Some days ago I had to do some personal business downtown so I thought I would quickly attend to it during part of my lunch hour. I must preface this by saying I was having a relatively busy day but not a bad day. I went into the establishment and discovered that one of my favorite customer service people was gone for the day. I personally know the manager so I asked for him and he was out to lunch. I was just on my way out of the building and someone hollered, “Can I help you?” Oh how I really do hate being hollered at with that line. Some day when I’m in a bit of an acid mood I will likely respond, “I really don’t know if you are either physically or mentally capable of helping me.” I’m sorry but when I was in grade school I was taught the difference between may and can. I told this person that I was there to make some changes in an investment account. The person ushered me to a cubicle and asked me my name and I gave it, then asked for my driver’s license, and then asked for another form of identification. In a non-nonchalant fashion I said something like, “Seems it’s getting worse and worse with this identification business.” This person’s response was, “I don’t know you and it’s for security purposes.” Oh Mercy! It’s a good thing that I was having a good day before I entered the building. While this person was punching information on a computer via the “index finger”, I asked when the manager would return. Moments later this person got up, and walked away leaving me seated for at least five to seven minutes. Customers absolutely MUST be treated like customers and not like a person who has interrupted their day of likely texting and playing on their computers. I merely closed my folder, got up and walked out. Enough was enough. I was visiting with a client today about that scenario who continues to work very hard in her occupation and was of a similar mind regarding the way customers are being treated these days. Believe it or not, nearly all of my years in the work world have been service in one form or another. So many corporations attempt to fill key positions with naïve candy wrapper employees and they don’t realize most people don’t care how attractive someone is as long as they present themselves in a professional manner, know their job, and have the ability to treat each and every person they attend to with dignity and respect. I used to tease an aging businessman prior to his retirement when I discovered he was taken by several of the “eye candy” employees. I would say to him, “Candy is nothing but sugar in a fancy wrapper and you know what happens sooner or later to the wrappers.” I would always get a chuckle out of him.
Over the years in doing business in North Iowa, I have found that people who have done very little traveling as well as little in-depth reading, are more dismissive about changes in their lives as well as their communities. They seem to have the mindset of, “This is how it’s been, this is how it is, and this is how it will be.” Scary isn’t it? The world continues to change along with countries, states and communities. When we even have people who have done business in our communities being dismissive about change, it causes me to consider them nothing more than opportunist in wanting it all. There appears to be no sense of wanting the best for everyone beyond themselves.
I was fortunate in having the opportunity to spend some time today with a visitor from out of state who understands much about growing business. The comments from that person about the appearance of downtown Mason City and the possibilities for future growth were well received. I spoke about how far we have already come in just three years. I remember too well the condition of my office building as well as the condition of North Federal Avenue. Time and time again during these past three years I have continued to be a proponent of what good things the future of our historic district will offer as long as we continue on the upper path of growth. I will never forget the day several years ago when a person whom I will not name, who is well known in this city coming up to me and saying, “I don’t know why you are wasting your time trying to get business back downtown. This downtown will never get better. It will continue to get worse and worse.” I was deeply hurt by those words coming from a man who lived here nearly all his life. Just one example of the negative back wash that we must continue to overcome.
The meeting with a person who is an outsider looking in, gave me a real boost in my belief that downtown Mason City will blossom.
Have any of you really noticed at times how people work at their jobs as well as the quality of their work? Also, have you noticed how some people who are in customer service really aren’t cut out to be servants of customers? Having been in supervisory positions in past years, I found myself attempting to re-educate workers in how they should perceive the hours they spend at work. More than once I found myself being quite hard with some of them when I found them slacking off. I re-iterated to them that they agreed to perform given tasks with the best of their abilities for a set hourly rate. I believed and still believe that if a person doesn’t give their best when doing their jobs, then the employer is basically getting cheated when pay check time rolls around. It is a two way street. Perhaps this is why so many companies and agencies take that “us against them” mentality when dealing with day to day problems.
Corporate narcissistic attitudes are creating a backlash of indifference and alienation. I remember reading an article some years ago which spoke about how companies in Germany feel about their employee/employer relationships. The thrust of that article was that most company heads believed that their employees were part of their family and they did everything they could to keep them when their companies were having a bad year. And likewise, their employees felt the same way. If there were employees who didn’t “fit” within the company, the loyal workers were the spearheads in getting them off the payroll. Team work eases the stress of work. Everyone has a bad day, but if there are chronic bad days, there is something wrong. I remember one of my college instructors telling us, “Don’t look for a job, but rather look to yourselves for your vocation.” When we have a love for what we do, it’s really not a job, it’s a vocation.
Have any of you ever had one of those days that occur in your life when you feel like you are about 15 minutes behind everything that is happening in the universe? I had one of those rare days today. Not sure how or why it happens because no matter how much you work to catch up those 15 minutes, there is always some intervening circumstance that that pulls you back. The real test of a multi-tasker is when the rest of the world doesn’t notice that you are 15 minutes behind. I remember a loan officer that is now retired who was a master at multi-tasking. You could interrupt him numerous times and he would seem unaffected by it. He seemed to always have time for you. I found out years later that he spent many evening hours at the bank doing his catching up. I know that is the price one must pay when providing services to the general public on a daily basis. I was giving a few suggestions this afternoon to some newly arrived residents of Mason City about what to look for when shopping for goods and services for their home. I am a real proponent of businesses that not only sell their goods for a fair and equitable price but also provide equally dependable customer service. I’ll give you an example. Not too many months ago, I went to a business to enquire about a repair of an item that was purchased some years ago. I was the only one in the store and when I walked up to the customer service counter I found the clerk on the phone. After about ten minutes of listening to a personal chatty phone call likely with a friend of the clerk, I knew it would be an uphill battle to get something done. Well, that is exactly what happened. Nothing was done and I had to go elsewhere to get it fixed. Certainly that clerk could have been having one of those bad days, but none of the general buying public should have encountered it. My advice for anyone in business is to remember that good work travels slowly, but bad work travels like wildfire. So, if you ever feel like you are moments behind chasing after a bouncing ball, then try not to show it. It will be remembered.
Because I have lived here in Mason City for so long, I can now talk about a most delightful, real, and honest to goodness bakery that thrived downtown for years. It was located just east of Federal Ave. about a half a block on State Street. Because I worked at Norwest Bank at the time, I frequented the bakery nearly every morning. Ohhh the smells that lingered in the outside air. It seemed to set the mornings right. When I speak of bakery, I mean the real thing. The husband and wife that ran that bakery at the time made everything from scratch. The husband would be there very early in the morning and later the wife and employees would arrive. The husband would leave early and the wife and help were left to close up for the day. That bakery was there for years and years. They didn’t close because of lack of business; they closed because they were getting quite old and at that time they found themselves competing with Fareway’s in store bakery which doesn’t exist anymore. The owners of that bakery lived in what used to be the Gildner family house which will be the subject of another article. I know they did quite well for themselves financially during those times. I don’t think any one of us really want to make millions, but rather just have a stable, productive and fulfilling job. My mother’s family we extremely good at creating unbelievable baked goods. Yes, I was spoiled and I know that now because, nearly every time I eat something from a bakery that is supposed to taste good—doesn’t.
I’m sure part of that comes from the ingredients. My mother and grandmother used real butter, real cream, real free range eggs and likely everything that was real for an ingredient. So, let’s get back to the bakery. I hope anyone who is reading this article, knows someone who has vision, talent and drive. There are several perfect spots for a REAL bakery downtown. I assure you, it will be successful.
By the way, here is a link to a bakery that has hit the headlines in New York.
These past weeks of summer have shown even more activity in the central business district of Mason City than what I have seen in past years. I believe part of this growth in visitors and shoppers downtown is that the Farmer’s Market seems to be gaining popularity with North Iowans. I think that comes from the help of Jodee O’Brien who is the new Director of Main Street Mason City. She is filled with a great deal of energy and shows real commitment towards getting the Historic Business District a place where everyone wants to visit and shop. I wish her the very best. We need people like her who are not afraid of pushing forward. There will always be those crotchety business owners who are nay sayers to just about everything merely because they are negative about themselves and their community.
There are three words that we all should remember when it comes to lifting up our communities.
The first word is Envision. If we don’t have people in our lives that share their visions, then we have puddles of flat liners. The next word is encourage. We all have people in our families and workplaces that are pesterers. They just don’t stop! They see someone else’s vision and push, tug, pull, and badger until the the group finally understands and then goes into action. The last word is enhance. We all know people who seem to be like ghosts in their surroundings. They appear to keep everything new as well as old in near perfect balance. They don’t talk much, they just do. I admire these people as well because they are the ones that quietly clean up messes as well as put the finishing touches on the neighbor’s surprise birthday cake. They move the slowest yet they are equally as much needed in this triad of community building. So, which of the three E’s are you?
I have lately been comparing what used to be and what is now. Many things are better now as far as health care, information technology, and opportunities for career advancement. On the opposite side I find a more distancing of real human interaction. For example, just these past several years, I am finding that more people that I know are texting or e-mailing me rather than calling me. It appears that people tend to isolate themselves into their own sub-groups of society. Personal interaction with society in general is more distant and guarded. I find that with buyers as well as tenants. But, if I look a particular person up on Facebook, I find that they have numerous friends with whom they freely interact. The real problem I find in this movement towards people searching out people who they share common interests and goals, is that they are attempting to exclude the crosscut of the general population. I have always encouraged people to investigate and learn about people’s lives and their cultures. From that, we find more of a balance whenever we interact with someone that isn’t “just like” us. With that said, I come back full circle and say that we in our community of Mason City and greater North Iowa, must work towards re-establishing the real mindset of community. We must truly learn to care as well as share. The fabric of our nation is woven with fibers of many different cultures that allowed themselves to be woven together as one. Let’s work at that mindset a little each day.