For sure, commerce in this country is changing. Big multi-national stores offering everything under the sun lure in shoppers with 'lower' prices and 'bigger' selection. It makes for tough times for the small family operation which usually offers 'superior' customer service and connection to its customers.

In Barrie, one of our finest examples is at the corner of Blake and Steel streets at Robinson's Hardware. They know you by name; they remember what you got last time, and they generally have selection enough, or they'll get it for you.

Some time ago I made a point of standing in the front lobby at Royal Victoria Hospital. There, in our new hospital, were the names of companies whose donations made the building possible. Those names, those businesses, are the ones that contribute again and again to our community. They generally employ people full time and those people, in turn, invest in our community by buying houses and paying taxes and shopping for groceries and educating kids.

That's how the wheel goes round. Or should.

However, the in-between stores, the ones with a local presence and local management, are likely the least visible. And, it seems, they are the most challenge when it comes to customer service. I'm a fairly optimistic, easy going person, but I scratch my head sometimes when I'm trying my best to do business at a community level, only to be almost abused in the process.

I recently tried to buy additional balls of wool for a project. I'd bought the originals at a small department store and went back to see if they had more coming in. Customer service staff ignored me for quite awhile, though I was the only one 'in line.' I finally spoke up, asking if I could ask a question. I held up my last ball of wool. "Would you be getting more of these in?"

"I don't know."

"Can you check?"

"I guess so." She scanned the upc code on my wool and clicked it into a computer. "We're getting six balls in."

"Do you know when, approximately?"

"Maybe next week."

"Is is possible to put a hold on them?"

"Nope."

She then suggested I go to the big box multinational store up the street. Sending her job up there, too, but she doesn't realize that. As I walked away from Customer Service, I heard the second woman speak softly... "we could have likely put a hold on that wool."

I went down to the local wool shop and placed a special order. It arrived the next week.

This isn't isolated. This "who cares?" attitude comes from cashiers and baggers at grocery stores, at gas stations, at chain restaurants. These in-between businesses who aren't competing on selection and price and aren't your mom & pop shop are going to be the layer of commerce that falls away. And somehow, somebody should care. I don't know whether it's lack of store management and training, or if managers aren't given a sense of responsibility, or if employees are so unhappy they hope they lose their jobs... I don't know. We were buying groceries recently and the young man at the end of the cashier aisle was so gloomy, so unpleasant that my husband asked him if he was okay. His cashier partner quipped with a smile, "oh, don't worry about him! He just has bad days!"

This is not to discount the remarkably good employees who have a sense of the importance of the customer. But we have, in Barrie, way more of the bad service types who literally just do not know how to care.

The sad thing is that they don't realize that ultimately it's there own employment that they don't care about.

I care passionately about the health of our business community. I just want to take these people by their hands and point out how important it is that they keep their customers wanting to come back, that they stop 'driving' them away until there's nobody left. It's a frustrating time for business, for sure. But individuals can control their destiny by putting real spirit into that rehearsed line, "How can I help?"

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