At Your Service: July 9, 2008

Sometimes life sucks. When we need a vacuum cleaner, it’s a good thing. When we are having a run of bad luck, it is best to leave it alone lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Focusing on what is not working creates a situation that is bound to continue.
Take for example the owner of a small eatery. He constantly complains that he doesn’t have enough business. The competition is stealing his customers away. His waitress agrees. I can hear them in the kitchen grousing about the problem. I am standing by the door, following the instructions on the sign – waiting to be seated. It will be several minutes before the cook says, “I think someone is out there,” and another couple before they believe him. By then, I am gone.
I didn’t take it personally when they walked out of the dining section of the restaurant just as I was walking in. They had their backs to the door and didn’t see me enter. There was no bell on the door to alert them to incoming customers, nor is there a mirror in the kitchen reflecting the dining area so they can tell they are not alone. I coughed a couple of times and even said, “Hello.” But, they were busy. I hope they take it personally that I was walking out as they returned.
It was not the first time this had happened here. I was giving them a second chance because I was hungry and they were the closest place to where my meeting let out. I stopped there despite the fact that I had recently been told that the service was bad; a confirmation of my own prior experience. It is the last time I will make that particular mistake.
When you want customers to feel welcome and come to your establishment, someone is on hand to greet them. When no one is there, it sends the message that you don’t care whether they come or not; and they will not come.
These are tough times. The price of gas is making it harder for people to make ends meet and they are watching their dollars and cents much more closely. Shopkeepers are feeling the pinch as their own costs are rising and they are forced to raise prices and cut their profit margins. Anyone wanting to hear about the problem can turn on the TV; they don’t go shopping to hear about it.
No matter how tough it is for you, keep it to yourself. Your customers are there to get something they need and want to feel good about the money they are spending. Sharing your problems does nothing to make them feel better. Misery may love company, but it is not conducive to growing sales.
When you are concerned about your business’ ability to withstand the pinch, deal with the problem by talking to your suppliers to get the best price on merchandise. Talk to your accountant about what items you can write off or offer at a deep discount. Have a big sale and sell off what remains from last season’s stock. Use the down time to train your employees on ways they can be more helpful to the customers you do have. Invest in advertising that sends the message that yours is the place for the best deal. Do whatever you have to to attract people to your business and encourage the impulse buy on the merchandise you cannot discount.
When business sucks, pull out the vacuum cleaner and give it a spin around the store. Brighten up the place so that when customers come there will be no dust on the shelves. Lighten up your mood and focus on things you can do to improve your business. Whatever else you do, give your customers a break from your troubles; they have their own.