Spending the weekend at Cape May, NJ, a seaside resort (mercifully, prior to the start of the peak summer season), was a great way to size up customer-management practices. After all, you don’t get any more commercial than the relations between resort shopowners & their visiting customers.
And the surprise is this: precisely where you’d expect the sensitivity to customer needs & wants to be most acute, it’s as dull as Walmart’s.
The best example was this. We bought a coffee at a cybercafe (surprised these even still existed) and while the barista made our drinks, she mentioned that people sometimes come in & ask her for directions to one of the other coffee shops in town. (Subtext: tourists are inconsiderate & not very bright.)
“Once we ordered donuts by mistake,” she continued. “The guy brought like 3 donuts. They sold out right away.” She motioned to the case where scones & muffins sat like statues. “And then people kept coming in & asking for the donuts, & nobody bought any of the other stuff. We made sure that never happened again. No more donuts.”
The vice president of common sense & I looked at each other, thinking the same thing. I said, “I don’t know. If I owned this store, I think I’d order more donuts.”
The barista handed us our drinks & shrugged. “I just work here.”
It’s not fair, of course, to expect a clerk to think like an owner, but it reminded me of my four years in retail, part-time at Silliman’s and later Weed & Duryea Hardware in New Canaan, CT. There was a simple rule the buyers lived by: if something was moving, order more of it.
But small-business owners often overlook that rule in favor of another one: it’s my store, & people should buy what I put on display.
The next time that feeling comes over you, remember this story, and order more donuts.
Image source: Anne Wieland