Building a Sense of Community

When we opened the Pacoima warehouse in December, 2007, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Of course, I knew to expect a series of trucks coming in to be unloaded, I knew to expect a ton of organizing and cleaning, and I knew to expect a lot of work setting up systems to monitor all the things that need to tracked and reported when launching a new warehouse. But I didn’t know what type of customers to expect, or how to offer the best customer service for the population we would serve. 

I know--customer service is customer service. But there are often gentle (or not so gentle!) nuances that can give a business its own identity. When you visit Ikea, for example, it quickly becomes obvious that the process is completely self-service; you see an item, you write down its warehouse bin number, and then you go find it. Rarely do you find an Ikea employee waiting to help you. At the other extreme is Nordstrom. When you enter that store, a cheerful, if somewhat intimidatingly well dressed and well manicured associate will cheerfully escort you around the store and help you shop for clothes you would normally not consider buying and have absolutely no use for.  

In our Pacoima warehouse, I strove for something in the middle. We greet customers as they come in. If they’ve never visited, we give them a brief overview and point out areas of interest. We ask if they need help finding anything and, if not, let them know that they can find us at the counter if they need us. In the past almost two years, we have honed our customer service to a balance of helpfulness, courtesy, and (in my case) acerbic wit. We’ve learned to identify which customers like the personal shopping experience, which ones like to shop on their own, and which ones come in just to hang out. The folks in the latter group are easy to spot because they usually bring bags of animal cookies, or other goodies, for us to munch on.

What I’ve come to realize is that we have built -- by accident, by the nature of the business, by sheer happenstance -- a sense of community. We know repeat customers by name and remember what they are looking for. We have customers who know and communicate with other customers, sometimes arranging to meet outside the store. We’ve befriended some of the most interesting people; had they not come into the warehouse, we’d never have met them. To me, that’s a pretty great thing. 

Our business is growing, through first time visitors, referrals and word of mouth. We’re not satisfied to be the type of business that just takes money and dispenses product. We really care about our customers and want them to find the best items to fit their needs. It has taken some time to get to this point, but I am really excited about it, and proud of our warehouse. I am also proud to be part of such a great company -- TRP. 

Here’s to starting our third year of operation in Pacoima, and to our community for making us successful!

Shannon Barnes is Retail Manager of the TRP warehouse in the Pacoima district of Los Angeles.
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