Stradley Applies Customer Service

January 27, 2003
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HOLLAND — A lot of people complain about the poor service they receive at the store.

Braden Stradley wants to do something about it.

Mixing a desire to teach with the experience of working and managing in the retail sector, the 26-year-old Holland native recently launched Applied Business Education (www.biz-ed.com), offering “practical” and “useful” training for small retail businesses.

Top on the list is customer service, an area where a small business can outshine a larger competitor and build customer loyalty. If a customer feels comfortable in the store, they’ll come back. If they don’t, they won’t.

“People won’t tolerate being treated rudely very long,” Stradley said. “In this environment, you can really separate yourself from your competitor. You can make yourself stand out.

“A lot of the products you buy, people have choices where to buy it from and people want to feel valued as a customer. If you’re providing great customer service, you’ll be successful and people will appreciate it,” he said.

A Hope College alum who graduated with honors with a degree in history and who holds a state teaching certificate, Stradley got the idea to form Applied Business Education while working as the general manager for Quality Car Wash’s three Holland area locations that include a convenience store and gas station.

Stradley started with Quality Car Wash when he was 15 years old, working as a cashier. As he put himself through college, he moved up to assistant manager, then store manager and three years ago to general manager. Along the way he learned the value of good customer service through practical experience, as well as from Quality owner Tom Essenburg.

As Quality’s general manager, Stradley was responsible for training new employees. With small retail business owners typically lacking the resources, knowledge and time to train employees beyond a few basics, Stradley saw an opportunity to create a business that melds his passion for teaching with his knowledge and enjoyment of working in the retail sector.

The idea, he said, “kind of evolved” over time, culminating when he launched the company in November.

“I thought I had something unique to offer — knowledge, experience, and an ability to teach that knowledge. I enjoy the challenge of it. This is where my passion is right now and this is what I love doing,” said Stradley, whose personal customer-service nightmare episode occurred a few years ago in a community up the Lake Michigan shoreline.

He stopped at a store in Manistee to buy a soda. As he stood at the counter, the teen-aged store clerk asked if he intended to pay for the candy bar in his pocket.

Stradley didn’t have one; the clerk insisted he did — even after he emptied his pockets to show differently. Stradley paid for his soda and left the store — without an apology from the clerk, who today probably still considers him a thief.

“They just wouldn’t drop it,” he said of the incident, chuckling and shaking his head.

In addition to teaching employees and their employers good customer service techniques and how to handle and respond to everyday situations — from incorrectly accusing someone of shoplifting, to how to greet customers in a manner that sounds sincere — Applied Business Education offers training in leadership and management, how to hire and fire employees and teamwork skills.

Classes are conducted at the company’s training rooms, housed in offices of the former General Electric plant at 16th Street and U.S. 31, or on site at the client’s business. Classes are structured to accommodate a group of employees, or an individual.

Under a partnership with a local accountant, Stradley also provides a short course in personal finance.

Lessons are not limited to just retail, he said, and apply to other sectors as well, such as professional services.

Stradley, who runs the company with a part-time employee, said business is beginning to pick up and he’s optimistic for future growth. Though flexible to what a potential client may need, Stradley plans to stay within his core area and not stray too far.

“I don’t want to do everything for everybody. That just doesn’t work,” he said.           

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