My husband and I moved 14 months ago to Florida. Since then, each time I’ve been on the highway, I’ve seen billboards which have fascinated me. They advertise the Florida Citrus Centers which are roadside tourist stops where you can buy (yes, you guessed it) – oranges, grapefruit, limes and other fruit, plus other Florida-related souvenirs.
But until last week, I had never stopped at one of the Citrus Centers, despite a 14 month curiosity…
The curiosity is right there on that billboard photo above: Gator Head Wind Chimes. What on earth would an alligator head wind chime look like? Would it be one alligator head with wind chimes hanging off it? Or would it be a big circle with alligator heads hanging from it, knocking against each other to create the “chime”? (clunk, clunk, clunk)
Then, of course, because my family members are all a little whacky, with great senses of humor, I pictured my brother-in-law opening one of these monstrosities for Christmas… Just thinking about it made me laugh out loud! I had to get one!
Last week my husband and I left for our vacation, driving north to visit family and friends. As soon as we hit the highway, we saw the first of those billboards….
It was my golden opportunity! I would be able to satisfy my curiosity – and do some Christmas shopping too! So yes, I talked him into stopping. (“What? We’ve only been on the road for 10 minutes! Are you kidding me?”)
Outside the store were tables upon tables of citrus fruit and small citrus trees for planting. We walked into the store and found t-shirts, bumper stickers, orange marmalade, and saltwater taffy. We also saw hundreds of alligator heads (yes, just the heads, chopped off – you can see them below). And we saw dozens of wind chimes made of seashells.
But nowhere could I find the gator head wind chimes. So I asked the cashier.
“Oh, people ask for them all the time, 3-4 times a day!” she told me. “But we don’t have anything like that. We have alligator heads over there, and lots of wind chimes hanging from up there,” she pointed, “But no – we’ve never had wind chimes made out of gator heads. If you read the sign better, you’ll see that it says “gator heads” and it says “wind chimes” – but they aren’t the same thing.”
I had two reactions beyond my disappointment.
First – that was the end of my Christmas shopping for the day.
And second, that too many advocates conduct their businesses like the Citrus Centers conduct theirs.
That worries me for at least three big reasons:
- First, the Citrus Centers are bringing in customers – yes. But every customer, like me, who hopes to at least see, and possibly buy a gator head wind chime leaves disappointed – then shares that information with others. Not only was I unable to buy what I thought I might buy, but I’m now sharing that information with many more people (including you) who, in the future, may decide not to stop and spend money at one of their stores.They will lose business because they didn’t meet customer expectations.
2. Second, this is the story of a missed opportunity which is very clear. If so many people are asking for gator head wind chimes, why don’t they sell them? Say there are a dozen of these stores throughout Florida, say at least one person would have bought those wind chimes in each store each day – that’s around 5,000 sales per year they are missing. Few small businesses, whether they are Citrus Centers or advocacy practices can afford to ignore their customers when their customers are so very clear about their wishes.
3. Third, these Citrus Centers are promoting something that isn’t really available. The woman we spoke to said the requests have been going on for years. I’m sure some manager somewhere thinks it’s great that people misread his sign and come in to see “gator head windchimes” because most leave having bought other stuff. But as mentioned in #1 above – in the long run he is likely hurting his business.
Many advocates do the same. With no experience, and without clarification, they tell clients they can help them do X, when they have no experience doing X. Many of them even tout skills they don’t have on their websites, even in their AdvoConnection Directory listings. They tell me they’ll find someone else to help them do the work if necessary, but that’s bait and switch in my book. They are offering work outside their competencies which is against the Code of Conduct and Professional Standards. They are offering alligator head wind chimes.
The final important point is the big difference between these two kinds of businesses – a retail souvenir shop – vs – an advocacy practice and how these sorts of miscommunications / missed steps affect them.
That is, that the customer base of the Citrus Centers is very transient. They don’t care if they make their customers happy because they don’t have a repeat customer base. The vast majority of their customers leave and go someplace else. That’s the point to a tourist / souvenir business.
But for advocates, it’s vital that a stellar and respectable reputation be established in their communities, because for most, their business is all about growing and thriving based on word-of-mouth in those communities. If an advocate isn’t listening to her clients’ requests, or is disappointing them, or is offering services that can’t be fulfilled – that will doom her practice.
Are you offering and delivering real, effective advocacy? Or are you offering gator head wind chimes?