Last week our city hosted the Staunton Music Festival. SMF is a celebrated chamber music event featuring musicians from around the globe. The main performances were held across the street and, happily for us, musicians practiced in our building (see pic). An exchange with one musician is worth telling you about.
As I packaged the musician’s meal (sandwich, chips, drink) I made some casual conversation and asked him where he was from. He told me he lives in Switzerland but grew up in New York City.
[Pause: He said this with a haughty intonation that suggested "I might 'ner have been to 'tha Big Apple, Pa!" and inferred that my knowledge of Switzerland was formed only from enjoying Swiss Miss hot chocolate and watching The Sound of Music. He might be right about the latter.]
Then it came:
“You know, you should offer a discount to us next year.”
[Pause: Don't get me started about discounts. That's a story for another time.]
“Why is that?” I asked. (Note: when asked about discounts, always ask, “why?”)
“Well,” he said with the same patronizing tone, “We bring in so much money and tourists to your town.” He paused and added, “Besides, most businesses are doing it. Mockingbird gives us 20% off anything on the menu.”
(Oh, you mean the same Mockingbird that employs 20+ people and books national and regional music acts? The one that has a drastically different business model and mark-up?)
I’m sure you like patronizing tones from customers coupled with requests for discounts as much as I do.
So I will tell you what I told him that shut him up, and he happily paid full price.
We internally refer to these suggestions as “Quince Paste Requests”.
Early on we had members of a gluten-free group ask us to buy bulk gluten-free flour (back when we sold bulk items). So, we bought a 75lb bag of gluten-free flour. That’s a lot of flour. Guess how many people from the gluten-free group bought the flour they so pressed for? One person bought a four-cup bag for $2.75. One person from the noisy group who assured us they were going to buy a shit-ton of flour. How many gluten-free people are at the food pantry? I don’t know, but that’s where it ended up.
Building on that we made a rule: special orders only to those who paid for the entire order in full. Soon after we got a request for quince paste, and, our offer stood: we’ll discount the case price but, no, we’re not stocking a perishable item on a whim or suggestion.
Everyone has an idea about how to improve your business. Everyone. Things to stock, things to do.
Let’s be frank. Some suggestions are downright stupid. A George Bowers gem: a serious suggestion that we host a Learn to Slice Deli Meat! Day for area homeschoolers… Raise your bloody stump if you think this sounds like a good idea!
No one knows your business better than you. I can assure you that 98% of the suggestions are those that we’ve already done, thought of, discussed, or experimented with because, dear customer, the product and service I offer you is the tip of the iceberg concerning this thing we call “running an indie business”. Two percent of suggestions fall squarely into the “WTF?!” category, as above, and expanding with tanning salon beds.
For example, I can tell exactly why we don’t open early to serve you coffee, make to-go salads, serve beer from a keg, or accept phone-in orders. These are all well and good for other businesses. Maybe businesses down the street. It may be all well and good for people running imaginary businesses in their heads. It is not, underline, not suitable for our business.
Despite pressure to the contrary, you are not supporting your customer if you follow every hare-brained suggestion they offer. You must consider the health and strength of your business. The customer — and their suggestions — are not always right. Usually, they are flat-out wrong.
Be confident; stand by your business decisions.
Here is what I said to the musician with a smile:
“Thanks, but we don’t discount. Your total will be…”
I don’t owe him an explanation. Nor do you owe anyone who comes into your shop an explanation about the how and why behind your operation. A polite refusal usually shuts it down. Usually.
Here are three more things you can say to shut down “quince paste” ideas and requests:
1. “You know, we tried that, and we lost a lot of money because X, Y, and Z.” This underscores the person making the suggestion has no on-the-ground perspective.
2. “Why do you think that would work?” This allows the customer to talk, which is really their main motivation. When a customer talks you learn a lot. Not necessarily about their “great idea” for you, but about their true wants and needs. Priceless.
3. “Thanks for your idea!” (Silently add: “You can do that when you have your own business!”)
Of course, it’s all in the way you say it, too.
That’s when a little “gosh darn it” — making your customers feel smart — works. That’s a smart strategy that works 100% of the time.
photo by Kirsty S.