With A Small Business, Everything Is Personal
When Everything Is Personal, It's Scary
Two years ago, my then fiance asked for my support emotionally in opening up his motorcycle service station. After having seen him work, and having faith in him personally, I readily agreed. The service station was doing too well. He was backed up beyond what was reasonable but could not yet afford to leave his day job. We scaled back our incoming in order to catch up and keep up.
Last autumn we realized that even after two years, many people did not know we were around due to our location. We were off the highway but still back off the road too far for passerbys to notice. We decided that we were either going to close our doors or try moving into town. At about that time a previously abandoned strip mall reopened and rent was reasonable. We moved in. Within the first month we tripled our retail sales! It gave us the hope we needed to get through a very slow January. February picked up and March is looking good. Good enough that we sprung for a larger unit.
Then it happened. One of our local representatives for a distrubutor has been 'helping' us which ended up hurting us. Our products come from the nearest warehouse, which makes sense. The problem is when he rearranges the shipment plan in an effort to save us any cod fees that we may incur. While that is appreciated, it has caused us to have to have the not so enviable task of explaining to our customers where their parts are.
Regardless of how honest we are about this, it does not make the parts appear. This does not look good on us and we have had a long talk with our representative explaining to him how his actions and poor communication with us have effected our business. We thought we had the situation resolved. The next time he wanted to consolidate our shipments, he called, we agreed as the parts that would be delayed would not negatively affect anyone.
The shipment arrived at all once and we were happy. Until we noticed that several items we had ordered did not make it to us. Evidently in the swapping process he overlooked a few parts. This has caused a very understandable albeit upseting turn of events. We have made every effort possible to make things right with our customers, including personally delivering the missing product to a customer who has driven over an hour to do business with us.
While these efforts may have soothed things over for some at this moment, we are very acutely aware of how this affects our future. This includes the loss of a previously loyal customer. While a big corporation may not want any customers to cease doing business with them, they do not lament it the way we do. My husband is visibly upset, something he does not do often, and my stomach is in knots and my heart is very heavy.
Yes, his loss of business will affect us financially, I would be lying if I tried to say different. More importantly, losing him means so much more. It means one of our neighbors was hurt. It means he was disappointed in us. It means we let him down. These are unforgivable things and we will grieve his leaving. While some may say that this experience should make us more appreciative of our existing customers, we do not see it that way. We honestly appreciate every single customer who walks through our door, even if they do not spend money. How we treat them determines if they will come back, if at all.
In our eyes, we are nothing if our word means nothing. It is imperative that our customers be able to trust us. That means that when we tell our customers that their part will be here on this day, then we need to know that our distributors are going to stand by their words as well. When they do not, we cannot and surely cannot afford the bad name that gets associated with businesses that are incapable of managing their affairs properly. The bottom line is that every mistake, no matter how innocent, takes a very personal toll on small businesses.
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