Business Success Depends on the Customer Not the Store

“I finally figured out the only reason to be alive is to enjoy it.” – Rita Mae Brown

After photographing a wedding last weekend, my husband Ward stopped at a bakery to grab a cup of coffee and a muffin. When he stepped out of the ice-cold Montana air and into the shop, the warmth of an oven and the irresistible fragrances of freshly brewed coffee and just-baked pastries greeted him — but nothing else did.

“Whadaya want?” demanded a lady sitting at a table reading the newspaper.

Ward was a little flummoxed by this. He wasn’t sure if the woman was an employee or a customer — and had no idea why she had such a sour attitude. He resisted the urge to snap right back. Instead, he politely said, “Just looking for some coffee.”

“Oh,” she answered. “We can do that.” The situation seemed to be improving. She hefted herself off her chair, waddled behind the counter, poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup, and plopped it down in front of him.

“Now whadaya need?” she growled.

Ward told me that if he hadn’t been so hungry, he’d have just walked out. As it was, he asked for a pastry, gave her his money, and then retreated to the street as fast as possible. He admits that the pastry was fantastic. But he’ll never darken the door of that bakery again, no matter how good the food is.

Maybe this lady forgot that the customer is the cornerstone of her business. Without the customer, she has no business. No one to buy the pastries she slaved over . . . no one to relax at her tables over coffee . . . no “bread and butter” on her own table.

I’ve met a number of entrepreneurs who acted as if once they opened their doors, their work was finished — that from then on, it was up to the customers to show up and do business with them. And their attitudes toward their customers often reflected the same impatience this woman showed.

Most of these businesses closed in a year or two. One store closed in six months. The owners of these failed businesses complained that no one buys from small business anymore because the big-box stores are stealing all the customers.

According to the Small Business Administration, 50% of new businesses close within their first four years. But I wonder how far that rate would drop if new business owners understood that business success depends on the way they treat their customers.

As Michael Masterson has said many times, it takes more than a good deal to keep satisfied customers — they come back because they like doing business with you.

(Ed. Note: Montana-based Kammy Thurman specializes in commercial writing for businesses, nonprofits, newspapers, and magazines. Sign up for her free newsletter, “The Creative Hook,” by sending a blank e-mail to