A lifetime ago New Zealand was a different place. There was no such thing as big-box retailing and we all still shopped at local retailers owned by people we knew. Sure, the selection was less rich, but it made things far simpler. Best of all, the fact that the person selling us vegetables, the latest Phillips HiFi systems, or servicing our Mk1 Cortina, probably lived just around the corner from us and was involved in the same community groups that we were made good service a real imperative.

One of the earliest forays into a new type of retailing was from a company by the name of LV Martin and son. Started in the 1930’s, my earliest memories of the business were of TV ads featuring Alan Martin, presumably the said son of LV. Each advert finished up with Alan clearly stating “If it’s not right we’ll put it right and it’s the putting right that counts.” Essentially Alan’s angle was that, instead of buying from little Mum and Dad shops with tiny scale, buying from the Martin clan meant you’d have the heft to get better prices, but the personal service and after-sales care that you were used to from your local store would still be there. The best of both worlds. And it stood LV Martin in good stead, the company survived until only a few years ago when it was acquired by Smith’s City – that’s close to 80 years and three generations, not at all bad for retailing.

I was thinking of the old Martin family and their focus on customer service recently as I navigated my ill-fated door handle journey. You see, about a decade ago I spent a year building our house. As the slightly obsessive-compulsive person I am, when it came to choosing architectural hardware, I did a lot of research and finally found someone who, like the Martin’s, had his name above the front door. Nick was a gent and gave me a good deal on the house lot of latches, handles and stays that I needed.

Fast forward to the other week when the handle of our back door snapped. Somewhat naively, I figured it would be just like in the LV Martin days and hence I took the handle back into the store to ask about warranties and to acquire another unit.

The person behind the counter had an approach that would make old Alan Martin spin in his grave – they denied any knowledge of the person who sold me the handles (yes, this despite the business still bearing his name) and didn’t even answer my question about whether these handles have a warranty or not. Realizing I wasn’t going to get anywhere, I just ordered and paid for a new handle and was told it would be a week away.

When a week rolled around, I went into the store to pick up the handle, only to realize that, while I had ordered a single unit, said salesperson had ordered a double set. Now that’s all fine, I’m well aware the mistakes happen, but their response was to suggest that I had made a mistake and that getting the right thing would be a huge imposition on their valuable time.

It is the putting right that counts, right?

Now I realize we’re in a world where price trumps everything. I also realize that the days of the customer always being right are long gone. In this day of razor-thin margins and comparison shopping by phone, the number one focus is on getting the sale and beating the competitors’ pricing. But still, at some point given how much choice consumers now have, the thought of doing battle with someone who clearly doesn’t appreciate your custom won’t be worth the few dollars saved.

I’m not suggesting that we should bow to the most onerous of demands from petulant customers. At Cactus Outdoor we’ve had our fair share of people taking the mickey and wanting freebies. But our default remains the same: our aim is to have the customer leave the store (or the website, for that matter) pleased with their experience and looking forward to their next visit.

It’s a simple ambition, and one that harks back to a quaint old man with a very simple promise: “If it’s not right we’ll put it right and it’s the putting right that counts.”



Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • I had an experience like that at Farmers, when I was a teenager. I desperately wanted a Wah Pedal for my guitar. I applied for finance in the Hobson Street Store as even back then they were expensive, and my only income was from my holiday jobs. I had to buy it on HP as I was still at school and filled out loads of paperwork. I caught the bus home to Titirangi from the city with my new treasure and it didn’t work. I went back a couple of days later, taking back my faulty treasure, and they said they would have it repaired or replaced and gave me a docket. A week later they didn’t have any news and after another week, I decided to take the bull by the horns and went back in and saw the same woman at the credit counter. She said she didn’t know anything about it, couldn’t find any matching paperwork and made some derisory comment, saying “What is a Wah Pedal anyway?” I tried to explain and she thought it was funny that I would spend a lot of money on a pedal that makes a noise like ‘wah wah wah’. Long story short, they lost my pedal, tried to claim they never received it from me, and basically showed me the door. I didn’t complete the payments, and then had debt collectors call on me. For a few years my credit record was besmirched. Guess where I stopped shopping forever?

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