Friday, February 3, 2012


Close-up of camera lensB&H

My computer died. It seems that everything I do and have and know is loaded on that computer, and because it’s a laptop and gets carried everywhere with me it’s taken its share of lumps over the past few years. And going through its electronic demise was very unsettling. So I bit the bullet and bought a new one. But this isn’t about computers.

I used the old and failing computer’s internet connection to surf the web for information about all the available options: Desktops, Laptops, Notebooks, Chromebooks, Tablets,  Ultrabooks - everyone has an opinion, everyone has a favorite. And then I surfed for all the options on where to buy one - I could buy from a brick and mortar store or online – there are so many options, so many confusing choices.  And then someone said to go to B&H Camera. Go to a camera store for a computer?  Yep - it’s a huge, block-long store near Madison Square Garden with everything for cameras, including computers. So I went and, don’t you know, had a one-of-a-kind experience. This is about that experience.

Here’s what it says on the B&H website:

Since our store opened more than 35 years ago, we've gone beyond simply supplying you with professional gear. We've aspired to share our knowledge of technology with you in the most personalized way. Visit our store, and you'll find a sales staff made up of industry professionals who share your passion for technology and will help you use it to its fullest potential. As you choose from over 235,000 products, feel free to enlist their help.

That’s a mouthful, and since everyone says something like that, it’s pretty easy to dismiss it as some kind of hype.  But from the moment you step into this huge store you begin to experience something extraordinary. This place has nearly 3,000 employees, all of whom seem to know the answer to just about anything you can ask.  We’ve all been to stores and malls that have the necessary signage, but this place has intersections and stairways that are clearly marked and backed up by scores of employees giving or clarifying directions. Busy stores have lines that normally seem like a trip to the DMV, but this place has clearly marked lines leading to sales, ordering, cashiering and checkout. And everyone was friendly, helpful and upbeat – unlike most of the stores that advertise heavily, promise mightily, and disappoint regularly. When’s the last time you got no-nonsense help about the latest electronic gadgets from someone that wasn't trying to convince you to buy something you didn’t want or need? Nobody was pushy here! How often do you go to places like this and end up feeling confused or stupid?  Didn’t happen here! Every employee was knowledgeable without being full of themselves or pushy.  And take it from an old HR guy – that’s not easy.

And because of all the goods and all those smiling and helpful employees, you almost don’t notice the most amazing thing about this store. Constantly running through the floors, walls and ceilings is a conveyer system. So when you get help on the floor and finally figure out what you want, you get in a line to one of 75 order takers who key in what you want, and voila, while you’re standing there talking, up comes what looks like a milk crate with all you ordered.  You check it out, confirm it and then head to a line of cashiers. Give them your name and they’ve got the invoice all ready.  Next go to checkout and your crate of goods is now packaged up and waiting for you.  And out you go.

This was low tech, high tech and high touch all rolled into one. Why isn’t every retail or service experience like this. Why is it that we can count on one hand the number of smart and innovative sales and service experiences like this?  Why is it that so many of the companies we rely on for the everyday things we need don’t seem to put much emphasis on getting great service right. The answer is that it takes lots of care and training to create something like this. Average is not good enough today, and anyone trying to get away with providing average quality and service won’t survive. Here’s what Thomas Friedman wrote in this week’s New York Times: There will always be change — new jobs, new products, new services. But the one thing we know for sure is that with each advance in globalization and the I.T. revolution, the best jobs will require workers to have more and better education and training to make themselves above average.

When you see something as good as this it’s a good idea to thank somebody: I stopped and thanked several of B&H’s employees for a job very well done, and  I wrote to the owners and thanked them for being astute and detail-oriented enough to provide this kind of experience. Most of us are pretty jaded from all the average experiences we have – so if you see or experience something above average be sure to thank those responsible. Doing that will slowly but surely raise the level of service we expect and experience, and it will reinforce the good efforts by others. Don’t take anything for granted, don’t accept less than great quality and service, don’t forget to do what it takes to reinforce the best behaviors you see and experience today.

My message this week is about doing what it takes to be more than average:

Arte Nathan“Big thinking precedes great achievement.”  

-Wilferd Peterson

Wilferd Arlan Peterson (1900 - 1995) was an American author who wrote for This Week magazine (a national Sunday supplement in newspapers) for many years.

When it comes to team spirit, there’s nothing that reinforces it like winning. That’s because winning is the ultimate achievement.  And the best way to win is to think that you can, believe that you can, and act like you can. Of course there’s also the prep work and practice that goes into transforming individual effort into team work.  How often have you seen boasts and promises proven to be false because the ones doing the talking think that’s all it takes to defeat the challenges and competition that exists in so many aspects of life?  And how often have you believed those boasts but then found them to be lacking the key ingredients? Those ingredients include the things that nourish the will to achieve and win, like hard work and practice, patience and perseverance, team work and team spirit – these are the big things that winners believe in. If you and your team want to win at anything today you should dream the big dreams and do the hard work that always precedes big achievements.

Stay well!

PS: I got an ASUS Ultrabook.  And if this computer turns out to be half as good as the experience of buying it then I’ll be a very lucky guy indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Remember Service Merchandise? Their stores were set up something like that. The key is making sure that your staff knows the stock. The rest is just mechanics. So many big box style stores miss that part of the equation. When your staff knows the products then they can truly be of service to the customer.

    I've brought from B&H a couple times, but only online. My experience was positive both times, and they're a store that's on my short list whenever I buy, because of it. Glad to hear that their brick-and-mortar is equally inspiring.