Putting On My Business-Owner's Hat

 | Feb 10, 2014 | 11:12 AM EST  | Comments
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Stock quotes in this article:

pcln

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expe

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trip

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GRPN

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yelp

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hd

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stz

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open

Sometimes being a real business person helps. Some people on Twitter have been knocking me for mentioning the restaurant and inn that I own. You know what? That's fine. Let me tell you why.

First, I have been recommending Priceline (PCLN), Expedia (EXPE) and even TripAdvisor (TRIP) forever, because I have seen the power of these Internet travel companies first hand. I know that a TripAdvisor review means the world for an inn. Every morning, we see the reservations that Expedia enters right into our "checkerboard," the computer term we use for our reservation board. Expedia takes a cut of every room booked, but that's OK, because we get paid ahead of the patron coming, and that's a huge relief, and it allows us to avoid having a person manning the desk at all times. I know Priceline because of all the foreign visitors we have and how they like to use the product for low airfares.

Yelp (TRIP)? It is a remarkably powerful force for both the inn and the restaurant. I check the reviews constantly, and I know that good reviews can really bring in the customers, although, of course, the opposite is true too.

The inn and restaurant are in the radius of the Newark Airport, something that your mobile phone app from Yelp tells you when you land, and that has provided a huge number of customers. We don't advertise on Yelp, simply because we are filled most nights and because we have only 17 rooms. Coincidentally, we have only 17 tables at the restaurant, so it too is really too small to merit advertising on Yelp.

But believe me, if we were bigger, with more cash flow, we would certainly do so. I would never know of any of this if it weren't for these real-life applications.

I also have had an insight to a revolutionary program called Breadcrumb, which is owned by Groupon (GRPN). It's an app that allows me to see how my restaurant is doing in real time -- the actual receipts are logged in. That's one of the reasons I turned positive on Groupon. It is a small part of the business, but it got me to open up the file.

Home Depot (HD) has all of these great services for small businesspeople that I didn't know about until we got into a jam with supplies at the inn. The company is terrific if any small-business owner needs immediate supplies.

I see the attraction of owning Constellation Brands (STZ) because of the incredible pull of Modelo. I have had to debate the use of OpenTable (OPEN), which would be a superb use of money if we had more tables to fill on a given night.

Plus, perhaps most important, I have seen the ugly face of regulation for both businesses. The government can put you out of business if you run afoul of it -- and I am speaking of all levels.

These insights are just a small part of what it is like to run a business. But I can tell you that, more than any analyst, I see the worth of these products, and I have pushed some of them endlessly, because I know they are worth their weight in gold.

Do my mentions bring in more customers? Occasionally I see someone from the inn who has come to see if I really work there. Maybe one out of 25. The restaurant? Nothing. Nada. Not even the Tweets. Not a soul.

Some things have more reach than others ... for certain. 

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