Earlier this week, I visited our local hardware store to pick up some paint. This wasn’t just a simple “pick out a color from the giant color wall” kind of project. I asked the poor soul helping me to color match our exterior house paint that wasn’t originally purchased through their store and had been subjected to about ten solid years of sun fading.
I had dragged my three kids with me and before we left the store, we had to go and say hi to the owner.
The boys trekked to the back of the store with their 2-year old sister in tow and before I knew it, my quick trip to the hardware store was an all-out, hands-on learning experience.
The owner was working in front of a large tank of minnows. He invited them over for a look, and soon they were squealing with delight as the owner teased them about dunking them in the tank and the boys teased him back with fat little handfuls of squirming, flipping fish bait.
As I sat there holding my paint can, I couldn’t help but smile. In all of my online shopping experiences, even the best of them can’t compare to what I experienced in the back of our local hardware store.
The way in which we purchase goods and services is changing.
That is most certainly true.
A person only needs to listen to the news or turn to their primary source of information, Facebook, to read countless articles and posts sharing the doom and gloom fact that many retail companies across the country are closing their doors.
Many of these social media shares are written in an attempt to justify the choice to start and support online businesses, suggesting that online business is “where it’s at”.
Now, I can’t argue.
I, myself, have an online business and I’m grateful for the opportunity to network and serve far more people than only those residing in my immediate backyard.
But, I fear we may be forgetting the other players in this equation.
There are still many, many business owners that do have a brick and mortar presence or rely on local customers to make their business thrive.
From grocery stores and restaurants to service businesses, like plumbers and electricians, the importance of customer retention has never been more important for local businesses.
While I love the sight of an Amazon Prime box gracing my front doorstep as much as anyone else, I would hate to rely on getting everything delivered via the mail or because of my rural location, having to drive more than an hour to buy something I used to be able to purchase on Main Street in my community.
So, what’s a person to do?
Well, here are a few ideas…
- Check locally first. Damn-near always. You’d be surprised at the items that can be ordered through the businesses in your community, even if they’ve never carried those items on their shelves. All you have to do is ask.
- Give your local merchants feedback. Be honest with them. Being the only show in town doesn’t give a business a free pass to abandon the common principles of customer service, which I sadly fear happens more than it should. This is the one area where local businesses have the ability to really outdo their online counterparts. While they can’t always outperform in terms of breadth and variety of products or pricing, they have the ability to “out-serve” their competition in terms of personalized, genuine, heartfelt service. No drone, algorithm, or automated system can replace excellent face-to-face service. Excellence being the operative word.
- Recognize the contributions local businesses make. In fact, look for it! Every single day, there are business owners doing their part to make a difference, often in the way of sponsorship or donations to support community initiatives. When was the last time your child’s Boy Scout club’s outing was funded by a sponsorship from Amazon?
- Thank a local business owner. They take late night calls for help, which often turns into even later night house calls for service or support. They make deliveries without being asked. They physically carry your purchases to your car. The line between their work and personal lives is permanently blurred. Tell them you see them. Tell them you appreciate them. Don’t assume they know. Tell them.
As you’re reading this article, you may be nodding along, agreeing with the spirit of what I’m suggesting, all the while knowing you’d never in a million years give up online shopping.
Don’t confuse the issue, that’s not what I’m suggesting. After all, I get the convenience. The options. The savings.
But then I experience something I did in our hardware store that makes me question all that.
So I implore you.
Enjoy the ease, speed, and cost savings that often exists with shopping online. Just don’t for a minute take for granted the incredible gift of having local businesses in your community and the people who choose to run them.
Put your money where your heart is. Because I do know if we take local businesses for granted for too long, we’ll all lose.