The first customer is a milestone for any business. And although I’m a firm believer that every customer is equally important, Equator Appliance’s first client holds a special place in my heart. Here’s how one customer’s leap of faith helped Equator transition from a one-man staff (just me!) to a successful global business.
Let’s flash back to the early 1990s. This was a touch-and-go time for Equator. We were marketing a product that most Americans had never seen before — a front-loading laundry machine — and because our customers weren’t confident that the product would sell, we operated on a consignment basis. If our buyers sold our machine, we got paid; if the machine didn’t sell, the product got returned and we didn’t earn a penny. Most of the machines Equator shipped out were being shipped right back to us a few months later.
That all changed with one phone call. I didn’t have any employees at the time, so I answered the phone myself. The man on the other end was a Boston business owner who said he saw a story in the paper about our products and wanted to sell them in his stores. Thinking that he would want a consignment deal, I asked him to describe his terms. He said simply, “Just send me the bill, and we’ll pay it.”
I’ll never forget that Boston business owner and his decision to put full faith in our machines. I think his customers must also have sensed his confidence in Equator Appliances, because he was able to sell all the machines he purchased from us within months. Two decades later, he’s still an Equator customer placing regular orders for our appliances, and has also become a close friend. I met him for lunch while I was traveling in Boston a few months ago, and we reminisced about our last 20 years of doing business together.
Customer service isn’t always easy, and I’ve learned a lot of tough lessons along the way. But one thing I have learned during my entrepreneurial journey is this: every customer matters. It’s our job as business owners to show our customers gratitude every way we can — through products that improve their world and service that makes their needs the top priority.
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