Thursday, July 15, 2010

Better Service or Lower Price - The Wall Mart Syndrome

Is service of Value?
I ask myself this question all the time. I don't just work in a store, I am a consumer as well, and sometimes I find myself sliding into what I call the Wall Mart Attitude. I sometimes look for the cheapest Price, and when I find myself doing this I have begun to ask, am I doing the right thing. Sometimes I have realized it not always about me (Me the Consumer that is.) sometimes its about what is right and good for everyone, manufacturer, retailer & me.
Now I am no expert, I don't claim to understand the complexities of the market, the economy or anything else, but I don't think I am all that out of touch with what matters.

I Think SERVICE MATTERS... When we insist on paying absolutely nothing for "stuff" we don't allow the people who sell that "stuff" to provide service, it is inherent in the formula. No profit equates to No Service. It takes money to maintain a selection of goods, it takes even more money to maintain a selection of goods and have someone to sell you those goods who can assist you in making the correct choice for you.

Our store is a perfect example, we sell sewing machines and Wall-Mart sells sewing Machines. Our Entry Level sewing Machines start around the $299 to $499 range. Big Box Store sells machines from around the $79 to $199 range, perhaps even lower. (As an opinionated jerk I wont do a lot of research to back this up, I think I am close enough in numbers to make my point without doing the extra work.) Customer X Buys a sewing machine from Big Box Store, X wants to mend some clothes, perhaps even hem some jeans. X will only use this machine a couple of times a year so Price is what is driving X's decision. Eventually I get to meet customer X in our store, mostly the stories are the same, because X is like most people they either don't read the manual, or they did but it just did not explain it in any form that they could understand. I mean I know what a presser foot is, I even know why its there and what it does, X doesn't have a clue, and probably doesn't want to, X just wants to fix X's jeans. But X tried to speak with someone at Big Box Store about the sewing machine which apparently doesn't work, but nobody at Big Box Store sews, or they do sew, but they are like X they use their machine twice a year and it really is just blind luck they haven't had a problem. Sometimes "they" even go so far as to replace the machine for X, but it has exactly the same problem, because its not the machine, it's X! X does things consistently, just consistently wrong. Eventually, (If I have spoken with them) X finds someone who knows about the store where I work and X shows up with his Big box Store purchase, looking for some help.

(I will digress here) There is a part of me that is much like every other human being on the planet, I want to punish X for making what i consider to be the wrong choice. Part of me feels like asking them rude and inappropriate questions like why the heck would you buy a sewing machine from a Big Box Store? The Smarter Kinder side of me recognizes, these customers have been trained by Big Box Stores to purchase solely on Price. They Don't look at what, they just look at the price. I mean there have been times I get excited by the marketing, I mean WOW a 42" plasma TV for $599? Holy Cow! It's sad, I know that there is NO way a good 42" plasma TV truly costs $599, we are all so spoiled by mass produced crap we have lost touch with what it takes to actually make something.

A perfect example is furniture, furniture these days is almost entirely made up of particle board crap with some sort of fake wood grain vinyl laminate on it. Almost always I hear from customers about how furniture has become so much junk, it weighs a ton, it chips and flakes, you can't repair it etc etc. Now why do you think it is that way? It's that way because some manufacturer somewhere decided that to compete against the other manufacturers he would make cheap crap and sell it at a low price. And Behold! All the other manufacturers saw how successful he was selling cheap crap and making money doing it, so they followed suit. In the End, what do you have? The lowest common denominator, CHEAP CRAP!

So Honestly, is THAT what we all want?

Good stuff is incredibly expensive to make.

Good Service costs money to Provide, in the end the consumers have to pay somewhere for that service. We should all appreciate good stuff and good service when and where we can find it. (End of Digression... :P)

Back to customer X. Now while there is a part of me that resents the money that customer X has put in Big Box Store's pocket, and then there is a part of me that is genuinely dismayed that they have spent their money and received no service or support and because my store is about service I sit down and spend some time with them, I show them how to use the (Cheap Crap) Machine they purchased and try to explain to them why it was acting the way it was. My hope is that perhaps when the machine breaks, and it will, (I don't need a voodoo hex or clairvoyance to know that it will!) that that customer X will remember how helpful I was, or my staff and come into my store and buy the admittedly more expensive machine, because it has VALUE!

And when that entry level Machine breaks I will happily repair it, because if X begins to enjoy sewing, then I have a customer who could spend a lot more money in my store. That is good for me and good for my industry. Sure its self serving, but I am after all trying to make a living, and fundamentally, I want my Industry to not just survive, but to grow and prosper, but most of all I want it to have less of the cheap crap and more of the better quality products and stores.

At a recent conference I was very interested to note that most, not all but most, of the top dealers in this industry all believe in placing customer service first, and they don't always go for the discount sale. There have been times I have even said to Customers like X that I don't want to discount our prices because when customer X comes in with a problem I want to be able to sit down and spend 10-20 Minutes helping him with his problem. To take the time to educate the customer and provide X with the tools to be able to solve the problem themselves next time.

If I have to sell 40 units to make my rent and I have 2 weeks to do it, how generous do you think I will be with my time then? I wont, I cant because it's MY survival, my Life my livelihood on the line. I will become just like the Big Box store, lost in the frenzy of selling the most cheap crap I can because I dont make enough money on them to sustain a "good" business, I cannot afford to spend the time to learn or even promote the good stuff, that is still out there, if you know where to look.

Even if you don't shop in my store, start paying attention to what you buy and where you buy it. Try that little Sewing shop on the corner instead of the Big Box Store, you might be surprised! I think people are starting to see the reality of what cheap crap will bring in the end, land-fills overflowing with cheap crap, closets stuffed with broken toys and tools. Gadgets and gizmos that just make you frustrated instead of doing what you purchased them for.

It takes time to educate a customer, I want to be able to take that time with ANY of my customers. My customers pay for that time by shopping in my store. Customers like X who come to my store and benefit from my customers need to be aware that those benefits have value, I give them those benefits up front in the hopes that they will become My customer and appreciate that value as well. What do you think?

If you have something to say to me or to add to my Blog please email me at under the subject put BLOG response.

1 comment:

  1. service is a very hard to find commodity that is for sure