What can small-, and medium-sized businesses learn from MY life experience in photography from the early days as a child? Lots. So, pay attention.

As a kid, I used to love everything to do about sciences–still do. I received a starter photography set as a gift when I was about 10 years old. Back in those days, chemicals, mixing, temperture control, and a completely blackened (“darkroom”) were required to take images from a camera and turn them into prints. When I needed to replace my chemicals, trays developing tanks, and other accessories,  I went to a store that
catered to professionals, Waltz Cameras.  On my very first visit, and on each subsequent visit, I was greeted by Mr. Paul Waltz, the owner,
who always had a blazing sunshine of a smile on his face. It made me feel extra special.

He always had a store filled with other customers, possibly because of his enthusiasm for customers. On every occasion of my visits, he took the time to excuse himself from his customers and to give me early attention in one way or another, even if just to approach me to personally ask me to wait a few minutes until he completed service with other customers. How could I say “No” to that smile and enthusiasm? But he never just walked away. He always fed my interest in some manner with what I considered to be the prize for being willing to wait. Sometimes he handed me an interesting magazine to read. Sometimes a new piece of equipment to toy with. And as I grew older the size of the prize grew in value, too. “Here’s the new twin lens reflex Yashica. Check it out while I take a few minutes to finish up.” In those days the Hasselblad and the Leica cameras were like looking at a vault filled with gold bullion. But there was Mr. Waltz’s voice, “…just a few minutes. Oh, have you ever handled a Hasselblad? Have a look.”

I can’t imagine proprietors doing that today, but there is a lesson and an idea for you to emulate in some smaller measure.

Maybe you can’t hand a camera to everyone who has to wait their turn to tie into your personal time and attention, but is there something
you can substitute that will work equally well? Something to taste, read, watch? Find something.

When he did work with me, it was right to the point. Whatever I needed. We concluded business quickly, professionally and with great respect for any really stupid questions I may have asked. He made me feel like a top-notch professional. I felt great.

Once business was taken care of, he delivered the encore. Sometimes it was a roll of new film he’d give me for free to sample. Sometimes it was
a magazine or lens  to look over, but almost always something of interest. On just about every visit, I got to hold an item that piqued my interest and curiosity and enthusiasm for my art and for his store. Years later, as I excelled at selling skills, I came to learn this technique as the “puppy-dog” closing technique. You know, once you or your kids hold a beautiful, tiny puppy in your arms, it is impossible to give it back to the dog pound. Cuddling a helpless puppy tugs at your heart strings…if you are half-ways human. Products or services can do that, too.

If you can’t use the puppy-dog technique with your specific products or services is there a proxy you can use?  It can be a brief conversation relevant to the customer in which you provide a useful tip or possibly leave behind an unexpected sample of something. It might be a photocopy of an article or an invitation to some related event or some bonus or discount…the list of possible puppy-dog items can be almost endless.

On one occasion, Mr. Waltz arranged for me to tour a commercial photography studio. On another occasion he answered my questions about
working as a stringer on a newspaper (a freelance photographer for newspapers). On yet another occasion, “someone” mysteriously pulled some strings with our local Chamber of Commerce for me to be one of the photographers of their  tri-Centennial celebration event. Not something I can ever forget.

How about you and your business?  Is there anything you can do to enhance the pre-, or post-purchase experiences of your customers? Just ask yourself what would be unexpected and would be helpful to your client?

By now you ought to get the idea. Mr. Waltz was a master at turning a store visit into helpful knowledge-, and a skills-growing experience
which helped me to earn more money. That in turn allowed me to buy better photography equipment…at his store, of course.

In hindsight I can look back and conclude that Mr. Paul Waltz was a master at helping his customers to learn and succeed.

Do you get the picture?!