All the lonely people--what are they doing at a bookstore at 9 p.m. on Friday?

It is impossible to get a seat in the cafe. The chairs in the rest of the second floor of the Powell Street Borders store in San Francisco. This is true of many other Borders and the Barnes & Noble bookstores, as well, since they follow the same approach to selling print materials.

With the tables and chairs full, people are sitting on the windowsills, the step stools behind shelves, on their backpacks on the floor. Ten people are standing in front of the magazine racks, standing and reading. They are reading, reading print material in the great era of electronic communication. Many are young, the people who are supposed to scorn print. They are not just reading textbooks.

There are, of course, many laptop computers in use--the wall outlets are all in use for laptops. But a quick glance shows that more people have magazines or books, sometimes piles of them; sometimes they have print publications and their laptops in use simultaneously. At the end of the night, the pile to be reshelved is large, some magazines are dog-eared.

This is a triumph in people-friendliness.

Remember the magazine racks at the neighborhood drug store? There's a sign reading "Don't read it, if you're not going to by it," and probably a store manager snarling the same mention to anyone lingering too long over the publications--particularly the men's magazines.

Borders and Barnes & Noble turned this upside-down. Read the magazine; here's a chair while you are reading; buy a cup of coffee and a dessert, hang around, loiter. Don't steal, just spend money. And the longer people who read hang around, the more likely they are to buy something.i

In an era in which the message of so many businesses is you can't read the magazine; we don't give you a sample; it's 8:50 p.m. and our staff wants to leave by the posted 9 p.m. closing time, business is often a matter of "no."

Good customer service is a matter of "yes." Yes, you can get a refund. Yes, you can get the same discount as the people who got our special offer. Yes, it is our fault. Yes, we will fix it.

So many businesses tell people what the owners can't and won't do that when consumers find enterprises that say what they will do, they are often big hits (well, you still have to have a good product or service to sell).

Success is about finding a way to say "yes."

So many yesses. Even Molly Bloom would have been excited.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access