Mayor asks: “How can we help you?”
Bill Dieruf, owner of Dieruf Hardware in Jeffersontown, Ky., is not the first businessman-turned-elected-official. But he’s one of the few to bring customer service lessons from the hardware store into city hall.
The 55-year-old Do it Best member decided to run for mayor of Jeffersontown on a platform of customer service, with a goal of bringing pride back to his local community.
Dieruf said his ties to the town run deep: Dieruf Hardware is the oldest family-run business in Jeffersontown, a suburb of Louisville. And Dieruf himself has been a city council member for the past 10 years. He said both experiences have given him an idea of what his town needs and how to achieve it.
“I think the retail attitude that we see around the United States in hardware stores and home centers is something that, if you put it in government, then you’d have people want to live in that area,” he said. “Customer service is a key issue. People want to be informed and want to be treated not like they’re a problem, but rather have their problems solved.”
Dieruf said the township’s slogan will be, “How can we help you?”
By spreading the slogan among city employees, Dieruf hopes to create excitement about meeting the needs of the town’s residents. It starts with the mayor, and trickles down through employees and to the town’s residents.
One of Dieruf’s business-friendly proposals involves attracting new businesses by helping them meet local ordinances and navigate red tape and other obstacles. Dieruf said that by working with them to help them come up with a plan the council can accept, he can attract new businesses.
“If you wanted to open a hardware store, and you went into a community, and they showed you the easiest way to get your permits, the easiest way to get your advertising out to the local community, you’d know they want you there,” he said.
Another retail tool he wants to make available to the town residents is the idea of order tracking.
“A lot of times, if you call your city, and you report a drainage problem, you think it falls down a black hole,” he said.
Dieruf said he’d like to set up a Web-based system that posts reported township maintenance problems, like drainage, onto a website with status updates to give residents an idea of how and when they plan on addressing them. He said a system like that would not only hold the government accountable, but give residents peace of mind that their concerns are being addressed and eventually resolved.
“It sounds simple to somebody who does customer service all the time, but it’s not something that’s been done before,” he said.
Dieruf credited his customers for their support over the 2 ½-year campaign. By spreading his campaign messages through word of mouth, they helped Dieruf to secure 61% of the vote.
“I’m humbled by their excitement. It’s fun seeing people excited about their city again. They’re looking [to] the city for something to be proud of,” he said.
But as Dieruf moves forward in the political arena, he hasn’t forgotten the retail business. He said he saw the recession coming when he noticed the number of credit card transactions increasing, and spent the past few years being proactive by dropping underperforming departments and resetting the store. As a result, the store saw sales increase 18% last year, and month-over-month increases this year have been around 8.5%.
As for running the day-to-day operations, he spent some time while on the campaign trail training his son-in-law and store manager to take on more responsibility. Now, in his new role as mayor, he plans to treat the retail business as he would if he had a second location, and treat the city of Jeffersontown as his primary business, he said.