Real life stories are a great way to make a point. And the point I want to make (yet again) with this story is that if small businesses don’t match big businesses in certain aspects, it will undermine their growth and survival prospects.

Of course, there are aspects to small businesses that differentiate them favourably from big businesses, but the one where so many of them fall down, is prompt and efficient service. Let me tell my story and you’ll see what I mean.

I support independent bookstores whenever I can; my favourite is in Lunenburg. So, when I recently received their monthly newsletter and spotted a book that would be ideal for my ten-year-old granddaughter, I emailed one of the owners that I know well to ask if they had it in stock and would reserve a copy for me. Notwithstanding the fact that Lunenburg (home of the Bluenose II) is in any case a wonderful place to visit, I didn’t want to drive forty kilometers only to find that they were sold out.

When, after three or four hours, I hadn’t heard back, I called the store. By now it was during business hours but nobody answered the phone. A message eventually kicked in and suggested that I email the store, which I promptly did after finding the email address on their website. But then, out of curiosity, I logged onto and found the book there for $14.95, with free delivery courtesy of Prime. I was tempted to order it right away but I decided that regardless of how I felt about the difficulty I was having rousing anyone at my favourite bookstore, I’d still rather give them the business—besides, Jeff Bezos doesn’t really need another $14.95.

It’s been forty-eight hours and I haven’t had a return call or an email. A less loyal customer would by now have ordered the book from Amazon and moved on. Who could blame them, especially when they’d also be saving the $14.00 or so that Canada Post would want for delivering the book to Ontario?

And therein lies my point . . . . If small businesses are to succeed in a competitive market, they need to make sure that they match big business in prompt and efficient service. Trading on customer loyalty and a sentimental preference for supporting small local businesses has its limitations.