Small Business Connection  Part 2

In our communities, it’s the small businesses that embody the principles we hold dear: honesty, integrity, fair pricing and a commitment to excellence. Small businesses that operate by these principles have earned our respect and they need our loyalty. BUY SMALL.

IMG_0316Let me give you an example of such a business. My wife drives an old red truck. Even though the odometer says 250,000 miles the truck still runs pretty good. It has big wide tires and is jacked up 4 inches so everyone can see her driving down the street. A pretty lady in a big red truck is not a bad way to be recognized.

We put about $500 a year in truck maintenance to keep it on the road, but that’s cheap when you compare it to a new truck payment. When we look at the truck, we think it still looks good except for one thing: the front bumper. It’s tilted down and looks like we had an accident and never repaired it. We kept saying we should get it fixed, but just hadn’t done it. We finally decided it was time and took Big Red to a local small business called Hollywood Finishes in Keller,Texas. I’d used them before to repair my daughter’s Jeep. The owner had suggested a repair that looked good and also saved us a lot of money. That was especially good since the problem wasn’t covered under our insurance. Hollywood Finishes had already shown that they were focused on making the repair fit my needs and my pocketbook.

Back to the red truck. The owner took a look at the bumper and said, “We can straighten it by adjusting the supports.” I asked “How much?” He said “Not too much, $85.” Sounded great to me. After a few days, I went to pick up Big Red and was ready to pay the $85.  That’s when the owner said the price had changed. I winced. Then he said, “The total is $70.” I said, “That’s not enough. You told me $85.” He smiled and said, “That’s right, but it was easier than I thought.” I was amazed. He did a great job, at a lower price than I was quoted and lower than I was prepared to pay. He could have charged me the $85 and I would have still been happy, but he didn’t. He put his honor above profit and honesty above gain.


When I talked to him about it he said, “It’s just business, the old school way.” I just can’t get that comment out of my head. Business the old school way. If the old school way is good quality work at a reasonable price then what’s the new way? My fear is that the new way may be poor quality at an inflated price. I don’t believe that as businesses grow they need to leave their morals and ethics behind. Please don’t misunderstand, there are many large businesses that have stayed true to what they believe. They are great examples of truth and honor in business. I am just suggesting that we should all seek out those companies, whether small or large. We should spend our money where we believe in the ethics of a company. Our purchases are our votes. Vote your morals and ethics with your purchasing power.


So how did Hollywood Finishes score?

Honesty A+
Integrity A+
Quality A+
Fair Pricing A++

Since small businesses are the most sensitive to toxic practices in the marketplace they require our close attention and feeding. They live and die by reputation and word of mouth. If you agree that our dollars are our votes of confidence, then you probably would also agree with my rule.


Seek out the small local companies in your area and use their products and services. Find the local restaurants and sample the local dishes prepared by local hands. Frequent them regularly and be sure to compliment them when the food and service excel. But there is another way to help these establishments, tell them when there are ways they can improve. Helping them to continuously improve is good for them and great for the neighborhood. If they fail,  you will have an empty store front and another dead canary.IMG_0324Another example.  In the back of my property there is a small creek. Near the creek we built a treehouse. Now don’t jump to conclusions, this is just a few boards and a wooden ladder, but my grandsons love it. The grass and weeds can grow up pretty high back there so it needs to be mowed from time to time.

IMG_0319I have an old riding mower that has definitely seen better days. One day it just stopped working. It  wouldn’t start, wouldn’t even make a starting sound. Advantage went to the grass and  weeds for the time being.


In my neighborhood, there’s a small repair shop, Gary’s Small Engine Repair in Keller,Texas. It is a family run business, with the wife in the front dealing with customers and the husband in the back, repairing everything from chain saws, to leaf blowers, to mowers. I dropped in to see what they thought. The wife said the waiting list to work on riding mowers was about 3 weeks long.  She could have said “Put your name on the list and we’ll call when you can bring it in.” But that’s not what she said. “Tell me what it’s doing and maybe you can repair it yourself.” Was I dreaming? Instead of focusing on the profit they could make from repairing my mower, she was helping me diagnose the problem and suggested I fix it myself.

I kept thinking about what my other small business said, “Doing business the old school way. Maybe I’ve discovered something. The old way must mean putting the customer first. She laid out some things, step by step, that I could go back and try. But there was another thing she did that surprised me. She said, “After you try that, come back and tell me what you found and then we can look at the next step.”

Expert advice with no talk about money, is this the old school way? I followed her steps and eliminated the possible problem areas one by one. I decided it must be the starter, so I removed it from the mower and went back to see my new friend. As I was standing there talking to her, the husband came up from the back. He asked me to hand him the starter and follow him around to his shop. There, he tested the starter and said, “Nope, starter’s just fine.”

He could have handed it back to me and gone back to his work, but he didn’t. He said, “Follow the starter backwards and check each component until you finally check the switch itself. Don’t forget the safety switches. One under the seat and another under the lever that activates the blade. If those aren’t working the mower is locked out.” Again, customer first. I did what he suggested and sure enough the safety switch under the lever was out of alignment. I moved it so that the lever and switch touched each other, held my breath, and turned the key. The mower started and I felt great. I did it. Well, we did it. What did this small business get for their unselfish advice to me? I’ll tell you what they got. My loyalty and whole hearted endorsement to all my friends and neighbors.

How did Gary’s Small Engine Repair score?

Honesty A+
Integrity A+
Quality A+
Fair Pricing A++

Many years ago when I first started working in Water Treatment, I spoke to an esteemed colleague and asked him his secret to success.  He thought for several minutes and relied, “Put the customer first, the rest will take care of its self.”

Putting the customer first might be old school to some, but there are businesses that follow this principle. Small businesses can be a great example of meeting the needs of the customer with honesty, integrity, quality, fair pricing, and follow up.
Spend your money in your neighborhood. Seek out and support those small businesses that do business the old way, the right way. Do your part. Save the canaries.


Steve Haberly

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