Do you suppose anyone will ever write a book about your store? Could your store become legend? Never thought about it? Well, it´s worth considering because there is much to be learned about retailing from Stores That Inspire.
One such store was the late great Rich´s department store of Atlanta. In her book about this beloved and legendary retailer, Atlanta journalist Celestine Sibley told a story that a man in McDonough, Georgia, vowed was true. It involved a woman who had bought her dining room furniture from Rich´s early in her marriage. Over time, she became dissatisfied with the set.
Years later, shopping in Rich´s with her daughter, who was about to be married, the woman rubbed her hand along a chair back and said, according to the tale: "This is really what I should have bought. But that clerk overpersuaded me, and all these years I´ve lived with dining room furniture that I really didn´t like."
The next day, Sibley wrote, "The lady answered the doorbell to find a Rich´s van in the drive — there to deliver the furniture she liked and to pick up, with the store´s apologies, that overzealous clerk´s mistake."
Sibley went on to write that Rich´s had no record of this happening and that Rich´s executives doubted that it ever occurred.
"But," Sibley wrote, "they can´t say for sure, and four out of every five Georgians would accept it without question, and go you one better with a story they´ve heard about Rich´s. The point is that Rich´s is the kind of store such stories are told about. It is a store of legend."
Rich´s — gone now, alas, swallowed up by a retailing behemoth — was known as a store where one could buy anything and where one could return anything — even something purchased at a competitor — with no questions asked.
It wasn´t exactly true, Sibley wrote, that a person could buy anything at Rich´s: "A mountaineer who wrote in several years ago, enclosing a two-dollar money order and asking the store to dispatch him by Tallulah Falls railroad a good wife —"stout, no snuff dipper´ — was disappointed."
Neither, she wrote, "can you exchange anything without regard to whether you got it at Rich´s. A seven-year-old Atlanta boy failed to swap his new baby sister for a space helmet. The top buyer, however, touched by his faith in Rich´s, sent him the space helmet with the store´s compliments and a note strongly recommending baby sisters as practically irreplaceable playthings."
In short, Rich´s was known as a store that cared — really cared — about its customers. It was dependable. You could take back just about anything, no questions asked. And besides being a topnotch retailer, it was a community stalwart. For decades, Christmas didn´t officially began in Atlanta until Rich´s Great Tree was lit.
Think about Rich´s. And think about your own store. How do your customers feel about your store? Do they tell stories about your store´s excellent service? How involved is your store in your community? Do people in your community associate a certain holiday with your store?
These are thoughts worth pondering. Rich´s could easily have become just another retailer, but it chose, instead, to become one of the very best.
"DEAR STORE An Affectionate Portrait of Rich´s," by Celestine Sibley was published in 1967 by Peachtree Publishers Ltd., Atlanta.