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Prioritizing Relationships Over Sales

Sometimes service can feel forced. At Alpenglow Sports, owner Brendan says 'if you don't love to help people you're not hired.' And that culture creates a customer forward approach to the atmosphere in the shop.

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Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.

When looking to hire new employees, Brendan Madigan doesn't care what your resume says. If you don't love to help people, you're not hired.

Alpenglow Sports

Brendan, owner of Alpenglow Sports—a successful retail shop in Tahoe City, California specializing in outdoor recreation equipment—has made a culture of enthusiasm and genuinely loving to help customers his business's calling card.

"Alpenglow has always been about the people," said Brendan. "When I moved here as a ski bum from the East Coast, fresh out of college, there were people here that took me under their wing and showed what it meant to get to the trailhead at five in the morning and put the skin track in for the rest of the community."

For many local businesses, cultivating a healthy work environment for both employees and customers is critical. Having a good product or service is key, but the culture you create can make or break your business. Brendan looks for people who are capable of building meaningful relationships, and this quality is what keeps Alpenglow's company culture vibrant and consistent. Brendan's philosophy on team building and training is unique and centers on learning how to foster authentic customer connections.

"I start my training with our staff with a podcast [from] StoryCorps," he said. "The intro of this podcast talks about building bridges of understanding between people from vastly different backgrounds and experiences. That's what we like to do every day."

At its core, working at Alpenglow is about much more than just making a sale.

"We don't think of ourselves as salespeople. We want to connect with people on a human level," said Brendan. "We do want to know what they're experiencing in their life and their adventures. And that's why I think people enjoy working here because it is a little different approach."

That different approach, as Brendan put it, has helped Alpenglow build powerful relationships with its customers. When Yelp reviewer Sheena H. visited Alpenglow to find a new pair of boots, she was particularly impressed by how knowledgeable the employee who helped her was, and how he gave her tips on which shoes to choose based on the occasion. More importantly, she felt like he was prioritizing her needs, and not just the sale. Sometimes, little details like these are what create a stronger bond between the business and consumer.

"I had been needing some new hiking boots and the staff here was great," wrote Sheena in her review of Alpenglow. "[The salesperson] gave great advice, was attentive to my requirements, and ultimately helped me find the best solution for me. Everyone was delightful, thank you!"

Sheena's review hits on exactly what Brendan has demonstrated is so essential to manifesting a thriving business salespeople putting the customer's real needs first.

"I think what gets really frustrating sometimes as a customer [is that salespeople] want to maybe steer you toward the higher price item instead of actually hearing you out for what you're looking for," said Sheena. "I think that's what was really lovely is that [the salesperson] didn't try to make me buy something. It was like, what is truly right for your needs now and in the future."

Alpenglow's service-first mindset has helped Brendan not only build a booming outdoor sports business but also give back to its community.

"I'd say the best example of our business model is something that we call the Alpenglow Sports Winter Speaker Series. It's a 16-year-old event. We get five of the biggest names in the adventure space, climbers, skiers, snowboarders, all with a human-powered story, and give a free show to the community. [Participants'] sponsors donate prizes, and we pick five local nonprofits, one per show for the season. Everyone gets inspired and motivated, and then we raise a boat ton of money for some local nonprofits, which makes our community and people's lives better."

Even with all the positive relationships that Alpenglow has maintained thoughtfully over the years, a business can never please everyone. In instances where they can't provide a perfect interaction, Brendan recognizes the importance of being compassionate when working with customers.

"If we get a bad review, that hurts. Negative reviews are just opportunities in disguise, right?" he said. "We treat [customers] with compassion, reach out to that person, and say, "Hey, can we talk about this offline? We're happy to make it right for you. And if we blew it our bad, but give us another chance.'"

On the other side of the coin, Sheena—who has experience working in the restaurant industry—recognizes the challenges that come with operating a business, and she recommends that customers keep that in mind.

"I think for other [customers], if they have a bad experience, I would encourage them to open your eyes and your ears about what's going on around you in that business," she said. "And understand the struggles. Like whatever you're seeing and hearing. And it's not about you."

These insights have helped Brendan create a business that's truly customer-centric:

  • Make customer interactions the center of your business. Train staff to look beyond the sale and create real relationships that aim to help customers.
  • Negative reviews are just opportunities in disguise. Use constructive feedback to learn something. Acknowledge when a consumer feels let down and determine how to make it better.
  • Look for opportunities to expand your footprint locally. Determine how you can give back to the community that supports you—through special events, fundraisers, business associations, and more.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Brendan and Sheena, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

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