Madison, GA, or Mayberry?

Established in 1809, Madison, Georgia, is the only city in the state to have been spared from destruction during the Civil War. The city's website boasts that "the historic city and county are often said to be like 'walking into a Norman Rockwell Painting.' Life in Madison and Morgan County moves with a slower, more personal pace. Neighbors and friends still visit with one another under the shade trees that line Main Street. Farmers come to town on Saturdays. People here are genuinely friendly and will stop and open a door for you or speak when you walk by."

I've lived in Atlanta for nearly fifteen years, but just two weeks ago I went to visit the historic city of Madison for the first time. It was like entering a time warp. I was sure I was going to run into Opie Taylor playing pick-up sticks on the sidewalk.

I enjoyed my lunch at the cozy corner coffee shop and my visit to a fabulous custom jewelry boutique, but the place that left the greatest impression was an ice cream shop (friends advised me to protect the name of the establishment for fear that what I'm about to tell you gets out to the general public and creates havoc for the store). While I was impressed with the store (the smell of its oak floors, its vibrant polka-dot painted walls, the rows of candy jars from floor to ceiling), it was the young woman working the counter, Carolyn, who impressed me the most.

"What in the world is she so happy about?" I thought. "And, why is she so happy to see us? Surely she owns the place." As these thoughts ran through my head, my friend and I ordered two ice cream cones. Like any good plastic-dependent American consumer, I presented Carolyn with a card to pay for this transaction. "I'm sorry. We don't take credit cards," she said, "... only cash or checks. You can just send me a check," she said, as she handed my friend her business card. (Yes, we did look at her as if she had two heads). We came up with the cash between the two of us and questioned her business practices ... "ARE YOU SERIOUS? PEOPLE REALLY SEND YOU CHECKS?" I asked. "Yeah, they do. And, they always come back to see me," she said with great satisfaction. The next two words out of her mouth shocked us even more. "My boss ..." she began.

I couldn't believe it! She has a boss?! She doesn't own this place? How can this be???!!! How can this $8/hr (give or take) employee love her job so much, take such pride in her work, and be so empowered that she'd allow a customer to walk away with a promise to send payment later? Pinch me ... this can't be real!

I shared this story with some friends who are planning to franchise and expand into new markets, and I'd like to ask you the same question I asked them ... could this service philosophy work in your town? Could they make it a policy to extend this level of trust to all customers? Could this be a signature of their brand or will customers take advantage of their generosity, eventually putting them out of business?