These days it seems like big box retailers and the Internet are seen as a threat to local business. I tend to think the Internet is more of a threat to big box retailers more so. Either way, I have actually found myself spending more money locally as of late.

The reason? Well, it’s not to save money – there is almost no contest when it comes to buying online (with Fry’s perhaps being a rare exception). Instead, it’s for something you can’t often get online and rarely get at a big box retailer: customer service. The phrase is a modern PR term and in this case, I don’t like it. At least of the local establishments I frequent, it’s much more than that.

Take Dive Masters for instance. When I walk in, I’m greeted by either Tom, Travis, or Eric. All of them remember who I am, remember what dive I was going out on, and even what sort of gear I have. We talk often about SCUBA, but not always, and it’s always an interesting conversation. They are super nice, extremely knowledgeable, and personable. They make the store friendly, and fun.

And when I go there to buy stuff, they take the time to explain everything about what I need to know. For instance, last week I went to go buy a dive light and ask about a hood. Travis must have spent at least 30 minutes showing me hoods and flashlights and even went so far as to show me how to the light apart and put it back together. Granted, they weren’t all that busy at the time, but it was just far and beyond.

And last Friday I stopped by again to return some rented gear and asked about a BCD and regulators. Tom not only gave me all I needed to know, but did so with excitement (at least for Tom). And afterwards we spent some time with Philip talking about various topics (dive sites, local music, website development). It was all just a fun experience with a huge amount of value.

Or how about Gamelot (aka Cliff’s), the card shop Brandon, Gary and I go to for Friday Night Magic (don’t judge…). We got back into Magic after a multi-year hiatus earlier this year and used to go to Cliff’s before. When we first went into his new shop, he immediately remembered us and even had his clever, often off-color, comments ready to go. Now I might be a memorable person (so I’m told) but that’s still pretty awesome. Now Cliff, unlike Tom, is more rough around the edges. He’s a pretty interesting dude, but entertaining and, after you tear off the playful layers, a genuinely nice guy and makes his shop fun and inviting.

It is for those reasons that I opt to buy stuff from Dive Masters and Gamelot almost exclusively. I have yet to experience something even remotely close at a big box retailer. Usually I’m just annoyed at a big box. And even if I get the same experience, I know the money is just going to some huge corporation. Shopping online is great, but it doesn’t have a personability and interaction with a knowledgeable person who actually wants to help you out – and I think that speaks worlds – especially for something like SCUBA. Even when I know what I’m looking for, having someone who is just as excited about something as I am to talk to face to face – that’s huge! Sure, Dive Masters and Gamelot might not be typical local businesses since both tend to be a focal point of their respective hobbies but they are just so awesome and I am happy to pay just a little more for the experience and service.