Why I am in your store [commentary]

I could never really run a business, but I did have an amazing business idea come to me one time, in a dream - literally. I woke up and was like, "This is a brilliant idea."

I don't want to say too much because someone might steal it. But I will tell you the type of business it would be: combination cafe and bookstore. (Sounds impractical, right? Since bookstores and cafes are dropping like flies?) I won't tell you the theme or name, because that is the best part. I Googled it and someone in Australia had the same idea, but I still like it.

Like I said, though, I don't see myself ever actually running a business, as I have no real ability to deal with anything financial. I can barely figure out how to split a check at a large dinner out.

I mostly just like the idea of designing a space, buying little knick-knacks and finding things to sell. So I could "run a business" if someone else was actually doing the practical stuff and "keeping the books," as it were.

I do, however, spend a fair amount of time in area stores and restaurants, big and small, old and new, usually while waiting for a council meeting to start.

This made me start thinking about what keeps me coming back to certain ones while steering clear of others. What makes one business desirable while another one leaves you cold?

I won't list specific places I'm talking about, but as one Aegis contributor likes to say, "They know who they are." If you see me in your store or restaurant a lot, chances are good you do most of these things!

1. Have a great product. This should go without saying, but I'm saying it because I have seen, for instance, coffee shops where employees can't assemble a cup of coffee (in this very county). If your entire "raison d'etre" is to make coffee, a process that invariably involves assembling cups of coffee, then you better be good at it. Just saying.

2. Don't be a jerk to your employees - or at least don't let me see you doing it. Sometimes I'll see a manager or supervisor boss around an underling, or be obviously surly with them. Maybe managers think this reassures customers that "someone's really in charge," but, unless the employee did something truly terrible or illegal, it doesn't. Most people realize that having a "bossy" boss doesn't make you want to work harder; it makes you want to quit. So when I see someone get bossed around or yelled at by their manager, it makes me worried that the employee is bitter, hates their job and will take it out on me, the customer, by spitting in my food, or worse. That's why respecting employees has everything to do with customer service.

3. Play music! I like all kinds of music and will enter pretty much any business that is playing it. Classical, rap, jazz, Andalusian folk music, even Matchbox 20 – just pick a song and go with it. Sometimes if there are enough people in the place to create a nice cacophony, it can be a substitute for music. But if I'm alone, I don't like dead silence. Once I walked into a store in Washington, D.C., that was playing David Bowie and I immediately knew I liked it. Any business that puts on an obscure Bowie song like "Cat People" can't be too bad.

4. All your staff should be nice and helpful. It's easy for a manager to care, but I like to see that random employees, especially ones who are less "important," are friendly and are clearly trying their best. You can usually tell when everyone buys into the mission or vision of the place and is committed to helping each other out. This often spells the difference between me coming back to the business or not. A little kindness goes a long way, but so does a little rudeness.

5. Don't try to sell me stuff. A new filter and windshield wipers on top of my oil change? Of course I'll take that! Oh wait, no, I won't. I don't like being sold stuff I don't need – and don't try to tell me what I need. I will return to businesses that don't sell me stuff and avoid the ones that do – so, ironically, the places with overeager salespeople will lose more business.

Now for the "interactive" portion of this column. I'd like to hear what you like or don't like about certain businesses. What keeps you coming back to a place, or what keeps you away? Tell me at bzumer@theaegis.com (or Tweet at @Bryna_TheAegis). If I get any amount of answers, I'll try to publish them in a future column.

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