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Screw the castle, provide the service PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   

ImageI visited the Sears store in Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre the other day. It was a complete mess; the escalators were not working, there were racks in the aisles and there were curtains strung about hiding the activity. I asked an associate what was going on. He replied "a major renovation."

This in a store that rarely has enough staff and one where they all complain their raises are small and the hours are frequently cut. I don't shop in a store because of marble floors, crystal lighting or hand-crafted carpets. I shop where I will get high quality goods at a fair price with the assistance I need, when I need it.

I visit a local hotel weekly for a business meeting. They have spent over $10 million over the past while on renovations including a white carpet (how dumb is that!) and the resurfacing of their parking lot, which has caused enormous inconvenience for all guests. The staff is pleasant but clearly over-worked. Which management VIP determined that a white carpet was better than a few more people assisting the people who pay for their service? If there was any justice in the world, he or she should be, at best, demoted and, more properly, let go.

I voted in the advance poll in the upcoming Ontario election. There was no parking provided; so after entering the facility I asked (subtly) "who was the idiot who picked a location without parking?" The returning officer declared she was that person and claimed the site was wheelchair accessible since it was on the first floor. So the handicapped could enter but only after being unable to get to the building? Is thinking a near-extinct attribute for those in charge?

My mother lives in one of the finest retirement homes in Winnipeg. The other evening, she and her companions at their table waited 35 minutes to be served, and then learned that the residence was replacing sheer draperies that had been installed only a year ago. So the costs of living there will continue to rise while the service will continue to deteriorate. Ridiculous!

The Taj Mahal may be a wonderful monument, but unless you have more millions than Bill Gates; consider what your customers want, find strategies to provide for those wants and park your ego at the door - it's more dangerous than a gun. Don't build a glitzy store that will cost you more in upkeep, taxes and utilities than is reasonable to expect. Instead, invest in your people and spend a little more on advertising and promotion.

The next time you're tempted to tart-up your store consider this: clean is good, convenience is important as is a well-trained pleasant staff who are appreciated and well-compensated. If you need a castle, build it out of Popsicle sticks. Don't foist it on your customers.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay. She recently started her own business Concierge Relocation ( Her company specializes in move management, especially for those dramatically downsizing seniors and their overwhelmed children.

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