Last week I spent some time at my in-law’s place in Wisconsin. While we were visiting around the cow-dotted countryside, we came to a small town called Hilbert where we had a great dinner at an off-the-beaten track restaurant called the Village Hearthstone (I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin). On the way out of Hilbert, we passed through New Holstein. My in-laws pointed out Schaar’s Union Oil Service Station. It didn’t look like anything special, just a nice looking family run service station. But they told me it was the last of a dying breed: The Full Service Gas Station. Yes, I know, Oregon and New Jersey are full of them, but it’s because by law they have to provide full service. In Wisconsin, as in most other places, self-service is the norm. But Schaar’s is different. I’m talking real old-fashioned full service. The “Check your tires ma’am?” kind of full service. They’ll actually open your hood and check your oil and wiper fluid…and top it off if you need. They clean your windows, your wiper blades, and your headlights. And of course, they pump your gas.
My first thought was, “Hmmm how quaint. But the Kwik Trip across the street has the same gas for 10 cents cheaper per gallon. Bet they do much more business than Schaar’s.” My in-laws quickly informed me that actually, not many people from New Holstein stop at the Kwik Trip for gas. Schaar’s apparently has a very loyal following. Their customers love the full service that Schaar’s offers. And guess what? As small town as it sounds, the guys who work at Schaar’s actually know their customers. They talk to them. Everyday! They understand the people they serve. They understand that their attention and full service is what sets them apart from the monolithic Kwik Trip’s of the world.
On the other hand, Kwik Trip’s customers get exactly what their name implies. A quick stop, fill the tank and off you go. No extra services. No special attention. No pleasant conversation. No chance for Kwik Trip to get to know their customers or vice versa. It’s a cold, one-way relationship. Even though Kwik Trip is cheaper by 10 cents per gallon and offers the “convenience and value” of self-serve, Schaar’s has something Kwik Trip doesn’t have: A real relationship with their customers. And that’s what really matters.
The lesson here: Next time you have a chance to interact with your customers, really take the time to talk with them. Build a relationship with them. And take the time to recognize that lower cost and “best value” is not always the path to success. Offer your customers more than a quick fill up. Offer them full service. Don’t you think they deserve it?