The morning after we arrived back in Alice Springs after finishing the Larapinta Trail walk in May, I headed straight into town and into Outbush in the Todd Mall.

Opened in 1986, the locally owned business stocks everything you need and then some for an outback adventure—think authentic Australian brands like RM Williams, Thomas Cook and Blundstone. All terrific, but what drew me was the website promise of “old fashioned friendly customer service.”

Easy to say. Harder to pull off.

My mission in the shop was to buy an Akubra hat. I wanted it as a trophy to acknowledge the achievement of completing the Larapinta Super 6 Day (aka my Hawaiian Ironman event). I wanted to be able to look at it and wear it feeling so bloody proud of myself. 

I’d only been in the store a couple of minutes browsing when instore expert Barry sidled up to me. He told me Outbush is the major stockist of Akubra in the Northern Territory and that since Covid stocks are low. They can’t keep up with demand.

But Barry was quietly confident he could help me. He whipped into action, measuring up my head and giving lots of advice about how the hat should feel on my head to ensure I got the fit just ’so’. 

Forget the hats. They were good but Barry was mesmerising. Not just in his commitment to the promised old school service but in his personal story. Now in his 80s, he survived melanoma in one eye a decade ago and found himself spending time in his son’s store engaging travellers just like me. 

I tried on at least 10 Akubras before one really spoke to me.

Hard part done, Barry invited me and my two friends to take a seat. He wanted to give me a lesson on how to look after my new trophy. It was like a theatre performance. Barry posed every kind of scenario: What do you do if someone sits on your hat and it’s bent out of shape? What happens when you get caught in the rain wearing your Akubra? What do you do if your hat gets dirty?’

Of course, it wasn’t his first rodeo so Barry had a well thought out, immediate response plan for every kind of scenario (although many involved putting on the kettle, steaming the hat, reshaping and leaving it to dry in a draughty bathroom upside down or repurposing a nifty piece of packaging to clean the hat much like a lint brush might work.)

It wasn’t Barry’s ability to prepare me for any possible hat disaster which was extraordinary. The level of care he showed to his products, his clients and the business made me feel I was leaving the hospital with a newborn. 

Every step of the purchase process at Outbush was fantastic and so incredibly authentic, from the young man at the front counter—who referred me to ‘Grandpa’ once I announced I was there to buy a new hat—to Barry’s wonderful care instructions. 

Next time you’re in Alice, call in to the shop where Barry works ( and get fitted for your own Akubra. You pay for the hat. The incredible customer service is free.

You’ll know yourself that great, memorable customer service is the difference between a business developing an army of raving fans or one of disappointed critics. It’s the one thing you have to get right before anything else.

It costs you nothing yet it’s priceless.

This is your wake up call: how’s your customer experience? Are you providing your customers an experience like Barry gave me?