From time to time I ask questions on the Inspiring A-Town Facebook page to get an idea of what other Northeast Michigan fans are thinking out there. It always provides meaningful insight and today I'd like to share a few comments that seem to have built a recurring theme. You may agree, you may disagree, regardless of your perspective these are things I have been hearing over and over again and I think they're worth some attention. Since the whole point of this column is to encourage building a better community I believe they are appropriate to share.
The recurring theme appears to matter to a lot of people and it revolves around shopping. One of America's favorite pastimes (besides baseball and reality TV). Here are a few examples of what some comments have been:
"Everyone needs to shop local!"
Yes, I agree with this comment. However, it is not a blanket statement. It works both ways. Shopping local is critical to the maintenance of a community but if I receive poor customer service at a local store I usually don't return. We live in a world with more options than Pi has decimal places (did you catch that Mom? I used a math reference!). If a business makes it difficult, unpleasant, or even just boring to do business with them we have other options and don't hesitate to explore them.
"I wish stores would stay open later."
I agree with this comment as well. The majority of our community works. Most employers don't allow their employees to skip out for a few hours on a whim to go leisurely browse shops (and rightfully so). I get out of work between 5 and 5:30 p.m. By the time I pick up our daughter and make and finish eating dinner it's about 6:30 p.m. There are very few places open where anyone can spend money or take care of personal business at that hour of the day. I understand the position staying open later puts a business in (more staffing and overhead costs) but once people realize you have changed some of your hours to be more accommodating your customers will be more loyal and will actually be able to purchase more from you.
"I love when a store goes above and beyond "
Who wouldn't agree with this one! It's not enough to have nice people working for you anymore. It's not enough to have a great product or service. Especially for younger generations now entering the marketplace - they, and we, already expect these things. They are givens. The difference maker for today's successful business is adding to these by providing a great in-store experience and offering the extras that people will remember after they leave you.
"We need a Target, Red Lobster, Meijer, ____________ (fill in the blank with the store of preference)"
I can't really add to this since I'm really not much of a chain store shopper but I do understand. People want more options. Large corporations take many things into consideration when making a decision to place a new store. Things like population density and per capita income of the area, the overall health of the particular industry nationwide, and a number of other things I don't even fully understand are all sifted through before a new store is placed. It's not just "do the residents want this," it's "can the area profitably sustain the new business?"
This may sound like a number of negative or nonsensical rants but it's really not and it has a point. Are we listening to each other? Are business owners listening to their customers? Are consumers communicating with local business owners or just expecting them to be mind readers about what we want? Part of inspiring change is bringing it all out in the open.
I have seen some incredible things happening in our community in recent years and I believe that it will only continue to get better because we have kind, caring, proactive people working to make things happen. But it doesn't end there. We can all have a part. Take a few moments the next time you're out and about to thank local business owners that go out of their way to please customers. If you like a store but really wish they had more variety then don't hesitate to politely tell the owner. I'm sure if it's feasible they would be more than willing to honor your request. And, if there is something you feel Northeast Michigan really needs why not you be the one to bring it here?
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.