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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Coming Death of “The Only Place in Town”

Just concluded a horrible service experience with a tailor in the small town where we’ve spent our family holiday.

With the pre-holiday rush, I didn’t have time to get hemming done before heading away on vacation. My wife, ever helpful, suggested bringing the pants with us, get the tailoring done in a day or two, potentially to have available for an event early in the New Year.

Always one to listen to the local / expert recommendations, I asked around and took my business to the tailor several friends & family members suggested was the best option.

The initial service I found was less than overwhelming. Unresponsive to an un-staffed customer desk, I finally wandered into the work area to find someone to serve me. They pointed me to a dressing room, and as I was being fitted, promised far less than what I was expecting or used to. The timeline on a simple hem was going to be a week, if I had it rushed. (My regular option gets me in & out in a couple of days in all but the most exceptional circumstances.) The cost, in a small Canadian town, was going to be twice what I was normally charged at my highest-priced home option, the local Nordstrom tailor.

Though all sense told me to take my things back and just have it done at home, I decided that not having to bother with it early in the new year was worth the effort during my current "down time", and proceeded.

I happened by the mall the tailor was located in six days after dropping them off. On the off-chance they had exceeded their promise and neglected to take credit for it, I checked to see if perhaps they hadn’t finished a day early. Not surprisingly, "my tailor" was the only store in the mall not open on a Saturday.

I finally retrieved my clothes, though in a rush to catch an outbound plane, didn’t have the chance to try them on. Not surprisingly, when I finally did, they didn’t fit as I had asked.

Through every touch, the attitude was, “We’re as good as we need to be – where else are you going to go?”

It’s poor business, but the “captive market” attitude and service approach still persists in a lot of geographies and industries. For small-town tailors as much as for legacy industrials, the approach is becoming increasingly less viable and looks increasingly foolish / shortsighted to outsiders.

Business entry costs are coming down across the board. Business process / back office management outsourcing is allowing garage businesses to look & act like FORTUNE 500’s at a fraction of the scaled cost. The internet is making easier quality service companies and customers to find each other, and social media is making it easier to find 3rd party assessment of the goods / services companies provide.

There are fewer barriers to hide behind, even for the small-town tailor. Companies not providing service and value will be found out, and punished accordingly by their market.

How many service businesses are unaware how little time they have left to change?

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