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Bracing for Wal-Mart

Staff writer

Businesses in Hillsboro and Marion are concerned what impact Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will have on them, and last week a handful of establishments met with an expert to sharpen up their customer service practices.

Tim Smith, one of the main speakers at last week’s “Thinking Outside of the Big Box” forum, met with a variety of local business owners in both Hillsboro and Marion. Businesses signed up to meet with Smith, who owns his own management and workplace training organization in Allentown, Penn.

Smith said many small local businesses already provide a high level of customer service, and he told them to focus on what they already do so well.

“Based on my eye test, people are doing a lot of things right,” Smith said. “Sometimes we just get caught up in the day-to-day work and wonder, ‘Are we doing this right?’”

Smith said his impression of Marion County business people is that they are “very nice people who are very, very loyal to their community. They want to do well. They are just trying to find ways to improve their businesses.”

A main concern for business owners is how the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will impact their establishments when it opens this spring in Hillsboro.

“It’s going to hurt me,” said Greg Carlson of Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion.

Carlson’s concern is widespread among business owners, and Carlson plans to focus on customer service to differentiate his family business from the big box competition soon to arrive.

“We’re here for the community of Marion,” Carlson said. “We are going to carry out your groceries and hire your kids and try to give you the best shopping experience you can get.”

A grocer closer to the soon-to-open Wal-Mart is also refining his customer service in order to keep his customer base.

Dale Franz said he is focusing on “practices that we have here within our store, and the niche we have, and the ways to do things better than Wal-Mart or any of the others will be doing.”

“A lot of it is in general doing things better,” Franz said. “We want to appeal to certain people better.”

Dale’s Supermarket enjoys a loyal following among those who have lived in town for a while. However, Franz wants his business to appeal to younger people more effectively.

Franz will promote what sets him apart from Wal-Mart.

“Our fresh cut meat is a much better tasting product than their pre-packed product,” Franz said.

Jon Hefley, who owns the Lumberyard, said businesses have to find a niche and be ready to make adjustments, too. With Alco going out of business, Hefley is now selling items he never sold before, like Lee work jeans, coveralls and jackets, and other clothing.

“You’ve got to change with the times,” said Hefley, an outspoken opponent of Wal-Mart.

“They will target businesses,” Hefley said. “I get very passionate when something is threatening my community and the county in general. I’m not strictly Hillsboro. Marion County is my home. I am for the whole county.”

Hefley said good customer service begins with knowledge, including knowledge of the product and having it in stock.

“Don’t be grumpy, don’t be pouty,” Hefley said. “Keep the store organized and clean. Make people feel welcome. Treat them how you want to be treated. Call them by name. And don’t B.S. them. Yes, you can talk, but when there are other customers, you have to work your way out of that to the other people.”

“The initial shock of Wal-Mart coming is over,” Smith said, adding that businesses are looking to improve themselves.

Some local business take groceries out to customers’ cars, or deliver items and services to senior citizens, or put in extra hours on Sunday, Smith said.

“They do a lot of things that most people take for granted,” Smith said. “It’s about accentuating the positive and making sure staff is trained properly. Know about the different products and service offered.”

Smith was scheduled to visit five businesses in Hillsboro and four in Marion: Greenhaw Pharmacy, The Lumberyard, Dale’s Supermarket, Rod’s Tire, Hillsboro State Bank, Marion Health Mart, Spur Ridge Veterinary Hospital, and Carlsons’ Grocery.

Last modified Jan. 15, 2015

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