Training her employees to remember
regular customers’ names has helped
coffeehouse owner Lora Lewis boost
customer retention, as well as given her
employees a greater sense of ownership.
Be a good neighbor. Maintaining contributions (both money and in-kind services) to local causes is a chal- lenge these days. Continued involvement demonstrates a commitment to the commu- nity that will be reciprocated.
ROB SUMNER / RED BOX PIC TURES
That’s the philosophy of married Costco
members Alan Robson and Linda Sutherland,
and their three grown children, who own and
operate The Great British Pine Mine in
Kensington, Maryland, importers of antique
pine furniture from Great Britain and Europe.
“We keep on giving to groups such as
Montgomery County Fire Fighters, Mothers
Against Drunk Driving and Special Olympics,”
says Robson. “Every year, we and the other
stores [in the West Howard Avenue Antiques
District] contribute part of the profits we
make at our fall sale to Children’s Hospital or
Best Buddies. We continue to run our advertisements in the local high school yearbook.”
The Pine Mine gives its business to a local
company that employs handicapped people
and senior citizens, who produce personalized company logos on items such as pens,
pocket planners and business-card magnets.
When a neighboring supplier of green
building materials organized a drive to collect
used denim clothing that would be converted
into insulation, Pine Mine donated use of its
company truck for the effort.
“We are trying to keep our name out there,”
says Robson, “so that when the economy comes
back we’re still on people’s minds.”
Be a friend; run a customer-focused business; contribute to your community. Although
these lessons are as old as retail itself, they
continue to be relevant, because they are the
keys to surviving and thriving. C
Mom and Pop
Neighborhood shop owners connect
to their communities and customers
By Robert Spector
CONNECTING TO YOUR community and
your customers has always been essential to
the success of small businesses, particularly in
challenging economic times.
The shopkeepers featured in my new
book, The Mom & Pop Store, told me many
stories of how they survive and thrive by
maintaining a bond with their patrons and
neighbors. Here are three simple ideas that
can be applied to every small business.
As a result of this simple initiative, Lewis
has seen “a big bump in our customer retention.” More important, she says, “My employees now drive their interactions with their
customers, which has promoted a greater
buy-in to my business and gives them a
deeper sense of ownership.”
Know your customers.
Costco member Lora Lewis, who owns
Hotwire Online Coffeehouse in Seattle,
works with her baristas to remember customers’ names.
“Collectively, they knew every regular
customer’s name,” says Lewis. “But we had
never shared that with each other. Now, when
a customer comes in, if one of the baristas
knows the customer’s name, he or she will
greet the customer by name and the other
barista will take note of it. Eventually, we all
know all customers’ names.”
Hotwire offers a punch card that gives
customers a free drink after 10 paid drinks.
When a customer indicates that he or she
already has a punch card (which means that
person is a potential regular), the barista will
ask the customer’s name and concentrate on
Listen to your customers.
Over three generations, the Uyesugi family, Costco members who own the AA Jewel
Box jewelry store in Tustin, California, have
looked at their patrons “not as customers, but
as family,” says Georgine Uyesugi. Searching
for fresh ideas to generate business, they asked
their customers for suggestions.
“A couple of customers didn’t quite have
the funds to do a custom piece for themselves,”
says Pua Uyesugi, Georgine’s daughter-in-law.
“My husband, Steve, asked them, ‘What if we
become your manufacturer?’ Their eyes lit up!
The idea evolved from there. Now, customers
are bringing in their concepts or designs of
jewelry pieces. Steve and my father-in-law,
Allan, discuss design, materials, price points,
etc., and then we work closely with our manufacturers, who put the pieces together.”
Although the concept is new and the final
results are not yet in, the family feels that the
program is already a success because it shows
their customers that the Uyesugis are listening.
OCTOBER 2009 ;e Costco Connection 19
Costco member Robert Spector is the author of
The Mom & Pop Store,
which includes stories of
several Costco member
businesses (Walker &
Company, 2009; available at
spector.com). Do you
have a special story of
a mom-and-pop store?
Send it to robert@