Friday, February 4, 2011

Am I bothering you?

I have struggled with whether or not to post this blog and what to say, but I'm just going to step off into here it goes.  I hope it is viewed in the vein in which it was intended:  to help.

My husband and I are small business owners.  We have three full-time employees:  the two of us and my nephew.  We have another part-time employee who is family.  We struggle every month to pay our bills and feel fortunate in these difficult times that we have, so far, been able to do this every month.  We also struggle with providing good customer service in the day where most people in Oklahoma (and other places, I'm sure) think Wal-Mart is a necessity and it seems everyone is just looking for the lowest price.  If we were a big enough entity, we could offer the lowest prices (as a small business we cannot always get a good price from the manufacturer or distributor) but we are not interested in that.  We want a business where we can connect with our customers, whether it is online or in person.  We want our business to remain small enough so that we keep our finger on the pulse most of the time (yes, sometimes we do take days off.)

Since we are small business owners we try really hard to patronize other small business owners.  It is not always easy.  We live in a big city, so we don't always know who they are or where they are.  There are a lot of campaigns out there, locally we have, and American Express has a movement to encourage shopping at small businesses  These help us to find other locally-owned and/or small businesses, but sometimes their inventory is limited or I spend too much time trying to find what I need and then give up and revert back to a big retailer.  Any suggestions on how to navigate this will be appreciated and shared.

I have a secondary problem with small businesses, however, they are not always nice.  Recently at a local home and garden show, we commented at one of the booths about a product they had on display and the guy, sitting behind the table, barely looked up from whatever paperwork he was doing, and certainly did not stop what he was doing, made a one word comment to us.  Did we buy anything from him?  We did not even bother to discuss with him further.

I shopped at a shoe store, another small business.  The employee who greeted me and helped me was helpful, pleasant and provided me an overall good experience.  The lady sitting behind the counter doing paperwork, my guess is the owner, could hardly be bothered to answer questions that the young lady had and certainly never got up from her chair to assist and/or act glad I was there to spend my money with her.  

In the middle of writing this I have experienced another issue with two more  business.  We needed a garage door opener.  I had an acquaintance from high school recommend somebody via FaceBook.  We called the person he referred us to, got voice mail, which did not even indicate it was a business, (it is the published business number) and left a message.  Never got a call back.  Had a different company scheduled to install the opener on Thursday.  Yes, we've been having bad weather.  We knew that and they knew that and it was discussed before the appointment was made.  On the appointed day, about an hour after we were supposed to receive a phone call (they don't make appointments) my husband, who had stayed home from our business to take care of this, called them.  Their response, (paraphrased) "Oh, we're not coming today.  None of our techs came in.  We've rescheduled everyone for Tuesday."  When asked if they were going to call us, he got no response.  We have another company, now scheduled.  We hope they show up. 

I try to be fair and understand that everybody has a bad day, but the reality is, I probably won't spend my money with you if you can't even be bothered with me.  After all, I am trying to give you money.

This does make me think about how we treat our customers.  It does make me talk to our employees about how they treat customers.  I do reiterate on a regular basis that our customers are the reason they have jobs.  On occasion I have been told that we did not treat someone well.  We always try to take an honest look at what we did, what we could have done differently and try to save that customer.  We don't always succeed, but we will keep trying.  

So come on, fellow small business owners.  Work with me!  I am trying to give you my money.  I am trying to recommend you to my customers, but I can't and won't if you haven't treated me well. 

Have you had similar experiences?  Do you have suggestions, ideas, criticisms or praises?  I'd love to hear from you.

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