Archived Story

Big stores still have a need for mom and pop

Published 10:47am Monday, November 14, 2011

I do not know anyone has the solution to the problem of mom-and-pop stores versus the big-box stores, owned and operated by national corporations. (Or, I suppose it is more the big-box chains versus Mom and Pop.) I do know this: The efficiency of national corporations will not succeed without sensitivity and responsiveness on our end.

City officials struggle to protect the hometown little guy who has stayed home for decades at the same time accommodate the alien corporations that want to come in, and, so, boost the local economy. Consumers, on our part, are puzzled as to where is the right place to shop. Should we be loyal to the friend we have known for years or go for the less expensive products and greater variety made possible by volume buying and corporate management?

I do not know if the top executives of these firms recognize how important to their success is the retail end effectiveness of the lowest employee at the bottom of the ladder. When they fail and leave an empty store, this is often the cause.

A well-managed corporation can hire specialists in every area of the business who create efficiency for all its outlets at once. They can control quality, manage finances, and purchase in volume, which is impossible for local businesses.

All this notwithstanding, if a corporate conglomerate doing business on the retail level does not establish something of a mom-and-pop presence, it will fail. If it is strong on the corporate level but weak on the retail end, it will fail. An effectively strong retail end is one thing corporate just cannot manufacture and then hand down. It must learn how to hire local people who are willing to take a mom-and-pop attitude with local people, their friends.

I purchased a printer/scanner online at a price not locally available. When it malfunctioned, I learned even simple repair would require driving it to Winona for authorized service. I junked it and walked into a local branch of a big-box store. I purchased a replacement with this store’s warrantee. This device soon malfunctioned, and I called the 800 number for a replacement. I learned “replacement” does not mean a new device, but a “refurbished” item. It is not even done by the firm from which I purchased it, but it outsources the work to another company that does refurbishing only. They take returns of lemons from the local stores and do something to them and send them back out. Two or three such replacements also malfunctioned, each device with a different problem. I began to wonder if they simply replace the complaint and then send it out with someone else’s complaint not fixed. It seemed a game to see who would give up first. I kept getting additional promises of additional replacements from the 800 number.

Having come to the end of my patience and wanting something decisive to be accomplished, I walked back into the local store and explained my frustration to an assistant manger. This woman listened sympathetically and respectfully. She became almost as disgusted as I and said, “This is nonsense.” It was she, not corporate or corporate’s surrogate, who made the decisive move.

She simply walked to the display of scanners, pulled one down in its unopened box, and handed it to me. I walked out of this store having almost forgotten about the incompetence and insensitivity of the corporation and rejoicing at the good sense and understanding of the local outlet—of the person in the local outlet.

The next time I was in the store, I went to the store manager and told him of my experience and appreciation. Instead of fussing that her generosity cost him, he said with visible pride: “Good for her!”

Despite all the efficiency of the national firm, it succeeded entirely because of this local responsiveness. Here was a combination of corporate efficiency and mom-and-pop sensitivity. If a national corporation is going to succeed, it must succeed on our end with our people.

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