retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Bill Weidenbruch died recently and his story merits a few minutes of your time.

Bill was no giant of commerce, politics, sports or anything else, but his passing deserves mention because his life deserves it as well. In a small yet significant way, he provides a constant reminder of what makes for competitive distinction.

For 39 years, Bill worked at the Giant supermarket closest to my house in Maryland. I have and could write at length about the problems we’ve had shopping at this store that’s hemmed into a too small location with a tough parking lot and countless issues of disappointment.

Bill was none of those. His was the smiling face we and countless other residents of the area passed every time we walked by or entered the Giant. He greeted everyone warmly, offered a cart and any kind of help. As the small obituary for his death noted, he became an institution for all of his customers.

I’m betting that most of those customers and passersby, like me, didn’t even know his last name until the news came through local social networks that he had passed away. I’m also betting that many, like me, cannot recall a single conversation with Bill. All I can recall is the smile and quick chitchat we exchanged as I entered or walked past the store.

From a business perspective, I have to imagine the only advantage Bill provided was his eagle eye to keep shopping carts from “disappearing.” Likewise he probably prevented countless complaints for his store by ensuring that those same carts weren’t dinging expensive cars and customer relations in the process.

To be honest, I have to admit that a warm smile and greeting weren’t enough to provide competitive advantage. Bill’s charm wasn’t enough to keep my family and me loyal to this store. We found others with better prices, fresher products and more, and so we moved on.

Yet Bill and his story matter. As the competitive environment heats up (and we all know it has and will continue to), not everything will be about efficiency. Neither can every competitive advantage be measured. Some things will go beyond that as we all try to find ways of building connection and experience that get people to forgo the latest in convenience and to bother traveling to and shopping your store.

The reality is that some elements of competitive advantage will be immeasurable, as was the case with Bill. Perhaps if his store were a little nicer, the produce and meat fresher, and the pricing sharper, Bill’s presence might have tipped the scales another way for me.

Rest in peace, Bill.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
KC's View: