Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love People-Use Things, Supermarket or Farmers Market Part Three

A Tremendously Popular Farmer's Market in Guadalupe, San Jose Costa Rica

A number of years ago I was taking a class in sales at a community college and something the instructor said has stuck with me all these years. He repeated a quote that went something like this, “Love people and use things – not love things and use people.”

I can’t help but think first of all how true that statement is, of how important it is to follow that adage in order to establish healthy relationships both in our home lives and in business. Then I can’t help but think of how far we have gotten away from that principle; it seems these days that it’s all about the bottom line, and that people have taken a back seat to profits or things if you wish.

My purpose for writing this series is not to tear down the supermarket chains; they have their place and we would be hard-pressed to survive without them. My intent instead is to remind them that the customer is number one and that it is a privilege to do business with them, not the other way around. It all begins in how you treat people. It seems that in their haste to maximize profits they do so at the expense of customer service. They seem to have lost sight of the fact that the real way to maximize profits is to value the customer and not just with words but with actions. I realize it has to be very difficult for a mega-store employee to have much passion for their job when first of all they are treated like a number and second of all they have no vested interest in the products they are responsible for. It’s pretty hard to be passionate about anything when the only ones profiting are shareholders and executives. So relax HMCS employees, I don’t hold those upside down smiles against you; they are understandable.

In stark contrast to the HMCS’s are the farmer’s markets. My other intent for writing this blog is to support them and to support all grassroots businesses who are trying to get a foothold in the “American Dream!” As I walk through the aisles of these markets the positive energy is invigorating. Here I see people who are truly passionate about their product(s). They should be, in most cases they are the entrepreneur responsible for the development, manufacture, and marketing of their product; it is their dream, their passion! When I ask someone about the tomatoes they grew, or the granola they made, or the honey they processed I can hear the excitement in their voices as they tell me all about why theirs in the best, and what they do to make it that way. They want me to be their customer because they feel there is something about their product that is beneficial to me; they are applying the “Love People” principle to their business plan and they in turn are successful.

The Phoenix Public Market

I am sitting here right now writing this blog and am eating some of the best salsa I have ever had; I can’t help but think that the most important ingredient for making this salsa taste so great is love. I know a little bit about the gentleman who created it, nurtured it, and perfected it. I know that he has won awards with it. I know that it is something that he has developed over many years and that he has always strived to make it better. I also remember, most of all, that he took the time to share all of this with me in the middle of a crowded market because he valued me as a customer. In turn, he has established a loyal patron.

I recently was talking to an acquaintance of how the corporations have monopolized many of the industries in this country and around the world. I mentioned my displeasure at how I feel they have been taking advantage of consumers and of how they are gouging us and selling us inferior products. I spoke with him about corporate downsizing, about putting more of a burden on fewer employees to increase the bottom line, and I chatted with him about the perils of outsourcing and about how we need to put the economy back in the hands of the people. His reply was that it was only going to get worse, and I can most certainly understand his sentiment, but I know better because I have seen the passion and excitement of not just the vendors at the markets but the patrons too. I have witnessed first hand the popularity of the Farmer’s Markets and can see that we are on the verge of something exciting and that the grassroots businesses will thrive again. Things will get better because no matter what, the customer is always first, and they will always go where they are loved!

Until the next time, happy gardening!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Supermarket or Farmer's Market part two, Checkout Chaos

It never ceases to amaze me how an HMCS will advertise how much they value their customers. I mean really, they greet you at the door with a half-hearted “Welcome to our HMCS,” and then walking through the store it seems as though the employees are too busy or maybe too disillusioned to even so much as smile or ask if you need help finding anything. But the real irony is that now-days, at the end of a visit you are checked out by a machine. Well let me share about my last experience with a self-checkout machine.

On my last visit to my local HMCS I got into it with one of these nasty little units. I mean, talk about a lack of personal care. This little robot was scolding me before I even got started. I was greeted with an, “Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

“What,” I thought, “I haven’t even taken anything out of my cart!” This must have been the last customer’s error…geeze!!

Not liking how this relationship was starting out, I looked over at the other checkout lines to see how many were actually manned by a human. I spot one lady checker working furiously to checkout a long line of people which should say something to the HMCS executives. “PEOPLE LIKE TO DO BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE!!!”

I decide that even though I hate it, I will stick with the robot because I don’t have enough time to wait for a human being which I am pretty sure was part of the HMCS executives’ plan all along. I press the start in English button and the madness begins.

“Please scan your shopper’s card or scan your first item.”

I scan my card. “Unexpected item in the bagging area.”

“What, I haven’t even scanned anything yet!”

I cautiously scan my first item which seems to work. I then struggle for a few seconds to open the plastic bag thinking, that I wasn’t even given a choice between paper or plastic. If there is one thing I struggle with it is opening plastic bags and I take about 10 seconds to do this instead of 5 and because of my slowness the stupid robot shouts, “Please put the item in the bagging area!”

“Man,” I think, “who programs these stupid things?”

I am only given a few seconds to get the can of soup into the bag before this ridiculous machine starts telling me I’m going too slow. I mean, this is a can of soup, not a hand-grenade. What’s the big hurry?

I get through the canned items and the dairy items with about the same level of harassment. On several occasions an attendant in summoned who I politely tell that I’ll let him know when I need his help. Sensing my frustration he shyly backs away. I finish with the canned goods and boxed goods dreading what is about to come…..the produce! This is when the real drama begins.

The first item is a bunch of bananas. Fortunately these are not in plastic so I can read the product code. Of course the machine doesn’t know I can read so it summons the attendant whom I brush away reminding him I’ll call him when I need him. Next are the apples. I can’t read the code so I decide to look it up in the machine’s data-base, not a good idea! “Item not found” the machine bellows.

What do you mean, “Item not found?” I ask out loud.

“4033,” the attendant chimes.

“Oh great now he’s getting in on the harassment,” I think to myself. By this time I am starting to get frazzled and in turn am making more mistakes. Not thinking I place the apples in the bagging area, a big mistake.

The robot, now blaring shouts, “ Unexpected item in the bagging area!”

“Huh,” I think.

“You need to place them on the scale,” the attendant says in a scolding manner.

“Well pardon my ignorance,” I think to myself.

This chaos goes on for another few minutes until I finally get this nasty little unit to accept my apples. This whole leaves me the feeling that I have been demoted all the way back to the second grade! Then, I look over to see that the last person in the human manned line has already left.

“I should have gotten in that line,” I sigh thinking back to a time when a friendly checker would chit-chat with me while the bagger asked if I wanted paper or plastic and if I wanted help out to the car. I wonder, almost out loud, if those days are gone forever. As my stress subsides and my thoughts begin to clear, I think to myself, “The Farmer’s Market’s, I need to shop more at the Farmer’s Market’s.”

Stay tuned for part three coming next week.  In the meantime, Happy Gardening!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Super Market or Farmer's Market

When I was taking English Composition in college one of the writing patterns we explored was compare and contrast. Well I just had a real life example of compare and contrast, and I simply must share it! So here today I am going to compare/contrast the Farmer’s Markets vs. the huge mega-corporate supermarkets or HMCS as I will refer to them from this point on.

Yesterday, I made a trip to the local HMCS but with great reluctance. I used to enjoy spending an hour or so in the local supermarket but that was when the people that worked there actually liked their jobs. To me the supermarkets are a cold and impersonal place designed to do one thing, take your money and shove you out the door with the least expense possible. Don’t believe me, ask their accountants. So without further ado about my dislike of the megastores, here is my short compare/contrast essay. I always save the best for last so I’ll write about the local HMCS first.

When I first walk in the door of the HMCS, I am greeted at the door by some poor old guy who couldn’t quite cut the mustard as a Wal-Mart ( oh my God, Wal-Mart is actually in the spell-check dictionary) greeter. Come to think about it, why did all these stores need to copy Wal-Mart anyhow, couldn’t they come up with something original, like a squad of cheerleaders at the door or maybe a circus clown who gives animal balloons to children and pretty girls. With all do respect though, Wal-Mart has awesome greeters. My HMCS greeter mumbled something which could have been,
“Welcome to HMCS” or maybe it was
“Hi, I hate standing at the door here but it is the only job I can do to supplement my measly Social-Security checks and I really need this job so mrmmmmmbkle c cooooooommmmmumble mumble.” He really did seem like a sweet guy though, just a poor pawn in the game of profits.

After getting past the shy greeter and a bunch of lawn furniture clogging up the bakery section (which begs the question: Just why is there lawn furniture in the bread aisle and what marketing genius thought this up?) I mosey on into the produce section and check my list. I need onions, green bell peppers, fruit, and a tomato. Looking through the bin of wilted bell peppers I finally find one that looks edible thinking to myself does anyone ever rotate this stock or has some accountant given them the OK to extend the shelf life to hit the maximum profit equilibrium point; the tomatoes don’t look much better. I buy some bananas and apples but pass on any of the other bland-tasting hybridized fruits which always look so delicious with their fresh coat of wax; I repeat, look delicious.

I quickly make my way through the rest of the store realizing that I need a few more items. I encounter a half dozen or so store employees but only muster up one shy smile and not one single “can I help you Sir.” It seems that in their quest to monopolize the grocery industry the HMCS’s have forgotten the words, “Customer service and quality.” and what they mean. I can’t blame the employees though, I know what its like to be a number in the realm of the profiteers wondering each day if you’ll be able to live up to the expectations of the accountants or if your number will be up! I am aware of how hard it is to be passionate about your job when there is no room for the appreciation of your efforts in the belly of the corporate beast and no security in those efforts. The employees of the HMCS’s might as well be robots.

Speaking of robots, don’t miss my next posting regarding my hostile encounter with the self checkout machine, God I hate those things. -to be continued-