What’s Local: What customers want
By Jim Hagerty
Try to imagine a world where schedules are never compromised and plans don”t change. In short, imagine a perfect world. Picture the milk, the honey and flowing streams of endless opportunity. Stop before it hurts and reality sets in. Even in the smallest, most trivial of circumstances, having everything one wants is usually not possible. What about in business? Is it true customers can have everything they want? After all, isn”t it the customer ho”s always right? Examine the cliché for a moment. “The customer is always right” is still driven into the minds of customer service representatives around the world. Keep the customer happy and give him everything he wants. Save the sale. Simple enough, but let”s appraise the adage further.Without customers, a merchant”s dream is just that. For some, it”s a nightmare. Some struggle with how to attract customers, others toil with how to keep them.
Making it rosy for customers can be a nagging ordeal. For the local business, the nag often becomes a dull and constant pain, especially in the midst of assaultive price slashes and the “one-stop” where everything from toothbrushes to automobile shocks are under one roof. One-stop shopping is a wonderful concept.
Giants are able to house as much inventory as their mega stores will hold. In turn, they”re given buying power, trucking in goods for significantly less than the local haberdasher forced to save a nickel on eachlength of thread is able to. Naturally, volume- driven retailers pass savings to consumers drawn swiftly to the lore of low prices and effortless shopping. Still, somewonder, is that what customers want? Millions of consumers shop for low prices and won”t budge until they”ve found them, regardless of the product. Why buy something for $5 when it”s available for $2 downthe street? The difference can be socked away in an interest-bearing savings account
and used to send Junior to college. Millions more realize shopping for price typically comes with more than one sacrifice. Some sacrifice service, while quality is a mere apparition. Still, what do customers truly want? While a smile keeps a customer happy in the moment, its novel is as brief. Customers typically expect the gamut: the lowest price, the best service and products of the highest quality. Simple? In a perfect world, yes. Realistically, receiving all three is not possible. Retailers, too, must make the same sacrifices.
This leaves the customer to do some thinking and assess what”s really important. For the small business community, it”soften the key to a city. A local merchant is rarely a “price leader.” She”s almost never in the business of begging. Her business is often centered on her expert knowledge and built-to-last stock. She has no place in cookie-cutter sales systems where “associates” are trained masters at shelve-stocking, floor sweeping and the art of the smile. Successful local businesspeople don”t leave it up to the customer to serve themselves. They work on the front lines and rarely move goods they don”t endorse. ServiceÖqualityÖlocally Meet Tony. Tony”s brother, Kevin, raves about his new 60-inch plasma television. We”ll call it the Mystic Vision. Its $1,000 bigbox price tag was almost $300 less than what local dealers are selling them for. Kevin gloats about how he sniffed out the best “deal” in town.
Tony needs a new TV and Kevin”s advice has always paid off. It”s settled. Tony is going to spend $1,000 on a Mystic Vision plasma TV. A fruitless search for a big-box set prompts Tony to drop in on a local electronics dealer, Marcóknown for his professionalism. Marcalso is known for his pricey inventory. “I want to buy a 60-inch Mystic Vision,” requests Tony. “Are you familiar with that model?” Marc asks. “It”s the most popular on the market,” declares Tony. “My brother just bought one.”"They certainly are popular,” Marc explains. “I have five in the back.” “Great!” Tony was happy to finally find a store with his query in stock. “Can I get it for $1,000?” “A Mystic Vision will run you $1,295,”
“My brother paid only $1, 000,” Tony replies defensively. “Let me guess, your brother picked one up at Price Mart, correct?” Marc inquires. “A grand is certainly a good price; however, did your brother say what he”d do if he ever needed to have the TV serviced?” “No,” Tony replied. “I assume he”d call Price Mart and they”d help him.” “Did Price Mart deliver or install it for him,” Marc asks, knowing Price Mart does not offer in-home installation. “No, he did that himself,” Tony explains. “He hauled it home and wired it up to his stereo system.” “Did he have to purchase additional wires and accessories to do that?” Marc asks. “I believe he did,” Tony says. “In fact, I think he bought the wrong wires and had to go back and exchange them. But, I think he”s happy now that he”s got it straight.” Tony explains his plan to utilize the TV”s surround-sound and gaming capabilities. “For $1,295,” Marc offers, “I”ll deliver it, install it, and, whatever wiring you need is included. Furthermore, if you ever need it serviced, it”s free for one year.” “How can you do that?” Tony says, visibly puzzled. “I am a certified Mystic Vision dealer,” Marc says. “I can”t compete with Price Mart on price. However, if your TV goes bad, I”ll either fix it or replace it on the spotóno charge. You won”t be required to purchase an additional warranty or ever have to deal with the manufacturer. That”s my job.” “I only wanted to spend $1,000,” Tony says hesitantly. “You told me what you want to pay,” Marc continues. “But what about what you need to pay? The highest level of service and guarantee you”re getting quality is worth something, isn”t it?”
“Yes, but- ” Tony hesitates further. “Look at it this way,” Marc explains. “You spend $1,000 on a Mystic Vision. You spend $50-maybe $60 on accessories to install it. You may get it right the first timeóperhaps not. If something goes wrong, you call Price Mart and it directs you to the manufacturer. From there, you”ll likely have to un-install your 60-inch TV, package it up and send it to the manufacturer for service. You may be reimbursed for the cost of shipping; however, you are looking at doing a significant amount of legwork yourself. “Or, you call a certified dealer like me,” Marc continues. “Because you purchased the set elsewhere, You”ll be charged $75 to $100 per hour, in addition to parts. If you need a new set, you may be looking at another $1,000. “You could spend an extra $200 to $300 out of the gate to get the best TV on the market from a local professional with 25 years experience,” Marc adds. “You”ll know you are a client and not just a customer who breezes in from the back row of a crowded parking lot with those after groceries, toiletries and undershirts. It”s up to you.”
To recommend a local business to be featured in this column, e-mail Jim Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org with “What”s Local” in the subject line. Or, contact The Rock River Times” office at (815) 964-9767.
From the Feb. 10-16, 2010 issue
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