Do Local Businesses Deserve Your Money?

I sat at the counter at my local restaurant the other day and waited for over 7 minutes without anyone bothering to acknowledge that I was there. 2013-04-23 12.30.55

And then I walked out. And so did my money. For good. In fact, I drove to McDonalds, got some scrambled eggs and an iced coffee, and was in and out of the system within the same 7 minutes. (You can save your comments with disdain for McDonalds. If you’re a parent, you go there, unless you don’t. Either way. It’s not the point.)

Now, before you try to defend this other place, no, it wasn’t busy. Yes, at least two employees had seen me, and frankly, I don’t much care. If I had been even greeted, I would have been able to tolerate the wait. But not even a hello.

By comparison, the Ale House and the Barking Dog (both local places) have trained their entire staff to greet anyone they see walking in, and wish everyone walking out a great day. You feel warmly greeted there.

“LOCAL” DOES NOT EQUAL “GOOD.”

Local equals local. For instance, there are many coffee shops around. One of the local coffee shops invariably has a huge line, and locals know to go there only if you have some extra time. The coffee is good, but not amazing. Are they extra kind there? No. Do they greet people? No.

The local Dunkin Donuts is faster. They’re not much more kind (I mean, they’re not unkind, but they just do what they do with little beyond the script). Is that good? Depends on what you want.

“GOOD” IS SUBJECTIVE

I went into a running store to pick up a windbreaker kind of thingy because evidently wearing a spring jacket means I will sweat like a prisoner. The guy who runs the shop remembered selling me my shoes (almost a year ago). That feeling, of being remembered, equals good to me. But maybe not to everyone. Heck, I once took a part time job at a local bookstore simply because the manager remembered my name after meeting me once ever (great person, by the way).

ULTIMATELY, “LOCAL” BECOMES ONE OF SEVERAL CHOICES

I’m writing in the Barnes & Noble, which means they get my $4.10 for the iced coffee I bought to “rent” my table. The places that sell ice coffee near my house don’t get that money because they don’t have enough room to sit, aren’t the right environment, lack wifi, etc. All just choices. But let’s talk about that with regards to YOUR business.

If you intend to be a local business, what will push people to choose you instead of the competition?

  • If you sell physical products, you don’t have to carry everything, but you have to be able to recommend everything, and be able to get it in fast.
  • Any service you can add above and beyond the product becomes a reason to consider local.
  • Knowledge trumps big box stores sometimes. I bought my windbreaker at the running store because I knew that the people in there knew about the product. Will someone at Target? Far less likely.
  • Warm welcomes make everything better. I’d much rather give money to people who make me feel welcome and invited. I know this sounds “duh,” but pay attention next time you’re out and about. It’s a rarity to be welcomed and treated well.
  • If you have a great story, sometimes that’s enough to sway one’s money towards you. There’s a farm where I like to get my vegetables and there’s usually a bit more “story” going on there in descriptions and signage and more, compared to my local grocery store.
  • Being responsive and able to reply and able to offer customer service is one place where you can shine.

But it’s all a choice.

If you can add value, you can trump price or availability as a local business. It’s up to you to decide if that matters. The rest? Well, we can talk about that another time.

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  • http://twitter.com/kashaziz Kashif Aziz

    I believe its not about being a local business or not. Any business that is not giving its top priority to the customers, that fails to serve them with sincerity, and that is not open for positive criticism should be shunned, whether its local to my neighborhood or not.

    I will drive for miles to get satisfactory service and proper return for my money.

    • http://www.patrickwagner.com/ Patrick Wagner

      You nailed it here! I’ve started to avoid Starbucks when in the car because now that the sell everything else, the lines take FOREVER to get thru in the drive-thru. Not worth it! I started going to Starbucks because they were the fastest and most concerned on how much time you spend in line.

      • http://sevensummitsquest.com/ Charles Miske

        1) custom brew-while-you-wait drip nonsense

        2) women who watch too much tv and have to order a 27 syllable drink

  • http://www.TimBerryMD.com Tim Berry

    I feel the same way. I don’t have excessive or even high expectations when I go into any business. But if they cannot provide basic service and attention, I will leave and I most likely will not return. For me it is an easy, fast, unemotional decision. Your coffee shop example is a great one. I have one within walking distance that has great coffee, but it is small and inefficient with their space. They also pay about 3 times the average lease because of their location. The second close one has wifi, but their security key process is such a pain in the ass… So I end up going to one about 3 miles away, passing several other less-than-good ones along the way. I am a consumer – a great consumer – and I spend money locally. Local to me does not mean “adjacent”, it means the most convenient place that meets my basic needs. One final note, I do take the time to leave a review about my experiences so at least I can be constructive for them. Doesn’t mean I will return to see if they took my feedback, just means I am doing my part to make the world better:-)

  • Flo Williams

    Great discussion. I am enjoying this. To the pastor, I have been all over the denominational map. In the 70′s I was an international student, came back and started dating boys from various countries and was pretty much ostracized by the group I grew up with. Quit going to church for 20 years. Met an older man who happened to be a sales leader at my part-time job. He was so enthusiastic about his church that I decided to check it out. His looking for me from the choir section kept me going until I joined a small group for single and divorced women. After we all healed, we went our separate ways because our common thread started leading us in different directions. Connections started to wane.

    It is oh so hard for any church to engage people who just see each other in the pews once a week. That is why most of them try and get people into small groups. Unfortunately, the guy in charge of getting folks into those groups was not that good at it and tried to put me into one that was not a good fit.

    My next thought was to just go to a church where I already had friends. This pastor, young guy, wore a tie for the first time last Sunday, addresses everyone as loved ones. The staff shocked me because they knew my name before I knew theirs. The first person to engage me ended up being from the small midwestern burg I grew up in and if you didn’t live there you would never know about it. Several people told me they were not a friendly church until he came along.

    I spent the first Sunday at a lady’s house for lunch sharing the life stories of about 10 of us. I was invited into the pastor’s small group immediately after that. The day I joined I was invited to weekly dinners by a group of ladies, all older, but I have a great time.

    To rap this up, it is the same as a small business, genuine caring, attention to your needs and making an effort to get to know you. Humility goes a long ways and I wish I had more of the stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/2DigitalNomads 2 Digital Nomads

    I will agree and disagree with some of the points, but I will never forget an asian restaurant back when we were in Toronto/Canada and it was fairly a very small place. The whole team including the manager/owner used to greet everyone coming in or leaving and this will draw a smile on your face even if they didn’t mean it.

  • http://www.ikf.co.in/digitalmarketing/seo-services.html SEO Services India

    I agree with you for some points. As the shops you enter are very much branded and they have lots of customers visiting per day. The new start-up businesses provide a greeting service or any other services which helps them to increase their value and service.

    There may be some other businesses who still offer welcome greetings to their customer but frankly speaking I haven’t seen any.

  • Derek Fischer

    Business isn’t primarily about money or even products. It is primarily about people. The people that work in the business and the people that use their services of buy their products. This makes the most important focus of any business the people that are involved. When you walk into a café and the staff fails to acknowledge you it not only shows you that they don’t care about your business, it also shows that the business that they work for doesn’t care about their staff. Good businesses focus on people.

  • Ian

    Maybe they were friendlier at McDonalds than at your local establishment, but was it at all genuine? I prefer local establishments because I feel that no one is reading to me from a script.

  • Inno Garage

    Thanks Cris, we have always liked your posts. But, this one is exceptional. Hope to see more of this quality from you soon.

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    All things being equal, I’ll pick a local business every time. All things are seldom equal.

  • IMJNICE

    I totally agree with you on this. I have walked out of several establishments over the years just because of how they “didn’t” treat their customers. I belive wholeheartedly you greet customers no matter how busy it is. I have gotten many free/discounted meals in my life because I wait purposely for someone to either acknowledge me or to see if I can get a response in any kind of way. So I wait and wait, then when I do get approached, I ask to speak to a manager. This has worked for me time and time again where the manager has given me some extra fries, 2 extra hamburgers to take home, or in some cases free food items. Customer service should be the #1 goal for restaurants or anywhere that companies interact with customers. That’s their bread and butter. Make it happen! Peace

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  • http://taniashipman.com/ Tania Shipman

    Good service is what you need. It depends on your own definition of good service so a not so great coffee I can grab quickly means I don’t need to be waiting in line for 10 minutes for great coffee. That meets my needs, but any owner of a business has to judge and think of what his customers need.

    If you are a local business and you don’t meet the needs of your customers, then you lose customers. If you are seeing customers walk out, if you aren’t paying attention to customers standing around waiting for service, then you will not succeed.

    Same as for good or bad service, I let the manager know. If they don’t get feedback, they can’t improve.

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  • Jocelyn Hutchinson

    Yes, I know how you feel of not being acknowledged. In our business we acknowledge very client that walks through our door. If we are on the phone or with a client, the client that has walked through the door is waved at to let them know we are aware they are in our establishment. The client feels more at home if they are just acknowledged. Our business is in a very small town so therefore everyone that walks through the door is important to us. We also patronize the businesses that patronize us, as they are a big reason we are in business. They also have fantastic food!!! You as a person or business MUST always remember that you are NOT irreplaceable!!!

  • Laura Simms

    Chris, I live in a small town where there are many “local” options. With a couple exceptions, the service in the entire town is terrible like you describe in your story. The ones that treat customers well really stand out, and while I’d love more variety in where I go, I return to the places with good service.

  • Keri Kight

    I couldn’t agree more. When I go to any establishment, I either expect great customer service, or some either type of quality, like efficiency at McDonald’s. I have walked out of many establishments, wherever I happen to be, and I never look back. It would have to take a true friend to drag me back in there. When I receive terrible customer service, I tell anyone that will listen. I live in a small town, and the customer service is about 50/50, so at least I have some places to go to.

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