Business Lessons from ‘the Good Old Days’

Remember when you knew the name of the man working at the hardware store, or you had a mechanic that you trusted? Milk was delivered to your door and contracts were sealed by a handshake? The foundation of business in America was built brick by brick with integrity, trust, pride and, of course, good old-fashioned values.

Life was once much simpler. When you called someone and he or she didn’t answer or you received a busy signal, it meant that person was unavailable, maybe spending time with their family, having Sunday dinner or out on a drive. If it was important, you called them back. At that time, there still were everyday pressures, but you left the office at the office.

Fast forward 30 or so years to the frenzied lives we all live today, where we are connected 24-7, 365 days a year, answering emails and texts at 11 p.m. or 4 a.m. or catching up on phone calls during our workout or on the commute home. Business is different, too, these days, and the decorative plumbing and hardware industry is no exception. Gone are the times when business was good – so good that we were spoiled. It seems just a few years back, customers were swarming to buy a new kitchen or bath; people wanted nicer things and larger homes. And the Internet wasn’t that big a factor in the process.

And then we woke up one day and the rug was pulled out from under us so abruptly that no one was unaffected. The world and our businesses had changed. People stopped building homes and kitchen and bath remodeling projects were put on hold, seemingly indefinitely.

Things have started to get better since then, and remodeling is gradually picking up again. Kitchens and baths are beginning to see renewed interest, but consumers are still cautious with their purchases.

All of which means you can no longer easily pick up the low-lying fruit. Now, you have to climb the tree to make the sale, and you may need to re-teach yourself how to climb.

So, how we get back to building our DPH businesses in this fast-paced world where everything has become so impersonal?


Look back to those simpler times. No, there wasn’t the benefit/distraction of cell phones and computers, but businesses were built on integrity, manners and a genuine concern for the other people in the community. When all things are equal (and with the Internet in play, they might not always be equal), all you have in your court is you. Your knowledge, personality and character are all assets that are critical for building trust with potential clients.

So how can you be the best you? A good start is to remember the “golden rule” – treat others as you would like to be treated. Maybe in this day and age we need to move on to a “platinum rule” – treat people as they would like to be treated.

What feeling are you looking for when you go into a store or out to dinner? I’m betting your clients want that feeling, too. A sincere “please” or a “thank you” goes such a long way. Manners are easily forgotten and are so important. These gestures are a way to show customers that you respect and value them.

Along with manners goes body language: What is your face or stance saying to your customer – and is it what you want to be telling them? Remember, a smile is the shortest distance between two people.

You also need to really know your product. Most clients have shopped online before they decided to come out to see you, and guess what? When they do decide whether or not you’re worthy of their time and money, you’d better be able to trump them with your knowledge.

Another thing it’s easy to lose sight of is the fact that although this may be the 500th bath you’ve worked on, this is your clients’ special project – maybe even their first big remodeling job. Take a genuine interest in who they are and what they are doing, and always make them the only person in the room.

The whole process can be so intimidating and overwhelming for our clients. They really yearn for someone to take them by the hand and effortlessly guide them through it. Put on the hat of a problem solver – really, that’s what we do, isn’t it? They come to us with a problem – either it’s a functional issue, or they want to improve the aesthetics or maybe they’re just in a rut – and it’s our job to solve the problem.

So, when an issue does arise on a job, use it as an opportunity to show the pride you have in your work and care you have for your client. Fix it and go the extra step, and then follow up to make sure your client is happy. Every firm encounters problems or issues at some point in time, but the real measure of a company is how those problems are addressed. Your clients trust you to be their advocate, and when you have the opportunity to solve a problem for them, it’s the best advertising you can ever come by, as you will have a lifetime customer and a great source of future referrals.

When we’re so busy just trying to keep up, we tend to forget most of these simple things. But it’s important to remember that it’s not the quick sale that’s most important, but rather the building of the solid foundation of our relationship with the client.

When you have built that “true” relationship, it becomes a two-way street. By gaining the client’s trust, paying close attention to his or her needs and caring enough to make certain those needs are met, you can then present the client with your best work. The client, in turn, makes the decision to move forward with the project, feeling confident in the trust he or she has for you. Suddenly, you’re back to the era where clients remember you and your company’s name, and subsequently start spreading the word with the best kind of advertising: word of mouth.

So bring back the Sunday dinners, slow down a step, unplug for an evening and really get to know and appreciate your clients. It will pay off ten-fold.


Michelle Henderson is the showroom manager and designer of Banner Plumbing Supply’s award-winning showroom. Through the course of her 17-year career, she has been actively involved in the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association and the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and currently is the v.p. of strategic planning of her local chapter in Buffalo Grove, IL. Henderson also serves on the Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Advisory Committee for NKBA.

DPH Perspectives is published regularly in KBDN under an exclusive strategic alliance with the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA).