Overheard at a Chain Store on Small Business Saturday

Okay, first off, let me just say that I was in fact shopping at small businesses that day but my friend pulled me into a not so small business en route to our intended destination of an old main street lined with independent shops. On principle I almost refused to go in until she explained her true motive was to take advantage of their free samples of hot chocolate. So I figured it would be okay as long as we didn’t buy anything. I mean it was chocolate after all. And free. How could I refuse?

The place was packed! “Don’t these people know it’s Small Business Saturday?” I thought. Maybe not. And not a few minutes later I overheard a conversation that illustrated the fact that some people truly didn’t know. It went like this…

Customer: “Excuse me, I’m looking for a storage container for coffee beans that has a feature that allows for you to evacuate out the air so that the beans will keep longer. Do you know if you have something like that?”

Sales Associate: “Well let’s see, I’m not sure, I’m still new here but I don’t recall seeing anything like that. Let me double check with my manager.”

Customer: “Okay, great. Thanks.”


The sales associate finds and brings over the manager. The customer explains again exactly what he is looking for and the manager says he’s never heard of something like that. He suggests the customer try a locking seal container that keeps out air.

Customer: “Yeah but that also keeps air in.”

Assistant Manager: “Sorry but I don’t know of anything else.”

Then the manager walked away leaving the sales associate with the customer who was clearly unhappy.

Customer: “Ya know this really annoys me. I avoid shopping online and make a point of coming to the store instead. I fight traffic to get here and then have to deal with finding parking. Then I get here and no one knows anything. No wonder people shop online. Pretty soon there aren’t even going to be any brick and mortar stores. The supposed advantage to shopping at the actual store is that you have access to the knowledge of the people who work there. So if no one knows anything then what’s the point?”

The sales associate nodded and looked a little guilty that she didn’t have what he wanted.

So I’m listening to all of this thinking that if the guy had hit up a local small independent shop, the staff probably would’ve known exactly what he was looking for. And because I have a certain amount of pride in the fact that I worked at a small business for a number of years, and also because I wanted to prove that I was right, I texted Tina to see if she had ever heard of such a product as what he described. Sure enough, she knew exactly what he was talking about. Unfortunately the guy had already left or else I would’ve passed on the info to him. In fact, I wanted to kick myself for not mentioning to him that he should try a local kitchen shop, especially since it was Small Business Saturday!  

The thing is, I totally understand what the guy was looking for. He wanted the old school experience of going into a store and being met with a knowledgeable and proactive staff. This type of customer service is more common at independently owned businesses than at chain stores because the owners of small business are typically going to be more invested in what they sell than any retail worker at a large chain would be. It’s basically a win win when a shopper opts to shop at an independent retailer. They benefit from the staff’s knowledge and the local independent gets the business which in turn helps the community.

For every $100 spent at locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that at a national chain, only $43 comes back. It may not seem like a huge difference but it adds up!

If you're interested in more facts about shopping local, check out the website www.the350project.net.





Patience Cary

Patience Cary said:

This is so true, I have worked for local family owned businesses for most of my professional life. Buying local and excellent customer service is always the best!!!

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