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A Customer Service Story

by Mike McCartney  Sooteyeout Publishing

How many hours a day do you put in running your business? 14, 15?

There is a little coffee roasting shop in San Jose I go to on weekend mornings. The old guy who runs it hires only young girls and has them dress like Hooters. Today there was only one person behind the counter. She was running back and forth doing everything from making drinks to making coffee urns to taking orders and running the cash register. There was a long line across the whole shop.

The old man who owns the place was standing watching her. He ran out to tell another merchant from the shopping center who walked in that he would get her coffee when it slowed down, and ignored the rest of the line, she was special I guess.

He went behind the counter and hovered over the poor girl for a minute and then came down by the corner of the shop by me and hid, so he could watch from there. I asked him: “Why don’t you help her?”

He answered, “I am.”

I left and got coffee somewhere else, and thought afterwards: “He does not even know how to make the coffee drinks he sells or how to run his own cash register.”

There are just time that you pray for the likes of Gordon Ramsey to walk in and start swearing at people like that.

– Fresh Flakes – Frank Zappa

They don’t do no good
They never be workin’
When they oughta should
They waste your time
They’re wastin’ mine
California’s got the most of them
Boy, they got a host of them
Swear t’God they got the most
At every business on the coast…

“I’m a moron ‘n’ this is my wife
She’s frosting a cake
With a paper knife
All what we got here’s
American made
It’s a little bit cheesey,
But it’s nicely displayed
Well we don’t get excited when it
Crumbles ‘n’ breaks
We just get on the phone
And call up some Flakes
They rush on over
‘N’ wreck it some more
‘N’ we are so dumb
They’re linin’ up at our door…”

“Well, the toilet went crazy
Yesterday afternoon
The plumber he says
“Never flush a tampoon!”
This great information
Cost me half a week’s pay
And the toilet blew up
Later on the next day ay-eee-ay
Blew up the next day WOO-OOO..”

* Flake Response—

“We are millions ‘n’ millions
We’re coming to get you
We’re protected by unions
So don’t let it upset you
Can’t escape the conclusion
It’s probably God’s Will
That civilization
Will grind to a standstill
And we are the people
Who will make it all happen
While yer children is sleepin’,
Yer puppy is crappin’
You might call us Flakes
Or something else you might coin us
But we know you’re so greedy
That you’ll probably join us…..”

 

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A Relentless Race to the Bottom

by Seth Godin

They’re shutting down Jimmy Wang’s store. Shutting down a successful little business.

Walgreen’s is moving into town, my town, a town with three or four small drugstores and plenty of places to buy stale cookies, thank you very much.

I’ve written about Brother’s market before, an anchor in my little town. The only place to get hand-picked fresh food, pretty much, and the sort of market you could imagine moving to town just to be near. Remember those little markets where they actually care about the produce they sell? In a world filled with bitter cash register jockeys, Brother’s was different. A smiling face, a family member mentioned, a don’t-worry-about-the-pennies sort of interaction.

I’ve probably shopped there a thousand times, and every single time it brought a smile to my face.

The problem is that while Brother’s was in a race to the top, a race to create more and better interactions, Walgreen’s is in a race to the bottom. They exist to extract the last penny from every bit of real estate they can control. That’s the deal they made with their shareholders.

The landlord who owns this land lives in another state. He doesn’t care. He can ignore the protests and the petitions.

And Walgreen’s won’t even notice the community outrage. We can write letters or call or boycott the new store (or all their stores) and the local manager, the local region manager, the state-level manager, the head of store operations–none of them care, of course, because it’s just a job to them.

Real estate is the soul killer here. You can’t have a beloved local market and a public drugstore chain occupying the very same spot. Pundits like me can talk all we want about being remarkable, about leading and about making connections, but when a public company wants your spot, when it can extract a few extra pennies per square foot, you lose.

The internet has opened the door for millions of businesses to do things differently, because there are other assets now, assets that can transcend location. Your permission to talk to customers, your reputation, your unique products–you can build a business around them online. But that doesn’t work so well if you depend on local (and leased) real estate, if you’re selling watercress or radishes, apparently.

One by one, store by store, the chains expand, earning a few more dollars a share and further insulating themselves from the communities they used to serve. No, my neighbors and I don’t need another drugstore, we have plenty. That’s not going to change Walgreen’s mind, and it’s not going to help Jimmy and his team, either. My heart goes out to them. Thanks for everything you did for our community, guys.

The race to the top continues. It’s just a lot harder if you have a landlord.

 

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