The Gift that Keeps on Giving…to Everyone

I must say this season of giving has taken a turn for me in so many ways.  It is pure joy to give.  Unfortunately, it is also very memorable when giving takes a negative turn. 
Let me explain…
The time…2012, the economy is doing its best turtle crossing the road imitation, virtual shopping is a reality and mom and pop shops struggle to find their way.  I’m late for a meeting but stop anyway to get my quad decaf espresso (yes, you read it correctly).  I was headed to a new meeting place in town and not sure if coffee was an option.

I got to my destination, gathered my belongings and walked into my meeting only to realize that I was in a small restaurant that did indeed sell coffee.  Still flustered that I was late I looked around for my people and found myself standing face to face with the pop of the mom and pop establishment.  His eyes darted around until they came to rest on the logoed take-out cup I had in my hand. He paused and then said, “Starbucks… Really?” and marched off shifting his head left to right in dismay.  In front of other innocent patrons, my face filled with blood to match a fire truck.   Embarrassed.  Mortified.  I took my place in the dunce corner and started my meeting.
The meeting was a success.  But my overwhelming guilt for disobeying a rule outweighed the great success.  You see, I love coffee. I just started drinking it about 3 years ago.  But I have never professed to know “coffee etiquette.”  Today I had a brief lesson. 
I headed back to the office and relived what I did wrong.  I have always been one to “Support Local” as I am an artist at heart and when you live in Asheville it is a part of the code you sign to live here.  Then I stopped myself.  I let go of the idea that I did something wrong and started thinking about another perspective – the owner himself…or my favorite word of this year…the Merchant!
It is, I am sure, very challenging to own a coffee shop when Starbucks is on every corner.  What if my experience had been different?  What if when I came in the owner greets me with a “Hello, let me take this for you, I’d like to show you something.  What are you drinking?”  I repeat my order and sit down for my meeting.  The Merchant – we will call Bob – joins us handing me a captivating decaf espresso and then he begins to speak.  Telling me about why my order is so unique.  He tells me that even though I am drinking decaf there is caffeine in the drink and he explains to me why it is important to have a shot of bubbly with my espresso.  Thrilled.  Revived.  Passionate.  Bob has empowered me and I am an expert for a moment.
What would happen then?
1.  I would have learned “Coffee Etiquette”.  Not because I was shamed into it but because I was sitting with an expert who empowered me.
2.  I would tell my friends…you have to go to this new coffee shop I just found in town.  Free advertisement – not to mention the blog I would write.  Instead I have resorted to telling this story of my coffee foul at this establishment over and over and over again.
3.  I would become loyal.  This mom and pop shop would become my family.  We would know each other by name.  I would drive out of my way to get my coffee, to learn, to fellowship.  Instead Starbucks wins my loyalty for now.
In keeping with the season of giving I wonder how Independent Specialty Retailers can succeed with the smallest acts of giving?  What a difference it would be made in lives of consumers if we had an interaction with Merchants…the real experts.
Maybe it’s this simple…getting back to passion.  Whatever it is that you got into to start with, whether it’s the outdoors, running, cycling, even coffee and take on the spirit of giving, you will beat the big box stores, on-line platforms and complacent retail pretty much every time. Trust that your passion is always the right path in the world of a true Merchant and give the ultimate gift…your passion. 
Here are some stats to consider:
86% of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, up from 59% 4 years ago
Even in a negative economy, customer experience is a high priority for consumers, with 60% often or always paying more for a better experience.
You do the math.

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