It’s no secret that Pittsburg residents hit up Joplin, Mo., retailers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season. But local business owners have found a way to stay competitive with the big box stores: good old-fashioned customer service.
John’s Sports Center has been in the Gariglietti family for three generations. The business has been able to compete for customers with huge retailers such as Walmart and Cabella’s because of the shopping experience they provide, said Adam Gariglietti, the store’s firearms manager.
“The younger generation has kind of lost touch, and they can go online and find the best deal,” Gariglietti said. “But once we get them in the door, even once, and show them what customer service is, offer them a cup of coffee and talk about their kids, they may decide to spend a few extra dollars here.”
Gariglietti said John’s and other stores try to have some Black Friday sales, but that their size restricts them from driving sales prices too low. John’s counters the store brand names at bigger outfitters by playing to its customers’ brand loyalties and offering quality products.
“We offer a wide variety of products that even chain stores don’t offer,” Gariglietti said. “Our customers want the Browning or Filson Company name. Sitka camo been really strong for us, and we also try to carry as many ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ labels as we can.”
Store employees also get to know customers’ individual tastes, and can steer them toward products they think they will like. That business model has kept customers coming for generations, Gariglietti said.
“The customers can call back next week and say ‘Hey, Brett’ or ‘Hey, Chris, you helped me last week, can you help me now?’ And they’ll know we’ll be here,” he said. “We’ll size them up for a pair of boots or show them how a firearm works. We’re waiting on third- and fourth-generation kids now.”
Down the street in downtown Pittsburg, Patrick O’Bryan said loyal customers are what make his business hum. Like Gariglietti, O’Bryan said adding a personal touch to the shopping experience goes a long way.
“I had a customer call this morning before we opened wanting to get a gift certificate for his wife,” O’Bryan said. “I opened up for him, and he said he was really impressed that we did that. We give the customer what they can’t get at a big box store, and that’s customer service. We know their first name and they know us. It’s a friendlier atmosphere, a small town warmth that you don’t get elsewhere.”
O’Bryan said he has loyal customers who travel from Joplin, Webb City, Iola, and as far away as Springfield, Mo., just to shop at his high-end fashion store.
Page 2 of 2 - “It’s a destination shopping experience,” O’Bryan said. “We have coffee for them and we gift wrap their items. I know people enjoy having a relationship with the people they buy from. They say ‘We’re sure glad you’re still here.”
At Dapper, an antiques store in downtown Pittsburg, owner Larry Black said he competes with bigger retailers by selling things no one else has.
“What I have you don’t find at other stores,” Black said. “You don’t go to Walmart or K-mart to buy antiques. It’s kind of a niche. “People tell me ‘We have all the appliances and things that we need. Now we want something different that you can’t find elsewhere, such as crystal, china, silver ware and other vintage items.”
Black said he also gets a lot of business from outside Pittsburg. One of the ways to keep them coming back is to give the customers a positive emotional experience.
“It’s a fun place to go look and browse,” Black said. “They’ll say ‘Oh, my grandmother had this,’ or ‘I remember this from growing up.”
But it’s important to keep Pittsburg customers in town, too, and O’Bryan and Gariglietti said the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce has done a good job of promoting local businesses.
“They’ve been a big help,” Gariglietti said.
“A shop-at-home attitude is essential,” he said. “The Chamber said more people are shopping here than are spending money out of town.”