May 9 2014

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce

I have written before about how I am generally opposed to the idea of buying locally for the sake of keeping money in a particular town, state, or country. I think it goes against the idea of a free market, where one purchases goods or services based on the best price, selection, customer service, etc., and purchasing based on guilt/local loyalty alone discourages those businesses from trying to improve their products or services in order to compete.

However, there are groups that exist primarily to promote this ‘buy locally’ idea; few towns or cities do not have a chamber of commerce and/or other economic development organization.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bret, provides a certain service. A couple of years ago he was asked to provide that service for a large event in and for his hometown. As the event was run by volunteers and funded only by the vendors at the event, he gave them a pretty good break on the price. The next year they hired him again, and he gave them the same price break.

But the third year was a little different. The local group decided to try to save some money, and shopped around until they found an out-of-towner (let’s call him Shawn) cheaper than my friend, so they hired him.

Soon Shawn realized he didn’t know what kind of equipment he needed for the event, so he called the locals back. They didn’t have any idea what he needed, so they directed him to someone they knew did–Bret.

I’m all for saving money (see my thesis statement above). But if your organization exists to funnel business to your town, and you take your business outside of town, then you are really refuting the reason you even exist.

If it seems odd to you for a be-loyal-buy-local group to direct an out-of-towner to ask for help from the in-towner he undercut to replace him, then you, Bret, and I have something in common.

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Apr 14 2013

Beats me

If you call someone because you require assistance with something, they may need some information from you. If your response to said inquiry is, ‘beats me,’ that is very rude–you should not be surprised if they in turn are rude to you–or if they do in fact beat you–because you deserve it. You wouldn’t accept such a solution from them; why would you think it would be acceptable to offer it to them?

So instead of copping an attitude and running your mouth like this:

YOU: I am having difficulty with my computer/car/air conditioner/phone.
TECH: What kind of computer/car/air conditioner/phone do you have?
YOU: Beats me.
TECH: Die in a fire you stupid harpy.

Try this instead:

YOU: I am having difficulty with my computer/car/air conditioner/phone.
TECH: What kind of computer/car/air conditioner/phone do you have?
YOU: I don’t know the answer to that question. Could you tell me how to find that information?
TECH: I’d be happy to. Just follow these instructions….

Despite the fact that many technicians are very knowledgeable, I have never met one who altered my disbelief in the existence of ESP.

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Mar 24 2009

Flowers and cars

For 11 years now I have been going to the same flower shop: My Sister’s Garden in Higginsville, Missouri. I first went there simply because of the close proximity to my house and my job, but I ended up staying because the customer service on my first visit was so awesome. 

I suppose the prices are good, but I don’t really know: I don’t go to any other florist. Ever. I like the shop that much. 

Ultimately, shops like this caused me to recant my view on “be loyal, buy local,” which I previously supported. But I realized that if you are trying to get people to shop somewhere based solely on the fact that they are part of your town, what you are really saying is this:

“Our town’s shops can’t compete on price, customer service, or product selection. So if we can’t compete on quality, we will guilt people into shopping here by the insinuation that locality = loyalty, therefore shopping somewhere amounts to treason against your town.”

In other words, quality doesn’t matter.

I have the same philosophy regarding American-made cars. When I was growing up my dad was in a union, so we had American cars. And I spent a lot of time walking, lying under cars, changing out engines and transaxles, and bitterly cursing the kind of person that makes such a shoddy automobile (I don’t want to say any names, but it rhymes with Shmevrolet).   

Years later, an in-law bought me a 12 year old Mazda GLC. I felt morally corrupt for driving it–at first. In a short time, it was the second best car I ever owned, and when I finally sold it at 232,000 miles it was only because I had another car to drive and the body was rusting out.

Five years ago this Memorial Day I bought my second Mazda–it was also 12 years old when I acquired it. As I posted yesterday, I just hit 323,000 miles. I have never had to do a thing to the powertrain. The only reason my GLC was the second best car I ever owned was that my Protégé 323 has been the best.

I don’t think I’m terribly unique in this opinion; I really believe most people would like to buy local and even buy American, and many will pay extra to do so. But they won’t pay extra for shoddy work or bad customer service, and I won’t either. 

There are other shops in Higginsville besides My Sister’s Garden that I frequent because I like them–not because I feel it is a duty to support them. Sure, if I can’t get what I need in town I will go out of town, and if something is just exorbitantly priced I’m going somewhere else. But if you see me in your shop more than once, it is probably because I like your store or I hate your competitor*, or both.

*say, hypothetically, because of a single terrible act of customer service

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