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"A Small Business Beats the Big Guys!!"

A Commentary on Excellence in Customer Service

As the end of August approached, I found myself performing one of those tiresome summer time chores,...mowing the lawn. As I pushed the mower along (one of those power ones with a grass catching bag on it), something just didnít sound right. It just didnít seem to have the "umph" it used to, and clumps of grass were clogging up underneath the mower.

Well, after 6 or 7 good years of service, I figured it would be better to purchase a new lawn mower rather than repair this one. The end of the summer is not really a great time to go trying to purchase a new lawnmower,......everyoneís trying to sell snow blowers this time of year. Oh well, however much I hate shopping for things, I guess it was time to become an informed shopper and look around for some good deals.

I pulled out the ads from the last weekís worth of newspapers, and to my surprise there were stores still advertising lawn mowers. Maybe this wouldnít be as hard as I thought.

So, the next week, I spent some time on a Thursday afternoon going to some of those big department stores to shop. The first store was a total disappointment, having only 2 models even though they had a large garden center. So, I made my way through the traffic going to a few other of the large chain stores. They had more models, but some of the brand names were ones I had never heard of. I asked the sales person a few questions about some of them, and he told me that he only worked there and wasnít an expert on the lawnmowers they sold. OK, so on to a few other major stores, looking, asking questions only to be left with no answers and no lawn mower.

The next morning I woke up rather early, the sound of the grass growing was making me nervous. If I didnít get the grass cut soon I would need a tractor. So, using different tactics, I went to one of those home products stores. Certainly they would have some great lawn mowers. Yep, they did! Most of them in boxes, you couldnít get to see them, and as with previous stores I had visited, no one really knew anything about the mowers they were selling. Besides that, the prices were rather steep. I didnít want to spend $600 for something I could only see in the picture on the side of the box. Two other things were beginning to bother me as well. Most of the new mowers were non-bagging mowers, meaning that the grass clippings stayed on the lawn (one of the new ecological features!!). The other bothersome thing was that I was going to have to assemble the lawnmower,....Iím not good with those kinds of things. So, another day passes and the grass keeps growing.

Saturday morning finds me with some friends, and I ask about places to get a lawn mower. They mention a few places I havenít been to yet, so, I rush out to check them out. Once again, same story. Now, this is getting kind of depressing. All I want is a lawn mower which cuts the grass and bags it. I donít want a luxury model with power drive, or, all of those other newfangled devices,......just a plain olí lawn mower.

As I started to drive home, thinking that my only solution was to hire a landscaper, I remembered a small dealer for the brand of mower I currently own. I hadnít thought of them before, maybe because I thought that the larger stores would be having discount deals to clear out the inventory. I didnít think that this small dealer would be able to compete with the prices of the larger stores.

Well, I turned around and drove to the small side street where the dealer was located. No big flashy store front, no nicely paved parking lot. And as I pulled into the gravel lot, there they were, all the newest models of snow blowers lined up in front of the store. I was going to lose on this one and I knew it.

I walked into the showroom part of the building. It was truly a "working" place. The front part of the business was rather small, with the rest of the building dedicated to assembly and repair benches. There were all kinds of power tools, machines, tractors, lawn mowers, chain saws,..... you mention it and they had it. Most of everything there was equipment which people had brought in to be repaired. There werenít a lot of lawn mowers, but there were a lot of snow blowers. I looked at the few mowers on display, and again noticed that none of them bagged the grass clippings, except for the one which sold for far more than I was willing to spend.

When he finished with a customer, the man behind the counter came over to assist me. He asked me what I was looking for and I told him. He showed me the models he had, and I told him that I really wanted a mower that bagged, and didnít want the power drive. He told me about an attachment which could be added to one of the models which would make it exactly what I wanted. The price was really good, too. OK! Done! Sold! Now I had to figure out how to assemble all of this. Then he asked me if I had a few minutes to wait, and he would have one of his technicians in the back assemble the mower, hook up the attachment, and show me how to collapse the handle so I could fit it in my car. Cripes, I was in customer heaven! I had seen this same model in a few of the other stores, but no one ever told me about the bagging attachment, or offered to assemble it for me.

A few minutes later, the mower was walked over to my car, the technician started it up and demonstrated how to use it and maintain it properly. A few minutes later I was headed home to mow the lawn.

The lesson for me is this: all those glitzy showrooms, sparkling floors, bright lights and signs, lots of products lined up neatly, those big ads in the newspaper.......they may be good for some things. But sometimes, probably more often than not, it is those small businesses where you get to actually speak to someone who knows what theyíre selling that youíll find the kind of customer service we all deserve. I have a much higher level of respect for what I received from this small business located on a side street, than I do for all of the other places I visited. Appearances may be nice, but customer service canít be found in appearances,......itís a lot more than that. Itís kind of like trust.

Anyway, I would like to tell you that this story is over, but itís not.

You see, I had to purchase a new plastic gasoline container (this mower didnít use an oil/gas mixture like my other one). So, I went down the street to one of the first large department stores I had visited (the one with the garden center). At first, I was told that they didnít have any, then, someone sent me to another section of the store (where I couldnít find one), and finally I found one in the automotive section. 25 minutes later (longer than I spent waiting for my new mower to be assembled and placed in my car) I was making my way out of this store with my $2.99 gasoline container. Gee! Even when you just want to buy something simple the big guys make it tough!

A few hours after that, my lawn was freshly mowed. Victory at last! Iíll have to pay more attention to the small businesses out there. It could have saved me 3 days of shopping, looking and total frustration.

Oh, and something else. A few days later I received a hand-addressed envelope in the mail from the lawn mower place. In it was a printed card which said:

"We Appreciate Your Business"

"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve you.
We appreciate your business and the confidence you have placed in us.
Please contact me whenever I may be of further assistance"

And it was signed by "Ralph"

He enclosed a business card and a product registration form for warranty purposes. Talk about customer service! These people could teach the major chains a thing or two about that!

Hereís my way of saying "Thanks" ! If youíre looking for power equipment or such, why not try:

Rhode Island Grinding Service
R.I.G.S. Outdoor Power Equipment
Saws - Knives - Tools Sharpened
Sales & Service
Since 1921
649 East Greenwich Ave.
West Warwick, RI 02893
Tel: (401) - 828-1231

You know, now that I think about it, after writing this rather long commentary about buying a lawn mower, which was really about an example of excellent customer service,.......for some inexplicable reason Iíve been thinking about buying a snow blower!!! I wonder where that thought came from?

Mark S. Deion
18 September 1999

© Copyright 1999

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Mark S.Deion

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Warwick, RI 02888-2704 USA
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E-mail: marks@deionassociates.com
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