Yep, I learned a lot about operating a successful online business from my grandpa’s generation. I think back to how things were done when I was a boy, and I still see brilliance in their advertising methods and techniques.
Some people stake their business’ future only on Internet advertising and communications. While both are effective, gramps taught me that it was very important to keep the name of your business in front of your customers at all times, in the most economical ways possible.
My Grandpa’s Service Station
Gramps owned his own service station, and he had loads of loyal customers who only bought gas from his station and only had their auto repairs done in his garage.
Gramps knew the names of most of his customers, and he called each by name when he greeted them.
Gramps sometimes ran advertising on his local radio station to attract new customers to his business. But hands down, his most effective advertising tool was something we now call viral marketing. He gave his customers such exceptional service in such a friendly environment that his customers spread the word about his business for him, at no additional cost to him.
Gramps hired folks to help him pump the gas, and all of his employees knew the importance of greeting his customers by name and helping them keep their cars running smoothly. My grandpa even hired mechanics that were exceptionally qualified to repair his customer’s vehicles.
Gramps’ customers knew that if his crew suggested a mechanical repair for their vehicle, they knew that the repair really needed to be made. And they also knew that gramps’ people would be able to do the repair correctly and on-budget. Gramps’ customers trusted him and his advice with every fiber of their being, because gramps always looked out for the best interests of his customers.
Capturing Those Special Moments
My grandpa would keep a camera around his service station to capture those special moments with his customers and crew. And then he would keep those special memories around for everyone to enjoy.
The thing that I remember most about my grandpa’s gas station is those calendars grandpa did every year. During the entire months of December, January and while supplies lasted into February, gramps would give out a copy of his own calendar to each of his customers. I even had one in my own room at home every year as I was growing up.
Each year, the best moments of the previous year were passed around to all of grandpa’s customers. It was always such a thrill to go to a store or to a friends’ house and see my grandpa’s calendar hanging on the wall.
The brilliance in grandpa’s calendars was that every time someone wanted to check the date, they would be reminded of grandpa’s gas station and they would see the faces of people they recognized from his gas station.
Grandpa successfully implemented many methods designed to keep the name of his business in people’s minds, as economically as possible. His calendars were just one example of his brilliant advertising at work.
Commemorating Those Special Days
Grandpa had what I refer to as a photographic memory. In my world, it is a photographic memory, but in his world, I think he just truly loved people.
I was always amazed when I went to spend my summer days at his service station. Grandpa knew the name of all of his customers, and he also knew the names of his customers’ family members.
To my amazement, grandpa also always seemed to know what was going on in the lives of his customers’ families. I would spend my summers working at his gas station, and while I was pumping gas, he would carry lengthy conversations with his customers. I simply did not understand how he could keep up with the lives of so many people. He would ask about Billy, Bob and Mary, and he would be able to ask about the activities that were special to each.
Going The Extra Mile Was A Family Affair
I did not fully realize until I was older, but gramps kept fantastic records and then reviewed his notes regularly. When he would learn the name of a new child, he would jot that name down in his notebook that documented the information that he knew about his customers. Then, grandpa would spend a few hours every Sunday afternoon reviewing his notes, and after a few months of review, he would know his subject matter better than anyone. Grandma’s commitment was to the family and to keep an eye to marriage announcements and death announcements in the newspaper, to help grandpa stay up-to-date on the lives of his customers.
The truth is that grandpa did not have a better memory than I did. Instead, grandpa had a stronger commitment to his friends and customer’s.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we would all sit around with grandma and grandpa and help gramps update his address book on all of his customers. We would double-check his notes and the phone book to get the current address for all of his customers in his notebooks.
Thursday morning was dedicated to updating addresses, and then we would eat and celebrate the holiday. On Friday morning, we would wrap up the address updates. On Friday afternoon, we would play a game of tag football. Then the family would spend the day on Saturday writing Christmas cards for all of his customers. Grandpa would sign every one of them himself. On Thanksgiving Sunday, we would go to church. After lunch, we would sit down around the living room and put stamps on the Christmas cards we made the day before.
“From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas.” Those words have such a special meaning to me.
At the beginning of every December, grandpa would take his booty to the Post Office to save his mailman the pain of carrying such a huge load.
The Passing Of A Bright Torch
When I was fourteen, my grandpa passed away. As you might imagine, his funeral was a major event in our hometown. It was astonishing to see so many people come to pay their respects to my grandmother and our family.
Unfortunately, my parents and my aunts and uncles all had their own lives separate from the service station. So, it was decided when my grandpa passed away that his livelihood would be sold to the highest bidder. My grandmother was set for the remaining years of her life.
An individual hoping to reap the profits of my grandfather’s legacy purchased the business. Although that person had the cash to buy the business, that person did not have my grandfather’s business savvy. The service station did not survive its new owner. Now and again, I drive by that location where I spent many summers. The building still stands where it has always stood, but the service bays remain empty and the closed sign is starting to fade away. It has now been years since a business operated in that location.
Lessons From An Older Generation
In my own online business, I try to practice the lessons learned from my grandfather. Gramps left his mark on my life, although he has been gone for decades. I remember, and I try to put into practice the things that my grandpa had taught me about running a successful business.
Even in this new age of the Internet, I have learned that calendars and Christmas cards have as much power today as they did three decades ago. My customers appreciate my business, because we take the time to go that extra mile, just for them.