When I was in radio, one of my bosses mentioned the concept of “corner store marketing” that he read about in a book. I never read the book, but totally got the concept, because I actually lived it. I have been telling this story for 15 years to staff and students. Thought I’d share it with you.
I grew up in East Boston, Massachusetts in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. At the end of my street was this little corner store. The guy who ran the store was a short, fat, bald Italian guy named Marty. Now, Marty had about a seventh grade education, but he was a pretty smart dude. He basically lived in the store and was there whenever I stopped by. I would walk in, Marty would jump to attention and say, “Hi Louis, how you doin’ today? Keeping your grades up in school? I saw you walking by with your sister Stephanie yesterday. You’re a very good boy the way you watch after her.”
Marty invested his time into us; into all of his customers. Marty was genuinely concerned with our well-being. Maybe it was because we were his “bread & butter”, or maybe it was because he truly cared – which is what we believed.
“How’s your mother?” he would say. “I heard she wasn’t doing so well. I know she was having some problems with the job so I’m going to put a little extra in the bag. Don’t worry about paying for it now. When she has a little bit more money and gets back on her feet she can pay me then. ” Marty showed compassion toward us and sacrificed a bit of his own profit on our behalf. “And your sister, wasn’t it her birthday the other day? She’s getting so big! I remember the day she was born.” Marty was dedicated to us and showed intense interest in all that was important to our family. He would go on, “And your grandfather, he’s been a little under the weather. Is he doing ok? Anything I can do to help?”
Marty, this seventh grade dropout, was probably one of the best customer service gurus anywhere because he understood how to build great relationships. He invested in his customers. He invested his time in each and every one of us. He knew more than just a little about all of us, he knew our lives.
There was another store about the same distance from my house on the other side of the street called Frank’s. Every once and a while, Frank’s would have a sale and prices might be a little better on some items. A buck here and a buck there back then was important. We were pretty poor, so every bit counted. This was in the 70’s before White Hen Pantries and Super Stop & Shops came into existence (Wegman’s, Albertson’s or Piggly Wiggly for those of you outside the Northeast). Marty was our butcher,our grocer, and our vegetable vendor too. Frank’s at the end of the street would have a little sale, but we didn’t shop at Frank’s, even though it was cheaper. We shopped at Marty’s no matter what. Marty was our guy, and we were loyal to him and his little store.
You might ask, “How did he know how to do this?” “Where did he learn this?” He never went to college; he never even went to high school. How did he understand that to win people over and have them respond in such a positive manner, he needed to invest in them? Back then, Marty didn’t know any other way. He just knew if you invested in folks it would pay off. No Gimmicks. No Flair. Just honest and genuine dedication to his customers. It was something he just “got.” It’s very basic, but he intuitively understood the characteristics necessary to build a meaningful and unbreakable relationship. Marty was a Relationship Architect.