Photo by Janice Waltzer / CC BY

When I was 12 years old, my parents bought a grocery store. Much of my teen years were spent working in the family business. That was 50 years ago. The world and the world of business have changed, but some of the truths I learned 50 years ago continue to be relevant.

Know Your Business

My father had over 20 years’ experience working in and managing groceries before going into business for himself. He worked full time for a national chain while attending college and worked his way from stock boy to general manager. He spent time as a sales representative for a grocery supplier, and he continued as a convenient store district manager when he first owned the store. He knew what he was doing.

Offer Great Customer Service

I was taught at an early age that, without customers, we had nothing. I was taught to greet customers as they entered the store, ask if I could assist them, and help them find what they needed. I’ve carried groceries home for a customer, allowed a regular to pay my dad the next day, and offered a friendly ear when someone needed to be heard.

Follow Routines

Our store hours were 7 am to 11 pm. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to close early, but I wouldn’t consider it. It was part of the routine. Every night the shelves were restocked, dusted, and faced. The floors were mopped, before closing, seven days a week. Money was counted, noted in a ledger, and locked in the safe nightly. When a new employee was hired these routines were shared.

Marketing Means Meeting Customer Needs

My mom and dad kept track of our stock—what sold and what sat on the shelves. They’d analyze and experiment with products, and they not only listened to customers but sought feedback. They asked for advice from vendors and solicited ideas from employees.

Advertising Doesn’t Mean Expensive Ads

I’m not certain we ever ran newspaper ads, and I know we never advertised on TV or radio.  What I do know is we took advantage of what we had. Signs, which were hand painted on paper, offering weekly specials were posted in our windows. Displays promoting new products or seasonal themes were added to aisles and end-caps. And discounts, such as, two for one or buy three and get one free, were offered.

All of this was 50 years ago, and while the world may have changed, good business practices aren’t all that different. Where did you learn about business and what lessons have you retained?

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