When my father went into business for himself more than forty years ago, the adage was “buy American”. As time passed and into the early 1990s, it changed to “better and cheaper overseas”.
In the beginning, he only sold American made products. Fedders air conditioners, Maytag appliances, GE everything, Carrier, Modern Maid, O’Keiff & Merritt, all were produced within the States. Within only the past 10 years or so, most of the American manufacturers started outsourcing, and importing from countries like China, Korea, India, etc. The dollar began to weaken, and over time, as Thomas L Friedman likes to say, the World Got Flat.
To make a long story short, consumer confidence fell to it’s lowest point EVER today (38 in October–the lowest prior point was 43.2 in December, 1974), good workers are being laid-off from major companies like Whirlpool (5,000 worldwide, 1,000 within the US), all of the manufacturers are claiming major losses, including Whirlpool (-17%Q3), Electrolux (-2.4%Q3), and LG (-93%Q3!). Retailers, the same (Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy). The housing and mortgage crisis has instigated a $840 billion dollar (why they still call it $700, is beyond me) government “bailout” or “rescue”. GM is asking the government for $10 billion of free-money while they discuss a merger with Chrysler.
With all this bad news, you’d think that business would really put their customers first. At least, that’s my hope. When I joined my dad in this venture about 8 years ago, I was always interested in satisfying every single customer who put enough faith and confidence in our company to deliver something that would allow their tenants to enjoy a nice family meal like a new stove, or a refrigerator. We would always try to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of a client. We built relationships, put out a hand to shake it with confidence that we were offering the best deal, not always monetarily, but also in service and expertise. Ease of doing business and showing up when we say we were going to show up.
Bureaucracy is now prevalent in Korea, China, and the others. The value of customer first, has been lost. I was disappointed in the fact I had to search for the right person to speak/deal with when I had to call a certain Korean company, even though we purchased several million dollars worth of inventory from them last year. How is it we met the boss once more than five years ago, dealt with the order desk by fax since, and never heard from the sales manager ever again? Forget it if we have a question for them nowadays, we’d be lucky if we EVER heard back. We were even purchasing from two out of three of their product divisions, but have never heard from the sales manager from the other division until a lowly sales rep was hired just over a year ago and called on us. Although we’ve been buying from that division for more than 6 years, they suddenly tried to change our pricing structure to a higher-cost classification and demanded that we show almost 40 of their products on our floor.
After complaining about this to our lowly sales rep, we were APPROVED at the best price-level and had our responsibility for the items on the floor removed. However, it took another month to push a PO through this approval process, until I finally decided that we’d be better off not doing one ounce of business with this division again, canceling the PO, and telling the lowly sales rep I wasn’t going to buy another product from them. He blew it off and said that he understands our frustration.
I wish we were still able to buy American. As Thomas L Friedman discusses in his book I mentioned, America is struggling to find enough engineers to create the next great appliance, or the next great gadget. It’s sad. Especially if this is the way business is going to be conducted in the future!