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It's just a simple thing - I bought a new set of shelves for my office. It wasn't a real problem, but when I got the shelves home, I found dents on the front of the shelves where the package had been leaned up on some other object, the shelves had been removed from the original box and put into another box. The dents didn't affect the way the shelves worked, but it did affect the way they looked. Normally, I might have overlooked the problem, and just used them anyway, but I felt I had paid full price for the shelves and deserved a discounted price, so I mentioned it to the store manager the next time I was in the store.

Having been a long time resident of the community, I felt my word should have some credence, and the fact that I'd known the manager personally for more years than I could count; I expected some consideration. I was handed some off hand reference to store policy and the matter was dropped. When the manager was in my home several weeks later for dinner (a social visit) he made reference to the 'hardly noticeable' dents on the front of the shelves. By this time the veneer was beginning to peal away from the dents and the front of the shelves actually looked pretty bad. I had compensated for the problem by using these shelves in a corner of my home office where few people actually went. However, the fact that I'd paid full price for the shelves still wrinkled my brow, whenever I thought about the fact that changing boxes on the shelves had hidden the damage. To my way of thinking, it had been just plain bad business, and I'd quit frequenting that particular merchant regularly because of it.

His lackadaisical comment had brought the problem back to the surface, and me face to face with the person responsible. I smiled and politely agreed that the dents were 'hardly noticeable' but I felt there was a problem with selling damaged goods for full new price. Intimating that the problem could be a marketing concept that had been overlooked by the parent company through their policy reference.

The social visit ended sooner than I had expected. Our evening had been a fun and memorable one with friends, and I promptly put the incident where it belonged, in the past. Almost a week later, while in the middle of a project, my phone rang, and it was my friend the manager of the store. He asked if he could bring over a company representative, for coffee. I said yes and put on a new pot of coffee. Not once did I realize the reason for this visit. He had often used me as a consultant for marketing solutions.

Their arrival brought a new dimension to our friendship. While I entertained them with coffee and a piece of my prizewinning coconut coffee cake, my friend explained to his company representative about the shelves. He told first that the shelves had been repackaged to hide the damage, then when I (the customer) had brought the complaint to his attention, he'd remarked that store policy didn't allow him to make random choices about discounting damaged merchandise. Then he explained that he'd lost a valuable customer, because I didn't frequent his business like I had before. The marketing concept was not lost on the company representative, who offered to replace the shelves, delivered and set up, at no additional charge.

The truth of the matter was that I was a consumer of that particular market, and they were losing this client. Marketing is a process of doing business, and they were not doing the process in a manner that supported returning customers. Return customers are a fundamental resource of any business. New customers are expensive and do not represent the primary source of income, unless you are a NEW business. Even if you are a new business, you should consider any customer entering your business as a prospective return customer, and show them that you are competing for their business.

Did I return to the store as a buying customer? Yes, I did. However, I visited the store several times, in a non-buying capacity, before I purchased anything, to see if any of their policies had changed. It had, and I'm happy to report, this company is now doing at least market share of the business in this area. Their clientele appears to be growing on a daily basis and they have happy customers leaving the store.

Copyright 2001 - Jan Verhoeff Printed in the USA

Jan Verhoeff is a business consultant who specializes in the development of new businesses throughout the Greater Great Plains States. She educates business owners in the process of developing business and marketing plans for their businesses that will encourage them to set and meet productive business goals.

She is the author of a variety of articles published in a variety of business and trade publications throughout the USA.

She may be reached by phone at 719-336-4036 or by email at: janverhoeff@yahoo.com.


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