[The following is a guest column written by Dr. Robert C. Snyder, musician, businessman and keen-eyed observer of life. Enjoy. JRI]
In the late 1940s I became aware of customer loyalty. I noticed that Millard, my dad, always bought his gas at the same Texaco station near our house in Topeka, Kansas. Millard never let the gas gauge fall below a certain point because he liked to keep track of mileage for every tank full. He kept a record book of mileages, and to make it easy, he’d always buy ten gallons of gas. That way, he could divide the 235 miles per tank in his head by just moving the decimal point one position to the left, giving him 23.5 MPG. Even now, 60 years later, I can still see that Texaco station in my visual memory. When it came time for me to buy tires for my 1937 Ford I bought them at dad’s favorite station. You can see how customer loyalty rubs off.
When I worked at Earl Jennings’ Sinclair station in the middle fifties, we had a customer, Mr. Blue, whom I will say was totally loyal. He came in one day and told Earl that he had bad news. “Earl, you have water in your gasoline.” Earl jumped up from his chair, pulled out his testing rod, put some water detecting chemicals on the end of it, poked it down into the fill tube, and reported that, “Yes, Jim, you’re right. How did you find out?” “Earl, it cost me $100 to have my fuel system in my Chevy cleaned out. The mechanic said it was filled with water.” “Jim, I want to pay for your repairs.” “No Earl, I’ve been your customer for 32 years and I don’t blame you. However, you should probably fix those holding tanks.”
Later in my college years, I worked a few months in Blaylock’s Drugstore on Tenth Street in Topeka. Customers would come in and say things like: “I’d like a bottle of Acetylsalicylic acid”. Of course they were teasing but were surprised when I knew they wanted aspirin. Of course customer loyalty worked both ways. When I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to change the pills in these diet bottles with the pills in the laxative bottle?” I thought of doing that little trick decades before somebody actually tried it. Remember that upset? It’s the reason we have unopenable bottles with unremovable seals under the caps.
When I operated my first mower shop in Charleston, Illinois in 1980, I bought my parts from Don Hutton’s Auto Parts store. The small engine parts salesman, Don Whitacre, visited me in my shop annually to inventory my parts. Mr. Hutton, who was too macho to wear a seat belt, collided head on with another ½ ton van and regrettably died, I grieved for a long time. He was such a good man and generous. I had a wonderful deep sense of customer loyalty with him and Mr. Whitacre.
When I had my little Jack’s Fixit Shop in Chandler, Texas, the shop was right next door to Jerry Kidd’s Convenience store and gas station. Jerry was in our church choir where I sang tenor, played flute, and pipe organ. I discussed customer loyalty one afternoon with Jerry and complained that I could find little or no reason to build customer loyalty with his station, because it seemed like every time I went there to pay for my purchase, there stood an unfamiliar clerk. “How do you expect me to grow my loyalty when I never see the same face twice in a month?” “Yes, Jack, (I was called Jack in Chandler.) we’re going to have a meeting about that problem tomorrow.” As far as I know, the meeting participants never solved the problem.
Now, these many years later, I have a loyal relationship with Mike Symes’ BP station in Hudson, Wisconsin. I always buy fuel at Mike’s, have him install riding mower tires and tubes, refer lots of my customers to him because he sells non-ethanol fuel, and generally have a good time teasing him. One time, as I fueled my Ford Escape, the back of the car started to shudder. When I looked over, there was Mike shaking the car from side to side……. Relentless teenager.
Mike refers two or three mower repair customers to me each week. The customer loyalty program works both ways for us.
Finally, I went to visit my small engine parts distributor when I first started repairing machines in Hudson. By chance, a young man named Justin met me at the front desk. He obviously was new to the job, didn’t know much about parts or how to look them up. So, I pledged to always call upon him for part ordering and technical assistance. Now, about three years later, he’ll even go into the warehouse and count the teeth on a gear if I ask. Now that’s an undeniable fruit of customer loyalty.
Robert February 2011
PS. Some of my repair customers have such strong loyalty to me, they’ve brought over a dozen jobs to me since 2006!
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