Going the Extra Mile


ShoppersChoice goes the extra mile. Few businesses – if any – are willing to go quite as far as this family owned company does to guarantee customer satisfaction. But, for the Baton Rouge based team, going the distance is all in a day’s work.

The customer focused company got its start in 1998 when husband and wife team Michael and Ladina Hackley founded a brick and mortar shop called The Grill Store & More in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The business’s success inspired the team to launch ShoppersChoice.com in 2004 in order to give consumers a top-notch ecommerce experience. Today, the company provides virtually any product that customers might need while entertaining family and friends: everything from barbecue grills, patio furniture and umbrellas to refrigerators, ranges and cutlery.

“We think that spending time with your friends and family – sharing a meal, having a Super Bowl party, whatever it is – that is what you remember over time,” CEO Corey Tisdale says. “The AARP did a survey of people in retirement homes and three out of the top five regrets that people had centered around not spending enough time with friends and family.” The ShoppersChoice mission is to provide the products to make that time as enjoyable and hassle free as possible.

This commitment starts with providing only the highest quality products. “We want to make sure that there are not going to be service issues,” Mr. Tisdale explains. Nothing ruins a party like finding out that the brand new grill isn’t working after all the guests have already arrived. “Since most of our sales are online, we can’t be in all of the places that we have customers,” he adds. “If you are going to throw a barbecue and find out that something is broken, you can’t just go down the street [to pick up a replacement part]. Even if we ship it that same day, it might take three or four days to get your part.” As a result, the team absolutely refuses to sell any product that they can’t trust 100 percent.

The company’s product selection begins at the highest level of quality that you would find at a mass merchant store and goes up from there. Mr. Tisdale compares the company’s merchandise to “starting out with a top of the line Honda Accord as our entry level model, and then going to a BMW and Mercedes from there.”

Of course, ShoppersChoice products are a little higher end than what is typically found at big box stores – but you get what you pay for. Take grills, for instance. A ShoppersChoice grill “will be made of better quality materials that don’t corrode,” he points out. “In ten years from now, it will still be in working condition just like it is today. It will cook more evenly. It will be bigger. It will be prettier. It will be a little bit nicer all around.”

The company’s products are impressive, but it is the commitment to customer service that truly sets ShoppersChoice apart. “We have a huge customer focus,” Mr. Tisdale reports. “With Mike [Hackley] coming from hospitality, and before that the military, there has always been a very dogged focus on doing whatever is best for the customer.”

Everyone on the team actively works to improve the customer experience every day. “We don’t wait around for someone to complain about something – as soon as we see something that can be done better, we change it,” he explains. “We are always asking [ourselves]: How can we give better customer service? How do we give faster shipping? How do we give customers a better experience? How do we make sure that people are getting the products that are right for them?”

In fact, the company is so dedicated to customer satisfaction that it employs a chef to teach the staff how to properly use the company’s products – just so they can give customers the best advice. “Everybody who answers the phone and everybody who puts something on the website, we actually put them through cooking courses,” he says. “They actually get a feel for the [product].” As a result, customers are advised by “someone who is educated about the product and has a real opinion.”

One of the most dramatic examples of its commitment to customer satisfaction is the effort that the team made to create an accurate fireplace calculator. Customers needed to know how much they could fit inside an outdoor fireplace, but with every manufacturer using a different standard of measurement, it was nearly impossible to get an accurate understanding of the dimensions.

“It was difficult to standardize everything,” Mr. Tisdale recalls. “So we just ordered stuff in and installed every variation of fireplace. Then we took the actual measurements and built the calculator around that. That level of detail is really important, but it took forever for us to do that. We had to invest in the inventory. We had to install it and burn it. And we had stacks and stacks of used items that you can’t resell as new. So it was a pretty big time investment and product investment.” It was worth the time and expense, however, because it alleviated customers’ confusion regarding fireplace measurements. “If we see something that is bad for the customer we try to make it right.”

The team also tries to brighten the customer’s day and let them know that ShoppersChoice appreciates their business. For instance, the team sometimes sends a note to customers thanking them for their business. “We can’t do it for everyone because we have thousands of orders, but from time to time we handwrite a thank you card to the customer and mail it to them after their stuff is delivered.” The team makes the same effort when things go wrong. “If we make a mistake, we give them discounts and send them new stuff. Nine times out of ten it is shipping damage, but we still fix the situation. And, a lot of times a handwritten letter goes out to say ‘We are sorry that you ran into that and thanks so much for buying from us.’ That way, after the situation is [resolved], the last touch point that they got from us is positive.”

The team’s dedication to customers hasn’t gone unnoticed. The company has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years and has been widely recognized for its achievements. The company has been listed as one of Internet Retailers Top 500 Retailers every year since 2004. In 2005, it ranked number seven in Internet Retailer’s Top Fastest Growing Companies. ShoppersChoice.com has also appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies. In 2011, Mr. Tisdale was awarded the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Forty Under 40 for his dedication to the community and accomplishments in the workforce. The Baton Rouge Business Report also named it as Baton Rouge’s Company of the Year in 2012.

Mr. Tisdale says that, other than an overall commitment to customer service, the company’s strategies for success can’t be boiled down to a single, easily reportable factor. “It wasn’t one thing. It was five hundred different things.” The credit therefore, goes to the people who are behind these five hundred different reasons for success. “It is the employees and the mindset that really set us apart,” he insists. Every single percentage point of growth “is really just a product of having a great team.”

And, this team isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon. In fact, the company recently opened a new showroom in Baton Rouge that features a three-quarter acre display area filled with patio furniture, a full line of kitchen cookware and over twenty fully-functional outdoor kitchens. The team is also expanding its online patio furniture selection this month. The addition is one more feather in the cap of a company that has spent years forging new retail territory.

“Our approach is pretty novel,” he points out. The company is one of the few, if any, that supplies a full range of cooking products. “Barbecue grills are associated with hardware stores and home improvement stores, cookware is associated with high end cookware and cutlery shops at the mall and appliances are associated with cabinet makers and home improvement shops,” he says. “We take all of that and wrap it up into one big deal.”

All of ShoppersChoice’s products will always center around one thing, however, no matter how much the retailer expands its offerings. The company’s goal is always “to be the place that people think about whenever they think about spending time with their friends and family.”

For more information about ShoppersChoice, please visit http://www.shopperschoice.com/