Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Value of our Dollars

I try, to the best of my ability, to support local businesses with my tightly budgeted dollars. I try to encourage others to do the same as I believe the money is better spent within our community. Just last night I ran into an issue with a local business that made me examine this practice. 

When spending your dollars locally, how many of you consider the practices of the business owners, or their individual viewpoints? I know many people who boycott this chain or another because of their business practices, but how often does a local business fall under that same sort of scrutiny? I know of people who will support a local business, even if the business is ineffective or inferior, simply because it is locally owned. How are we benefiting our community by doing so?

In the local publication that I support, Kent Patch, there was an article about a local business that was shutting down for a couple of months due to the construction in the area. It was a relevant article and important for our community because of all the hype and popularity of the construction and the new businesses that were just getting established around the construction. I've visited more than a few of the new businesses and had been planning a trip eventually to the business that was closing. Upon first reading I simply thought it was a shame that the construction and lack of parking situation was so bad at this time. 

Later, I revisited the article because of the sheer number of comments it was receiving. I was appalled to find the business owner responding with absolute venom to even the slightest criticism of his establishment. The people commenting were those who had visited and making such comments as a certain dish was bland or that the prices seemed a bit high for what they received. Another former patron related an uncomfortable incident that had happened in the restaurant where he had witnessed the owner berating an employee in full view and hearing of the patrons. Though the owner denied that the incident ever happened, I found it hard to credit his denials when tempered with the petty insults and vitriol he was spewing at every commenter. Even before he attacked a dear friend of mine, I had decided to vote with my dollar and not visit his establishment. 

After a night of back and forth, with the owner digging himself a deeper and deeper hole, the majority of his comments disappeared. There were a couple of half-hearted apologies posted all accompanied by excuses as to why his behavior should be discounted. They were excuses such as he is from Boston and apparently in his opinion, his responses are typical of the average Bostonian. His most disgusting excuse, however, came in the form of defining what he terms a 'customer' to be. In his point of view, the people of his community commenting on his behavior are not his customers because they currently do not have a foot inside of his business. He did not address the former customers who had commented, nor did he address the idea that his community is full of potential customers, he simply excused his behavior by discounting everyone as non entities. "Here, no matter how many words you type trying to convince otherwise, you are not a "customer", past, present, or future. You are just...someone with a keyboard." He then went on to offer a $20 gift card to anyone who walked into his (now closed) business to give their comments to him personally. He assured us that if we did this, we would be treated like family. 

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of questionable behavior by a local business owner that I have come across. I have blogged in the past about an employee (who was possibly the owner) of a store who was cursing and raving at full volume while I and at least two other families browsed the store with our young children. I desire to live frugally AND support my community as best I can. I look for deals at local businesses and make sure people know when I find them. But I also feel that allowing individuals who do not value their community to prosper simply because they are local does us all a disservice. 

Local businesses are under a keener microscope than large chains. They have a smaller market and can not afford to alienate a segment of the community. I would think such businesses would focus on the strengths that small places have over chains, individual attention and customer service. I can, will, and have spent a bit more on something that I knew I could get at Walmart simply because I valued the service I received at a local business. I wonder how many others of my community do the same. This should be at the forefront of every small business owner's mind and something relayed to their employees. People will vote with their dollars, especially in such hard economic times, if they can get a similar item elsewhere without insult, hassle, or discomfort, they will go.

Many many years ago, I started as an eager teenager working one of my first jobs at Sea World Ohio. We had classes on customer service and were reminded incessantly that customer service was the key to success. They threw statistics at us such as for every negative customer service experience a business loses twenty five customers through negative word of mouth publicity. In my teenage mind, this seemed so silly, such an exaggeration, but in today's world of blogs, Facebook, texting, and tweeting, it wouldn't take a business more than a couple of minutes to have a negative experience reach 25 or more people. That's publicity that a small business can not afford.