I took my daughter to the pet store today in search of tropical fish … clownfish, to be precise.  Yes, like many kids her age, she could sit in front of the television and watch Finding Nemo three – maybe four – times a day.  My wife and I decided that a fish tank would be a good incentive to push potty training over the hump and get her 100% out of diapers.  [Of course, like all things male and female we had differing views as I found out this afternoon … she meant a small fishbowl with one or two goldfish.  I, on the other hand, happened upon a really cool 12 gallon saltwater starter tank.]

Turns out the pet store we went to specializes in saltwater aquariums – and the fish and coral to put in them.  Not only that, but – whether they know it or not – they understand how to create a loyal customer who actually trusts the vendor.

I spent well over twenty minutes talking to an employee there about the requirements of putting together and maintaining a saltwater aquarium.  His enthusiasm for his hobby was readily apparent, marked only by his desire to educate me while keeping my interest high.  It was a marvelous experience.  His suggestion of starting with a highly recommended book – rather than buying the tank – that teaches the theory behind coral reef aquariums was the clincher for me.  The time he spent educating me on why a tank with clownfish wouldn’t coexist nicely with seahorses was well received.  In short, I left the store with a great sense of what it means to be a small business interested in the local community and me as a customer.

I bought the book and the tank … the fish will wait until my daughter has finished mastering “the big potty,” but you can be assured that I’ll be going back to the same store for the fish, supplies, etc.  Know it or not, they created a loyal customer in the short time it took to engage me one-on-one in conversation.  In the mean time, I will read the book and prepare for my coral reef creation – and consider this encounter and its impact upon my psyche as I engage with my own customers.