RICHMOND – Today, when you get a sales slip from a store, it is usually a foot of printed tape with a request for you to go online and register with them to fill out a customer survey. We don’t understand it. First, doesn’t the company get enough info when you swipe a Visa card at the checkout?
Very often, the sales slip has all sorts of qualifiers about returns, imposing stringent conditions on the customer, not the company.
Recently, we found an old sales slip from the venerable Richmond department store Miller & Rhoads. It was evidence that the old ways were better.
The store was shut down in bankruptcy decades ago, but it is still missed by those who knew it. Today, the store is a hotel and apartment complex in Richmond.
In its heyday, before it was sold out to a group of jerks who ruined it and sent it to bankruptcy, it was well known for its quiet elegance and careful treatment of customers. The sales slip had, on the back, a promise of how it was to conduct business. I think it sort of fits. No, they didn’t call it a mission statement. That would have been to inwardly focused. Instead, it was a promise to do something, to behave in a certain way.
Notice, that it did not put out exact criteria; it did not qualify exactly what return policies were, or what it would do, or that sort of thing. Instead, it was a more general admission that they wanted to conduct business a certain way, and would like their customers to be a part of it.
Today, when we do business with a company, we are often forced to sign or agree to pages of their legalese in a craftily drafted “Terms of Service.” Even worse, there are even statements that we are there at our own risk. In extreme cases, companies ask us to sign away rights to sue.
Just thought it would be nice to point out that companies used to behave this way.
I couldn’t _not_ comment on this item. Before I read your commentary, Mr. Pollard, I read the promise made by Miller & Rhoads to their customers–and it is with total sincerity that I tell you that my eyes actually moistened as I beheld the rare fundamental decency on display in their pledge. While I tend to be very conscious of the human tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses, for most of my 38 years I’ve felt that I was born too late. Your commentary was spot-on, and managed to make me even more nostalgic for a piece of our collective social history that I was not lucky enough to experience for myself.
For all the wariness with which I greet stories of bygone eras recast as lost utopias, I can’t help but see this post as evidence that there are very good reasons to pine for some of what we’ve lost to the passage of time. The ideals that constituted “fundamentals” for Miller & Rhoads are nothing short of radical by current standards, and I find that fact both discouraging and deeply depressing. Nevertheless, I am grateful to you for posting the item; as saddening as it is to me, it also reminds me to believe (hope?) that what once was might be again if only enough of us would hear and absorb the wisdom of our own history, and make the smallest of efforts to put it into practice.