LUMBERTON — Jeffery L. McPherson doesn’t just practice the honor system. He wrote the book on it.
“Honor System Marketing, Discovering Honesty, Trust and Profit Amongst the Goodness of People,” a book about how to model a business on virtue, is rooted in a roadside stand on N.C. 72 — and in the author’s faith in people.
“It started for us as a necessity — a way to make some extra income for our family,” McPherson said.
He and his wife, Brenda, didn’t have anyone to babysit the produce stand that borders their home, so they decided to let customers do it themselves.
“The honor system is a unique marketplace where customers can shop without supervision of a sales person or anyone to oversee them,” McPherson writes. “Customers serve themselves. They decide whether to pay. They express their true integrity. They are trusted.”
Irish potatoes and tomatoes are bagged and priced and sweet corn lies strewn on the weather-worn wood for customers to sort through. It’s as simple as the sign on the side of the stand reads: “Pick out what you want and put payment in the box.” Prices range from 25 cents for single items to $15 for a bushel of corn.
“We have a large quantity of walk-in customers that want bushels. They put in a request and we call them when the material is ready,” McPherson said. He said at the end of the day, sometimes their “register” comes up short and sometimes people have overpaid.
Robeson County is an interesting venue for an honor system as it typically ranks high in the state in crime. McPherson said his lock box has been broken into an unlucky 13 times.
But his faith has flourished with new friendships.
“We’ve grown on the community,” he said.
“I think the theft has reduced because when we first started, it was new to this community and as people got to know us, that stopped it,” Brenda said.
“Honor System Marketing, Discovering Honesty, Trust and Profit Amongst the Goodness of People” outlines in 198 pages how to get started with the business model and how to have the right attitude.
“It’s about being able to trust people,” Brenda said, “and not worry about it — whether they paid or whether they didn’t.”
The book also highlights how to deal with dishonesty and theft, and how to use the power of forgiveness as a tool to keep people honest.
McPherson writes that “those you forgive feel not only a sense of awe and relief, but also a new found respect for you. It is unlikely they will ever commit a crime against you again.”
In the book, he cites the use of the honor system at campsites and boat ramps with drop boxes where guests can pay to use the facilities.
“I think that the mom and pop places that can’t afford to hire workers will find this is a great way to sell things that are excess, things that will soon be out of date … or to even sell parking spaces,” he said.
Honor systems are not a novel idea. They exist all over the United States as a means of extra income.
But for McPherson, the value of the system has nothing to do with that of the dollar.
“We usually don’t discuss income. The most profit that I make on this place is through the spiritual satisfaction of knowing that I can trust people … . It’s a spiritual thing to me, being able to do the honor system,” he said. “It gives me goose bumps when people come up here and are just amazed that people trust anyone anymore. Trusting people is a spiritual thing for me. And I think it is for them, our customers. I think it is for my wife.”