Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Of Punks, Goths, and Businesspeople

Whenever I go downtown, I see punks and goths, and it makes me smile. For those that might not know, these are young kids that dress, well, in ways that most people would consider “weird”. And their “style” is defined a lot by the music they listen to. The punkers listen to, well, punk rock, and wear a lot of grungy shirts, chains, usually with multiple body piercings. Baggy, torn shorts are common, as are spiky, multi-colored hair styles.

Goths, on the other hand, wear black. Lots of it. Black shirts, black pants, black overcoats. Black hair, black eye makeup, black fingernails. White faces, though. Pale white. They also seem to wear black moods, and I think it’s against the rules for a goth to smile. The music they like is dark, moody, angtsy, and, of course, loud.

But I have to chuckle when I see these kids, because I used to be one of them. Not punk or goth, mind you, but in my day, I was a rocker. I was raised in the 70’s, but I really “grew up” in the ‘80’s. That’s the decade I claim. And I loved the hair band rockers. I still do. But back then, I also wanted to look like them. So, I grew my hair out long, wore long dangly earrings, tore up my shirts, tore holes in the knees of my jeans, and wore my high-tops untied. I wore zebra-striped and Union Jack bandannas, and a dirty old trench coat loaded up with so many buttons and pins it weighed more than my backpack.

And that’s even how I went to church!

And I thought I was cool.

It’s scary, now, to see the pictures of me back then…

And, I scared away a lot of people. They didn’t know quite how to relate to me. I was a nice guy, and very friendly, but there was something about me that wanted to scare people away. It’s like I was testing them. I wanted to see if anyone cared enough to get past it and get to know the real me.

Now, in the years since then, I’ve mellowed a lot. My hair is shorter, my clothes more business-like. I still like a good, loud rock band as well as the next guy, but I’m not so pushy in my appearances. I’m a little bit easier to get to know, now.

So, that makes me think about things in business. I’ve seen it over and over again: Cluttered little shops with quirky owners and quirkier trinkets on the disorganized shelves. They’re tucked away in a corner of a street with hardly any sign to tell that they’re even there. But when I start to talk to the cashier, or sift through the scattered and dusty shelves, I find some really cool stuff, and the people are really helpful and knowledgeable. And when I walk out, I reflect on my luck at finding such a cool place to buy whatever I was looking for.

But I’ve realized that it’s a lot like being a punker or a goth. It’s like these businesses are challenging me to find them, like they’re trying to scare me away first to see if I really want to dig past it all and find the quaint little shop therein.

On the other hand, there’s the huge retailers that advertise so much I can sing their jingles in my sleep. Their shops are clean and well-lit, and stocked with lots of stuff that I want, most of the time, but not all the time. Their prices are usually pretty reasonable. But when I want to ask a question to someone, they don’t know the answer. Or if I just strike up a conversation, they’re too busy stocking a shelf or ringing up the next customer in line to chat.

So, what’s the best? Do I want to run a business like a punker? Really cool, but hard to find? Or like the big retailers, that are easy to get to, but with no heart?

There really is a “best of both worlds”. You can truly be available to your customers, and still have a great-looking, classy business that’s well-promoted. You don’t have to choose one or the other. You don’t want to be the web’s “best-kept secret”.

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