Honesty Helps Grow His Business

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[Focus On Harlem] Customer service is the key to success in his line of business, says Abdoul-Diallo co-owner of a multi purpose phone card store located at 1951 Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

His business provides job opportunities for Uptown residents and also stocks popular accessories throughout the year.

International callings cards is his main product line but he notes that most of his profit comes from selling T-shirts. As we spoke, African-American and African immigrants walked in and out—assorted languages, French, Wolof and Mandingo are spoken here.

Diallo first opened his store in 2001 but started the business plan as early as 1999. He used to be a merchant in the downtown Manhattan area. “I love living in Harlem and I love the people in Harlem that is why I wanted my business right here,� he says, with obvious pride.

He is popular because he allows customers to purchase goods on credit. He says this is a common West-African custom, although not ordinarily practiced by other fellow African business owners in the U.S. He allows those who buy using credit to repay him in increments. “It is all about pleasing the customer that is why I do it,� he explains.

Sixty percent of his customers come back and pay in full and they become long lasting customers, he says. Others who are almost down and out, he accommodates them too. “Some people need a T-shirt badly but only have a dollar, I still sell it to them,� Diallo says.

He says he understands the economic challenges of some of the people in his neighborhood and makes is a point to make every customer feel at home, even when they ask for a huge discount.

He also allows customers to use his phone with their own calling cards purchased elsewhere—they love the quite environment his store offers. Besides, when these customers need to purchase new calling cards, they remember his good deeds and buy from his store.

Indeed, many customers feel right at home. During our interview, one customer purchased a T-shirt, took off his hoodie, wore the T-shirt and then put the hoodie back on—no need for a dressing room here.

Diallo offers advice to fellow West Africans who want to open a business in the newly booming Harlem: “You have to be nice to the people in the neighborhood and respect others. Above all, be honest.� When people learn to trust you then they will spread the word to others and your business will prosper, he says.

How does he deal with the rising cost of doing business in Harlem? Diallo offers a wide variety of items for sale: from calling cards, to belts, to thermal underwear, to phone chargers—this is only a partial list.

Diallo’s store can be reached at  (212) 222-5927.

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