The decline of the American small business empire part one

Guitar necks are us...My buddy Chris, and I, sit over coffee most mornings at the University of Victoria’s Finnerty Express – it is my morning hang out. We are often in the company of retired or working Math professors, economists, technicians and even gardeners. There is always a lively discussion on topics as widely varied as politics, religion and events of the day.

Chris had a story recently that was too hard not to share. And it is all about the decline of customer service and small business in America (much of this could apply to Canada as well…) So here we go.

Chris and I are both aspiring musicians, both of us being active guitar players and singers. We actually performed recently in front of a lively crowd of around 100 people in one of the Grad student lounges on campus.

Chris likes to build and modify guitars – for most of us guitar types, the endless tweaking of our instrument is in our blood. In this particular instance, Chris was ordering a neck for one of his prized instruments, an old Fender Telecaster. He was ordering this new component from Seattle – and as it turned out, one weekend recently, he found himself in Seattle, not far from the factory that makes the parts that he was looking for.

So. Brilliant. He was in town and decided to head to the factory store and get his purchase directly. Over he goes. When he gets to the store, somewhere near Redmond Washington, he drives into the parking lot and walks up to the door. Looking in he can see a wall of instrument parts and the desired neck he seeks. There is a sign on the door. “Appointment only – showroom not open!”
Chris sees someone working in the store and beckons him to the locked door. A fellow comes over and open the door an inch. The guy points to the sign. Chris says, “I have come all the way from Victoria and would like to buy one of those necks… I have the cash in my pocket…” Store clerk: “We do not accept drop ins… you will need to call for an appointment…” Clerk hands him a card with the 1-800 number.
Chris backs away and phones the number.
You guessed it. The clerk in the store picks up the phone at the counter. I kid you not.
The clerk takes his information and comes back to the door.
Chris comes into the store and points to the neck he is interested in.
Clerk says: “We do not do direct store sales generally…” “You will have to place an order on the internet…”
Chris repeats, “I have cash in my pocket, I want that neck on the wall… and you have a shipping area in the back… can I pick it up there?”
“the shipping area is for couriers only… fedex, purolator, etc…” the clerk tosses out.

At the end of the exchange, Chris was several feet away from a guitar component that he was ready and willing to pay for on the spot – and was unable to because of a poorly operated business with completely and unflinchingly inept staff.

This is one reason while America is failing. They have lost touch with reality and the ability to do business.

Example two from the beleaguered Chris:
Chris recently bought an audio mixing board from a company in the U.S.
Over the internet.
Audio mixing boards: All of us musicians have one. We often use it to hook up multiple instruments and microphones in a studio or stage situation.
Chris needed a small mixer for performance scenarios. He found the one he was looking for at a decent price. Brand new. When he purchased it online, he took the option for “extended warranty and insurance coverage” — for virtually any situation; drop it off a cliff, it is covered. No worries.

Within a week, his mixer arrives. But it does not work properly.
He calls the help line for the equipment company that sold him the equipment.
Chris tells his story, “The gear arrived but it does not work… it is broken… there are several channels that are dead…”
“Not sure what we can do for you…” says the voice on the telephone…
Chris reminds them, “I bought warranty coverage for this piece of…”
“Ah, says the fellow on the help line…” “you are describing a pre-existing condition sir… it did not fail while it was in your possession! Your warranty coverage does not cover this!”

Say what?

I looked at the mixer for him – it was a simple take apart and I am a qualified technician. By the looks of it, it could not have worked even from the factory – it was defective in that there were cold solder joints and solder bridges from the factory. It never worked. It could never have worked. Shocking.

Anyway – 2 months on and Chris is still fighting via the phone and the internet to get his money back, a refund or something functional.

Another reason why America is in trouble…
Because small business and manufacturing have utterly lost their way.

This is the 1st chapter in what might become a small series in why we are falling down in the area of manufacturing and customer service in North America.