Long ago in a galaxy far, far away…If I were to paraphrase the Star Wars opening, a long time ago was the 1960’s and 70’s and that far away galaxy was my small hometown of Florence, Colorado. The main street of Florence was comprised of, at most, 40 businesses. The 3,000 residents preferred to shop at those establishments unless a Florence merchant left them feeling their business was not appreciated or if the merchant didn’t authentically care about the community. In those rare instances, a Florence resident would travel to the next town over (Canon City which was five times larger than Florence) or in a worse case that local would postpone making a purchase until they had reason to go the big city (either Pueblo or Colorado Springs).
Small-Town Handicaps or Business Blessings
Early in my business career, I thought growing up in Florence might have been a handicap; particularly, with regard to understanding the business environments I encountered in cities like Denver, Los Angeles, or Tampa/St. Petersburg. As is the case with most things, my childhood in Florence more than balanced out any downsides through rich benefits involving the importance of business relationships and brand reputation.
Let’s look at a few small-town 1970’s lessons on relationship building and what it takes to develop a customer-centric reputation:
- You are not in business to make a sale. You are in business to build relationships.
- Relationships take effort.
- Everyone has an audience.
- It’s easier to sustain than recover one’s business reputation.
Reflecting on Florence, Colorado
There are good profits and bad profits. Growing up in Florence, I learned that good profits result from creating customer value and they lead to sustainable business success. Bad profits create a short-term win for a business at the expense of customers. (If you’re old enough, think back to late fees at Blockbuster Video. If you’re too young for that reference, think about a “ticket scalper” at a concert.)
The merchants in Florence Colorado invested heavily in the community. They supported little league teams, 4-H activities, and attended graduations. They got to know the names, interests, children, and needs of their patrons. They considered their time and their sustained effort as essential investments in their customers. The community knew them not because of ads in the local newspaper but because they volunteered alongside them and worked to build personal relationships.
Word of Grandma
Business owners treated frail grandmothers with the same dignity and respect they offered their colleagues – knowing that everyone in the community had a “following.” You could be assured that if you mistreated anyone in the morning, most (if not all) of the town would know about it by evening. We didn’t have social media – we had party phone lines – so you could “go viral” without even trying.
Finally, as my dad would say, “It’s better to keep your laundry clean than to air your dirty laundry in public.” These leaders knew a business reputation took years to build and minutes to lose. They also knew that breach of trust was hard to repair.
So thank you Florence, Colorado, you may not have taught me how to negotiate a multi-year contract with a CEO at a Fortune 500 company, but then again maybe you did!
If you would like to take a moment to discuss enduring principles of building customer relationships and maintaining a customer-centric reputation, I’d love to do what those Florence merchants used to do with me – and take the time to talk! Simply reach out to me. I look forward to building our relationship.
P.S. Florence, Colorado was chosen as the setting for Jane Fonda and Robert Redford’s 2017 movie Our Souls at Night.
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.
Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli
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