Mind Your Business - Right Side

Get off Mayberry Lane and get realistic about what customers want most



As a cheerleading squad, America roots for the underdog. As we look back at our rebellious, upstart beginnings, the DNA of that ethos is obvious, which brings us to this issue’s deliberation of the big, bad bully overlord known as Big Business verses the pure innocence of Small Business. The movie analogies from Rocky to Rudy to It’s a Wonderful Life remind us that we do love the Little Guy (or Little Woman).

But this discussion does not really pit big verses little or monopoly against insurgency. Instead it’s about the stubborn facts of economy and the pull of sentimentality. The most common example is the local hardware store. We love the idea of walking into our pre-big box-era community shop where a worker is familiar with our particular household’s woes, and they call us by name as if we we’re at Cheers. The attention and service is personalized, patient, knowledgeable. It reminds us of a slower, simpler time when the heart of the nation was the community.The store represents not so much a drive to make money by the proprietor, but a drive to make the community better. It’s as if we all have a stake in the store’s success.

But there’s one thing missing in this walk down Mayberry Lane: competition. One day, one of the robber barons decided he could make a big chunk of change by offering more products under one roof, albeit one that covers three football fields. Volume would offer lower prices and in turn make people forget about comfort and instead focus on affordability. Who needs to be asked about how the kids are when you can buy the hammer for a dollar less? The bottom line is just that—the bottom line of the customer—and that’s where the conversation should end.

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