Thursday, July 2, 2009

The slow, agonizing death of customer service

I was appalled and outraged to read the email transactions between a pseudo-professional printing service and a customer they should have been fighting to keep - our very own Localshops1!

The economical swoop has left us all a little ragged, but small businesses seem to have been affected the most. Local places that we support and love are closing shop, casualties of this recession. It's just not as simple as being honest and hardworking anymore to stay afloat in this credit storm.

So that having been said, how has customer service become a casualty in this mess, also? If anything, catering to your patrons should be top priority when most small entrepreneurs today are two or three clients from being bankrupt. Keeping customers happy is vital; for this economic climate to ever bounce back we need to keep people spending at our local businesses.

That's why I just can not understand why anyone calling themselves a professional would engage in such spiteful email traffic with a client they are supposed to be serving! Burning your bridges is just not an option in business today. Localshops1 was keeping the faith by keeping their patronage local - and was given a virtual slap in the face.

Disgusting. Customer service just isn't what it used to be. Yesterday I had coffee with a client to consult for an upcoming project at a fairly good-sized restaurant (not mentioning any names here). We were paying customers in a place that was 90 percent empty, not bothering anyone, content to keep to ourselves, and pay for coffee refills. After a couple of hours, the waitress brought the check over and quite rudely told us that their place didn't appreciate "squatters!" Are you kidding me? There was no one in there but us! If not for our business, they would have had none in hours.

We can all tell these stories. But that's just it, we all have these experiences! I think we're seeing the slow death-rattle of customer service. And it's not pretty, folks.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sad news.

Just heard today from our friends at Shirts of Bamboo that they're closing shop.

We've seen lots of stores close in the past year.

There was Latitudes, a little coffee shop in St. Petersburg, where we'd stop by every few days for a cup of latte. The new owners were young, determined. But it didn't work out. They say the landlord didn't give them a chance; the landlord said he couldn't accommodate late rent.

There was If and Only If, a cute boutique/gift shop in St. Pete, that had been there for years and years. The owner, an artist, blames it on the economy. Her store sold mostly accessories and fun things, and in times when many people were sticking with just the essentials, her store couldn't survive.

And a couple of months ago, Boulevard Boutique in Pinellas Park. They'd been doing fine for years, the owner told us. Not making a ton of money, but business was good. Then there was some sort of lease dispute, and they ended up moving across the street. Business was just never the same, she said. Maybe it was the new location, maybe it was the economy. They didn't even last there a year.


Hearing about Shirts of Bamboo is especially sad for us. They were the first sponsors of a LocalShops1 writing contest. They were so generous, giving us -- then a brand new, unknown company -- a towel set that we could offer as the prize. They said they liked our concept, they wanted us to make it.

We wished the same for them. These are some very cool people, doing, seemingly, everything right.

We first came across the company when they had a storefront, in the Grand Central neighborhood in St. Pete. They had a nice selection, quality items, decent prices. A year or so later we heard they had closed their store, to cut down on overhead, and started operating online. They were also a constant presence at fairs, including the Saturday Morning Market in St. Pete, and Gulfport Geckofest.

Recently they opened a storefront again, at the gift shop in the history museum in St. Pete.

These are people who worked hard, who believed in their product, who really gave it their all.

Now they're closing up for good.

"This is not the letter we thought we'd be writing after four years' striving to bring you the finest quality bamboo products for your bodies and your homes. But the current economic conditions have caused us to re-evaluate Shirts of Bamboo and its long-term viability. We are closing our doors at the end of September," they wrote in an e-mail and then posted on their Web site.

Starting tomorrow, there will be huge markdowns at the store, at the Museum of History, 335 2nd Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. You can call them at 727.388.6913 or go online to for more information.

-- Ester