Now and then we overhear conversations. Not the whole discussion, but snippets.
As conversationalists that’s the price we pay for being clustered into well-populated public spaces. As listeners it can be entertaining, or disturbing, or just plain weird. It’s a crap-shoot, really.
But it happens and I rarely put much thought into any given chatter I’ve overheard while going about my business. Until last week. That was different.
“Why aren’t we making hotel reservations for transients?” the airport director asked the line-person.
The airport director is new and making an effort to understand the system now under her control. The line-person is experienced in operations at that airport, having been there for some time.
“Why don’t we fill fuel orders we get over the radio?” the airport director queried another oddity of her new domain.
The questions and answers went on for a while, and no, I didn’t hear the entire exchange. Nor did I need to.
The operation of the airport is their business. I’m just an occasional customer. I can do business with them if I wish, or not. My airplane has the ability to fly over the horizon to other FBOs at other airports to purchase fuel, or food, or charts, or whatever else might strike my fancy. As long as the purchase doesn’t exceed my ability to pay, or my oh-so accommodating wife’s good graces, I’m free to engage in commerce wherever I wish. That’s the way commerce works.
As the airport director was just learning, that’s also the way commerce doesn’t work. I suspect that particular individual spent some time over the past few days trying to devise a new methodology for the municipally owned FBO operation that increases the number of dollars coming into the till, counteracting years of policy designed to produce a very different outcome.
This is a topic I find particularly entertaining because it hits so close to home. Literally.
When I was in high school I lived in the suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut. A beautiful corner of the world thick with history and some of the dumbest laws the legislature could find a way to carry on its books. For example, the Blue Laws.
When I was a small boy in New England it was illegal for a merchant to open their store and sell goods or services on a Sunday. Then someone came to their senses and realized it might be good to consider a change of rules every few hundred years. The Blue Laws were first implemented in the 1650s. Their time had passed — almost.
Several significant — some might even say radical — advances in technology and lifestyle had occurred since that time. For instance, the U.S. had landed men on the moon not long ago. The Pratt & Whitney company had grown from a small machine shop into one of the preeminent aircraft engine manufacturers in the world. To say nothing of serious talk that suggested Hartford might land its own hockey team at long last. (The Hartford Whalers went on to relocate to North Carolina, where they are now known as the Hurricanes…or so I’m told).
In the Capital city of Hartford, somebody with a semi-functional brain realized that nothing horrible would happen if stores that sold things people really needed were to open for business on Sundays. But only if they sold things that people really needed. Not pleasurable things. Not things that were frivolous or unimportant. Just critical goods that people might run out of on Saturday night and not be able to live without until Monday morning.
And, so it was that in my youth I encountered the peculiar experience of entering a semi-open grocery store. In many ways a grocery store looked the same on Sunday as it did on any other day. The aisles were wide, the lights were bright, the shelves were filled with colorful boxes of various food like products. There was one subtle difference, however. On Sunday some aisles were blocked off. Or sections of an aisle were barricaded closed.
With the stroke of a pen it was deemed okay to sell milk on Sunday, or toothpaste, or toilet paper. Those were essentials that any family would find it difficult to go without, even for a day. But soft drinks, candy, and cakes were off limits. Those were luxury items that nobody needed in a hurry.
So, the store could open, legally. It could welcome customers without running afoul of the law. But woe be it to a store owner who impulsively or greedily sold a muffin to a mother on a Sunday. That’s crazy.
Well, it was crazy. A store is either open or it’s not. Being partly open, or offering partial service, is nuts. It’s a tremendously inefficient way to run a business.
All that being said, I’m entertained and heartened by the conversation I overheard at the FBO the other day. A strong sense of customer service wafted over the counter and met with appreciation on the buyer’s side of the room.
What is the point of not providing services to your customer in a business that is entirely based on customer service? To ask why is logical. To ask why not is economical.
In short, why aren’t we doing all we can reasonably do to serve the customers who walk into our business? Whether they’re local or transient, regardless of whether they came in burning Jet A or rode to the airport on their bicycle, why aren’t we offering the best level of service we can muster?
Eventually, even Connecticut wised up and threw open the doors of their grocery stores, taking down the barriers that blocked off certain products. If a state as cock-eyed and confused as my former home state can manage to make a beneficial change, maybe there’s hope for GA and the local FBO, too.
One can always hope.