they’re open 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day of the week. The line of customers wrapped around the building on opening day, and the store continues to be packed with people during the months following.

I like my local donut shop better. I’m rooting for it to stay open and thrive in the face of competition from the national chain. But, my husband came home with a dozen donuts from the new shop one Saturday because the old local shop didn’t have any donuts left. Maybe the local shop has some equation that tells them exactly how many donuts they need to sell to make a profit, so they sell no more and no less? Maybe their strategy is to remain “special” by keeping their donut availability a mystery to its customers? I’m not sure what their business strategy is, but I do know that customers will go where they know they’ll get what they want.

Most customers won’t give businesses third and fourth chances, especially when there are so many other options. I’m all for supporting local businesses, but only if they’ll let me. So please let me. I’m on your side.