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Community Service: C.O.P.S Inc. is Building a Tangible Social Network by Turning Customers Into Friends

To understand the real commitment to customer service at C.O.P.S. Inc., one need only hear this story. But realize this is just one of many such stories from this customer-focused dealer.

“Because of the name ‘C.O.P.S. Inc.,’ we did once get a firefighter come in and say ‘What can you do for me?’” says owner Mike Webb. “The truth is we have fire shirts and pants, station shirts and pants, job shorts, jackets, boots…the whole nine yards. He just didn’t like the name. I asked him what he wanted, and he said ‘How about a fire truck.’ So, I called a vendor I knew. In five minutes I had three quotes; from a basic unit to a fully loaded one. I handed him the sheets and said ‘It is 50 percent down and will take six months to deliver.’ The guy said ‘Are you kidding?’ I said ‘This is C.O.P.S. Inc., not comedy central.’”

The end of that story, unfortunately, was not the sale of a vehicle. But doing whatever it takes to help the customer is one of the defining business rules at C.O.P.S. Inc.

There is a tag line on the store’s sales material that says, “If we can’t get it for you, you don’t need it.” People come to the store when they are looking for something they can’t find, and C.O.P.S. finds it. They may not have it stock, but they do the research and they get it.

The store sells to law enforcement, fire/EMS and medical professionals. C.O.P.S. stands for “Correctional Officer, Police & Security.”

“Those are the fields I was in during my career in law enforcement,” says Webb. “This is the first business I started. We started it initially for my wife who had bone cancer so she could work out of the home. She would take orders and I would deliver product. When she passed, my father and I decided we would keep it going together. We opened a brick-and-mortar store then. My dad ran it while I continued to work as an officer. When I retired, I took over the sales side of the business.”

The business started in 1999, and the physical location opened in 2001 in Sycamore, Ill. The town is one hour south of the Wisconsin border and about 1.5 hours west of Chicago. A large influence on the area is Northern Illinois University, located just five miles from the store. The school is a customer as well.

Webb enlisted at age 17 and served as a military police officer. He went on to work as a police officer for the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office and found his way to the Illinois Department of Corrections, working at both the Joliet and St. Charles facilities for 27 years. He retired from there as a sergeant.
“Due to my background, this helps the store better serve its customers. When a guy comes in looking for handcuffs, I can speak about the differences, the techniques. For example, a cuff that has a keyhole on both sides of the cuff is not a good idea if you are transporting people outside of a secure facility,” says Webb.

What is the biggest attraction to C.O.P.S. Inc. for the customers? Making friends.

“There is a sign on the door that says ‘Enter a stranger, leave as a friend,’” says Webb. “The store is funny. We have guys sitting in the back drinking coffee, eating donuts or pizza. We get retired guys who come in just to drink coffee and listen to the younger guys up front talk about how bad a day they had. Then you hear some comment coming from the back: ‘Back when I was young…’ or something.”

The customers are so friendly and loyal, in fact, that when the store gets real busy, a few regular customers have been seen behind the counter waiting on other customers.

Webb remembers one customer in particular. “We had a dentist come in to buy a pistol. He brings it back and says he can’t even hit the paper. We helped him learn to aim and shoot. He came back again with a signed target saying, ‘To my favorite instructor Mike’ and it is all bulls eyes at 21 yards and 38 rounds. We pinned it up on the wall. Now, he is going through chemotherapy, and he comes in the store, grabs a chair and just hangs out. Creating a social network is as important to me as creating a business.”

As Webb explains it, law enforcement professionals do not have many places they can go and speak their mind without having to worry about offending people. “Here, they can say whatever the heck they want. Or they don’t have to say anything at all. They can buy stuff, or not. They can exhale for a few minutes and then go back work.”

The only actual employees – who are also the owners – are Webb and his father, Edward R. Beutler. If they had to segment their jobs, it would be that Webb, at age 54, covers the front. And Beutler, who is 70, works the back doing the paperwork.

The retail space is 1,000 square feet. The store is located in a strip mall, just east of the downtown section. They chose a spot a bit off the busiest path because they did “not want everyone and their brother coming in, because of what we sell,” says Webb.

Webb compares his store to others in high-traffic locations where the doors are locked all the time and customers have to flash their badge just to get in. “If a civilian wants some boots or a flashlight, there is nothing wrong with me selling that to them. But, if we get a teenager who comes in who wants to buy handcuffs or some chemical agent, because of my background, we don’t sell it. It could be used against a police officer, so we control some items as far as public sales.”

Sycamore is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. It is that Mayberry kind of community where people go out their way to help each other. The parking meters offer a motorist a full hour for just one penny. The machines do not even have a slot for quarters. The downtown offers antique stores, a confectionary, shoe stores, and other small- town standards. Webb says that shopkeepers come out of their stores to say hello to people on the streets.

The store has an L-shaped counter on the south side. Behind that counter is the entrance to the back office. There is another counter against a flat wall along the east, going north. Behind that counter is slat wall for merchandise display. Lastly, against the opposite wall is a third counter where ZZ Cops Gun Room sells guns and ammo.

On the north wall are all the shelving units. Small boxes line the top shelf, with shirts organized by size and color. Below that on the hangers are all the matching pants.

There is an aisle for outwear, featuring jackets as well as shoes and hats. There is a spot for female law enforcement, which Webb is quick to say is important. This, of course, leads Webb to share another customer service story.

“I had a woman come in, sent by another cop after she complained to him she couldn’t find female pants at other stores. She was sort of angry, and she says ‘Don’t tell me they don’t make female pants.’ So I said, ‘Hi, my name is Mike, I would offer you a cup of coffee but it doesn’t seem like that is what you want right now. No ma’am, they do make female pants. What size do you need?’ She told me, and I pulled that size from the shelf and escorted her to the changing room. She walked out with a big smile on her face. She said, ‘How many pairs do you have?’ I said ‘How many do you need?’”

Webb had the three pairs she needed in stock and suggested he customize the inseam for her. He offered her the choice to enjoy a cup of coffee while she waited or she could come back later or even have Webb drop them off at her station. The next day, Webb picked up the pants from the tailor and dropped them off at her station, creating another successful sale and happy customer.

Another example of stellar service happened on a 4th of July. Webb was home barbequing when an officer called him. The officer couldn’t believe Webb was at the store on a holiday, but Webb explained that they forward the store phone to his personal cell phone so they can help in emergency issues.

The officer said he had just gone over a fence and ripped his pants from the knee down and those were his only pair. Webb asked him what size and inseam he was. Webb went to the store, got the pants, got them hemmed, and took them to the station. The officer said he did not have his checkbook, so Webb said, “I know where you work, you know where I work; bring a check to the store tomorrow.” The officer got the pants he needed, and C.O.P.S. Inc. got paid the next day.

That kind of personal attention keeps customers coming back at C.O.P.S. Inc. Webb also markets the store with sales materials and online. He was frustrated trying to build a website for his store. “I tried four companies to get a website together. I gave them $10,000 by the time I was through. Then a rep from VF came through. I was complaining about the company I was working with. He said to call UniformMarket. I called them on a Friday, and they said they would have something to see on Monday. I thought he was crazy. Sure enough, over the weekend, he did it. I had a site that looks good and had all the products.”

And in one last example of the outrageously committed level of customer service that C.O.P.S. Inc. maintains, Webb shares the story of one very late-night sale.

A customer called Webb on the store phone that was forwarding to his cell phone. Because it was 11:45 p.m., the customer thought he was just going to leave a message on the store’s machine, but Webb, who was on his way home for the evening, answered. Webb said, “Meet me at the store in 15 minutes.” He turned on the lights at the store. Next thing he knew seven squad cars pulled up because the officer told the other officers that Webb was opening the store. He did not close the store again until 2 a.m., but that sale was worth the night owl hours.

C.O.P.S. Inc.
1210 E. State St.
Sycamore, IL 60178
Phone: 815-899-2997
www.copsinc.com