Friday, March 7, 2014

Twitterstorm Postscript

Very quickly... we're told that the somewhat controversial post that I put out earlier in the week has had unintended consequences in the form of (and I quote because I'm going by hints in tweets) "hassling", "harassing", "threats of violence", "putting them on a hit list". Oh and, incredibly, some kind of phone harassment.

Reactions like this are unequivocally rejected as legitimate support for the point I was trying to make. In fact they're the antithesis of the point I was trying to make and it beggars belief that this statement is even necessary. The whole post was a request (in vain) for an explanation. Not retribution.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Calling Out: Giovanni Tiso

Dear Giovanni Tiso,

I don’t believe we’ve met and if we did I remember nothing about it (sorry). But you’ve seen fit on at least two occasions to insult me, my staff, my fellow investors and our customers at Hashigo Zake on twitter. On both occasions it was a day or so before I realised which is just as well because I have been known to react impulsively to slurs like these. Instead a couple of people bothered to defend me and my business and I’m grateful to them.

But it’s becoming a pattern and I’m not blessed with the kind of tolerance and patience that it takes to ignore insults like these, so I thought it’s time I said something.

Now I know next to nothing about you, except what you’ve chosen to say about me and my staff and customers. So that’s all that this piece is about – your words about us.

So here we go. Back in December 2012 there was a conversation on twitter that went like this:

The conversation continued…

So… the gist of your complaint seems to be that my co-owners, staff and customers are pretentious gits who promote some kind of conformity while pretentiously pretending to be something else and harbouring people known as “hipsters”.

Now I generally need help with the hipster thing. I was out of New Zealand for a few years between 2005 and 2008, and it seemed that in my absence a new insult was invented. In the years since I haven’t been given or been able to deduce a definition. So Giovanni, why don’t you humour me and propose a robust definition of hipster? Because for now all I can tell is that it’s a word that says more about the lack of imagination and intellectual rigour of its user than its target.

And the conforming (or “confirming”?) thing. Hmm… maybe it’s time I told you a story about the origins of Hashigo Zake. 

You see I’m a big fan of beer - particularly (but not exclusively) interesting and imaginative interpretations of the beverage. Over a long period I became incredibly frustrated and disillusioned with bars in New Zealand that denied their consumers the chance to drink those versions of the beverage because the big breweries had a stranglehold on market access. To put it simply – they have, for decades, been paying incentives to the outlets NOT to serve the products of alternative suppliers. As well as being frustrated as a consumer I consider that a disgraceful and unethical business practice.

So the original and driving motivation for setting up Hashigo Zake was to create an outlet where alternatives to the products of those big bullying breweries could be served. And with some like-minded people we got started. Now my investors and I came from outside the hospitality industry. So we also felt motivated to question a lot of the practices of the hospitality industry that annoyed us. Practices such as spending large amounts on a gimmicky fit-out; drowning out the conversation of customers with thumping music; not being forthcoming with information such as drinks prices and glass sizes; recruiting staff with little product knowledge and paying them the minimum wage. We turned these frustrations into components of the total offering that was Hashigo Zake. We set up in a location that many critics thought was a graveyard. And I gave up a lucrative career to start a business that even our supporters thought was doomed.

So now… please explain… in what way are we guilty of conformity?

Your next accusation was snobbery:

So here we go… you don’t like our certificate. The “Certificate of Heineken-Free Status” that I whipped up in an hour or so one afternoon and put in a $2 frame by our door. Maybe I’m guilty of pride here but I am delighted with what our satirical certificate says. To us Heineken embodies everything that’s wrong with industrial brewing. It’s an unremarkable product whose manufacturer uses expensive marketing and sheer market power to coax apathetic consumers into buying. We want to send a signal to potential customers (and that product’s maker) that we have contempt for, in particular, their methods, and to some extent, their product.

If you don’t find it funny, good for you. I’m not a professional comedian. If you think it makes me/us snobs, that’s a big call, but for now let’s just put that down as name-calling and move on.

So what else did you have to say…

Now we’re getting a little firmer. You wanted to accuse us of charging $22 a drink. So can you clarify one thing here… did you really think we charge $22 a drink or was this hyperbole? Because, you know… one or two of the drinks on our long, long list will cost that much. Several percent of them. So maybe you meant this literally, in which case you’re just being selective to the point of being wilfully misleading. Or were you being hyperbolic? Because if you were, kindly put a zero on the end. There are impressionable people out there who could think this inane comment was somehow vaguely near reality.

But let’s talk about prices, value and what have you because it seems to be a recurring theme. Just yesterday you came up with this:

So here we go then – you think we’re expensive. You think our business model is to cash in on idiots who just want to buy the most expensive beer. Based on what exactly? Now of course I am going to deny this. 

Because it’s bullshit.

But there’s more going on here. We serve products that we like and that we think deserve to be offered to willing customers. And who’d have thought – those products cost more. And yes, having paid more for our raw goods we are failing to re-sell them at prices equal to those of more cheaply sourced goods. Step forward, Giovanni, and accept your Ig Nobel prize for Economics.

But here’s what really upsets me as a business person trying to make a living selling goods that are inherently more expensive than other similar (but arguably inferior) goods in the market. In order to remain competitive with the purveyors of those (arguably) inferior goods, we have to accept lower margins than other businesses do. I guess you don’t bother to look into the wholesale prices of the goods we sell before making your sweeping assertions. If we priced the beer we serve in accordance with the way a typical CBD bar does, then maybe your $22 quip might actually count for something.

So let me spell it out for you – a 200% markup on drinks is standard for an inner city bar in New Zealand. We mark ours up less. Often much less. Oh and we serve them in glasses that are larger than just about every other bar, but I guess you didn’t get that far with your research.

So Giovanni, how about you come clean? What is your problem? Do you just like calling people names? Do you have a problem with beer? Or the category of beer sometimes known as craft? Or do you just have a colossal inverted snobbery complex? Or is it something trivial like the name of our business or our décor (assuming you’ve ever set foot at Hashigo Zake)?

In the meantime, how about you stay away from the baseless, snide, cheap, derogatory chipping away at something that you just don’t happen to be into?

Dominic Kelly
Hashigo Zake