I don’t want to bore you with yet another story about the personal service I received somewhere, but I believe this one is important.

Whenever possible, I shop at family-owned businesses, even if it means paying more. So last weekend, when I needed a can of Liquid Wrench, I Googled independent hardware stores in my area rather than just driving up the street to the local Home Depot.

Tampa Hardware was only a short distance away, and their Website reminded me of everything I love about the pool and spa industry — a friendly tone, pride of ownership and a sense of personal history. It was a Sunday afternoon, and they were about to close, so I raced over as quickly as I could.

Unfortunately, the doors were already locked when I got there, even though my watch said 4:55. I tapped on the glass storefront, and the young man standing behind the cash register glanced up at me. “We’re closed,” he said tonelessly.

I held my arm up, indicating my watch. “But it’s not 5:00 yet.”

“My clock says 5:00,” the man replied, and looked back down at whatever he was doing.

The next day I called the store, asked for the owner, and was told he wasn’t available. I started to explain what had happened to the person on the phone, but before I could make my point he interrupted me. “No one is allowed to open the door after the cash register is unlocked,” he said.

“It’s not about the fact that you were closed,” I explained. “It was the attitude. How great would it have been for him to come over to the door, apologize and invite me back the next day.”

The man gave a little laugh. “Well, I can tell the owner for you, but he won’t do anything. That’s his nephew.”

In this economy, Tampa Hardware can’t afford to lose a single customer. Not one.

Admittedly, my purchases wouldn’t have brought them a ton of revenue. But as an avid do-it-yourselfer who just bought a new home, I’m good for at least a couple thousand a year plus any referrals I give them.

As we all know, the only way an independent business can compete with the big boxes is in the service they provide. Without that edge, family-owned stores are toast.

Now is the time to take a look at every interaction a consumer has with your business and ask yourself, “Was it pleasant? Did you do everything possible to make them feel valued?”

Longtime industry expert Brian Quint wrote an excellent column called “Getting Personal.” Quint is taking his store in a new direction by using old-fashioned ideals. He gives a wonderful account of how he plans to use customer service to survive — and even thrive — in a horrible economy. Reading it made me wish I lived in Seattle, just so I could have the privilege of walking into his store.

I have no doubt that when this economy turns around, Quint will still be standing. The question is, who will be there with him?