Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Local Business

It's getting harder these days to really make a go of things economically, isn't it? I have to admit, I am lucky. I have a sort of job security that many others just don't have and I am very thankful for that every single day. I know it will take something incredible, like the downfall of our whole system of government for my employer to go belly up. I am thankful for that, I really am.

Before falling into my current career path, I worked retail. I worked a LOT of retail and I was good at it. My parents constantly reinforced  the concepts of respect and politeness, two characteristics that combined together, give you great success in that field of work. My first job was in a little hole in the wall burger stand in Lockport, Manitoba called Sonia's Stand. The boss there was a bit of a hard ass and did a lot of yelling, but some odd reason I respected that about her. She was a strong women, running her own business and making a great success out of it. She adored me, or at least I think she did. After my first summer of employment (the stand always closed up for the winter months), when I returned back to work in the spring, she seemed to warm up to me. I guess the fact that I survived that first season and came back for more made me realize I wasn't a complete push over. I worked at that small burger stand for three seasons before moving up and getting a job at Gaynor's, a locally owned grocery store in Selkirk, Manitoba. I was two years from high school graduation when I started at Gaynor's and I really enjoyed that job. So much so that I worked there until I moved on to my current career path. I took a lot of odd part time retail jobs while working at the grocery store (a few years after I started at Gaynor's, it was bought out by a retail chain, hence why I therefore call it 'the grocery store') - from odd freelance writing jobs to working in various clothing stores, both for men and women. I learned a lot about customer service during this time.

There was this regular lady that used to come to the grocery store all the time. I worked in the deli department and it seemed like all the staff would run and hide when they saw here coming towards the deli counter. At first I couldn't understand why, but soon after being stuck serving here, I realized. She was a bit of a pain. She liked things done in a very specific way (who knew people could be so specific and picky about lunch meat?) and looking after her always seemed to gobble up a good chunk of time. After serving her a few times, I also found myself hiding when I saw her walking our way. While driving home from work one day, I couldn't help but think about this lady (we called her the 'ham lady' as the majority of her order was this disgusting cooked, plastic pink looking ham that she liked sliced so thin it was falling apart. Made the most awful mess of the meat slicers). No one wanted to deal with her and in turn, she came to despise the staff as much as the staff despised her. But why? I sure there are things I do or want that seem completely outlandish, and when these demands are not met, I get angry and frustrated. I decided that I would buck up, and cater to her, be nice to her and meet her demands exactly as request, with a smile, no less.

Experiment was a success. She soon became nicer, smiled. She even started to carry on a rapport with me, asking me about University, about things I was doing. I found her to actually be a very interesting and wonderful women. I often think about her and wonder how she is, to be truthful.

Its simple. Its a very basic concept called Mutual Respect. It's a trait that you parents and community should instill in you at a young age and that you should never forget and never let it fall out of style.

It's simple, really.

Treat others how you want to be treated.

So, I suppose that's why I feel so indifferent when I hear about people who seem to lack this simple trait go under. Show some respect, show some class. I feel bad about my indifference (could it be my respectful nature playing with me? I hate to be spiteful to anyone having a hard time). I don't want to see anyone suffer, do not want to see any one's business close down, but when it could have been prevented with a little respect, I have a hard time feeling sorry.

The curse of retail is that you will often hate your clientele. They will grate on you and drive you completely nuts. I'd even go so far as to say you may even downright hate them most of the time. But despite all that, you have to show them complete respect, and cater to them. They are paying for that treatment, they will respect that treatment and they will return to your business over and over again. That is how small business succeeds.

Maybe your it was your attempt to be eccentric that made people view you as rude and sometimes nasty, or maybe that is how you really are. I can only go on my personal experience in these situations and from what I see, your habit of look down your nose at your customers can only add to a growing resentment that will lead to less and less customers coming through that door.

You have to offer more than an interesting environment or product to keep people coming to retail establishments these days. Money is tight, people are less likely to spend it freely so you better damn well make it worth our while. I am more likely to spend $15 at a store where I feel like my business was appreciated than a place where I feel like I am putting the people out by being there and supporting there business.

It all comes down to respect, to be truthful. Aretha said it best:

"You might walk in
And find out I'm gone
I got to have
A little Respect..."

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