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Businesses should think local too

The first word the man behind the counter uttered was “No.”

Maybe it was something I was wearing or maybe it was the style of my haircut or maybe it was the large framed photograph that I was holding in my hands.

Whatever it was, the young man didn’t give me a chance to ask a question or give an explanation before he decided that he didn’t want my business.

Actually, he decided his employer didn’t need my business that day or any other day by turning me away so quickly.

Surely he must have meant to say, “What can I do for you today?” or, at the very least, “Good morning.”

Instead he immediately assumed why I was visiting his business and said, “No.”

His assumption was correct — I was sending my photograph to Atlanta and thought that his business could help. Without the necessary materials, there was little his business could do.

Maybe I should be thankful that he spared me the time it would have taken to explain my case. I just wish he offered a few alternatives to my dilemma or at least an apology for being unable to help in a timely fashion when, in fact, his business advertises its services for just my situation.

Hoping for any help at all, I asked if the store down the street might have the materials I needed. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” I left.

In recent years, much has been made about the importance of shopping locally.

After all, every dollar that is spent in our community stays in our community to help make it a better place to live, play and work.

Money spent locally helps pay for local salaries and local taxes that provide for police and fire protection. Dollars spent in our community boost sales tax revenues that provide a myriad of services that increase our quality of life.

The argument makes sense, but what responsibility do business owners have to keep customers coming through their doors? Should customers blindly ignore bad service in the name of community activism?

Unlike large metropolitan areas, small towns — like Natchez and Vidalia — have their shortcomings. Lack of variety and competition are chief one of them.

Unlike Jackson or Baton Rouge, where customers have a complete menu of choices when it come to the businesses they patronize — local, national chain and often several versions of each — customers in smaller communities have fewer options.

Fewer options for customers has its advantages for local business owners. After all, less competition means more money.

It also can lead to a “take it or leave it” attitude when it comes to dealing with customers.

With no other option, I took my picture frame to another store in a larger community over an hour away.

The experience reminded me of the importance of customer service when, instead of hearing “no” at the door, the staffer who greeted me immediately whisked my unwieldy item to the workroom for wrapping. Instead of one person behind a counter, three people on three separate occasions asked if they could help during the 30 minutes I spent in the store.

Whether the business had a monopoly in the town or whether it was going up against several competitors, I do not know. What I do know is that they knew how valuable each and every customer is. Whatever they were doing was attracting a steady stream of local customers that the owners knew by name.

It was a refreshing contrast from the morning and a reminder that while it may be important to think locally it doesn’t mean customers should follow blindly.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.