Local store atmosphere still exists
In the 1950s, when my grandfather ran the local village store in Loppi, customers or the retailer were in no hurry. Everybody knew everybody else, and exchanged the local news while shopping. Opening hours were flexible: if the door was locked, customers would threw pebbles at the window upstairs where the retailer lived and he would come downstairs and open the store. Even in his pyjamas.
What has changed in 60 years? The retailer of the local store still knows his customers and people catch up on each others' news in the local store. New technology has also introduced new opportunities for interaction with customers, such as Facebook groups.
Today, not many retailers would appear in the store in pyjamas, but customers are allowed to do so. If you want, you can pick up the morning paper and some croissants dressed in a dressing gown and curlers. I believe there are quite many customers who go to the local store for not only groceries.
When someone of the staff has been away for a longer time, customers start asking about him or her. We also notice if we haven't seen a customer for a couple of days. "I hope nothing has happened. He did look weaker the last time I saw him." On the other hand it is sad if the local store is the only place where a person is missed.
The confidence customers place in us by, for example, leaving their keys at the checkout to be picked up later by their guests, is quite extraordinary. This is personal level confidence and we take pride in living up to it.
In terms of floor space, our store is one of the smallest K-stores. But in terms of product range and service, we are more than a local store. More important than the amount of goods is the fact that our product offer is based on customer wishes. If a customer wants to buy snow shovels, we order them for him. If a customer wants fresh crayfish or special coffees, we get them for him.
Nowadays, if you try throwing pebbles at a store window, the response may come from the police instead of the retailer. Now that stores have extended opening hours, the retailer cannot be present at all times, and the staff takes care of most customer encounters. Often the local store personnel consists of people who genuinely care about their customers.
All sizes of stores are needed. Customers play a part in deciding a store's future by voting with their feet or their cars. Neighbourhood store customers vote for their local store and at the same time, for the environment.
Mikko ”Pikku-Mikko” Länsiluoto is the retailer of K-extra Pietari located in the Ullanlinna district in Helsinki. He represents the third generation of retailer entrepreneurship in the Länsiluoto family.