Dr. Evelyn Brown was in good spirits as she arrived early for a full afternoon of seeing patients at Precious Sight. The frame room was unusually busy, and at the reception desk, she recognized the friendly face of her patient Hollie Tyler. Hollie was waiting unattended, no doubt here to collect the three new pairs of glasses she ordered last week.
Evelyn moved to greet her longtime customer, but she was intercepted by a sales assistant, Dave, who looked uncharacteristically flustered. “It’s all right”, Hollie said with a smile. “I can see you’re busy and I’m in no rush.”
Dave quietly explained to Evelyn that a customer had spent the last 10 minutes haggling for a discount on a mid-priced pair of frames with progressive lenses. Now, he was demanding to speak to the owner – and indeed, he was coming toward them at that moment.
“The name’s Chester French,” he said, towering over Evelyn. “Nice set up you have. I’m in the market for my first pair of eyeglasses and I like what you have here, but I can’t say that I like the price. I know how business works and I’m sure we can make a deal.”
“Thank you, Mr. French. We pride ourselves on being the very best in the town,” Evelyn said. “However, the price is the price, and it reflects both the quality of the products and the service that we provide.”
Chester raised an eyebrow. “Well, I know that my friend Bobby Hartson was given a 30 percent discount just last week,” he said.
Evelyn felt uncomfortable. “Mr. French,” she said. “I don’t like to discuss the arrangements of my other clients, but Mr. Hartson is a close relative of my assistant manager. He may have been given our friends-and-family discount. I’m sure you understand.”
“Oh yes, of course. You have to look after your friends,” nodded Chester. “But I can be a good friend, too. You see, I run my own business and if we can come to some arrangement, then I’d be more than happy to recommend you to my employees and customers as being the place to go. Win, win as they say. Otherwise…,” he paused, “I’ll probably wander over to those good people at Summerville Vision and see what they can do for me.”
Now Evelyn felt real pressure. With its less-expensive frames and incessant promotions, Summerville Vision had been a sharp thorn in her side since it opened a few months ago; the last thing she needed was to lose another sale to the new competition. What’s more, she had to start seeing patients in a few minutes.
“Mr. French, I’ll be happy to offer you a 25 percent discount on your order,” Evelyn said with a smile, though she was far from happy on the inside. She passed the triumphant customer back to Dave and was headed toward the exam room when she noticed that Hollie Tyler was still waiting near the reception desk.
Evelyn couldn't believe Hollie still hadn't been helped. “Oh, Hollie,” she said. “I’m so sorry. Someone should be free for you very shortly.”
But Hollie no longer looked relaxed and unhurried. “Can I have a word please?” was her firm, short reply. Evelyn stopped.
Hollie spoke firmly and deliberately. “I have been a loyal customer at Precious Sight for nearly 20 years,” she said. “And in all that time I have not once been offered -- nor have I asked -- for any special discounts. I’ve always been happy to pay your price.
“Chester French runs a lumberyard,” she continued. “He has just three people working for him, so I don’t think the deal you just made will help you very much. But as you well know, I’m a partner in a clothing business which employs more than 20 people. I have recommended most of them to visit you over the years, and many of them have.
“Believe me, I know how business works too,” Hollie said. “For every discount you offer, someone else has to pick up the shortfall, so I’ll wind up paying more when Chester pays less. I’ll pick up my new glasses today, but this will be my last visit to your store.”
Evelyn was stunned and embarrassed, especially since several other customers heard Hollie’s speech. Precious Sight couldn’t afford to lose a loyal customer like this, let alone all of the related recommendations. What could she do now? The one thought going through Evelyn’s head was to try to come up with a really special deal for Hollie … but what would be enough?