Serious Thoughts Upon The Death Of A Business

I have been a customer of one particular business here in Perth since the day after I arrived in Australia in 1964. When we flew in we were taxied from the airport to a hotel and deposited to slough off our jet lag. As the parents sat there comatose trying to focus upon a pay television with the Tokyo Olympic Games on it, I lit out for a hobby shop.

I had seen it as we came past on the way to the hotel. As a kid I had a sure instinct for hobby shops and could spot them in any town we visited. It was a matter of some relief to find that the wilds of Perth were not so primitive that they could not afford one.

No kid assesses distance accurately – what I thought was four blocks turned out to be twenty-three, but I kept on walking. I was rewarded eventually with a house turned shop, several crammed rooms of kits, trains, planes, and toys, and a pleasant owner. I returned in the following weeks and bought a number of items, and took them off to our house in the hills. Later forays to Perth never actually got back to that location, but I discovered the four or five other hobby shops in the centre of the town that were accessible by railway.

Crikey – that’s over 50 years ago. The other shops have packed it in long ago – some to move to the suburbs and some to disappear forever. The original shop I visited moved to a railway suburb and kept there for 50 years…but I suspect it is now moribund. The location is perfect for them but their sales stock is depleted and their reputation dwindling away. They have been forced to become a tiny portion of their previous size and are fragmented.

Yet…They have a name that everyone remembers. Were they to relocate, restock, and promote themselves, I still think they could recover. Were they to combine with one of the other shops the whole town might benefit.

As for myself, however, I have a new shop a mile from my door on an easy road – with free parking out the front. I am a constant customer. Sentiment is one thing but practical life – even when it is a hobby – is another.

I suspect this might be the case for any number of other businesses in all forms of trade. People are spread out more in the Metro area – they are doomed to travel far longer distances to get the things they need from the disparate suppliers. Some have taken to the internet as a solution…but it isn’t. Others have just realised that a 30-mile round trip for a bottle of paint is just not practical.

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A news item that flashed though our Facebook pages today showed excerpts of computer correspondence between a client of a sports medicine clinic and the management that turned steadily worse and worse.

There was some sort of disagreement ¬†between them and an initially professional response by the clinic changed later in the day to something entirely different. The language, spelling, and grammar of the responses shifted and the message became vaguely offensive. The client certainly took it as such, but was not intimidated. There’s been a regular little stream of reports about it, and in terms of advertising for the business involved, it would appear to be a disaster.

For myself, it brings back memories of my time in retail service – two occasions particularly.

In the first, I let my mind wander off during a telephone conversation and apparently started whistling under my breath. It was one of those tunes from an advertising jingle that had ear-wormed its way into my mind and as soon as I stopped concentrating it bubbled up. The woman on the other end of the phone became very angry. I apologised for my whistling but she was having none of that apology. I apologised again and again. Eventually after offering the fourth or fifth apology and finding that she was more enraged at each one, I just had to end the conversation. She continued a customer of the shop, but fortunately every time she phoned after that someone else took the call. I suspect that had she heard my voice she would have exploded again.

In the second, a customer brought back a passport photo that was too dark – we had taken it for her son and DFAT rejected it. I offered to retake it or to reprocess the print right there for her to lighten it up. ( Note that taking good passport pictures is a difficult thing sometimes…the criteria are terribly strict.)

Well, this was not good enough. She spent the best part of ten minutes berating me for my incompetence – and exercising herself on the entire scale of scorn and outrage – while I apologised and offered to redress the situation. Each apology brought fresh abuse. NOTHING was good enough. At the end she demanded her $ 18.00 back and I gladly refunded it out of my own pocket.

Then she asked to have the dark passport photos anyway…and at that point something snapped inside me – I said no. No, she had her refund and that was all I was prepared to do. I braced myself for a further blast…but all she did was thank me, took her son, and left. The young lad had the saddest expression I have ever seen on his face as he went. He was dressed in the uniform of the most prestigious private school in Perth, but I would say that his life is a hard one.

Well, that’s the apology game for you. I’ll bet the sports clinic will remember today…and I’ll also bet that they will be able to see it clearly on their business activity records for the next few months as well. Sort of a sharp dip in bookings.