In this picture of Swansboro Harbor if you are familiar with the area, you can pick out a number of local businesses. As someone who has written a travel guide to the area, I consider it part of my job to evaluate restaurants and other services that our visitors might use. Since people moving to the area also use my book, I mention other businesses which might be of interest to newcomers.
Swansboro, North Carolina has made the news recently for first putting a moratorium on big box stores (specifically Walmart) in the town and then banning them. This happened and almost instantly an opinion poll appeared that shows almost 68% of Swansboro supports Walmart coming to town. This has caused some controversy and interesting letters to the editor of Tideland News, the local paper.
I got motivated to pen an article, Not Every Local Business Deserves to be Saved, when I saw a business that I will no longer use vehemently opposing Walmart coming to down. I had a bad experience with the business man and expect that I am not alone. I like the products he sells, but not enough to buy them from him.
Harvard Business School has now chimed in on the Swansboro issue with an assertion that banning big box stores actually hurts smaller retailers.
With a long career in sales from purebred cattle to Apple computers and fiber to the premise networks, I have learned that customer service is the key to success.
However, I also learned that there is a significant percentage of people who do not care about customer service one way or the other. That is true even if poor customer service ends up hurting them. Some of these people are only interested in saving a buck and that is true of both business owners and customers.
This translates into some businesses will never do a great job because they are so tight with a buck. No customer of theirs will ever get the benefit of a doubt. Few serious problems with their products or services ever get handled properly. It does not matter if you are a huge company like Apple or the local Toro dealership. Companies can become more interested in money than anything else. Sometimes big companies trying to force us to do business with a local merchant can backfire on the company when the local service is terrible.
On the customer side this means that no matter how well you as a business person treat some customers, they will display no loyalty and are only interested either in getting your services for free, at a discount or their item for the cheapest possible price.
Some of these customers make a career out of trying to take advantage of all businesses on the assumption that all business owners are rich and need to be fleeced. On top of that some customers cannot be pleased no matter how far backward you bend for them.
All this is part of the competitive environment that is the American economy. While mostly things get worked out, they generally get far out of whack when government tries to control what businesses we have access to or tries to protect certain businesses for reasons that those of us not in government can never understand.
Things can also get messed up when a company like Apple has a stranglehold on customers and decides money is more important that having happy customers. You can read my iLemon story for a taste of that. Why would a company with billions of dollars quibble over a $100 hard drive that they had already marked as defective in some systems? There is only one reason, $100 is more important to them than a satisfied customer.
We lived in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland for a couple of years. The community regulated how many grocery stores and what type of shops we had access to. The result was fewer services, higher prices, and in some cases businesses that did not deserve to be in business.
I worked out of the Apple office there for years and I can remember the only hotel in town getting so bad that none of us would stay in it. We would drive miles to avoid it. The last time I stayed in it, I had to ask for another room since someone had obviously kicked in the door in my room and left the safety chain hanging with a piece of broken wood on it.
This summer I have dealt with two issues on products that I purchased. One was a fishing rod that I bought last summer. Fortunately I bought it at Reel Outdoors in Emerald Isle. The rod broke this summer. I took it to Reel Outdoors to see if it could be fixed. They replaced it on the spot no questions asked other than when did I buy the rod.
The second case was a shipment from Amazon. I received a box on Saturday with four items. One of the boxed items was a glass bottle and it was broken. Another glass bottle in the shipment was fine. I did an online chat with an Amazon representative this morning. Within minutes she had an expedited replacement order on its way to me.
In the last few years I have had similar good experiences with Nikon and Canon. Both companies obviously are willing to stand behind their products.
All this contrasts vividly to my experience with the local Toro dealer who wanted me to pay for a warranty repair on a product that I took the time to buy from him and Apple who cared not a whit that the bad hard drives they had identified in another warranty recall were in more products than they thought. Interestingly the Toro part cost almost exactly what the replacement product that Amazon is shipping to me at no cost.
The business world is neither easy nor fair, but in general if you treat your customers well, you will do okay. Usually most people in a town know the good businesses and the ones just hanging on because they snared a good brand before someone else did.
Swansboro did not help any of us by banning Walmart. They might actually end up hurting locally merchants as the Harvard Business School article suggests. Maybe their efforts should have been focused on making sure that Walmart pays their employees a living wage so they can afford to shop in the boutiques on Front Street. That would be a win-win situation and probably hard to explain.
Locally owned is usually a pretty good recipe for success, but it is not a guarantee. I have two sets of friends who went to different locally owned restaurants this weekend. One set who ate at Angie's Lighthouse Cafe, which I recommended to them had a great meal.
The three other folks who ate at a restuarant on the Island which has operated under three different names since we have lived here had an unsatisfactory experience. The same owner had it under the previous two names and each time I ate there, I was unhappy. I have not even bothered trying it under the latest name since it is the same owner. You cannot fix a restaurant or a business that is not doing well by just changing the name.