7 Lessons For Entrepreneurs From Hot Doug's

Hot Doug's (1)Last Friday was the last day for Hot Doug’s, a hot dog restaurant in Chicago. For those of you who  have been in a blue fog for the last few days or don’t reside in the Chicago area, Doug Sohn closed the hot dog restaurant that he started about 13 years ago on October 3.  I never had the privilege of eating one of his dogs, but those who did raved about all the various unusual dogs he created. Long lines were frequent to his place and indeed, on the last day, the line started before dawn and was cut off by about 7:30 am. Even at that point, the last person in line did not get served until twelve hours later.

But this really isn’t a post about hot dogs. It’s more about being an entrepreneur, having an idea, making it work, and then moving on.

There was an interview with Doug Sohn in the Chicago Tribune Dining section on October 2, and he make a comment that really hit home with me.

     It was the end of last year and I was thinking, “you know, we might be done.” I didn’t know if I could ask another person if they wanted this steamed or grilled. We’ve done so above and beyond anything we could’ve imagined. Once I came to the decision to close, the acceptance of it came easy. It just felt right.

Eight years ago, my husband and I made the same decision to close our business, a furniture store. We had been there for twenty years, our kids were on their own, and it was just time. We didn’t want to attend one more High Point Market, sell one more sofa or schedule one more delivery.  And like Doug Sohn, we were lucky enough to be closing because we “could, not because we had to.”   It all just felt right.

So if you’re a new entrepreneur, thinking of starting a business, or wondering whether it’s time to close a current business, here are some lessons we learned in our business and Hot Doug did too.

  1. When it’s time to go, you will know it. Just like when you started your business because you knew it was the right thing, you will know when it’s time to go.
  2. The question of what to do next, doesn’t really need an answer. Especially if you have been successful in your business, you will have some time to catch up on your sleep, relax a little, and then new ideas of your next step in life will come to you. Take time to completely disengage for awhile–travel, loaf, do the things you haven’t had time for.
  3. It was fun while it lasted, but the next stage will be fun too. It’s normal to panic a little bit after you actually set a closing date, but you built up your business and you can close it down.
  4. Remember that only 20% of new businesses last five years or longer. Maybe you didn’t make a fortune, or become famous, but if your business lasted for five years, you did better than 80% of other entrepreneurs. Not too shabby.
  5. Never regret anything. It’s all a learning experience. The ups and especially the downs, all conspired to make your business the best you could make it.  Just keep looking ahead.
  6. It’s harder than ever to actually have a successful small retail business. Twenty-five years ago when we started, it was with a handshake and a line of credit. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get a bank to loan you money. You need to be really tech savvy to find funding and get found by customers.
  7. If possible, send a letter or email to thank all your customers. If not for them, you wouldn’t have fed yourself or your kids, sent them to school, or paid your mortgage. You might get some lovely and heartfelt comments from customers in return.

Don’t assume that Doug just closed the door and walked away. Oh no, it’s not quite that easy. I’m sure he has to clean up, get rid of things, pay all kinds of final bills, change the electric bill, gas bill, etc., etc. That will take him some time, and he’ll have to meet with his accountant and lawyer to finalize everything. Then, as required by the IRS,  he’ll have to keep the physical business records for the next seven years.  But around January of 2022, he can finally throw it all away and just keep the memories — which are really the best part anyway.

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