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Stutzman: Lifetime value of a customer

December 10, 2012
Mary Beth Stutzman - Inspiring A-Town , The Alpena News

Hey business owners, how's your customer service?

My husband and I are strong advocates of shopping local and we try to do as much Christmas shopping as we can at local businesses. We offer our repeat business to those who go out of their way to provide a great experience for their customers. This extends beyond gift purchases to other things as well, like where we buy our Christmas tree.

There are many, many great places to get a tree around Northeast Michigan. You can take a sleigh or wagon ride and cut your own at a farm. You can stop at any number of tree lots scattered throughout the region with strings of light bulbs illuminating the temporary forest for the holidays. We get our tree at Ernie's.

I don't know Ernie. I don't know where he lives or where he gets his trees. I don't know what kind of sports he likes to watch on TV or if he even likes watching sports. But I do know that he has a kind and generous spirit and for that reason we buy our tree nowhere else but at Ernie's tree lot.

Several years ago my husband and I ventured out to buy our first tree as a married couple. I didn't really know how much trees cost. I had only purchased one before and the others I had cut out of my grandpa's cedar swamp. So estimating how much we would need, we scraped together $17 and some odd cents. It was all the extra we had at the time.

We headed over to buy a tree from the FFA group in front of Tractor Supply but they were out. So we went up the street and found Ernie's. We walked around the lot looking at all the beautiful full evergreens and settled on a smaller tree. Our house wasn't very big so it couldn't fit a large tree, not to mention we knew the larger ones would be more than we could afford. But this little one we had picked out was just right. Ernie came over and greeted us and we said, "We'll take this one. How much is it?" He said the tree was $25.

My husband and I looked at each other. We pointed to a small scraggly tree leaning against the trailer. "Um, how about that one?" I asked pointing. He said that one was $25 too. All the small ones were $25. My husband and I looked at each other again, embarrassed. We thanked Ernie for his time and turned to leave explaining that we only had $17.

In a moment we heard him say, "Hold on! Which one did you want? This one?" he asked pointing at our original choice. "I'll give it to you for $17, special one day deal!"

We were thrilled as he helped us tie it to the top of our vehicle. Since that year we haven't purchased our tree anywhere else. We visit Ernie every December. Except this time we plan ahead a little better and budget for a tree. Then we got a bigger house and needed a larger tree. And this year, we bought two trees and Ernie and his son delivered them to our house.

The lesson here is this: what is the lifetime value of a customer? Maybe that person walking through the door only has a small amount to spend today, but treat them like they are your best customer and chances are pretty good that they'll keep coming back, spending more each time they do.

Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.



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