Winning Strategies for a Successful Small Business

Two brothers, Pete and Louis Poulos, co- owners of Karl’s Cabin Restaurant located in Salem Township, MI have a good thing going. They say they are lucky. But like Casey Stengel, the great New York Yankee manager’s reply to a sports reporter, who called him lucky to be the manager of a winning baseball team, “Yeah I am lucky. But, it seems the harder I work, the luckier I get.” Comparable to all successful small businesses, the Poulos brothers are consistently working a system that gets results. There are a number of ingredients they have put together for their recipe forKarl's Cabin logo small business success.

Originally opening in 1945, it changed owners and themes until Karl and Sophia Poulos purchased and reopened it in 1982. With hard-working Karl creating delicious meals in the kitchen, and charming Sophia greeting everyone at the front door, despite its’ out of the way location, it soon became a very popular and successful restaurant.

After working for their parents over a number of years, brothers Pete and Louis took over the business in 1999, and have continued to innovate and build this success oriented restaurant.

So what are they doing right? What kinds of things have they been doing to keep this establishment on a profitable growth curve? What are they doing, that any small business owner could transfer to their business practice, whichever business they are in?

In my interview with Pete Poulos, he identified several key factors he feels he and Louis employ, to make this restaurant thrive and prosper in the year 2015 and beyond.

One of the most important ingredients to their success is the food they serve. They pride themselves in offering good portions of good food. Presently, 100% of the food they serve is freshly prepared on the premises.

They are well aware of the ever expanding demand for gluten free food, and are able to offer this to their restaurant patrons who prefer gluten free prepared foods. By doing this, they are setting themselves apart from their competitors.

They are one of the few restaurants that offer water that is purified through reverse osmosis. Although it was a substantial initial investment, they feel they are able provide the highest quality drinking water to all of their patrons. This highly purified water is also used in the preparation of all of the foods they prepare. They feel that it enhances the quality of the taste experience of their patrons. This is another unique factor that sets them apart from their competitors.

Next, Karl’s Cabin views itself as an all around family restaurant that provides lunch dinner, and entertainment. In addition, it offers services for banquets, weddings, and has a massive patio for outdoor events. With a wide variety of wines, and over 20 types of beer, they have built a very loyal client base. The key here is, they stay focused on the restaurant and banquet business. They are not trying to be all things to all people.

The next critical ingredient is the people they employ. They go to great lengths to make sure they hire the right kind of person who will fit in with the rest of the team. To make sure they hire the best people, they use a multiple interviewing process. Each new candidate is interviewed by several different members of management and full time staff. This results in a triple win, where the staff, the newly hired employee and the restaurant patrons all reap the benefits of a harmonious work environment where employees love to work in a family friendly atmosphere.

Once a new staff person is hired, there is an extensive 2-3 week training that the individual completes. This assures that the new employee is given the tools to perform at the highest level possible and maintain the level of consistent and excellent service. This is one area where many small businesses are unable to be consistent. Using a system to train your new hires in the same way as their co-workers, produces predictable results in performance.

Ongoing training is a priority. They encourage all staff to read the restaurant publications they subscribe to, and to stay current with developments in the restaurant industry. They also have select staff attend annual restaurant shows and conferences put on by their state and national restaurant associations. The key point here is they budget for professional development, and use it on a regular basis.

Communication is a key ingredient to the success of this small business. If anything, they do more of it than most small businesses. Weekly meetings, daily meetings with wait staff, and constant communication throughout the day, insure that all management and staff are kept in the communication loop. Pete feels that the steady flow of solid communication allows the team at Karl’s Cabin, to avoid costly errors that happens through miscommunication or no communication.

Here is another impressive point. They strive to communicate directly with their employees. From past experience, they have learned that not taking into account individual communication styles, can cost them time, money and lost customers. Today, the goal is to keep the atmosphere upbeat and fun, but to be clear with communication, so that process takes into consideration the different behavioral styles that each team member possesses. Apparently, this practice, results in a work environment where miscommunication is minimized and high productivity, food quality and service is consistent.

When it comes to promotion, Karl’s Cabin utilizes a variety of marketing techniques, one of which is the use of social media. Facebook, twitter, and a large email club are the major portion of this mix. This approach also includes a newsletter that informs patrons of upcoming events like wine dinners, live music, dueling pianos and other unique occurrences. Links in this newsletter allow the reader to experience a bit of the atmosphere and live music played by some of the performers.

Another tool they use is a very professional message, that their telephone callers will hear when they are put on hold. This serves two purposes. First, it educates the caller about the services and specials they might not know about, that are available at Karl’s Cabin. And second, it entertains the person and decreases their impatience while waiting.

Also included in their marketing mix are print mailers that include the use of discount coupons. Contrary to what some restaurants want to avoid doing, discounting their food, Pete feels this approach when done properly, has worked well to bring in new clients and keep the regulars coming back for more.

The owners feel that their overall mix of marketing techniques allows them to keep a presence with both potential new, and their present client base.

The co-owner explained that they do not focus much on what their competitors are doing. Instead they compare themselves to themselves, and strive to perpetually improve the type of service and experience they provide to their client base.

In conclusion, Pete’s advice to other small business owners is that you have to accept the fact that if you want to be successful, it will require a lot of hard work. However, he adds that if you stay innovative, and work at it, you really can experience an amazing feeling of satisfaction of running a successful and profitable small business.

What are your thoughts on this? I want to hear from you .



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Tom Borg

My name is Tom Borg. I am a business expert who works with small and mid-size companies to effectively and profitably improve customer acquisition and retention. I help these businesses through his use of my consulting, speaking, training and coaching. To ask me a question or to hire me, please contact me at: (734) 404-5909 or email me at: or visit my website at:

Tom Borg