The depreciation of loyalty

Not that long ago, being loyal was a commendable trait.

It was something that people looked for in others, and that people strived to be in personal and business relationships.

Being loyal was praised, noteworthy, and, at times, rewarded, as Granny discovered one morning.

The old gal came in giddy as a school girl with a cupcake, clutching a small silver tray in her hands.

“Lookey what I got,” she exclaimed, showing off her pretty.

“What is it?” Mama asked, barely looking up from her crossword.

“It’s a silver tray,” Granny said.

“What did you get it for?” Mama asked.

“It was a gift,” Granny said.
“That’s nice,” Mama replied.

“Don’t you want to know who gave it to me?” the old gal asked.

Mama sighed, realizing Granny was not going to leave her to her crossword in peace until she did. “Okay, who gave it to you?”

“I got it at Sanders’ furniture. I went by there to look at recliners – your daddy is about due for a new chair – and I popped in and they called me over there and gave me this lovely silver tray.” She held it up for Mama’s inspection. “Ain’t it fancy?”

Now, the little silver tray was not anything super special. It was maybe about 5 inches long and three inches wide, not big enough to be used as a serving tray, so I had no idea what use Granny would have for it.

But to Granny, it was one of the finest things she had.

It was free, and it was given to her in a gesture of appreciation, two things the old gal loved.

Mama was suddenly intrigued. “They gave you that just because you were in there looking at a chair?” she asked.

“Yup. It was for customer appreciation. I ain’t heard of that before, but I sure do like it. I think other places need to start giving me something when I go in there.”

Mama twisted her mouth. “I bought a sofa and loveseat in there last month. Where’s my tray?”

“You’ll need to go up there and get it,” Granny said.

And Mama did. She delayed finishing her crossword long enough to drive to town to find out what this customer appreciation thing was about.

When she returned, she had her own tray. We were suddenly a two-tray family then. But more importantly, Mama and Granny felt like their business was appreciated, which made them loyal customers.

Being valued as a customer was something that for a brief while was the norm.

Even if it the little gifts were branding for the business to give them free advertising, it was a token of appreciation and made us feel good about doing business with the company.

At least until some places started offering discounts and incentives to entice people to switch from their tried and true companies. It worked too. People would fall for the bait and change who and where they did their business.

Not me. I came from a family that had two silver trays because of their loyalty.

Several years ago, I called to see if I could take advantage of a special deal with our then satellite service.

“That’s just for new customers,” I was told.

“I have been a customer for eight years,” I protested.

“I see that your contract is up,” the rep told me.

“What does that mean?”

“It means we can set you up as a new customer, which would give you the special rate for two years and give you new receivers.”

“And after two years?”

“After two years, just tell us you need to set up a new account again.”

That part was a lie.

But, I still stuck with them for about five more years until I finally switched to another one. It was only after some horrible customer service experience made me pull the plug, but I did.

The new satellite service seemed thrilled to have my business, too.

I still felt ambivalent about the whole thing. I had been a long-time customer of the other company; didn’t they care they lost my business?

Just a few weeks ago, I needed to replace a phone.

I have been with my cell phone provider for 12 years and through many, many phones.

Not only did I need to replace one phone, I wanted to add a line for my child.

I went in to the store and asked what phones I could get for free – I am all about free. I get it honestly; remember the silver trays?

I was told there were no free options for me and they would not be able to waive activation fees.

“But, if you were a new customer you could get brand new iPhones.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The guy who barely looked older than my teenager didn’t even blink. “Oh, no. I don’t kid about free iPhones. But you can’t get the offer if you are a new customer.”

Needless to say, I left.

I called a few days later and was told the same thing.

“If you were a new customer, we could give you free iPhones. But, you’re not. You’ve been with us a while.”

“So, I am basically punished because I have been a loyal customer?” I asked.

The person on the other end of the phone didn’t respond.

I went online to a competitor. “Looking to switch and add a line,” I wrote in the window.

“We are so happy to have you! Let me tell you the awesome deals we have for you!”

It was a bittersweet victory.

The company I had been with for close to 13 years didn’t seem to care they were losing my business – they were giving away free iPhones, so there were dozens of people to take my place.

But the new cell phone company was delighted to have acquired my business.

I felt dirty, used and abuse.

All I wanted was a free phone.

But unlike the days of the silver trays, customer loyalty was not rewarded.

The Young Entrepreneur (4/22/2015)

My earliest job was before I even started kindergarten, with my Pop teaching me how to write so I could hand write his invoices. I was paid a whole dollar a week and I am sure the weekly trips to the store for candy were included in my wages.

By the time I had graduated high school, my resume was quite lengthy.

My jobs had ranged from working in retail — where I lied about my age and bought so many clothes that Mama somehow still had to give me money — to being such a terrible waitress, the owner of the restaurant actually paid me when I told her I was quitting and told me not to worry about working a notice.

There was a brief stint as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly one summer, where I am not even sure if I worked long enough to get paid. It had nothing to do with my work ethic and everything to do with the fact my friend, who was my ride, ceremoniously quit one day.

Lamar’s early work history was as lengthy as mine, but far more dangerous. He lied about his age, too, when he was 15, but it was to hang steel not hanging dresses at Cato.

Given the fact we both had our share of yucky jobs, one of the things we have preached to Cole is to figure out a career path early on.

Mine may have been straighter had I listened to Mama. Don’t tell her that; I am still getting law school brochures I never requested.

Lamar tells Cole to always use his brain and not his back. Cole listens intently to his father’s advice, nodding his affirmation that he will use his brain.

“Follow your bliss and you never work a day in your life,” is my advice.

“Where did your bliss get you?” Cole asked.

Good grief, I muttered under my breath.

Why does this child have to analyze everything?

So far, I am waiting for my bliss to find a clear path but it hasn’t happened.

I lied and told Cole bliss is also the journey and the experience that can lead you to several other great opportunities.

He soaked that all in until he said: “So, what you’re saying is, you haven’t found bliss yet, right?”

Not yet.

The last few weeks, Cole had been trying to decide between a basketball hoop and a new bike. After he broke down the price with his allowance, he announced he would be 12 before he got either one. “I need more allowance,” he said.

“You can always do more stuff around here,” I offered. “If you want to do some more chores, we don’t mind giving you more allowance.”

“How much more?” he asked.

“Well, it depends on what you do.”

“What will I need to do to get about $100?” he asked sincerely.

That would be a lot of dishes, dusting and other miscellaneous duties he would have to do. And I would need a part time job to pay him for the extra chores.

“I need a job,” he stated.

Off to his room he went.

After a while, he emerged, sign in hand which stated: “The Pig Shack Is Open For Business – With Prices so Low, Pigs go Mad.”

The Pig Shack has had many variations over the years – it began a few years ago as a café, where Cole posted a menu of peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade, but soon realized restaurants were tricky ventures. And we were out of peanut butter and lemonade.

The next incarnation of The Pig Shack was a thrift store, where Cole offered his toys, Pokemon cards and other assorted items for sale. The kicker was, he wanted us to pay for them and then give them back to him afterwards.

The Pig Shack had a good run as a friendship bracelet store a few summers ago, when those plastic band bracelets were in style.

I told Cole he was following the trend but the coupons he gave us for free products ate heavily into any profit. And those plastic bands were not cheap and guess who the supplier was?

The Pig Shack has even been an art museum, where Cole would display his art work.

“Are you re-opening The Pig Shack?” I asked, giving a nod to the sign.

“Kind of,” he replied. “I think I have a solid slogan, I just need to build on this concept.”

“What did you have in mind?”

Cole stood in front of me, poised to deliver a speech.

“I think I am ready to open up The Pig Shack for investors. My biggest problem in the past has been not having enough fundage to support my efforts. I can’t do it on my allowance alone, and let’s face it, Mama, The Pig Shack could have a worldwide fan base – if I had the right backing.

“So, I am hoping you and Daddy will invest in The Pig Shack and help me expand into maybe a bigger area. You know, beyond home. And I think I will need some marketing and advertising, so I will need a budget for that. I also need more merchandise to sell, which takes money.

So, I am opening up The Pig Shack for investors.”

Where he came up with this, I do not know. But I was impressed.

“What will my percentage of the business be?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if I give you money, how much of The Pig Shack will be mine?”

He hadn’t thought about this. He wanted money; not people to have their fingers in his pie.

“I thought you would just give me money….” he began.

“I understand what you thought, but, if you have investors, they need something in return.”

He considered this. “What’s it called if I just take your money?”

“It’s called ‘being a child.'”

“Then let’s stick with that for now,” he said. “I can begin my corporate expansion after I finish being a child.”

Like other great entrepreneurs before him, my child had a goal in mind; he just needed to find someone to put up the money for him first.