Responding to my comment that our sheet metal shop was too busy to take walk-in business, my father invited me to join him for a cup of coffee.
Over coffee he related the difficulties involved in opening a business in the midst of the Great Depression—phones not ringing and no customers walking through the door. He recounted driving all over the county, looking for a job to quote and worrying about making payroll.
He expounded on the loyalty of walk-in customers. How a smile and a thank you for a two-dollar order, often resulted in thousands of dollars of business. He declared, “Every customer is precious—you never know where a relationship may lead.” Needless to say, we continued to accept walk-in customers.
During the housing boom, many building material retailers erected signs discouraging walk-in customers: “Contractors Only,” “No Cash Customers,” “Customers Must Have a Trade Account.” The advent of the “Great Recession” resulted in many of those signs being removed, but the message, “We don’t need your business.” had been delivered. Gone was the opportunity to develop new relationships, lost was the opportunity to grow with customers and lingering was the bitterness of rejection.
As with my father and the Great Depression, the lessons of the “Great Recession” are deeply ingrained within many building supply industry leaders. They have come to understand the relationships made during the good times, will be needed when the bad times come, and that today’s small customer, may be tomorrow’s prime account.