Heartache, Hope & Hardware

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By Mary Bray Gallagher, APR
Principal, Calliope Communications
Accreditation Chair

As I write this three weeks after Hurricane Irene, I am filled with heartache. I live and work in Schoharie County, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm. I’m certain you’ve seen images on the news showing the devastation, but when you see it every day, in every direction, it is hard to think of anything else.

There’s been a lot of coverage about the storm and the devastation, but one article really struck me and offers some important lessons. I hope everyone read Mike Hendricks’ Editor’s Notebook about the Middleburgh Hardware Store in the Business Review (Sept. 9-15, 2011). If you didn’t read it, I encourage you to find a copy of the paper or read it online.

This business was one of many in the Schoharie Valley that was severely damaged by Hurricane Irene and is now struggling to survive. Mike Hendricks wrote a very touching article describing the destruction suffered by this business. He went on to describe the owner’s struggle to reopen days after the storm, and how the owner, despite huge losses, was not charging customers after the flood, instead letting people take what they needed and “asking them to pay him back if they remember what it was they took”. What a foreign concept in today’s commercial society and what a great example of a business doing the right thing and getting some well-deserved recognition.

I know this store well and have shopped there many times. Shortly before the storm I was talking to some friends and mentioned I was on my way to Middleburgh Hardware. Almost simultaneously, they all said, “I love that store.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get this response about our own business or organization? Have we taken some time recently to ask ourselves what our customers think about our organizations and what it would take to achieve this? Are we monitoring customer satisfaction, and if not, why not?

The Middleburgh Hardware Store doesn’t do a lot of advertising and they certainly don’t have a public relations person on staff, but they do know that treating every customer the right way makes an enormous difference to their bottom line. I believe a lot of organizations have forgotten this and need to take a lesson from businesses like Middleburgh Hardware. They have forgotten that what your customers think and say about you is important – often the most important thing. It is frequently the difference between success and failure.

I am very happy to see this business reopen and hope it can prosper despite the massive challenge it faces. If “what comes around, goes around” proves to be true, continued success for this business is assured.

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