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By Frances McGuckin

A young woman walked into a sewing store with her four-year-old son. She wanted to buy her first sewing machine to learn to make gifts and to repair and make clothing for the family. She didn’t have much money as she had just moved into town, but she had a well-paid position offered to her, starting the next month.

She explained her needs to the salesperson, who showed her the more economic models. While this was happening, her son was exploring the store contents. He wasn’t doing any harm, just picking up the odd thing to touch and feel it. The salesperson became quite agitated and asked the mother to stop her son from picking items off the shelf. The young mother felt upset, could not focus on the machine purchase and left, informing the salesperson that she would return without her son another day.

She didn’t return because she didn’t feel welcome and didn’t have a sitter for her child. She found another store in town who welcomed both her and her child, showing her son the play center and offering him a cookie and some toys. The mother bought her first machine, returning a few months later when the family had settled. She fell in love with an embroidery machine and bought one. She took store sewing classes, met some friends and became a regular customer.

For the sake of some human warmth and understanding, the first store lost a good, long-term customer. How you can beef up your service and keep those customers coming back? Here’s some simple tips.

Cater to children: Many moms have to take children with them when they shop, so make your store or business child-friendly. Some ideas: make a space for a small play centre with toys. Install a television and have some videos there for them. Have a selection of juice boxes and cookies for the children to enjoy, and balloons and candy at the front counter. Children don’t forget these treats. Neither do the moms, who appreciate your thoughtfulness so that they have time to peacefully shop.

Have clean washrooms: When women shop, they often plan their “milk run” around where they can find a washroom, particularly if they have children in tow. Some store washrooms are a disgrace. If yours is, clean it, paint it, add some wallpaper, nice soaps, guest hand towels and a silk floral arrangement. Women tell other women about nice (and nasty) washrooms.

Say “welcome”: Keep that coffee pot on year-round, not just at Christmas. Customers will tell others and greatly appreciate this thoughtfulness.

Always say thank-you: Whether a customer purchases or not, thank them for dropping by with a little promotional gift, and send thank-you cards to customers for purchasing. One store owner told me that she sends thank-you cards to customers who purchase over $200. “But why put a price limit on saying thank-you?” was my response. “It’s the small customers who become large customers.” A perfect example is the young woman in the story above.

Follow-up calls: Because many business owners are so busy trying to do too many jobs and always looking for the next customer, they often neglect after-sales follow-up, yet it is a key element in ensuring repeat business and in building customer relationships.

Start either a computer database or a manual file card system for monthly service calls, where someone calls each customer within ten days of purchase to ask how the purchase or the service is, and whether there are any problems. This achieves two goals: first, your customers will appreciate your concern and remember you; second, you will circumvent any negative word-of-mouth gossip if there is a problem, which you can then immediately attend to.

From here, you now have a record of customer purchases and you can start a service reminder system, just as car dealerships (and dentists) do. Busy women appreciate reminders. My car dealership sent two service letters and then called as I hadn’t responded (too busy and out of town). They immediately organized a courtesy vehicle and service appointment. I did appreciate their persistence and caring.

This is one area that many business owners neglect because they are too busy. To grow your business, you have to learn to delegate and prioritize your work. Services such as follow-up calls and pick-up and delivery can be delegated to a part-time person. The return on investment will be long-term, satisfied and happy customers who will not only keep coming back, they will tell a friend, who will tell a friend, who will tell a friend...

This column is available for syndication. For information, contact Frances McGuckin at

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10-3348 Mt. Lehman Road, Abbotsford, BC, V4X 2M9 Tel: 604-856-0602

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