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Why Did Local Borders Go Belly Up? Part II: Entitlement Maybe?

The big bookstore chain could've been a contender!

Geneva Patch reader Paula Krapf was dead on when, in response to of this two-part series on 200 bookstores including their St. Charles location, she wrote, “It's time for businesses of all stripes to get over the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. It doesn’t work.” How could she have known our final installment would be all about entitlement? I just love smart readers!

Because if there’s one thing that surpasses our previously addressed addiction to instant gratification, it’s the average American’s sense of entitlement. As Paula cogently pointed out, businesses are by no means immune to this self-destructive syndrome.

The late great and I often talked tackled this topic at length. He specifically slammed the lack of downtown Geneva shop customer friendly hours. Assuming folks will simply accommodate your schedule is a quick route to that going out of business sale. The Net’s open all the time. Some folks may climb Mt. Everest “because it’s there,” but your store ain’t exactly a 29,000-foot mountain.

After witnessing the long liquidation lines at the Matteson Borders, Tribune reporter/columnist Bonnie Miller Rubin lamented, “I couldn't help but wonder: If even one-tenth of these customers had been regulars, might this location have been spared?” Yeah! And if everyone in the Fox Valley gave me 10 bucks, I’d be rich. But other than my dashing good looks, why should they?

By that kind of thinking, you should be able to provide as unmemorable a shopping experience as possible and still expect customers to genuflect at your door? I don’t think so. The columnist added she was loyal to Borders because they believed in her neighborhood. No they didn’t! They “believed” in making a profit and abandoned her neighborhood when they couldn’t. 

And this “our existence is enough” entitlement mentality goes way beyond taking customers for granted. While I agreed with Patch Columnist of the Borders’ closings, I completely disagree with her assertion that her membership is worthwhile because, “In the long run, $25 a year is a small price to pay to help keep book stores afloat.”

No, no, no, no, no! The next time I see Beth I’m going to repeatedly whack her with a wet noodle. Neither Barnes & Noble nor are the customer—WE ARE! It’s not up to us to save them from themselves. The worst thing we can possibly do is blindly support their lack of good judgment. Look at how well that’s worked out for the Cubs!

And that lack of good judgment starts with these “membership” programs. Does anyone else out there understand the insanity of paying for the privilege of shopping at a store? I barely put up with those free loyalty cards. If you want to save me money, just do it.

And if you truly valued your customers, you wouldn’t try to wring every last dime out of us every time we visit your store. If it isn’t the checkout clerk dutifully selling us that membership, it’s your café staff trying to get us to upgrade from a small coffee to a Cadillac Escalade.

I don’t know if Borders is as bad, but an ex Barnes & Noble employee told me how they’re trained and required to up-sell café customers half of the menu. Having to fend off your store’s constant pick-pocketing advances gets tiresome. Playing hard to get isn’t always a bad thing. Nothing gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling like being treated like a walking dollar sign. Talk about entitlement!

At least Barnes & Noble still has a human help desk, but within four years, they’ll be gone, too. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Give me a combination of reasonable prices and good service, and I’ll be back. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Have you been to Traders Joe’s lately? No loyalty card, no membership—just good products at decent prices with exceptional service. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out why that Batavia store is always packed on weekends despite the vast competition.

Don’t tell me price is ultimate consideration either, because if it was, we’d all be buying groceries at . seems to be doing just fine.

Does anyone remember Danny DeVito’s soliloquy from the movie Other People’s Money? Watch it again here. It may be brutal, but it’s dead on, because there is another American tradition I do like.

It’s the one where a business that fails to adapt and change fades away so that someone with a better idea gets a shot.

Paula Krapf March 02, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Jeff - Thanks for allowing me to get on my soapbox; I'm glad I found a kindred spirit! Good products, decent service, reasonable prices - it's really not complicated, but it's amazing how many retailers hurt themselves by being inflexible, unfriendly and overpriced. We really try hard to shop local, but we won't return if we aren't treated well. No red carpet needed, just good service, a willingness to talk to customers who have questions and - for the highly motivated - a desire to build lasting relationships with people who are regulars . TJ's is a great example ... maybe we should create an honor roll of local businesses who do it right as a reward to them and as a potential lesson for any retailer who wants to learn.
Jeff Ward March 02, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Paula, I love the honor roll idea! The first Geneva business I'd start with is Great Harvest Bread on Third near State!
Paula Krapf March 02, 2011 at 07:41 PM
Oooh, great example! I'll start with Nosh, 211 James St. (off Third).
Jeff Ward March 02, 2011 at 09:18 PM
Whenever I dare to buy my wife clothes, the good folks at Merra-Lee are always very helpful!
Paula Krapf March 02, 2011 at 09:33 PM
That's very true - they are great at helping pick outfits AND accessories. Serenity at 228 South 3rd Street has great hand-crafted jewelry, service and prices.

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