So your sales are down? I hear a lot of companies complain about having to deal with the big box stores or mail order companies, and I agree 100% that both of these are impacting the sales of local small and medium size businesses. A number of photographers are complaining that they just cannot survive as they are trying to compete with other photographers.
BUT there is something that is doing more to effect a decrease in sales than any of the above factors. What is this mysterious thing that is effecting our sales? It is plain and simply the customer service / integrity that we are offering to our customers. In the past couple of months I have been forced to order on-line, or purchase from a box store, on a number of occasions as the service that I have gotten from local small businesses is SO BAD! I will not point out names but if you were one of the businesses that I had bad service from you will know it as I made sure to bring it up in a polite way to the manager or owner.
I do want to go through one instance that I have dealt with in the past couple of months. My boys and I are into remote controlled vehicles, we decided that if we were going to enjoy this hobby that we would buy nice vehicles that we could not only enjoy, but if we had a problem we could repair (unlike the cheap non repairable units that you buy and run till it falls apart, we can replace just about any part on our trucks). The first truck we bought locally, I was very happy to talk to a person that knew the product and in fact we did not even shop around for a better price as I was so happy with the service that I was willing to pay a little more. We visited the store one day and the next day went in to buy the truck. To my shock we found that the truck had gone up in price by $20.00 in only one day, sales person / owner said that he quoted the wrong price. My son wanted that truck so we decided that we would pay the extra. On the first trip into the store we were told that we should buy a extra battery and a charger, so we decided that we would also do that. Well guess what? The price on these went up as well by $10.00 and when it was added up an additional part was added that was “forgotten” during our first visit. I was not happy but my son really wanted that truck and was afraid that if we waited he would not get it, so we bought it. In all the additional cost was over $50.00 from our quote. We took the truck and gear and away we went. I went back a couple times to get extra parts and supplies and soon found out that prices were always being quoted low and then raised when I said that I wanted it. After a couple months I went in to buy another truck and again the prices kept moving, I bought the second truck as it was still cheaper than going to Calgary for it but to say I was upset was an understatement. I liked the knowledge and I did not mind paying a little more for the product to get this knowledge, but to see the prices keep changing was more than I could stand.
A couple months later my oldest boy wanted a truck of his own, so back in I went to the store I bought the other two from and once again the prices kept climbing. This time I walked away, took my money and went shopping. Found a supplier in Calgary that would ship the same truck for less than buying local, then on a whim I tried a big box stores web site. To my surprise they had the same product for $120.00 less than locally and with free shipping. Within minutes I had bought it and in five days it was here. I really felt bad for buying on-line but after seeing the prices keep climbing I could not justify the extra money, and the thing that really upset me was the bait and switch that was happening with the prices – quote a lower price and when the customer wants it up the price.
A few weeks later I needed some more parts, this time I did some research and found out that an average price for the parts that I needed was $45.00 (I used a couple different stores and the suppliers recommended prices). In I went to the local store and was surprised to be quoted $48.00 for the parts, I told the owner of the store that I would take the parts and in under a minute was told that the actual price was $62.00 and he needed to order them and could be a couple of weeks. I said thanks, asked why the price difference and was told he quoted the wrong price and I left. I went on line and ordered the parts that I needed and in 3 days had the parts that only cost me $36.00.
This is just on example, not the only one that has happened in the last few months. I have had a number of local stores up prices well above that at other stores in Medicine Hat and Calgary. At a number of other stores I have had staff tell me that they can get me the product but it will take 3 weeks to get it shipped in. But if I went on line I could order it from another supplier and have the product in 5 days, something is just not right.
There are some shining examples of good service as well, I was looking for a product that was sold in the US under a specific trade name. I did some research and a friend called Silver Automotive and asked about the product. 2 minutes later and I had a price and was told it would be in within 2 days. The next day at 10am got a call from Silver and was told it was in. The price was the same as the product in the US and I could buy locally!
If small business are going to stay in business and grow we need to be honest and helpful with the customer as much as we can, only then will we be able to compete with on-line businesses.