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Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.
The aroma of freshly baked donuts is the first thing that greets customers as they walk into Donutopia in San Angelo, Texas. The second is a hearty welcome from owners Ash and Sophea Cardona and their team of friendly donut makers.
“You’re always greeted with a big, ‘Hey, welcome to Donutopia. How are you today?'” shared Yelp Elite reviewer Josh H. “And by your second visit, you’re already a regular, and they’re calling you by your first name. That’s what makes it a very hometown-type place.”
Ash never expected to be running a donut store, but when the opportunity arose to buy Donutopia, he couldn’t say no to Sophea, his wife, and her dream to own her own donut shop. Now, the two take great pride in providing both excellent customer service and a positive work culture, the first ingredient of which is hiring a great team.
“Our culture is everything and is measured by contribution and attitude. We expect everybody to contribute, and we expect everybody to have a great attitude. That’s what we do, and that’s how we keep it. And it seems to be working pretty well,” Ash said.
Just as it prioritizes quality hires, Donutopia also takes quality control of its products very seriously, even if it means losing inventory for that day.
“We don’t cut any corners. We make everything fresh in the morning. We make sure everything’s right and perfect,” Ash said. “Somebody else would say, ‘let me just get my money for this product today,’ but [Sophea will] wipe out a whole entire deal if something’s not right, just to make sure that it’s always right for them. And I think that says a lot.”
But when inventory is as perishable as a donut, keeping up with demand without overextending is something that Ash and Sophea had to learn by trial and error. Having too much product at the end of the day can lead to lost profits.
“The way that’s done is just through experience,” Ash said. “One part of that is that this store has reached its max—we can’t serve more than what we can do here. So we drew a line and said, look, this is what we feel comfortable that we can do without killing everybody.”
With delicious products, stellar customer service, and conscientious business practices, Donutopia stands out in its community. This is particularly true for Josh H., a black badge Yelp Elite who has regularly reviewed small businesses for over a decade and uses Yelp to help local businesses like Donutopia find success.
“The big thing that motivates me to do reviews like this is that when I find a place that is exceptional and makes me want to come back and it’s just different,” Josh said. “It’s unique, it’s a positive experience, and their product is good, tasty, delicious, whatever it might be. If it’s food we’re talking about, I wanna make sure other people find that place so they can experience exactly what I did and almost walk through my footsteps based on the review.”
As a business owner, Ash is thankful for both positive and critical feedback.
“That’s just part of being a business. You’re gonna have people that are gonna be very happy here. And there are gonna be people that are not. You wanna make every one of them happy. You’re fortunate that they’ll share that feedback,” he said.
When it comes to critical reviews, he tries not to take them personally. “We do take it to heart. We do look at it. But in the end, I come to it just saying that your experience is your experience.”
Focusing instead on what they can control, Ash and Sophea embrace their place in the community, including working with local organizations to donate their excess donuts each day and offering special discounts to locals.
“The fact that they have their partnerships with organizations that routinely will get excess donuts—how is that not gonna make them friends with you really quick?” Josh said. “The fact that they do military discounts, they do student discounts, they do first responder discounts. That shows that they understand where the big players in the community are—the base, the hospital, and the university—and they give something back to them.”
For Ash and Sophea, that care and attention to their customers and community goes back to the culture they want to establish at Donutopia.
“Everything is measured by your contribution and your attitude and love to contribute to anybody. We like to see people enjoy the stuff that we do,” Ash said. “It’s just about contributing. We love spreading happiness, it’s just really about love and happiness for us.”
Other local businesses can benefit from Donutopia’s lessons learned, including:
- Quality control sometimes means more than the bottom line. When a batch of product is considered sub-par, owners Ash and Sophea won’t hesitate to throw it out so that every experience at Donutopia is outstanding.
- Hiring a quality team is critical to success. Employees have a big impact on your business culture. Careful hiring and training are musts when it comes to staff morale and upholding customer service standards.
- Supply and demand issues might take some time to figure out. Especially in a business with perishable products, it’s critical to accurately gauge customer interest, product volume, and inventory. Don’t worry if finding the sweet spot takes some time and experience.
- Try not to take critical reviews personally. Positive reviews are wonderful, but the feedback in critical reviews can help you identify areas for improvement. Try to see a reviewer’s experience as their own without taking criticism personally.
- Be part of the community. Engaging and appreciating locals can improve your reputation and secure your place as a beloved fixture of the community.
Listen to the episode below to hear Emily’s conversation with Ash and Josh, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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