Riddell: Some customers need to be fired

Riddell: Some customers need to be fired

July 27th, 2010 by John Riddell Jr. in Business Diary

Certainly in this day of "every sale is an important one," even the thought of walking away from an opportunity (firing a customer) is counterintuitive for most small-businesses owners.

Yet a disturbing trend is continuing that undermines the ability of many small businesses to find and keep good customers and also is reflective of just a total lack of common courtesy.

Consider for a moment the following scenario and ask yourself how you can possibly justify the actions of the offender. An individual walks into a retail shop, one highly regarded by locals as a standout in customer service. The offender is looking for a specific product, one that the shop just happens to have in stock.

The offender asks the owner if he will match the best price that he can find on the Internet. As the shop has a policy of matching the lowest price when it can, the owner says he'll try.

The offender then brings in his laptop, uses

the shop's wireless capability and then finds some obscure site that offers the product for a minuscule amount less than the price offered by the proprietor.

The proprietor checks his invoices, finds that the proposed price is below his cost and then politely informs the offender that he cannot match the found price but will let the item go at his cost.

The offender then again uses the shop's wireless capability and orders the product online, right in front of the store's proprietor!

You might think this is an isolated event, just one person whose parents failed him mightily in his upbringing until you realize that this offender's attitude is much more common than you might imagine.

I recently spoke with the owner of a retail golf equipment store who related a similar story to me. One young man came in and proceeded to try a number of clubs out on the in-store simulator only to inform the owner that he had no intention whatsoever of buying anything from him.

He was merely "test driving" the equipment before purchasing it online. When the owner told him that the store has a price-matching policy (as do most local retailers), he was then told that if he would waive the sales tax, he, the freeloader, might consider purchasing from him.

When told that he couldn't do that, the response was basically "too bad!"

When I asked the owner what he intended to do about this, he said he had informed this person that he, the owner, was no longer interested in his business and he would appreciate it if he would take his business elsewhere, and by the way, not even think about using the simulator. He fired this customer!

This is a very real and common dilemma for every local business trying to keep its head above water in this very difficult and dangerous time.

While we might bemoan the obvious lack of ethics in the conduct of the above offenders, these are not remote isolated events and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change character flaws.

But if you are an individual who recognizes the value of local service and support and understands the economic impact that small businesses have on our community, then you can do something about it.

First, simply patronize local shops. Second, recognize that an informed consumer is seen as an asset by retail stores and don't be afraid to compare prices.

Third, honestly evaluate if the price difference is enough to outweigh warranty replacement potential or any post sale problem or issue.

Finally, be a spokesman for every local company that tries to make sure that you get the best value for every one of your hard-earned dollars.

We sometimes forget that successful business is all about relationships. But these are two-way streets, and those customers who choose to ignore this reality should be fired.

P.S. This is my last semi-monthly column, and I want to thank you for being a reader.

John F. Riddell Jr. is director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth-Hamilton County.