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Are you being served?

Maureen Jordan
Thursday, December 03, 2009

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Saturday morning was spent shopping for produce for a special dinner that night. This event was in the planning for months and everything was locked in to be sensational. But there was one task that could make or break my mood – trekking through a supermarket, a joyless task on any occasion, or so I thought.

After a customary walk with our two labs, I hit the shops early, intent on buying the freshest of produce – greens, fruit, cheeses, and flowers. I wanted quality, at the best price, without stress. I don’t ask for much.

In Macleay Street, Potts Point, the trendy area in inner city Sydney, there are two markets: Woolworths where all the fresh food people hang out and Fratelli Fresh, literally right above Woollies. I parked right out the front. Perfect, now which one to choose?

The night was important. I wanted the best. And I get frustrated in supermarkets. They’re often cheaper but the endless aisles of junk and the almost unnatural exercise puts me in a spin. But the party was big and the expense considerable. “Hang that, it’s Christmas,” I thought, as my feet quickly directed me upstairs to the Italian providore.

It was a scorcher of a day but still early. The store’s doors had literally just opened. With my list in hand and my smallish handbag on my arm, I swung into action but was stopped in my tracks by the white hydrangeas

“They’re lovely, aren’t they?” said a smiling girl I later came to know as Miriam. “Those soft blue centres are so pretty.”  

Agreeing, I took two bunches, cheaper than any florist I’d seen.

The trolley started to fill — apricots, lychees, peaches, grapes, cherries, raspberries, blueberries... the colours alone were a delight. Searching for fresh horseradish, I bumped into Miriam again, who told me that one stalk not two would be ample and though they didn’t stock crème fraiche, it really was best with horseradish and beef. From there, it was all information gathering.

“You need cornichons? We don’t have any in stock but let me check with the kitchen.” (Fratelli has a restaurant on site too.) No luck, so Miriam pointed downwards with her finger and suggested I try there later.

All done, I veered the trolley to one of the counters manned by Miriam. She commented on my selection, seeming to appreciate all my purchases. Then she offered her recipe for an Italian dressing – she even wrote it down! With the tally rung up, I said I’d pay cash for a fresh baguette just delivered from Iggy’s Bakery. Simply irresistible. But Miriam said it was a gift. And she wished me a great evening as she helped load the manna from heaven into my car.

Oh, the cornichons – I nearly forgot. I ducked into Woolworths and was directed to aisle 12, selected two bottles which came to a tick over $6. I searched through my small open bag at the counter right in front of the checkout chick, found the coins and paid.  

“Madam, I need to check your bag,” the fresh food person said.

I let her carefully peruse the contents, thinking “that’s a bit rich. Upstairs I was given such great treatment. Down here my personal handbag is being checked in case I’m a thief.”

How different it is to shop in a small business? And how personal is the service? I’ve told so many people this story. Lots more will read it in this blog. What a shame big business just doesn’t get it.

Here are just some of Miriam’s strengths:
  • She was able to work out what she had in common with her customer.
  • She shared my shopping experience.
  • She gave me more than I had anticipated.
  • She made me happy.
  • She made me feel special – largely because she feels special where she works.
  • She made me want to be a better shopper!

I love small business, and the women who work so happily within them. Go girls…

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published: Thursday, December 03, 2009


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