During the recession, it’s been business as usual at River Ridge Hardware and Rental on Spokane’s North Side. Sales took just a slight dip, and no full-time employees lost their jobs.
The secret? The store considers itself a neighbor to its customers. It hosts a Halloween party every year, and employees often deliver goods to home-bound customers.
This customer-first attitude was initiated by owner Brian Poirier, who bought the store in 1983. The attitude is carried out each day by Scott Banick, store manager, who plans to purchase the store from Poirier in the near future.
Recently, Banick, 37, sat down for a “Wise Words” interview where he connected the dots between customer service and surviving tough economic times.
•From a young age I’ve always been employed. There was a little grocery store in Electric City called H & H Grocery. I would stock their coolers and sweep their floors. I made $2.25 an hour. I learned in that first job to always take on whatever job needs to be done.
•When you work in a place for so long, in a neighborhood like this, you really get to know your customers. There are kids who used to come over from Finch (Elementary) when they were in second grade, and now they come in with their kids and say, “I remember when you used to sell me candy.”
•We’re on our 11th annual Halloween party. We went from 50 people the first year to about 1,000 people now. We have two big jump castles. We have an electronic basketball shoot. We have putt-putt golf. We have bowling. We have bean bag tosses.
We give out candy – six, 33-gallon garbage cans full. And 1,200 cookies. One of our customers is a baker for Rosauers. He custom-makes the cookies for us. We usually go through about 20 gallons of hot spiced cider. Another one of our customers does all the maintenance for the Garland Theater. So he brings us like four huge bags of popcorn.
We do it as a thank you to the neighborhood. They shop with us. I mean, they could go somewhere else.
•We deliver birdseed to older people. There are several elderly ladies who feed the birds and can’t do the big bags, and they’ll call every month or so and ask, “Is there any way you can drop it off?”
•We’ve also shoveled walks for people. Two years ago, I took our tractor home, and on my way I saw seven or eight of our regular customers out there shoveling the big berms the snowplows made, and I scooped everyone’s berms out.
•Right now on the payroll, I have 24 people. They range in age from 18 to about 70. Did we have to lay anyone off in the recession? No. We have seasonal help, and they know it’s seasonal going into it. But full-time people – we have 18 – and they have full benefits and not one of them lost their jobs.
•During the winter, I could lay people off. It would definitely help the bottom line. But then when spring comes around, you don’t have those people. You have new employees the customers aren’t familiar with. Customers like the employees who say, “Hey, Bob, how’s it going?”
•When I interview, I look for attitude. You can give me a résumé that shows you worked 25 years at a hardware store. That means nothing to me. I would rather hire some guy who works at the neighborhood pizza place who is outgoing and friendly than a gruffy old guy who has the knowledge. You can train anybody, but you can’t train their personality.
•I was hiring for cashiers this spring. This is a down job market. I pay more than minimum wage. I’m not looking for any experience or anything. One day, I had my first appointment at 10. Didn’t call. Didn’t show.
Second interview at 10:45. Didn’t show. At 11, she called. She said, “I let time get away from me. Can I still come in?” I said, “No, sorry. I have a whole day of interviews and, unfortunately, you missed yours, so better luck with your next interview somewhere.”
And then the third lady comes in. She was on time. We were in here for two seconds and her cell phone was ringing. I’m just thinking, wow. I always ask this in interviews: “If there’s one thing I should know about you, what should it be?” One gal I asked that to said, “I can be kind of crabby.”
I interviewed about eight people for the position. The person who got it had a great attitude. Outgoing, very friendly. Not a lot of hesitation when I asked a question. On time for the interview, cell phone off.
•One piece of advice for young people applying for a job? Take it seriously, even if it’s your first job. That job will lead to references later in life. You have to start somewhere.
•In a recession like this, people are more budget-minded. So why would they go somewhere they will have poor service? Anywhere you go, you should demand good service. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a recession or not.
•Were people repairing a lot more in this recession? Yes. A lot of these people had never done anything around the house. Before they would hire it done, and now they were trying to tackle it themselves. They found out it wasn’t that hard, and why did they pay $50 an hour when they could do this?
•What do I hope my daughters are learning from hanging out at the store? That you always have to work hard. You always have to be at work on time. If something needs to be done, it gets done. You need a good work ethic for the rest of your life.
•Eventually, we’re going to slowly pull out of the recession, but we will never be where we were. Where we were was hyper-inflated. That’s why we’re in the mess we are now.