“Through A Glass Darkly” column for Nov. 7, 2012

Entering a mega store I’m often confounded at not being able to find the item I’m seeking or anyone who seems to care whether I find it or not.

It makes me long for the hardware store that once operated just down the road from my home. There Joe, the owner, pointed me immediately to what I wanted.

He’d ask what the project was. Sometimes he’d tell me why what I thought I wanted wasn’t the right thing. He did that even if the right thing was cheaper.

He might have a tip about its installation, and if the project wasn’t one I’d attempted before, he’d walk me patiently through the process.

As the owner, Joe cared that I left as a satisfied customer and that I’d return as one. As a small business owner he made sure the people who worked for him had the same attitude.

That type of service was common in the country stores and small businesses I dealt with when growing up.

At a little grocery and feed store near my home, I even got lagniappe dropped from the candy counter into my bag as a boy.

Though harder to find, I still have relationships like that with some businesses.

At a used bookstore in Walker, the owner sometimes sets aside books for me if she knows I like the author.

For years I’ve used the same two heating and air conditioning guys.

They’ll sit at the kitchen table and have a cup of coffee while I explain a problem.

They’ve never tried to sell me something new, if what I had could be repaired at a reasonable price.

When a unit goes down, they come quickly even if it means working a long day.

It’s logical that if a business owner has hands-on involvement that there is an incentive for better service.

Conversely, the relationship between a company’s employees and its customers can falter if the employees and their managers have no incentive to please those they serve.

Attitude seems to flow from the top down in some firms.

There are a couple of airlines I fly because I know if a problem arises they will do everything possible to fix it.

There’s another I avoid booking after having a couple of situations where nobody seemed to care when problems arose.

I’ve gotten poor service at one burger chain in cities across the country, while getting good service at another, even though I don’t like their burgers as well.

Likewise, I’ve gotten consistently poor service at numerous locations of one pizza chain.

They make me glad for the little restaurant in downtown Denham Springs where the waitresses know what I want when I walk in, and the owner is glad to fix my wife what she asks for, even if it isn’t on the menu.

Advocate Florida Parishes bureau chief Bob Anderson welcomes comments by email to banderson@theadvocate.com.