Shopping Where Service Is Sincere

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - April 06, 2005
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I was in the Sears Ala Moana tire shop one morning before the main store opened, so I could hear a retail manager giving arriving employees a pep talk over the PA system.

“We did more sales last month than any other Sears store and I think the main reason is the sincere way each of you asks a customer if you can help him. You sound like you mean it. Keep it up.”

The key word there is sincere. We customers are wise to that cookie-cutter “finding everything OK?” stuff. Some local stores make their cashiers ask “did you find everything?” Don’t you think I’d have asked before I got to the cashier if I hadn’t?

Everybody’s selling everything these days. A merchant’s only edges are parking convenience, no long cashier lines and genuinely appreciative employees. I doubt many of you pick a supermarket just because it has lettuce a nickel a pound cheaper than another one. Most of us just wish we could find a helper on the floor. That’s become a scarce supermarket commodity.

I’m a no-loyalty shopper. Safeway for fruits, Foodland for fish, Times Kahala because Kevin’s a super cashier, Star Kahala because assistant manager Diane and deli clerk Bea and I chat like friends — not employee and customer.

I went all the way out to Watanabe Floral in Kalihi for a dozen years to get my Christmas trees when they still carried them. They weren’t any better or cheaper than others. I liked talking with Honey. Extended family.

Russell Watanabe tells me most of the old-time Christmas tree farms on the Mainland have been gobbled up by the big boys who can’t be bothered with small sellers in Hawaii and don’t much care about tree quality. They now sell take-it-or-leave it to the big box stores with their more impersonal slew of customers.

I suffer a long drive and no loaners to take my car to Erich’s Eurocars. No “receptors” with white gloves, white shirts and ties. But Erich Buder will never fix what doesn’t need to be fixed.

Gordon and Garrett of Tam’s Shoe Repair in Kaimuki may not always get the job done the Tuesday they’ve promised it — they’ve probably taken in too many customers — but they’ll charge maybe $15 instead of $25. Besides, it’s a son-and-pop operation, and I like that.

I know all about Larry Huang’s marriage and new baby, not just that he’s the son in a son-and-pop operation called Harry’s Appliance Repair. Once you’re in their ohana, they’ll fix most anything from a bad light to a leaking torch pipe.

I’m using a young man named Uriah Dumbrowski of Green Earth to do yard stuff because he started from scratch and has a fantastic work ethic. It’s his business and he’s going to make it grow a customer at a time.

Then there’s my aging plumber-carpenter Fred Shimote, who only takes on jobs and people he likes and charges maybe 30 bucks an hour — if you can get him and he’s not in a poker tournament in Vegas. If he doesn’t like you, he won’t work for you. Simple as that.

I took a chance with a small local-boy company with small type in the phone book, Sky Painting, to do my house and got more than my money’s worth. How often do you hear homeowners saying that?

Willie Porter of Sears Carpet Cleaning says if you aren’t satisfied, he’ll come do it again, and again. People take advantage of his goodness and try to skip out on paying after a “moving out” apartment cleaning. A woman’s claiming her sofa changed color three years after Willie cleaned it.

I miss the time when everyone knew your name in a store and took back anything without a receipt (my wife says Macy’s is still good about that).

I continue to favor merchants where I’m more than a spreadsheet cypher or a zip code.

Maybe some managers will post this on the employee bulletin board.

We customers want to shop where we sense that employees have a vested interest in the place — not where they are just putting in their timesheets and wishing they were someplace else.

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