Is Anyone Home?

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THE FOLLOWING IS A TRUE STORY, with names changed to protect identities.

The leather-clad 53-year-old VFR rider, holding his insect-speckled helmet with a gloved hand, walked in from the street through the swinging doors of the recently remodeled Long Branch Powersports Store. His legs, bowed from the last five hours of riding, welcomed the stretch provided by the short walk across the new-bike showroom on his way to the parts-and-accessories counter.

Nuzzling up to the 40-inch-tall bar top as if he were ready to order a frosty beer, the veteran set his helmet gingerly next to a broken-in pair of kangaroo gloves still holding the shape of his handlebar grips as they lay on the finger-smudged glass. He looked around. He waited.

And waited.

A teenage stock boy with an iPod headset in his ears pulled oil bottles from a box with his left hand and stacked them neatly in a pyramid on the other side of the accessories floor. With his right hand, the boy texted someone on his cell phone. His back was facing our intrepid traveler, but each knew of the other's presence because they exchanged looks just 30 seconds earlier.

Laughing voices came from behind the exhaust-system-decorated slat wall separating the parts department from the accessory displays and the counter.

No one was watching the store, which prompted the grizzled sport-touring customer to first think of a famous Rodney Dangerfield statement, but instead he voiced the less poignant question "Is anyone home?"

The stock boy looked around but made no comment or motion toward the counter. A plasma screen exhibiting Travis Pastrana sky-diving stunts was on at low volume near the ceiling line.

From behind the separating parts wall walked a parts clerk in his late teens or early 20s. He might have been more than a clerk, but his greeting of "Whasssup?" seemed not to indicate a higher ranking.

The rider needed a new replacement tinted face shield for his helmet. The old one was heavily scratched from six months of daily riding and constant wiping with a terry rag and plastic polish. He flipped out his AmEx Platinum card while also asking for a bottle of Rain-X — good call since thundershowers were predicted for the next few days.

Two simple requests. But then the phone rang behind the counter. The 20-something clerk picked up the receiver — mid face-shield search — with the familiar words, "Long Branch, Whasssup?"

Obviously the person on the line was younger and cooler than the veteran rider standing at the counter. The phone conversation was strewn with multiples of sweet, awesome and like, and went on for three minutes, then four, then six. The interruption appeared to be more of a social call than a business one.

All the while the rider/customer leaned patiently against the counter, waiting for his face shield that was stocked in the back room — not on the accessory floor.

It got old — fast.

The road warrior had been regularly riding his last 30 years and expected better, more polite customer service when paying retail prices. That would include a little more of a formal greeting and higher priority than phone customers. Eye contact and a question like "Where'd you ride in from, partner?" would be more welcoming than "Whasssup?"

Customers over 35 expect to receive better service at a destination store than a phone customer — after all they drove there and walked in. We could all let our fingers do more walking with a phone keypad or computer keyboard, but if we want it now, we go to the brick-and-mortar store. The operative word is now.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your age, oldsters make up the bulk of buyers with the bulk of discretionary dollars. They have high expectations for in-store customer service — as we should because we're older and remember what it used to be like.

But to the near minimum-waged youngsters, wired, connected and multitasking their way through the day, the 40-, 50- and 60-somethings are often invisible or, at the least, a minor nuisance.

What's wrong with this picture? Youngsters working retail are seeking the path of least resistance. Older customers are seeking the best-quality experience in exchange for their dollars.

You need to call a truce inside your store, but I suspect it will have to start with the young retail workers. If the younger staffs of powersports dealerships reach out a little more to older shoppers, they will spend a lot more money in your store.

Longtime columnist Eric Anderson is vice president of Scorpion Sports. Contact him at eric@scorpionusa.com or via editors@dealernews.com.