Lessons I learned working in a country store

Published 10:12 am Friday, May 25, 2018

by Charles Qualls

I was driving in front of the church I pastor the other day. Our sign caught my eye. It’s a small sign, probably a little too modest if I’m allowed to be that honest. But it tries to use its space to convey the important stuff. Between considering the information on the sign, and thinking of a recent conversation or two, I got to thinking about working at my Dad’s store.

From the age of eight until I graduated college, I worked there for him part time. It was a little country store that sat at an odd crossroads in our community. As such, it was a hangout for the regulars. A convenience store for all who needed groceries, gas, oil, hardware or horse feed. Really.

We couldn’t keep the horse feed stocked, so fast did folks buy it.

In the summers, we had fresh vegetables and canning supplies. In the fall and winter, the peanut man would park outside and sell boiled peanuts. It was a community spot where one could catch up on news and gossip.

On the side, we also ran a firewood delivery business from there. It’s where I learned a lot about life. My Dad also taught me a lot in how he ran the place.

I suppose I learned some lessons that pertain to church in that old, thriving business. Come to think of it, they’re probably good lessons for any of us who try to make a living in Franklin. Here are a few of them:

• Be sure you live up to your sign. Our sign there said that we would open at 6:30 a.m. and close up at 8 p.m. For 21 years, my Dad never missed delivering on those hours. That meant he wasn’t getting ready at 6:30. He was ready before 6:30, because those open hours were a promise. Still today, I’m a stickler about promptness. I think it’s courteous and a signal that you are reliable. The sign said that, in addition to the obvious gasoline pumps, we carried “Groceries and Hardware.”  Guess what my Dad made sure he never ran out of?

Here at our church, we say we are Baptist. We are that, but in a very particular and historic sense that makes us a little unique I suppose. We say, “All are Welcome.” Each week, we have to be sure that we learn what we mean by that. I think all truly are.

• Make it as easy as you can for your customers to do business with you.  When I was about 10, I was allowed to go in early with him one summer day at opening time. I asked him why we had to park his truck way off to the side of the building, when the spot right in front of the door was available? “Because, you never park in front of your own door, son. That’s for your customers.”  Here at church, we have a responsibility to do similarly.

We have greeters to help newcomers. We have convenient guest parking. We try to be sure our signage is helpful. We welcome folks and let them know how glad we are that they were with us. We challenge ourselves to look for our own “secret-handshakes,” because no one chooses to go back where they feel like an outsider. My wise friend, Bo, has a saying: “People go where they know they’ve been prepared for and will be cared for.” He’s right.    

• Tell people the truth, and don’t promise more than you can deliver. That one ought to be obvious. Sadly, it’s not. Here at the church, we are growing in understanding of who we are. That means we’re also learning about who we aren’t. I think everyone comes out ahead when that happens.

• Don’t sell the store too cheaply. My Dad was just about the most accommodating business man I’ve ever seen. But, he knew where the line was. If a customer tried to take advantage of us, he would find a way to tell them nicely that he just couldn’t do the deal. No two churches are alike.  We have variety for a reason.

• Expect to do business. If you come off looking like you didn’t expect anyone to show up, then the ones who do can tell. Be ready. Focus on the people, because the people matter. Don’t make them feel like they’re interrupting something else you’d rather be doing. Have enough employees to do the job.

There were more lessons, to be sure. But newsprint is limited. Churches … country stores. They have a lot in common. Maybe I’ll muse some more another day.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.