Working in a Small Business

Unemployment when you are trying is the worst. And this is what I discovered while living in Coffs Harbour. When I was there in the early 2000s it had something like the 4th highest unemployment rate in Australia. And it was obvious. All I wanted was a job, and all I found was nothing. I did a week or a few days here and there at different places but other than that it was the monotony of search for jobs every day, apply for jobs every day, get rejected for jobs every day.

It was even rare to get an interview. Someone told me I was too old. I was 21! And too old to hire. Apparently adult rates were too much for most small businesses and given the economy of the city at the time, it wasn’t viable to hire an old person like me.

During the first 7 months, I applied for 800 jobs. I had maybe 3 interviews during that time. I worked for 2 days setting up carnival rides for cash in hand and got paid $100 (calculate that, at 8 hours for the day, 2 days, I got paid $6.25 an hour).

But then finally I got a call for a job at Eagle Boys Pizza. It didn’t start as an interview, first I had to go to a room and complete a computer based test. There was 40 other people there competing for the same role as Part Time Assistant Manager to cover 2 shifts per week. We had to do basic maths on the test, and I simply opened the computer’s calculator and used that.

Then there was the interview. It was 3 people, the owner, and his two other assistant managers who were both full time workers. Because the store was open from 11am till 11pm every day (and 12 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday), they needed someone to fill in for a couple of shifts at night.

I impressed at the interview and told them how I was a supervisor at Pizza Hut at the age of 15, and how I was working full time there and so on. Then I was hired.

This was my first ever experience with a privately owned, small business in which the owner was directly involved with the day to day running of the business actually. I had only ever previously worked at big corporations before.

What I realised was, there is a very, very different level of commitment and care when the business is your own.

I was not good at my job at Eagle Boys. It had been years since I had worked at Pizza Hut. What I can definitely say is, if Eagle Boys was Pizza Hut, I would have been good at it. But because Eagle Boys was a small business, in which the owner was so deeply involved and committed, and the staff had been with him for years so they were all committed, I was not able to meet their expectations.

Basically it was because, to me, Eagle Boys was a job. To everyone else there, it was partly theirs. It was something they owned, and were proud of. It was something they loved and wanted to thrive. To me, it was a pay cheque after nothing for so many months.

During my time at Eagle Boys, I spoke at length one evening with the area manager of the franchise who worked for the corporation that owned the brand. His job was to go to the assorted franchises and ensure they were meeting the Eagle Boys standards and so on. See, Eagle Boys was a big company, the Coffs Harbour Eagle Boys was a privately owned franchise.

I spoke to this guy about my experience at Pizza Hut. What he told me was, most Eagle Boys were like Pizza Hut. He did his inspections and they averaged a mark of about 60 out of 100 for whatever he was expecting. In other words, they met about 60% of the standards imposed by the company. Which was okay with them. The franchisees were passing the requirements.

The one I worked at averaged 99%. He agreed with me that the owner was a little crazy. But in his opinion, he wished more franchisees were like this one. Actually, he also told me, he always tried to find something wrong, to mark the Coffs Harbour one down. But it became harder and harder each time he visited because they were so invested in their business.

I wasn’t happy working there, and really, I wasn’t happy living in Coffs Harbour. I missed my family, and I missed having a “real job”. And my partner (the mother of my child) knew it. By then I had a child, a little boy, and I wasn’t really coping well.

So, we made the decision to move back to Sydney and hoped that this would improve my mood. And so I left Eagle Boys.

Eagle Boys was an amazing place to work as well. It really showed me just how much someone can invest in a business and taught me that your work could be more than you work. Much much more. I took these lessons with me and have applied them throughout the rest of my career till now.