Samuel was finally there! After so many years of planning and saving money he was ready to pull the trigger on starting his own business, opening up a gas station. Because he had a tight budget, he had to cut some corners. He even debated adding a restroom due to cost of plumbing, calculating if it was cheaper to just have a porta potty outside, but decided to go ahead with a small restroom with minimal cost invested in it. And this was his approach with many items as he didn’t want to wait any longer to getting this started. Nonetheless, he was well on his way to executing on his idea!

The grand opening arrived and business started good. It was a good location, mostly because there wasn’t another gas station nearby for miles, but that soon changed. When Samuel first saw the sign come up in the intersection west of his location “gas station coming soon”, he started running numbers to see where he would have to shave on cost of operating his gas station if business slowed down, to be able to stay profitable.

Sure enough, when the other gas station opened up, Samuel immediately started seeing business slow down. Although he had anticipated it, he didn’t think the drop off would be that much that fast. He didn’t quite understand why either, he had sent someone to scout the competition, prepping him on what to look for, and he didn’t see much difference between his station and the competition’s.
Samuel started with his plan to cut cost. The first thing he did was reduce the number of people he had working at the station from two to one. This meant some things like putting away merchandise boxes and cleaning the store and restroom might not get addressed when needed at times, but these were details that the business could afford to be without he thought. He also was a lot more careful on not spending too much on repairing anything that broke, including the gas pumps, electing to have it patched up when possible instead of getting things replaced. He eventually also decided to not repair some of the gas pumps, as business slowed even more, figuring that the number of pumps working was enough for the number of customers he was getting. “I never have all the pumps being used at once”, he thought to himself.

Business continued to slow down for Samuel, and eventually he had to shut down his station and try to sell it off. Several weeks later he received a call from someone interested in buying his gas station. He recognized the name of the person and soon realized he was talking to a person who owned several local businesses that were all very successful. Samuel agreed on a date to show him the station.

The date arrived and several minutes into Samuel showing him the place, the man commented, “You said business started slowing down when the other station down the street opened up, it’s no wonder, have you been to that place. I’ve never seen cleaner restrooms in a gas station before. And they have some high quality gas pumps, which is probably why you never see a pump down. Samuel paused for a moment, then dismissed the comment and asked if the man was interested. “I’ll call you in the morning with an offer. Don’t expect it to be a great one, this place needs a lot of work”, the man responded.
- end of story

“Profit in business comes from repeat customers; customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them.” - W. Edwards Deming

We’ve all been there, mostly during road trips, where we stop at a gas station and either after having to wait for an open gas pump or stepping into a nasty restroom, we regret ever stopping there. And of course you wouldn’t return if you can help it. This was Samuel’s issue, he was so concerned about cost and paid little attention to the customer. And the outcome was Samuel being the owner of a gas station with broken pumps, a small broken and dirty restroom, and an overall not very visually pleasing store due to all the costs he was trying to cut.

And to stay with the gas station example, the results of companies that focus on customer needs are evident when you look at companies like Buc-ee’s, that got their start in Texas and have started to expand to other states. Their largest gas station, or what they call “travel center”, located in New Braunfels, Texas, has 83 toilets! And that same location was named “Best Restroom in America” by Cintas in 2012.

Sam Walton was quoted as saying, “There is only one boss, the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” The moment we forget about this, the moment we start making decision without the customer in mind, that is when we start increasing our risk of losing customers, of losing business. And do not stop at meeting customer needs, as it is in giving the customers something unexpected that makes them happy, in delighting them, where the true prize can be found!

Author's Bio: 

My name is Hector Lopez. I grew up in a small town in south Texas. I graduated with a degree in Manufacturing Engineering and work brought me to Houston where I have lived most of my adult life and currently reside with my beautiful amazing wife and two extraordinary sons.
I started my professional career working as a Manufacturing Engineer. Seven years into my career I took on a new role as a Performance Analyst. In this role I was challenged to change the culture of the work force to a culture of continuous improvement and this challenged me to change my entire way of thinking and put me on a new path. This led me to finding my true passion, becoming a student of human behavior. This also made continuous improvement become second nature to me and am always striving to find ways to implement what I learn as well as share it as a way of giving back to society.