There is an advantage that comes with working at the same place, with some of the same customers for almost 20 years. It's that you get to know your customers really well.
There is a disadvantage too...it's that you get to know your customers really well.
We've developed a system for a few of the customers we know too well. It's simply the 'Not It' system. It works quite well. There are three of us in my office and the last one to say 'Not It' gets the fortune of helping the customer. And there can be no arguing...if we're the last we've lost...fair and square.
We're subtle...on the chance that you were worried. We've determined who is 'it' long before the customer ever walks into the office. One time a truck pulled up and I said not it, followed quickly by both my brother and my cousin...that left our friend and loyal customer Steve to be it...lucky for us he was there at the time.
Now...let me tell you about one of our favorite 'not it' customers.
Back when Dad ran the place Jon and Dad were BFFs...at least in Jon's head. Jon came in several times a year to discuss his yard...to make sure he was pruning everything properly, and to make sure he was watering everything properly. He brought pictures and leaf samples, and on more than one occasion he convinced Dad to prune his trees for him.
A few years ago Dad moved to Brazil and left the business in our hands. (What was he thinking?) By default it meant that Jon was left in our hands as well. At first he was hesitant...we were only Ed's kids. Eventually we won him over. (And looking back I realize that was our fist mistake.)
Jon has retired from the mental health field...and has been in the middle of a mid-life crisis for at least a decade. One day he came in and we noticed that his truck had all of a sudden become a low-rider. (And to be honest, I have NO idea if that's what you call a truck that is almost to the ground...but it reminds me of the way boys wear their pants these days and it works for me.)
The next time Jon came in his truck had orange flames painted on the sides.
Next it was dyed hair.
And then it was muscle shirts...and then a tattoo. Okay, not really about the tattoo part...
Through it all we've been there for Jon and his plants. We've mourned with him when a micro-burst of wind took out his flowering plum, we've shaken our heads in disgust when the deer have eaten his evergreens...and we've made sure he was on our Christmas card list every year.
Except for last year...because I had just gotten engaged and was kind of goofy and forgot to put a care in the mail for Jon. He was there a few months later, in my office, not with a plant concern, but one much bigger. "Noelle, why didn't I get a Christmas card this year? I was sad."
Good grief is what I thought, but what I said was, "Jon, it will never happen again...I am so sorry!"
You can be sure I sent him a wedding announcement...because can you imagine what would have happened if he had come into my office post-wedding to find that I had been married? The drama would have been unreal...and ever-lasting.
He came to our wedding...brought us a nice gift even. Don't worry, he should be getting his thank you card any day.
Last Saturday, our busiest day of the year, I was standing behind a cash register (because on busy Saturdays that's what I do) when Jon appeared in front of me. He looked distraught...he looked like he wanted to cry. I was worried that some blight had infected his entire yard, he looked that bad.
He leaned his head in close to me and whispered, "Noelle, is Ben alright?" (And for those of you who might be new to the party, Ben is my little brother...my partner in crime if you will.)
"Yes Jon, Ben is fine. Why?"
"Having spent my career in the mental health field I can tell when someone is NOT alright. Ben is NOT alright. And as a mental health professional I am worried."
"Jon don't be worried. Ben will be fine. Spring is a stressful time of year for us and he's probably just feeling a lot of pressure."
Jon shook his head and sighed and said, "I hope that's all it is. I really do." And then he showed me some fertilizer he had and said, "I don't have any money with me...I'll pay you next week," and then he was gone...he and his truck with the orange flames.
I called Ben and said "Jon is worried about you."
"WHAT?" was Ben's reply.
"You know, having been in the mental health profession and all...he thinks you're in trouble."
Ben probably rolled his eyes...but of course I can't be sure because we were talking on the phone...
I'll bet next time Ben says 'not it' first.