by Greg McClanahan
I am writing this month’s article just before Memorial Day weekend, even though you won't see it until June. I wanted to tell you a few things about my late father that continues to influence the way I live my life and conduct my business activities.
My father was the kind of man who would never compromise or stray from giving his customer’s the best products and the best value possible. He owned the grocery store in our little town of 600 residents but this small community store also reached a farming and ranching clientele of more than 25 miles.
As you can imagine, I always had a job – especially in the summer when school was out. My siblings and I mopped and waxed the floors on weekends. We were taught how to work in every department so that if someone was sick or on vacation, we were able to fill in where needed. Those were the days of paper bags and the days when every customer’s groceries were delivered to their car. Those were the days when full service gas stations were on every corner – Self service pumping was not even a consideration. Ah, the good old days of customer service at its best!
Anyway, some of my most memorable customer service moments occurred when no customer was even nearby. The first occurred on a hot summer day. I was working at the front end of the store bagging groceries and carrying them out to customer’s cars.
I was probably in Jr. High School and the cashiers began to notice that the ice cream was soft. They called my father from the back of the store and quickly found that the freezer was not working. Normally when this happened, we would get shopping carts and fill them up and move the ice cream to the walk in freezer until it was fixed and the product could go back into the store.
On this particular day, my father felt that the ice cream had thawed too much and while it could be refrozen and sold, it was not suitable for his customers. I can remember unloading the freezer and then standing in front of the trash dumpster outside and throwing a freezer full of ice cream away. I’m sure the loss was greater than the profits he would have made for a couple of days but his commitment to excellence was uncompromising.
I think today that on that occasion he was teaching his son a valuable lesson even if it meant a loss of profit. The store was a place to make a living but it was more importantly a place to raise his children.
I can also remember my father would sell a ¼ or ½ of beef through the store and it always had a tenderness guarantee. I can remember two occasions when someone brought their beef back and asked for a replacement or reimbursement. No questions were asked. The beef was replaced and he made sure the weight was more than the previous purchase.
I can remember the huge scale that was used to make sure the amount of meat returned was weighed so that there was no question that they were being treated fairly when they came back to pick up the replacement.
I can further remember the next night and each night for the weeks ahead, our family would eat the returned beef. It may have been a little tough at times but he never questioned the customer’s opinion - his customers would have the best product he could possibly provide to them.
There seemed to be an unwritten controlling question to every answer about quality, price and service; “Are we earning our customer’s loyalty and trust with every interaction and every purchase?”
I was two years old when my father and mother bought the business. My father lost his battle with cancer just over 20 years ago and he is talked about with great admiration in that town still today. To give you one quick example of his contribution to the community, the store collected approximately 80% of all the city’s sales tax revenue. He helped fund nearly all the cities growth and economic stability.
After his passing, the library was named after him. I had occasion to visit the library a couple of weeks ago and wept again as I saw his picture and re-read the tribute to his life.
He did not learn his customer service insight through an MBA program. In fact he didn’t learn it in college or high school. I know this because my father did not finish beyond the 9th grade. He was a high school drop out but yet he is THE smartest and best business man I have ever known.
I once heard that just as we have the Statue of Liberty on the East coast to remind us of our freedom, we need another bookend or a Statue of Integrity that would rightfully be planted in a harbor on the West coast. These two statues would mark the two great characteristics that this nation was founded upon.
If it were so, and an artist were in fact commissioned to create such a statue, my father would a perfect figure to be chiseled out of stone. Great service and noticeable integrity is within all of our reach and are the hallmarks by which our life and businesses should be known.
It doesn’t take an education, it takes an educated heart. I’m grateful to my father for SHOWING me the greatest lessons of life. We strive daily to apply those principles he taught by example to our factory built home operations based here in Durango, CO. ##