I have been living in the small town of Grafton, MA for the last 6 years. Being a home owner, I have had the need to visit the hardware store almost every week to buy stuff to fix/install things around the house. Until recently, these trips have always been to the big box hardware retail stores such as Lowe’s and occasionally to Home Depot. Ironically, I used to drive by my local hardware store Koopman Lumber but never used to stop there dismissing it as a small store compared to Lowe’s. Lowe’s being bigger was considered to be the store of choices and also perceived as the one to be where the best price is likely to be. I will admit I am very price conscious (hey, it is in the Indian blood!). Customer service at Lowe’s is average, nothing to write about. You did get some folks who seemed to be knowledgeable and willing to help you out, but then often you had to go looking for them. Staff at a typical Lowe’s store is minimal for the size of the store.
Then, recently someone walked into my storm screen door leading to the deck. I could not find a replacement door even after numerous trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. These retailers only sell you new stuff, they don’t care about getting stuff repaired for you. So as a last resort, I walked into my local, long forgotten Koopman Lumber. Never did I realize that I was about to discover an exceptional company that should be considered an epitome of superior customer service. They repaired my storm screen door. But the exceptional customer service they delivered has resulted in my now making Koopman my destination for all my home repair needs. The customer service is very personal. You can never roam around the store looking for someone because it is well staffed and all the staff are on a walkie talkie with each other so that they can quickly get you the expert that can help you the best. Returns are super easy to make even if you do not have a receipt.
Prices may not be the cheapest, but now I don’t care. Convenience is great because it is a lot closer, and I trust the advice they give me – because in one case they talked me out of an expensive solution for what they considered the right solution for my needs.
What does this teach me as a software product manager?
- You do not always have to be big to win. Instead, what you need to do is treat every customer who walks in through your door right so that they will keep coming back. How many businesses realize this – most of them don’t.
- If you are local, the only way you can fight the big boys (and the online stores) is via customer relationships and service.
- If you are a small town business, you can choose to ignore your local customers at your own peril. Big town customers are not going to come to small town businesses unless you have something unique to offer. But you can surely drive your local customers to big town businesses if you don’t take care of them.
Thoughts? Any other stories about your local businesses that you have come to love?