Once upon a time, a town’s retail district (if it had a district at all) would have been so small that customers and vendors knew each other by name. Shopping was a commercial transaction, but it was also a personal transaction between two people who knew each other.
It’s tempting to think that those days are long gone, now that we have chain stores and big box retailers. But the reality is the size and anonymity of these national stores don’t change the patterns of human behavior all that much.
We still tend to shop at the same set of stores. We follow routines. And in so doing, the same vendors and the same customers often interact with each other just as much as they might if the local Best Buy was the only butcher shop in town.
So why don’t we form relationships? Why don’t we get to know the bagboy who bags our groceries at least twice a month at the Publix down the road? Why don’t we bother to learn the names of the people at the garage, or the movie theatre, or the eyewear store?
The problem is that our business structures – chains and conglomerates, etc. – have created the expectation of anonymity. But just because the corporation behind a local store may be anonymous to us, that doesn’t mean that the people we trade with have to remain distant and unknown also.
It only takes a conscious effort to break down that barrier of anonymithy. It makes no sense for us not to. When our employees gets to know customers, they master a realm of customer relationships which brings true sales value to their role. When we get to know our vendors, we gain another pleasure from the shopping experience, and we know (a bit better now) that we can trust the person with whom we’re doing business.
These are easy basic relationships to build. Start asking names (or look at name tags), write them down, and start up ongoing conversation with the people with whom you trade. Find areas of common ground with the people at the grocery store. Create a running joke with the people at the burrito place. Ask your barber about how her continuing education is going.
Knowing the people you pay (and the people who pay you) is one of the great joys of life, and it’s one that most people have let lie since the heyday of smalltown business. Don’t miss out on these relationships just because stores have gotten bigger.