What Multichannel, Direct and Ecommerce Marketers Can Learn From the Way Old-School Retailers Do Business


This week I want to tell you a story, and pay tribute to a local businessperson who recently passed away.

I don’t live in a particularly small town (about 200,000 residents), but for the last 16 years — since I moved to Florida — I’ve been a regular patron at Howards, a local gourmet market named after its founder.

After a brief illness, Howard passed away on July 5. I found out the next day when I walked into the market and saw the looks on the employees’ faces. One look and I knew something was very wrong. In a short period of time, I saw quite a few people weeping — both employees and patrons.

On the TV monitor over the register a tribute was playing to the owner in a loop. I offered my condolences to some of the long-time employees, paid and left. As I walked to my car, I started to tear up, too. Now I’m not a particularly weepy person, so I found it odd that I started to cry.

But this man, and the business he’d built, had been a part of my daily life for a long time. The store would hold classic car shows, July 4th fireworks and more in its parking lot. When there was a hurricane, Howards stayed open to keep the community going.

I can’t tell you how many parties, BBQs, dinners, etc. my wife and I have enjoyed courtesy of the foods Howards provided.

And almost every day for 16 years, there was Howard by the front register talking to customers and building relationships with all who entered. He knew my family by name. Even gave my son, who was seven-years-old at the time, a job application to fill out (we had fun with that!)

So Why Am I Telling You This?
Think about your company: Do you know your customers by name, or are you just a nameless, faceless entity that people buy product from? How about your staff. Are they, especially your customer service reps (CSRs), connected to your customers? Via how many touchpoints?

There’s a lot to be learned from your old-school retailer. I wonder on a daily basis how to translate that to my business and clients. From trial and error, I’ve learned and hopefully taught the companies I’ve worked for how to build relationships with their clients. It used to be that people only bought “stuff” from retailers. I tell companies, “People don’t buy from companies, they buy from people.”

How Does That Translate in the E-Commerce Age?
Simple! Make sure all of your customer touchpoints “keep it real.” Have your CSRs build relationships with your customers. Send them a surprise email special. Connect via your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. (Still don’t have these up and running? What are you waiting for?) Push your employees to the forefront. Do stories, biographies and contests revolving around them. Learn to use your website and social media efforts to project a real and personal voice. Respond immediately to complaints, issues, etc.

I could go on here, but you get the picture. Feel free to use the comments section below to tell us how you connect and engage with your customers. Go for it!

And Howard … RIP! You’ll be missed!

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