Ohhh, Paco!

From Seinfeld Episode 166 — The Strike:

[Setting: Coffee Shop]
GWEN: Jerry, how many times do we have to come to this.. place?
JERRY: Why? It’s our place.
GWEN: I just found a rubber band in my soup.
JERRY: Oh.. I know who’s cooking today!
(Enter George)
GEORGE: Hey! Surprise, surprise!
JERRY: Hey, Georgie!
GWEN: I think I’m just gonna go.
JERRY: I’ll be here.
(Gwen leaves)
GEORGE: (Sees Gwen’s meal) Hey, soup.
JERRY: She didn’t touch it.
(George spoons through his soup, and finds a rubber band)
GEORGE: Ohh.. Paco! (Flicks rubber band toward the kitchen) Hey, take a look at this. (Hands Jerry Kruger’s check)
JERRY: 20 thousand dollars from Kruger? You’re not keeping this.

Which is to say “should we forgive poor service from friendly local suppliers because they’re friendly local suppliers?”

Cynthia says no, or at least that she’s at her limit for the “ ‘support the local business’ ideal”: she reports ordering an Airport card from the Little Mac Shoppe here in Charlottetown, and eventually cancelling her order when it didn’t arrive. She’s now placed her order, instead, at the Apple Store online. For a lower price and free shipping.

I just spoke to an employee at Little Mac Shoppe, and he told me that the problem was likely related to the fact that they have “been ordering things but they haven’t been shipping.” In other words, it’s not their fault, it’s somebody upstream.

While it’s easy to understand how that could happen — I don’t expect that, in the grander scheme of things, a little store in Charlottetown has much leverage with suppliers — it’s also possible to argue that one of the important skills required to thrive as a local merchant is the ability to get leverage, one way or another, so that you can meet the needs of your customers.

I’m usually willing to forgive more sins from a small, local merchant than I am from large chains. I expect the Atlantic Superstore to always have bagels in stock; if Norman at Brighton Clover Farm runs out of bagels, well, I’ll just come back on Tuesday when he expects more to come in.

If Wendy’s runs out of baked potatoes, I’ll talk to the manager (this is PEI, after all); if the Formosa Tea House runs out of sushi, I understand, and I order something else.

The question is: how far am I willing to go? I want there to be a local Mac dealer because it’s helpful to have a local set of experts, a local advocate for warranty work (the Little Mac Shoppe has arranged for two warranty repairs for me, and I’ve received excellent service both times), and a local source for supplies. Last year, for example, I needed a Firewire cable for a digital camcorder in the middle of the Zap Your PRAM conference. Dale at Little Mac Shoppe had one on the shelf, and let me borrow it without paying for it.

But should I (or Cynthia) be forced to wait longer, or pay more, for products to support this? I know that I’m willing to wait a little longer, and pay a little more. But at some point (presumably the point that Cynthia has reached), it’s too much and too long, and you just need something here, now.


Cyn's picture
Cyn on October 26, 2004 - 19:10 Permalink

To be precise I waited 7 weeks for my iBook and had been waiting for 7+4=11 weeks for the Airport Card. There’s come a point when if a business has no ‘leverage’ than maybe it’s time to make a move…switch distributors, for instance, or examine why it is customers are not satisfied.

It may be true that LMS’s distributors have not been shipping and that their hands may be tied, but they’re the ones with the sign outside their door that says “open” for business.

I’m done feeling sorry for them like I did during one of my visits back 2 months ago. That being said, I hope they figure things out soon before they lose more than just me as a customer.

Jacob's picture
Jacob on October 26, 2004 - 21:17 Permalink

I have a similar story about the local mac dealer. I would have really liked to have given my business to a local company. Like the rest, I am willing to take a financial ‘hit’ to support a local business. I do think though that there comes a point where you just can’t justify waiting around. I would not hesitate to go there for repairs or service but they just don’t seem to have the clout when it comes to placing orders.

Ritchie Simpson's picture
Ritchie Simpson on October 26, 2004 - 22:44 Permalink

O my where do I start, as a former owner of a local biz forced out of the market by the appearence of a big box store and a commercial contract dealer (no storefront, small warehouse, big sales force) I can speak with a small degree of authority, as one who grew up in Ch’town and watched as family biz after family biz (as well as customer after customer) succumbed to the same changes in retailing I’ve seen it happen first hand and in only 50 years; retailers like Future Shop talk directly to manufacturers, buy directly from them, pay less, get preferred delivery and “back end bucks” that add as much as 10-15% to the bottom line. Local retailers die the death of 1,000 cuts, as the big players are predatory.
And the crowning irony of this for a local retailer is that customers expect poor service from a national retailer and will forgive them errors and ommisions that they use as reasons to leave their local suppliers.
Such is life!

Nils's picture
Nils on October 27, 2004 - 01:10 Permalink

Au contraire, Ritchie. What I hear Ruk saying, and what I can glean from Cyn’s enviable patience, and what I practice in my own life, is to be far more forgiving of a local, smaller operation than I would be of a national chain or box store. I cut Future Shop absolutely zero slack, whereas I sympathize with local folks trying to make a go of it against all odds.

To a point. At some point, I’ll expect an honest answer. “We’re trying, but we just can’t compete.” And if it’s honest and real, and if I can continue to give slack, I will. If not … well … I can’t feel bad.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on October 27, 2004 - 14:36 Permalink

Reading this thread would lead me to believe that size really does matter. It is a hindrance.

Nils's picture
Nils on October 27, 2004 - 16:47 Permalink

I dunno, Wayne … if the women are all shopping at the big box stores, maybe size will become even more important …

Cyn's picture
Cyn on October 27, 2004 - 19:30 Permalink


oliver's picture
oliver on October 27, 2004 - 19:49 Permalink

This small shop v. department store issue probably goes back to the Hittites, so every thought I have about it just echoes some old trope. Anyway, the tropes I think are most pertinent here are that a) all things equal, people would rather pay less, b) all things equal, manufacturing and vending in quantity enables you to charge customers less, c) all things are never equal, such that in the real world lucky and/or clever small shops survive, d)by providing a merchandise-plus-sales-and-service-experience that more closely caters to client desires. I would think that a well-run and not-too-profit hungry BigBox multinational will succeed in catering to and satisy locals just as well as a local merchant (worse comes to worse they buy out and hire back the local merchant him or herself). But presumably they’re not all well-run and the common wisdom is that such companies are looking for a profit margin that makes super-conscientiously catering to local needs unworth their whiles. But how does a small shopkeeper better carter to client desires if he or she 1) sells a kind of merchandise that comes in only a dozen varieties and is familiar to most customers before they walk to the store and 2)demands little in the way of fitting or service? Not easily. Unless Apple stops advertising and/or starts cutting local shops the same deals as the onliners and Big Boxers and/or starts making machines that are either baffling and prone to breakage and/or unless a religious cult of buy-localism emerges, my guess is that a small specializing in Macs is not long for this world. That said, if it takes a lifetime for this system of competitors to equilibrate, a small shop owner could still have a good life.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 27, 2004 - 19:53 Permalink

But since the topic actually was about forming a cult of buy-localism, I’m being completely tangential as usual. Hey, what’s a non-local to do?