To end the week in our usual food-themed way, I want to talk about a piece of advice I was given a long time ago. I thought it concerned shopping and it turns out it’s important business advice as well. I’ll admit that it was given to me in a different time, when much of the food didn’t come from a supermarket the size of several airplane hangers. Shopping involved going to the butcher or the cheese store as well as the larger store where one would get grocery items and the advice was to make friends. Despite the change in store sizes, it’s still great advice for shopping and business. Let me explain.
I’ve written about how Italian grandmothers shop. They believe it’s their fundamental right to take home the best of each item every time. The only real way to do this in the case of non-produce items such as meat, fish, and cheese, is to speak to the vendor and ask about the inventory and to taste where appropriate. To get good answers, one made friends with them. Shopping was personal.
Today, one can shop without ever interacting with a store worker. But there’s a reason we talk to vendors: They know their products and how to work with them. I’ve learned some great cooking tricks from fish-mongers and butchers, and I think this applies to other vendors we deal with in business today.
When was the last time you had something other than an email interaction with many of your vendors? How many of them, stupidly, try to limit their interaction with you by charging you for “support” even though the better use you make of their product the more likely you are to renew? We need to “make friends” with our business partners, even if they’re just “suppliers” or “vendors.” Like the butcher, they might even put something special aside for you as a favorite customer – early access to new tools, better pricing, etc. Filling out an online support ticket and waiting for the response is the business equivalent of buying fish in a plastic-wrapped tray. Maybe you get a great result or maybe the whole thing just smells.
I try to shop in places where I can make friends. If your supermarket doesn’t have butchers and cheese-mongers, find a new place to shop. If your business partners limit human contact and the possibility of “making friends,” you need new vendors.