My first “real” job was working for my Uncle Joe Lewinger, who owned Joe’s Photo in. I worked there after school and weekends from my freshman year in high school through college graduation — whenever I was home on break, there was a job waiting for me.
Uncle Joe was a long-time resident of Glen Cove, had been the high school newspaper photographer, and was a natural to become the city’s most well-known photo shop owner. In addition to Joe’s prodigious knowledge of photography (Note to those under 25: we shot on film, it was processed with chemicals in dark rooms, sometimes it had to be sent away to be processed only to find out that the lens cap had been left on and there were no photos of the wedding!), he had incredible insight into what made a strong brand story. He was a great (and sometimes tough) boss, and a wonderful person. I miss him and think about him often when I work with customers.
Here is a little bit of what I learned about branding from Uncle Joe:
Be the brand. When your name is on the door, people expect to be able to talk to you.
Praise in public; criticize in private. You should tell someone’s supervisor about them when they do something great; tell the person directly when you’re dissatisfied.
Teach your team to be the brand also. You can’t be there 100 percent of the time, but if the team knows how to respond to customers when you’re not there, it won’t matter.
Your brand MUST add value. We sold Kodak film and processing. So did half a dozen others in the area. Joe taught me to load the film into the camera, check the batteries, clean the lens and make sure the customer had everything he or she might need to take pictures. That’s why they came to the store.
Tell the truth. Sometimes photos didn’t come out because the customer made a mistake. Sometimes photos didn’t come back to the store because the processor made a mistake. Sometimes film didn’t come out because I made a mistake. Joe taught me that everything was the same to the customer — he or she wasn’t going to see the anticipated photos. The truth is tough to tell, especially when someone is yelling at you. You have to tell it anyway.
Ask for a second chance; Give second chances. When we made a mistake, we asked for a second chance to make things right. Even if the fault didn’t lie with us — a lost set of photos, for example, Joe would ask forgiveness and provide a fresh roll of film at no charge. When I had neglected my responsibilities and been late to work a few times, Joe told me to take a week and consider whether I wanted to work for him. I did and he took me back.
Clean the toilets. It’s not all pretty prom pictures. Customers may want to visit the bathroom and they don’t want to see it a mess. When it’s your job to clean the toilets, that can be just as important as anything else you do to represent your brand.
One more thing I learned from Uncle Joe: Train your customers how to best work with you, your team and your brand.
This point was driven home one Christmas holiday. During the height of the season — just days before Christmas — the store was packed. As Joe patiently walked a customer through the intricacies of a new camera purchase another customer came in the store. I asked if I could help him and he replied that he wanted to speak with Joe. I let him know that Joe would be a while. Half an hour and a dozen customers later I again asked the man if I could help him. This time he was brusk, responding that he had already told me he wanted to see Joe. I asked if I could let Joe know what he needed and he ignored my question.
When Joe finished with his customer, he smiled, welcomed the waiting customer and asked him how he could help. The customer handed Joe his camera and told him it had stopped working.
Without missing a beat, Joe turned, handed me the camera and asked me what I thought was the problem. The customer’s jaw went slack, wide open, as I quickly ran through the possible problems, finally realizing that the batteries were dead. I quickly replaced them, asked the customer what type of film he required, loaded, cleaned and returned his camera.
He thanked me, paid us, and hurried off. I was professional, friendly and didn’t get smug.
After he left, Joe said to me: “That’s why I pay you. You are fully capable of helping customers and you know when you need my help. Once someone sees that, they begin to get the idea that this is a business and not just me standing behind the counter.”
How about you? What did you learn about branding in your first job?