2013 Work Sets Up Goals for 2014

First, thank you for reading my blog!!  I appreciate your time and hope that I have contributed something valuable for you.

So the year 2013 has finally come to a close, and like a lot of people there is some time for some introspection.  All in all, it was a good year.  I owe a lot of accomplishments to my great support team at work (Visual Impression’s awesome staff) and my family at home (wife Jody and son Jack).  Without them, I’m really just a squirrel in a cage running on the wheel by myself.  Some highlights below:

1. Blog.  My goal this year for the blog was to build readership through the use of social media and write at least one blog article a week aimed at the decorated apparel industry.  Using the WordPress analytics tool, I’d say my goal was an outstanding success.  For 2012 I averaged 1 reader per day, and only had 291 readers for the entire year.  Granted, I rarely posted and never really marketed the site so even that number is surprising.  2013 however, was a different story.  I averaged 32 readers a day and had 12,000+ readers for the year.  My record readership for one day was 452.  8,572 readers were from the US, but other readers were from 118 different countries.  Top five blog articles were:

Creating Art for T-shirts: Common Rookie Mistakes Defined

When You Are Up To Your Ass In Alligators

When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts

20 Biggest T-shirt Shop Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

10 Creativity Tips for T-shirt Designers

2. Impressions Magazine Contributions.  I have really enjoyed my relationship with Impressions Magazine.  This year, I had a lot of fun writing pieces for the magazine or their newsletter.  Just recently I also put together a video Tech Tips for them (the last one on the list below) which was another enjoyable challenge.  In my mind’s eye, I don’t really think of myself as a writer but between these contributions and my blog, it’s proven to be a good outlet for me.  Here are the links to the pieces from this year:

Why Cross Training is Critical for Your Shop

Secrets to Rush Order Success

Key Traits for Customer Service & Sales Teams

Key Traits for Your Art Department

Key Traits for Your Receiving and Shipping Departments

20 Tips for Hot Market Printing

Key Traits for Your Screen Room

Beat the Heat: 20 Tips for Hot Market Printing

A Social Media Game Plan for Apparel Decorators

Key Traits for Screen Printing Press Operators

Multi-Media Decoration of Color Blocked Hoodies

3. Boston Strong.  The tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon and how two college students responded using our Ink to the People website (www.inktothepeople.com) proved that there is indeed hope for this world.  My blog article summed up the initial reaction (When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts ) but it didn’t end there.  Since then, they have raised almost a $1,000,000 for the One Fund Boston and they are still going!  I am very proud to be associated with this inspiring effort.  Check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StayStrongBostonStrong.  If you haven’t already, buy a shirt!!

4. Sustainability.  The idea of focusing a better way of manufacturing (printing) for business has proven to be a great platform for me to use at Visual Impressions and beyond.  At Visual Impressions, we’ve lowered our operating costs significantly by focusing our efforts into four core objectives: Energy Reduction, Materials (Ink, Chemicals, & Supplies), Courier (local deliveries), and Trash/Recycling.  If you are in the apparel decorating industry and haven’t started a sustainability journey, I urge you to look into it.  It’s a fantastic way to build margin, while doing things better for the planet.  How can you lose?  Some key highlights for sustainability for 2013 include:

a.  Speaking at ISS Long Beach again on “Sustainability – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle AND Lower Your Operating Expenses”.  I’m giving the same talk again this year – but with new and updated information.  Register for it at http://tinyurl.com/loms9eu.

b.  Speaking at SGIA 2013 in Orlando on “Sustainability Pays Back” – this was a great show, and I even had a client in the audience!

c.  Panelist at the 2013 Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference for the “Profit in Sustainability” breakout session.  You can view the recorded panel discussion here – http://tinyurl.com/k7cquot

d.  Last but not least, being named to the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Board of Directors in December.  Being part of SGP on a national level is a great honor for me and I’m very proud to be working for them to advance sustainability in the printing business.  With Visual Impressions obtaining the certification, that makes two companies that I’ve captained through the process directly.   www.sgppartnership.org

5.  Fitness.  On a personal level, I started going to the local YMCA on a weekly basis.  I’m averaging 3 or 4 visits a week, depending on my schedule.  I’m certainly not getting any younger (turning 50 in 2014) and going to the gym has been a great release and outlet for me.  I love listening to Spotify while I workout.

a. Ran and finished my first 5k run ever!  The Dragon Dash 5k for my son’s school was great!  http://www.thedragondash.com/

b.  On Thanksgiving I ran and completed the 4 Mile Turkey Trot in Memphis with members of my family, despite the 22 degree weather.  http://memphisturkeytrot.racesonline.com/  It was very challenging for this old guy, but I finished 1987 out of 3100 runners, and 105 in my age group!  Happy not to be last.  A few days before this race I ran over 5 miles in Memphis on their Green Line – it was super!!  http://greatermemphisgreenline.com/

c.  Visual Impressions had a Biggest Loser competition.  We had 10 teams of 4 people compete to see who could lose the biggest percentage of weight by the week following Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.  My team came in 2nd place, and I lost almost 6% of my body weight during the competition.  At the final weigh in I was down to 208 pounds.  Thanks YMCA!!

6.  ScaleUp Milwaukee.  Visual Impressions participated in a fantastic entrepreneurial program called ScaleUp Milwaukee (www.scaleupmilwaukee.org).  The goal of the program is to develop skills and critical thinking with existing businesses to grow their business in the following year.  I wrote a blog article that better describes the classes, Lessons Learned from the Entrepreneur Ecosystem: Scale Up Milwaukee.  Our goal for 2014 – 18% growth.  It is a big, hairy and certainly achievable goal.  Anxious to see how it pans out!!

7.  Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Nomination.  Here’s a great Visual Impressions team award!!  Of the 34 companies nominated only 9 are small businesses like Visual Impressions.  The winner will be announced in February 2014.  http://www.wmc.org/news/breaking-news/2013-wisconsin-manufacturer-of-the-year-award-nominees-revealed/

8.  Having our Visual Impression’s team achieve the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Certification (License Certification ID: 0413-1364915293), this was a year’s worth of effort and some outstanding improvement for the company.  The certification is with an independent third party audit; and achieving the certification has allowed us to market our company and acquire new client’s with our efforts.  Being an industry leader is a good thing…

9.  Finally finding a company in Milwaukee for Visual Impressions to partner with for our recycling…only interviewed 6 or 7 companies…  Pioneer International makes it incredibly easy and since March of 2013 we have recycled 26.9 tons of cardboard, paper, plastic and metal.  www.pioneerintl.com

So what professional goals are targeted for 2014?  Here’s the list so far:

1.  Major participation with the SGP Board of Directors.  My goal is to represent the decorated apparel industry with this group and get more printers, suppliers and industry media involved.  I already have one supplier, PolyOne committed to becoming a major sponsor. (Thank You!!) If you want to learn more and can help, please contact me and let’s discuss why you should get involved!

2.  SGIA Leadership Committee.  I will be traveling to Ft. Lauderdale in February for the committee meetings and looking forward to serving on the garment decorating and sustainability committees.

3.  More public speaking events on Sustainability.  I’m already slated for the ISS Long Beach show, but am also participating at the Manufacturing Matters conference in Milwaukee at a breakout session on the business value of sustainability – http://www.manufacturingmatters.org/sessions/sustainability-driven-business-value

4.  Recycling – Embroidery Stabilizer.  This is the backing material that we use to keep the embroidery secure on the garment.  Currently there isn’t a way to recycle this material.  This is a project that I’ve believe will change the embroidery industry if we can find a way to recycle this material on a broader scale.  Embroidery shops all across the nation are throwing this material away and it’s all going to landfill.  At Visual Impressions, we fill two 8 yard dumpsters a week with this stuff.  The problem is that it costs more to transport the material to be recycled than what it is ultimately worth.  If you have an idea on how this material can be used, or if you are currently recycling it I’d love to hear from you!!

5.  Social Media growth and networking.  I’ve spent a good deal of effort growing this part of my personal branding and it’s paying off every day.  If you are not connected with me currently, I’d love to network with you to share ideas and learn from each other.  Here are my major channels:

LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/marshallatkinson/

Twitter – www.twitter.com/atkinsontshirt/

Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/

Blog – http://atkinsontshirt.blog/

6.  Visual Impressions.  As stated previously here, we are all about growth…but this growth has to make sense and be beneficial to both parties.  We want to be your trusted apparel decorator that you can turn to for any order or program.  We are currently adding personnel, equipment and infrastructure to accommodate the growth and get ready for 2014.  It’s an exciting time to be in this industry as there are a lot of new technologies emerging.  Contact me and let me know how we can help you with your success!  marshall@visualimp.com or (414) 379-6231.

7.  Fitness.  Keep working out weekly and have my weight consistently under 210.  I’d like to run in at least two 5k runs and one 10k run this year.  I’m considering this a professional goal, as my improved fitness has helped me daily with my work goals.  I do a lot of thinking while I’m running or sweating my butt off in the gym.  More than one blog article was “pre-written” while doing laps or grunting through some reps with weights.

8.  Professional Networking.  It’s great to share experiences and stories with others.  Learning and growing are always on the forefront of my mind.  Let’s learn together!

9.  More articles published in industry trade magazines.  I’m still going to write for Impressions, but I’ve also have been asked to contribute to Wearables Magazine and Stitches Magazine this year.  I’m on their Advisory Boards as well.  I’m writing my first piece for Wearables right now!

10.  Be a great husband and father.  Really this should be my number one goal, but it’s a personal one too so it’s good to end the list with this one.  Since working for Visual Impressions I’ve come to appreciate a better work/life balance than what was my daily life in Florida.  The grass is greener over the fence sometimes…   I love you Jody & Jack!!

Do You Need to Fire Your Customer?

I’m not sure how many of you out there in the world have problem clients, but I think it’s fairly common.  You know these types; highly demanding, emotional, and always prone to missing or inaccurate information on their jobs.  Just one or two of their orders in house can wreck your production schedule fairly quickly.  After you hang up the phone and cry into your hands you have to ask yourself if doing business with them is really worth the hassle.  (Previously I listed ten annoying characteristics http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2013/02/23/dont-be-that-customer/.)

That’s actually the point of this article, which is to measure if it’s worth it, and what potentially to do about it.  Some points, like stress level or the emotional toll dealing with jerks induces, may be hard to quantify.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Start keeping a diary.  No, not the kind with the clasp and the pink pony on the cover.  Just fire up a Word document and start jotting down some notes about each incident that leaves you rattled.  Be fair, but accurate.  Include work order and purchase order numbers for reference.  Be sure to include how you resolved the challenge.  Leave out your feelings…just stick to the facts.
  2. Make copies of their purchase orders and add notes to them regarding missing information, inaccurate details, or the problems that you have to resolve.  Throw these in a folder each time.  If this is easier than a diary, just do this.  Don’t look for perfection; you are just gathering the facts like a detective.
  3. Keep a time log for the extra work that it takes to resolve the challenge for your customer.  With each incident, record the extra minutes it takes to ask for the art approval again, remind them to send in the inventory, e-mail them the same information you sent them yesterday, correct information from their PO, change the quantities in your system as they suddenly now need 5 more mediums, overtime needed to complete that last minute emergency…you get the idea.  Quantify your time and pain.

Keep doing that for a week or a month.  At the end of the time period, calmly and with a neutral perspective review your diary, folder and time log.  If you need to bring in other staff members that handle the account, that’s fine.  Don’t make this turn into an angry bitch session.  Your goal is to just review the extra work it takes to process the orders and think of ways to resolve the challenge.  Keep it positive.

Any patterns emerge?  Maybe the challenge only revolves around one particular type of order.  Maybe it’s the way the customer refers to previous orders or their notes (or lack thereof).  Hopefully your research will allow you discover your pain points, and address the issue.  When doing this with your client here are some ideas: 

  1. Start small.  People fear change, and getting a customer to break a habit is tough.  Make it easy for them if you can and suggest something that will work right out of the gate. 
  2. Approach any suggestions for change in a non-threatening, polite and friendly way.  “Hey Susie, if you include the item number on your PO’s I can get them in the system immediately so your orders will be scheduled faster.”  See if suggesting what you need will resolve the problem for you.
  3. Punish or Reward them.  Depending on the challenge, maybe the answer is to add a fee to cover the extra transaction costs of constantly haranguing them for the information and correcting their PO’s.  Or, you could try the carrot and maybe give them a free screen or something for doing it right.  It’s kind of like how you deal with your kids and getting them to clean their room.  If one thing won’t work, try another.
  4. Make it hard for them to fail.  One answer could be an ordering system that automatically won’t let you proceed until the information is filled out.  You’ve probably had experiences with this when ordering or registering online for something.  What technology can help you alleviate the problem?  Have you thought of directing your clients to an online process, .pdf form that they have to fill out, or maybe even a simple form that they can fill out a fax in to you?  The goal is to give them a tool.
  5. Push back…politely.  Good customer service reps won’t tolerate someone handing them a mess to enter.  Part of their job is to train the client to send in what they need.  The trick is to do it in a fun and friendly way that gets results.
  6. Get some support.  Look at your data.  Chances are, the problem isn’t with EVERYONE at a particular company, but it may be isolated with just one individual that has some questionable work habits.  (I’ll bet you know who I am talking about)  Gather your information and suggest a conference call or meeting with their supervisor and discuss what you need to work more efficiently.  If you do this, don’t talk in generalities and be very specific about what you require.  Try to approach the individual in question first, as you could have some relationship challenges with them in the future if you play this card too early.

One thing is for certain, your problem clients will make your superstar clients that much more attractive.  These are the folks and companies that do everything right, and are a breeze to work with.  I’ve often wondered why some customers are the best, and some are the worst.  In the end though, you really have three options when dealing with these situations – put up with their drama, resolve the challenge and make it better somehow, or fire your client.

If you need help with a particular customer, I’d love to hear about it.  Drop a comment below or shoot me an e-mail at matkinson4804@gmail.com.  You’re not in this alone!!

What is the Voice of the Customer for T-shirt Shops?

Let’s pretend that you have some sort of science fiction mental telepathy mind meld with your customers. (Uh, you mean you don’t already?)  You can see and understand their every thought, just like reading a book.  It’s all right there.  What do you think they are saying about your company?

Based on my personal experience, here are some top ideas to get you more connected with your own customers.  (Sales gurus everywhere call this understanding the “Voice of the Customer”)

  1. Price.  For a lot of customers, incredibly it’s not always about price.  People are willing to pay more if they like the sales experience, or see that you are providing value.  The apparel industry has somewhat of a reputation of companies undercutting each other and eating the dead.  Here’s a fact: There’s always someone that’s willing to do it cheaper.  However, not many companies are willing to do it better.  The guy that does it better is the one that typically has larger margins, and is more successful.  Add value to your sales proposition, and don’t give away the shop.  Charge for your work.  “Price shopper” type clients will never be loyal, but the customer that sees and understands your value and trusts you with their relationship will always be there.  That’s who you want.
  2. Expertise.  Position yourself as the expert in the field.  Build your shop reputation with demonstrating your vast industry knowledge.  Customers want and need someone to solve their problems for them.  Is that something you can offer?  Do they know to turn to you for guidance?  Get the reputation as a problems solver and watch your client base grow.  Demonstrate that expertise by doing things other printers can’t, including keeping your quality up and hitting deadlines.
  3. Partner.  Long term clients are seeking a solid foundation to expand their business.  You are not selling printed t-shirts, you are selling trust.  Your customers want you to be integral to their success by constantly hitting home runs for them.  Make that relationship easy.  A few times, you may have to help them with something without getting anything in return.  Earn that trust by being a good partner and provide the value your customers are seeking.  Missing deadlines, quality issues, making excuses, being hard to deal with, or other challenges erode that trust.  It’s hard, but not impossible to earn it back.
  4. Listen.  Trust me, it’s not about you.  Your customer wants you to listen to them.  Close your mouth and open your ears.  What are their problems?  What are their challenges?  Remember the old Stephen Covey rule from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  This is profoundly true in your customer relationships.  Don’t just sell them a box of printed shirts – solve a problem for them.  Stop “selling”.
  5. Make It Easy.  Make your buying process easy for the customer to do business with you.  Regardless if you are a brick and mortar shop or online, the more hurdles people have to jump over to hand you their money, the less likely they are to do so.  Make the check out or buying process smoother by thinking it through.  Provide accurate and timely information for them.  Help with artwork or digitizing.  Discuss creative solutions for problems.  Suggest different ways a client could structure their order to save time or money.
  6. Avoid Problems.  Customers see you as the expert.  Help them understand situations by explaining ways they can avoid problems by doing something proactively.  Anybody can “sell” them something.  Not everyone can walk them through the process and provide them with good information to proactively avoid a challenge.
  7. Be Creative.  Let’s face it, not everyone is loaded with creative talent.  Customers will often turn to you for help with their art.  If your art department rocks, then so will your sales.  If you are somewhat lacking in this area, think about how beefing this up can help strengthen your business.  Don’t have the money for a full-time staff?  There are tons of freelancers out there.  It’s no secret that the top shops around the country have the best art departments.
  8. Professional.  Have you ever looked at your company through the eyes of your customer?  When they walk in the front door are they greeted by someone warm and friendly?  Is your shop clean and orderly?  Is everyone on your staff courteous and helpful?  Do you have preprinted information handy that is branded and well-designed?  If your customer experience is somewhat lacking, or your staff has the social skills of a doorknob, put some thought and effort into revamping this area.  You wouldn’t expect any less from stores or companies that you use, so why do you put up with it in your shop?  If your customers aren’t raving to you about your staff and how awesome they are, you aren’t doing this right yet.
  9. Connect Personally.  It seems that the larger the shop grows, the less likely they will personally connect with the people behind their orders.  Purchase orders come in, are routed through your system, invoices are paid.  There might be little face to face or human interaction.  Get out from behind your desk every once in a while and go say thank you.  Personally deliver the next order.  Be sincerely appreciative.  Don’t have time for all that?  How about a five minute phone call.  Don’t talk business, just say thank you and ask about them.
  10. Value.  Yep, #1 was about value too.  It made the list twice as it’s that important.  Trust me on this…everyone can print or embroider a shirt.  You have a lot of competition.  Like other industries, your competition is moving online.  It’s a commodity.  Do you know what your value proposition is for your company?  What do you offer that can’t be matched?  Artwork?  Quality printing?  Customer service?  Turn-around time? Your customers want value for their money.  This is what you develop and market.   Brand this idea, and constantly talk about it.
  11. Bonus – The UnexpectedFor each order, your customers come to you for whatever they are ordering.  What can you do to make the experience so over the top that they rave about it to everyone?  “Because you are such a great customer”…  Throw in a few extra embroidered polos or printed sweatshirts with the next order for free.  Maybe some coozies with their logo printed on them.  Deliver it a day or two early.  Waive the screen fees.  Have it delivered with a box of doughnuts or a pizza.  Be creative.  Your goal is to wow the customer to the point that all competitors fail in comparison, and they will brag about you to everyone they know.

Hope these ideas help you with your shop.  If you’d like to explore some of these points more in depth, please contact me at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s set up a time to chat.

Don’t Be That Customer

Let’s face it, if you’ve had any sort of longevity in business you’ve probably had your share of really great, and also really bad clients.  When we are sitting at our desk in the morning, with a fresh cup of coffee ready to face the day, we all day dream about the perfect customer.  One that hands us tons of money for an easy job, is great to get along with, and just absolutely loves us.  Unfortunately, that’s not what this article is about.

This article is about the other one.  The mean and nasty one that just leaves you muttering under your breath, or forces you to go take a walk around the block before you strangle someone.  Read below, and if any of these are your traits, you may want to consider making some “small” changes.

  1. Too lazy to fill out a Purchase Order correctly.  If you are someone that just constantly can’t fill out a PO right to save your life, get some help!  To enter an order easily on our end, all of the information needs to be organized, accurate and correct.  Some examples are: the delivery date as 00/00/0000, missing information, wrong information, points to an e-mail that was sent three months ago, or was cloned from a previous order but now some of the information isn’t accurate.  This really could be a longer list, and I’m sure if you are customer service rep reading this you have about five thousand more to add.  However, the point here is that missing information makes it hard for someone to help you.  They have to stop what they are doing, try to contact you and get the information, and then get everything corrected and entered quickly.  Two minutes of work is now twenty.
  2. The Price Shopper.  Sure, everyone wants a bargain, it’s understandable.  However, what can be a big problem is when a customer hands us a laundry list of items to quote, all with big quantities.  When the order comes in, it’s only for two of the items and the quantities are minimal.  The words we don’t want to hear are “Congratulations!  You got the order, but for right now I just need these 50.  You can keep the same price as if I order 5,000, right?”  Uh, no.
  3. The guy that’s always late.  Are you that guy?  Every single order is a rush.  Artwork = last minute.  Shirts show up same day as production.  Freight expedited.  It’s like there’s a fire all the time.  Alarm!  Alarm!  Alarm!  Rush!  Rush!  Rush!
  4. The Diva.  You expect to be catered to like a movie star because you bring in big business.  You are condescending and rude to our staff.  Everything is your way or the highway.  After you leave, some staff members are actually crying.  We all wonder if this is worth it, but we put up with it because frankly we like the business.  The most commonly heard phrase after the door closes after you leave is “Wouldn’t it be great if she was just a little nicer?”
  5. The Perfectionist.  This is the customer that micro-manages everything, and absolutely has to complain about every single minor detail all the time.  No matter what…even things that aren’t related to a job.  Just stop it already.  We like it that you want to point out our weaknesses – and believe me, we’re working on them.  However, it’s not our fault that the UPS guy delivered the shipment twenty-two minutes later than yesterday, or the shirts you chose to use were from two different dye lots and don’t exactly match.
  6. Just Do Something Cool.  Just throwing this in from my days as an art director.  This is the absolute worst way to give a creative person some direction, and it holds true for building an apparel program.  Without some good information from you, our team won’t understand where to start and may end up wasting everyone’s time as our definition of cool might not match yours or your clients.  Before you find yourself saying “just do something cool”, spend five minutes and jot down a few things that you would like to see, and maybe five more with something that you absolutely don’t want to see.  At least we’ll have some direction.  Trust me, we don’t mind doing the work and being creative…we’re good at that.  What we don’t want to do though is invest three hours working on something that isn’t even remotely close to what you want, and we have to start over.  That’s not cool.
  7. The “Do Me A Favor” Guy.  Is this you?  Swooping in at the last minute like a seagull on a dock, and dropping off a present that everyone gets to work on?  Sure, we appreciate the business; but your event is in two days and we’ll really have to hustle to get everything accomplished by then.  Thanks for the over-time!  We all wonder if you have a calendar.  Planning?  What’s that?
  8. We aren’t telepathic.  Yep, you heard it here first.  Mind reading skills aren’t on our job descriptions.  So, when we send you an art approval, and your e-mail back reads “Change it”, we aren’t really sure what to do next.  Change what?  We understand that you are in sales and do a lot of business from your phone, but it would be better for everyone if you included more detail in the response.  This helps everyone!
  9. Professionals aren’t profane.  You aren’t Eddie Murphy.  We don’t need to hear F-bombs every five minutes.  You aren’t funny.  Stop it.
  10. Things sometimes go wrong.  Trust me, we don’t like it either.  We’ll make it right, and we always stand behind our work.  However, what separates a great customer from a bad customer in this area is how we’re working together to solve the problem.  Sometimes, it’s our fault – sometimes not.  Regardless, we want to make it better somehow. There is a lot of stress and anxiety in the air already.  The great customers know that empathy works both ways. The great customers don’t point fingers, but just work to resolve the challenge at hand – make the end user happy, and we’ll talk about the money part of it later.

So there you have it.  Just ten.  As we’re dealing with people, there are probably an incredible number of examples of bad customer definitions.  Am I missing any of yours?  Leave a comment…

Why Customer Service Needs to Have a Big Dose of Empathy

Late one day my car had a flat tire.  Not just a flat, but a complete blow out – I must have ran over something.  After going through the ordeal of changing it in eleven degree weather, I narrowed down my choices to venture out and go buy a new one.  I was only about three miles from a Sears, and previously I have used their auto center for various small repairs, so I thought that it was a good choice.

I arrived at the Sears shortly after 6:30 pm, and was greeted by a technician behind the counter.  I stated that I needed a new tire, and before I could even finish my sentence the guy said “Sorry, we’re closing at 7:00”.  Looking immediately at my watch (it was only 6:40), I said “Hey, you’ve got twenty minutes!  How long does it take?”  He just shook his head and started to walk off.  I then asked for a manager.

He then reiterated that they couldn’t help me, but added “The guys have to clean. “ And this gem, “Including you, we’ve turned away six people who all needed tires or batteries – so you’re not the only one.”  Incredible!

What has happened to customer service in America?  Sears, of all big brands, used to be the store for the average Joe.  Think Craftsman tools.  Sears Auto Centers.  Those are big mainstays with the American public.  Now, the store manager turns away six people so his shop can get cleaned and his crew out of there by 7:00.  I’m actually still shocked by this (it’s the impetus for this blog article).

Call me old fashioned, but I think that good, solid customer service has to start with viewing your company through your customer’s eyes.  What do they see when they interact with you?  A caring, dedicated, “we’ll solve your problems” company?  Are they making it easier for the consumer somehow?  Are they experts and will help you guide some tough decisions?

For Sears to turn away business, of any kind, when they are closing stores all over the country is just ridiculous.  Well, maybe that’s why they are closing stores?  This is a management mindset, and it’s passed down to the workers.  Remember what Deming said, “ that managements actions result in 85% of all a company’s problems”.

So for Sears to say to a guy that just spent an hour in eleven degree weather changing a tire, “we don’t want your business”, I’m going to believe them.

By the way, the folks at the Goodyear Tire store the next day sure were helpful.