December 2, 2013
Small biz focus on service
Area retailers say treating customers right gives them holiday edge
HOMER — If you’ve stepped foot in Homer sometime during the past 64 years, you’ve probably met Roland “Frog” Fragnoli. Now 84 years old, the owner and operator of Homer Men & Boys is gearing up for holiday season.
Given cookie-cutter department stores’ December dominance, Fragnoli’s secret to surviving and thriving is a fairly simple one.
“It’s really no secret at all,” Fragnoli said. “You treat the people right, you have good prices and brand-name goods. Somebody comes in with an exchange problem, you take care of things right away. There’s no mucking around.”
The holiday season is Fragnoli’s busiest time of the year.
“All the way from school opening to Christmas is out biggest business,” said Fragnoli, whose customers seemed to agree with his straightforward business model.
“I love these little shops,” said Louise McGee, returning a greeting from Fragnoli as he made his way down a crowded aisle. “They really appreciate your business and respect you as a customer.”
McGee was out shopping for her son and son-in-law. According to her, Fragnoli’s selection bests any of the local big-box stores, including Wal-Mart.
“Look around here and then look at Wal-Mart’s men’s department,” McGee said. “There’s no comparison.”
Fragnoli’s son-in-law, Rob Garrison, who along with his wife, Leslie, is taking over the family business, was busy helping customers Saturday afternoon, but snuck in a few minutes to answer some questions.
Garrison, a former IBM employee, has been at the store for the past 20 years, and echoed his father-in-law’s wisdom.
“You come in here and we’re going to take care of you,” he said. “Seventy five percent of the people who come in here, we know. It makes people relax.”
Meanwhile, in downtown Cortland, another longtime establishment has its own ways of drawing customers in for the holiday shopping rush.
The owner of Sarvay Shoes on Main Street since 1991, Dale Taylor said an important piece in the puzzle of drawing in customers is to provide products that set you apart.
“You need stuff that differentiates you from other people,” he said. “A different color, or a different take on a certain design.”
When he goes to vendor shows, Taylor said he keeps his eyes open, and constantly asks himself, “who’s going to buy these shoes?”
“I’ve bought my share of things I shouldn’t have bought before,” said Taylor, who confesses that the art of catering to customers is a learned skill. “But we know our customers well enough that we do (know who will buy them).”
Taylor started as a clerk at Sarvay’s in 1977, back when it was still owned by Jim Sarvay. He knows shoes, and the business.
The important thing is not selling someone a pair of shoes, he said, but rather ensuring that they continue buying shoes.
“I want them to come for the rest of their lives,” Taylor said. “We might sell somebody one pair of shoes, but if you don’t treat them right, they’re not coming back.”
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