Forty years ago, we lived on Westfield Drive in the Southridge area of Wilmington. It was a very convenient place to live.

As a single parent, I was delighted that there were plenty of kids there for Josh and Danny. Our babysitter lived just down the street.

Very importantly, if necessary, I could walk to work at the hospital in about 15 minutes. I would simply walk through the cemetery, jump the creek, and there I was, maybe a little damp, but there I was. Luckily, it was rarely necessary.

One summer morning, I got up, fixed breakfast for the boys, then went out to start the car. A few weak grunts were followed by some mechanical clicking sounds.

The clicking grew fainter, and fainter… then silence followed by frustration. I had a hospital management meeting that morning, so I took off walking.

With K-Mart just around the corner at the shopping center on South Street, I knew I could easily get it fixed or get a new battery right after work.

I even called to check. Their automotive center was going to be open until 6 p.m. That should have given me plenty of time.

As soon as I got home, I changed into some old clothes and started fighting to get the old battery disconnected. There was a lot of corrosion. It always seems that a simple job like that takes longer than it should.

Finally, I had the dead battery out and put it into a cardboard box to make it easier to carry. A car battery is heavier than you might think and seems to get heavier the farther you carry it.

I made my way to the counter at the automotive center and was delighted to set the darn thing down. The K-Mart employee said he had a perfect replacement.

I said, “Great! I’ll take it.” By that time, it was 10 minutes to six. I figured I had plenty of time, but he said, “I’ll need to put some battery fluid in and let it charge for about 15 or 20 minutes.”

I assured him that wasn’t a problem. I’d shop around for a few minutes. His response was immediate. “Oh, no. we close at six.”

I said, “Are you kidding me? I’ll be glad to wait. It’s only a few minutes. Otherwise, I’ll have to walk to and from work tomorrow.”

His only answer was a shoulder shrug. I was upset. I ended up carrying my dead battery to a service station at the corner. It cost a lot more, but it saved me an entire day.

As I lugged my battery to the service station, I stewed and grumbled about the lousy service I just got at K-Mart. In my mind, I resolved never to shop there again.

Several months later, I needed to get some school supplies for the boys. It was either shop at K-Mart or drive across town to the new Walmart. I decided to give K-Mart another chance.

As I stood in the checkout line, I saw a note written on the drawer of the old fashion cash register. The handwritten letters were large, graphic and colorful. Reading upside down, it looked like the letters spelled out, “T Y F S A K M.”

I asked the young cashier if that stood for. “Thank you for shopping at K-Mart,” she said. “Yes. We have to say that to every customer.”

I said, “OK. But, instead of saying that to me, just say, “Thanks, Randy. I’ll see you later.”

With a sad look in her eye, she said, “I would love to, but I can’t do that. I have to say thank you shopping at K-Mart, or I’ll get in trouble.” She finished ringing up my purchases and with a sad, strange look in her eye, she said, “Thank you for shopping at K-Mart.”

I felt sad for her. She had a customer standing right in front of her, asking for a slight change in her routine and she told me that she would get in trouble with store management for changing a few little words.

That’s when I realized that K-Mart just didn’t get it. That would be my last trip to K-Mart. They just did not seem to understand the basics of customer service. I felt that sooner or later K-Mart was going to fail.

It happened this week. It was announced that K-Mart was closing one of their few remaining stores. Whereas they once had over 2,000 stores nationwide, now they only have three.

Never doubt the importance of great customer service. Blue light specials might be nice, but quality customer service makes all the difference in the world.

It took about 40-years, but I knew that sooner or later, they would be out of business.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist