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Thread: What makes a robot store a robot store?

  1. #1
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    What makes a robot store a robot store?

    I got permission from Matt before opening this thread, thanks Matt!

    Well, I bit the bullet. It's been lingering for quite some time now, but this community combined with the movements in the hobby robotics world have pulled me over the edge.

    I'm going to try to start off a small business in Belgium as a hobby robotics retailer.
    More specifically, I would want to focus on educational robotics, starting at age 12 or so, and working up to higher level (read humanoids running embedded linux and such) bots.

    Now my question to you guys is, what do you want to see in a robotics supplier?

    This question is posed in it's broadest term, any conceivable service you'd want to have from the guys you're giving your money to.

    First and foremost, I'd say Service.
    Trossen has proved more than once that this is the key factor in my opinion. But what is service?
    Is it a hotline you can call in office hours? Just an email you can send? a 24/7 hotline? a combination of these?

    Secondly, how important is speed of delivery?
    Are you willing to pay a few bucks more to get your bot the next day, or are you okay with a back-order of two weeks if it saves you, say 5%?

    At this point I'm trying to figure out the entire legal system in Belgium to start up, so I don't expect to be seeing anything too soon, but as I am a sponge regarding information, and you guys are the ones that know what you'd want, slam me with any imaginable thing you can come up with.
    Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity

    "For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve life, press three" - Alice Kahn

    Resistance is futile! (if < 1)

  2. #2
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    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Man, I could write a doctoral dissertation on "what is customer service" - oh wait - I already have.

    Customer service is easy. Or crazy hard. It's attitude, 110&#37; attitude. You do what it takes to resolve any issues the customer has, and you do everything you can to predict that an issue will arise so that you can shoot it before it does.

    Customers don't want excuses. Honestly, they really couldn't care less that "your computers are down so you can't bring up their records or print mailing labels". That's your problem. Fix it. Work around it. But the customer doesn't care. They don't care that your shipping maven is out sick or had their guppy die. Not their problem. They don't care that there was a sandstorm in pakistan, afghanistan, tajikistan, or over the house of some guy named Stan. Resolve it.

    There, of course, are times when "resolve it" is just not practical in this time-space-continuum. Pick up the phone and call them. Yes. Phone. Call. All personal. No excuses, explain the problem, and take the pulse of the customer. Are you going to refund (ouch! That's a last resort. Protect the cashflow.)? Upgrade their shipping? Go down to the local big-box-store and buy the thing retail to send to them? Upgrade their purchase? People are actually really flexible (for the most part) when you are taking the impetus to communicate. I can't remember the last irate customer that I had when I called them *first*, before they knew there was even an issue. Takes a little fight out of them when you're proactive. Drop a personal handwritten note in their package with your apologies. Thank them for their patience.

    The nearly universal fact is: People remember positives better than painful experiences. Even if it starts off badly you can always save it with a little personal interaction. That handwritten note leaves them feeling like you're a human rather than some automaton invisibly hiding behind a domain name. Call them afterwards, make sure they're happy.

    People like knowing they're dealing with people. Give them that and the rest just flows. Think about the times you've gotten crummy service - what did they do that torqued you?

    This attitude has to be pervasive. It must be shared by every person in the company, or you're just bailing water from a leaky boat. (My metaphores are all over today aren't they?) If someone doesn't share the philosophy - throw them overboard FAST.

    Above all else, remember that you have only ONE customer at a time. Every one you tick off is one more nail in your coffin of obscurity. It doesn't take all that many nails before they're burying you...


    [pant pant] Ok - I'm done...
    Last edited by Adrenalynn; 07-28-2008 at 12:20 PM.
    I Void Warranties�

  3. Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Quote Originally Posted by Adrenalynn View Post
    Customer service is easy. Or crazy hard. It's attitude, 110% attitude. You do what it takes to resolve any issues the customer has, and you do everything you can to predict that an issue will arise so that you can shoot it before it does.
    This is so important it bears repeating. When a customer is pissed, you not only lose a customer, you lose everyone the customer talks to in the future about it.

    It doesn't matter if you lose money on the sale in order to fix it. Yeah, it hurts, but it hurts a lot less than the alternative, which is an unhappy customer who believes he or she got shafted.
    "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay, inventor of Smalltalk

  4. #4
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    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Yes, exactly, thank you for underscoring that, Jon! There are studies out there that are reasonably scientific that show the "down side" to the Internet. The plus side is that you can touch far more potential customer base. The downside is that so can they.

    In brick-and-mortar world, the general rule of thumb was that an unhappy customer will cost you ten customers, but a happy customer will bring you five.

    Think about this Internet World. Our reach has grown so far and we each know so many more people.

    Heck, I rave about a company here or on another forum and it may garner them two HUNDRED new customers. I can go to ten forums if I'm really ticked off and chase off two THOUSAND customers.

    One person can dip the bottom line of a hundred million dollar company today - it's frightening! Which means it's also an opportunity.
    I Void Warranties�

  5. #5

    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Here's my bit of advice - keep parts in stock. If I have to wait, I'll just order online. I need to know I can stop by a store and they will reliably have what I'm looking for... and it only takes a couple misses before I decide going into the store isn't worth my time, which is why I don't go into RC hobby stores anymore. They just cater to the RTR crowd nowadays.

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    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Man I was going to do my splurge, Adrenalynn and Jon have taken the words right out of my mouth, All I can say Scud is best of luck in your new venture, I have thought of doing the same here in New Zealand, I would feel at home doing this sort of venture, But it is a lot to think about and probably quite expensive to start off. My main thing to you would be personal contact with the customer make them feel that they have got a great deal in what they purchase.
    People yearn after this robotic dream, but you can't strip your life of all meaning, emotion and feeling and expect to function.


  7. #7
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    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Customer care would be my main priority. As you said, the internet is a powerfull medium, which has both it's pro's and con's.

    I have to say, thanks for the great tip on calling customers personally Lynn. It's one of those things that didn't occur to me, but once you said it, my mind went "duh".

    One thing I should put straight though, I may have expressed myself falsely, it'd be an online shop but with personal customer contact at first. Meaning I'd start a webshop for the broad clientele, but approach universities and schools personally to promote the use of robotics in class since it's hardly used around here atm.

    So in that area, I would cut startup costs given that I wouldn't need an actual store, I could do most operations home-based and would only need storage. (ok, and a website)

    The thing is, it's a risk.
    The big gamble is to give up my day job, get a loan, start stocking bots and parts and hope for the best.

    Problem is, when I order a robot online, I don't want to wait three weeks till it arrives, I need to have those things in stock so I can ship them immediately; I want my customers to get their order ASAP.


    Anyway, I'm going to start a small "market research" in Belgium to see if it would be feasible to get a bank to back me up. Given my age I don't have much to invest, so I'd need to have some view of whether or not I'm going to be bankrupt in two months, selling Bioloid kits in a gutter at 30$ each
    Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity

    "For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve life, press three" - Alice Kahn

    Resistance is futile! (if < 1)

  8. #8
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    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    If you don't go bankrupt the first time out, it's a fluke. But some great lessons get learned for the second time. I BK'd my first company - probably the most emotionally damaging thing I've ever experienced even including an eight year hell of a marriage and subsequent divorce.

    But it's also hugely rewarding, challenging, and opportunity is always directly proportional to risk. I think at some point I also became pretty immune to the hard knocks.

    I think you're asking the right questions though, which gives you a leg up certainly. And you have the advantage of a working model. I have nothing but respect for the way Matt captains his ship, from a customer-facing perspective - I don't know anything about the inner-workings, but can take educated guesses that it's just as tight.

    I'd bet my last dollar that he has an almost fanatical attention to detail...

    This is still a tough sub-industry inside of probably the toughest industry (retail). Matt and Crew are survivors from its inception and that speaks volumes. Getting in today is "cutting edge" - they got in on "bleeding edge". I'd always rather be doing the cutting than the bleeding - but opportunity is always proportional to risk, so having survived the bleeding edge, they get to run around hacking things up now.
    I Void Warranties�

  9. #9
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    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Well, I do realize it's a rapidly evolving world.
    I'll need to be on the front line of all new developments, new kits, new technologies, ...

    But then, that's what I do every night after work, so that part i might be able to manage..

    I'd like to attend some events too, robot competitions and such, but there aren't any in Belgium, alas.
    There are some in Germany and Holland though, France too I think. Might be able to take on those.

    Lynn, Thanks for your supporting words. Seriously, they mean a lot to me.

    I realize it's a big risk, and chances of failure are great, but what good is life if you're not living it?
    Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity

    "For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve life, press three" - Alice Kahn

    Resistance is futile! (if < 1)

  10. #10

    Re: What makes a robot store a robot store?

    Quote Originally Posted by Adrenalynn View Post
    Above all else, remember that you have only ONE customer at a time. Every one you tick off is one more nail in your coffin of obscurity. It doesn't take all that many nails before they're burying you...
    As much as is reasonable, treat that ONE customer like they are your ONLY customer. You'll get far fewer nails that way.

    8-Dale
    I can handle complexity. It's the simple things that confound me.
    Do everything in moderation, ESPECIALLY, moderation..
    Sometimes the only way to win, is not to play.. -- Stephen Falken

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