Looking for That Slight Edge

By Beacon Staff

Just another typical busy Saturday afternoon of “honey do’s.”

Or so I thought.

On this sunny Saturday afternoon before Memorial Day when I’d rather be watching kayaking in Bigfork, I had memorable retail experiences at both ends of the spectrum.

I stopped by Cenex to grab some potassium softener salt (not the regular sodium-based stuff – which is why I go all the way from C-Falls to downtown Kal to get it). The young guy behind the counter apologized that he couldn’t run the register but said that if I told him what I needed, he’d get it loaded into my car while I waited for the guy who could run the register.

Such a little thing.

This isn’t the sort of thing that happens everywhere. More often than not, it’s likely that I would have been told, “Someone will be right with you”, if anything at all. I wouldn’t have minded that, but this guy made the experience far more positive and memorable simply by setting my expectations higher than normal – and then doing what he said he’d do, when he said he’d do it.

He made buying salt a little bit memorable.

By the time I paid my bill and got to my car, the bags were loaded and ready to go, as promised.

Seems like a trivial thing, but doing the trivial things (or doing them better) – what I call the “slight edge” – is what transforms a business from so-so or average to “I’ll go nowhere else.”

After leaving Cenex, my next retail experience was just as memorable.

A little while later, I’m at a large locally owned retailer to pick up an order for a local organization. I manage to stumble across a department manager while trying to find someone to retrieve the order for me.

She found the order pronto.

As we stepped over to the counter to settle up, what happened next stunned me.

I told her and the other person behind the counter that the order was on account, and that we’ve been handling them this way for some time (years).

They couldn’t find the account.

The ticket on the box had my home phone number on it, but that didn’t lead them anywhere. They tried the other number on the ticket – my wife’s work number. She’s the one who actually manages the purchases from this store for the team.

No dice. That number doesn’t work either.

They ask if I have another phone number. I’m a little stumped at this point, so I ask if they can look it up by the organization name.


I ask if they can look it up by my wife’s name.


I ask if they can look it up by the account number if I call my wife and get it.


Eventually, we guess the right phone number (the former organization president’s number – in fact, two presidents ago). They find the account on a list somewhere using that number, but … can they do anything with it?


Let me be clear about this. These two folks were competent users of the system placed before them. It simply wouldn’t let them do what they needed to do – a common task for a point of sale system in any retail or service business. Find an account by name and post an order on account pickup to it. I really felt sorry for them. I’ve worked on point of sale (POS) systems as a software developer for more than a decade. I’ve been personally responsible for the programming of POS systems for many thousands of users at over a thousand locations in both hemispheres. Software-wise, POS is my strongest area of expertise. I’ve seen lots of competitive systems. I’ve yet to see a system that doesn’t allow you to look someone up by account (business or organization) name. Not too many leave out the ability to find an account by the contact name.

This one appears to offer neither. Mind-boggling. This retailer can afford just about any system they want, yet the one they have appears to be rather dysfunctional.

Bottom line? This large retailer has a point of sale/accounting system that only works if you know the right phone number, and even then, you are unable to tell the system that the customer is taking their order. In fact, they weren’t even able to see our order and as such, had to look at every item in the box and write it down by hand so that the items would be properly billed.

This is not a point of sale system. This is a point of no-sale system.

Here’s your takeaway: All you “little guys” out there who think the big guys are too hard to take on should take solace in this. Not even the big, supposedly well-run places have all the details together. Keep chipping away and paying attention to the details that really matter to your customers. Do so and you’ll end up with more of them, more often.

Look for the slight edge, use it and then look for another. And don’t ever stop.