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An Object Lesson in What Customers Think is Important

November 27, 2007

A friend of mine recently decided his house and teenagers needed a swimming pool to make their lives complete. Although we don’t build pools anymore, we used to; that’s how we started the business. I still have contacts in the business and sometimes cutomers talk about their pool building experiences while they are looking at furniture. My friend knew this; so, he asked me to recommend some contractors and I did.

About three weeks ago, I saw my friend and asked him how the pool-building project was going. He was very excited. He had picked a builder and work was going to start in time for him to be swimming by May of 2008. He told me he was using a builder I had recommended. But, he must be getting "old timers" just like me, because the builder he decided to use was one I had recommended not to use. Sometimes people just hear what they want, ya know.

Anyway, I spoke to him again today. He was calling to say he decided not to go with the builder he first selected. It had nothing to do with my recommendation; instead, it had everything to do with the watchwords of our industry service, selection, and attitude.

He told the builder he did want to go with him, but hadn’t even signed a contract when the builder contacted him to say he wanted to start digging the pool immediately. My friend really didn’t want to start anything during the holiday season and told the contractor so. The contractor got a little huffy and said if he didn’t dig before January 1, 2008, the price would go up.

Even though my friend and his wife were unhappy about this turn of events, they gave in. They went to the builder’s showroom to pick out tiles and coping where he found a disappointingly small selection. There were six tile samples to choose from and, in his words, "each one was tackier than the next!" He knew there were other kinds of tile he could use and thought it would be a simple matter to have the builder custom order them. After all he was getting ready to spend a considerable sum on a major part of his home. When he told the owner of the company what he wanted to do, the reply was, "Well, some people just can’t be satisfied with what we offer. Perhaps you are one of those and maybe we can’t do business together."

The bottom line was, the company wouldn’t provide the service my friend wanted, had a limited selection of merchandise to choose from, and gave him attitude. My friend decided to go with another builder. This time one I actually did recommend.

As I was listening to my friend, I realized he was upset about what we in the specialty outdoor furnishing industry all know to be important. If I want my customer’s money I have to offer a larger selection than my competition. I wish I didn’t have to have a 15,000 square foot showroom with warehouses to support it, but if the customer can only see what I offer in a catalog, they might as well shop on the Internet. I also wish I could sell every customer something out of my existing stock rather than custom ordering something for them. After all, custom orders don’t get as large a discount, get no dating, and have a higher freight load. But, if I am not willing to offer this level of service, I might as well be a big box home improvement center. Finally, there are times when I would love to tell a customer where to go and how to get there. But I can’t; so, I have adjusted my attitude and take it as a personal challenge to listen to their objections and turn them into a loyal client. It is much more satisfying to have them hand me a check instead of turning on heel and walking out to go somewhere else.

Now, let’s hope the contractor I recommended doesn’t do something to leave me with egg on my face!

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce