The Customer is Always Right

By: Rebecca Cho

My parents have owned, operated, and sustained a small business in Durham, NC for the past 16 years.  Over this time, they have experienced numerous bumps along the way – from the economic downturn in 2008 to the emergence of persistent and well-rounded competition across the street. 

Most of my childhood memories stem from my parents’ business.  Every Saturday, I would have the pleasure of both running the cash register and running around the parking lot during the slow hours.  Every once in a while, I would hear loyal customers playfully argue about how prices across the street or even at Walmart were much lower.  My mother would always reply: “Well, no one is forcing you to come here!”  While her reply may have been a bit abrasive to some customers, I believe my parents responded to their competition in a very natural and sustainable way. 

Giving back to the community
Not only did they donate generously throughout the years to local schools and churches in the area, they also employed teenagers in the area who needed jobs.

Investment in only the best products
My parents made sure to only stock their shelves with high quality products.  They took the time to talk with their customers to find out which items were in high demand and which had the best reputation.  Developing good relationships with their suppliers was also a necessity – this allowed them to snag newer products before their competition even heard about them.   

Giving customers a voice
Sometimes, a customer would come in asking for a product my parents had either never heard of or simply did not carry at the time.  Often times, my father would write down the name of the product and get contact information from the customer.  He would then make some phone calls to find out where he could get a box of the item.  When it came in, he would call the customer to let them know about it.  This allowed my parents to learn about a new product while building great customer relationships at the same time. 

Working with surrounding businesses
As a beauty supply store, most of my parents’ customers were hair salon owners around the area.  They found ways to help each other’s businesses out.  One of the things I remember most as a cashier at their store was to recognize faces and names so that I could know who to give discounts to.  Some would call ahead of time to pre-order what they needed to buy.  This way, when they came in, they could go straight to the register to pick up their products. 

Although cutting prices and expanding product selection is a way to directly counter your competitors, sometimes the most effective way is to listen and react to what your customers want/need.  It took my parents time to develop their business strategies and personality.   While they have lost some customers to lower prices from their competitors, they have also fostered a positive and well-respected reputation that has kept their customer-base happy and well taken care of nearly two decades.   Their business has left a lasting legacy that no competition can take away. 

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