Two weeks after Stew Leonard’s grand opening in 1969, Stew Leonard, Sr. was standing at the front door of the store greeting customers. Suddenly a customer came up to Stew and said, “YOUR EGGNOG IS SOUR!” and thrust into his hands a half-gallon carton. “My eggnog is sour, from my brand new dairy plant? Impossible!” exclaimed Stew, “You’re wrong! It can’t be sour. We’ve sold over 200 half-gallons of eggnog from this batch and you’re the only one who’s complained!”
The customer was so mad, veins were popping out in her neck. She said, “I don’t care how many cartons you sold, it’s sour and I want my money back!” Eggnog was 95 cents per half-gallon so Stew reached into his pocket and gave the customer a dollar bill. She snatched it out of his hand and started out the store. The last words he heard her say were, “I’m never coming back to this store again!”
That night, Stew relayed the story to his wife, Marianne, and she, too became upset with him. “I don’t blame her at all,” said Marianne. “You didn’t listen to her. You contradicted her and practically called her a liar. I hope you are not going to run your store like other store managers, who think all customers are trying to put something over on them. They don’t trust us — but we fix them — WE JUST NEVER GO BACK!”
After thinking about it for a while, Stew realized that he had everything in the world tied up into his dairy store. He could not afford to lose a single customer by telling them they were wrong. He realized that most customers were honest and wouldn’t try to take advantage of him. However, if he tried to protect himself from the one percent who were dishonest, he’d end up penalizing the other 99 percent who were really good and honest! Stew decided Marianne was right and that no customer was ever going to be wrong in my store again.
On his way to work one morning, Stew drove by a monument yard, where they were unloading granite. Suddenly, Stew got an idea. He stopped and bought a huge slab of granite from Mr. Bates. It weighed 6,000 pounds. Then Stew had him deliver the rock to the front door of his store, and had their stonemason chisel the store’s new policy into its face: Rule 1 The Customer Is Always Right! Rule 2 If The Customer Is Ever Wrong, Reread Rule 1.
To this day, 50 years later, the rock still stands firm at each of Tom Leonard’s and Stew Leonard’s store entrances. Every single team member knows of the eggnog story, and how the rock came to be. They know that they can do anything in their power to make the customer happy. Happy customers not only come back, they bring their friends!