Palestine Magazine January 2019 - Page 31

SECRETS OF SUCCESS Customer service key to small business success F or some, success in small business is an elusive dream; others make it a reality. Is the difference luck or privilege, or is there a formula that keeps customers coming back? There’s a story behind every successful storefront, and our local economy would not thrive without them. Two Palestine businesses share their formula for success. Co-Ed Shop On a quiet, sunny Saturday in downtown Palestine, a customer walks into the Co-Ed Shop, looks around, and visits the shop’s small display of infant gifts. She’s the only customer in the store. A sales as- sociate walks over. “Can I help you find anything?” she says. How common is that in shops today? The sales clerk continues speaking to the customer, until she choos- es a melamine dining set, with plate, cup, fork, and spoon, decorated with porcupine cartoon characters in pastel colors. A cute, durable, and unique gift. “It’s for a baby girl,” the customer says. “I want to give her some- thing that will last a long time.” The sales clerk cheerfully carries the item to the counter. “We have complimentary gift wrapping,” she says, and proceeds to wrap the gift — before asking for payment. “Would you like to be added to our customer base?” the associate asks. “We’ll send you a birthday card.” Not many clothing retailers deliver this kind of old-school service. When they do, they often cre- ate a niche. Sales associate Sandra Speer, a 29-year veteran of the Co-Ed shop, explains how customer service contributes to the store’s success. “We try to meet our customers’ needs in any way we can,” Speer says. “We love our customers.” That includes loyal customers who live as far away as Dallas. One group travels from Dallas every two or three months to shop at the Co-Ed. Owner Linda Foster, the shop’s purchaser, has fashioned her own style of responding to customers’ needs. She invites them to trunk shows, parties, and special sales. Speer and two other sales clerks con- nect with customers by phone or on Facebook. Among small businesses, resilience is a key to success. With chang- es in the economy — especially Texas’ oil field economy — many retailers have lost their foothold. The downturns were happening long before smaller shops started losing to online retailers. The Co-Ed Shop gets lots of foot traffic during parades or other special events. On most days, however, walk-ins are not as common. But networking still draws customers. Foster was there when her mother, Maude Farris, opened the shop in 1960. With thoughtful customer service and selection, the Co-Ed shop, stocked floor to ceiling with fashions and gifts, shows no signs of slowing down — 59 years later. Subs & Dogs Larry Chaffins wanted to open a sandwich shop. That was in 1989 — some three decades ago — after Chaffins and his partner decided to sell their two Wendy’s restaurants in Tyler and Palestine. With all the fast food venues in town, the competition for dining dollars was stiff. Chaf- fins was determined to make it work. Today, after 30 years in Pal- estine, Larry and Jodie Chaf- fins, owners of Subs & Dogs, have stayed afloat by delivering great value and service and meeting customers’ expectations. Sitting inside a semi-private wooden booth while Jodie serves at the front counter and fills orders at the take-out window, Larry explains how his sandwich shop has survived for three decades. The Chaffins moved to Palestine to open a Wendy’s restaurant in the early 1980s. They sold their stores when their partner moved away. Feeling they had learned enough from owning the Wendy’s restaurants in Palestine and Tyler, the Chaffins decided to stay in Palestine to keep their children with the same schools, friends, and activities. After selling their shares in Wendy’s, the Chaffins opened Subs & Dogs in 1989 in the shopping center in the 2000 block of Crockett Road, next to Sherwin Williams. They had to work hard to break into the local market. “I had to prove myself to the customer,” Larry says. The Chaffins later moved their restaurant to its current free-stand- ing building on Palestine Avenue, which allows customers to drive up, order, and pay at a takeout window. At Subs & Dogs, great value means a lunch special – including half a sub, chips, and a drink – goes for about $5. The Chaffins keep costs low by avoiding franchise fees, owning their own building, and gener- ally employing just one part-time person. Working 12 hours a day, five days a week, the Chaffins open at 7 a.m. to serve breakfast and stay open until 7 p.m., offering a range of menu items for lunch and dinner, including hot dogs and baked potatoes, and a variety of subs, including deli-style, meatball, and al- ligator sausage. Another challenge for an independent restaurant: marketing. The Chaffins see advertising, word of mouth marketing, and support for some community events as the best ways to reach customers. Photos by Lisa Tang JANUARY 2019 31