Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Economics: Name Any Big Company...

TORONTO, ONTARIO - It occurred to me recently that I could not think of a single large (say, 1000 employees or greater) company for which I have any degree of loyalty. In contrast, there are a multitude of smaller companies, too many to list, from the C. Crane Company for electronics to Bob Slate Stationers for notebooks to my local barber for which I do have great deal of loyalty. Is there any wonder I generally favor legislation making things hard for large businesses and easier for small business?

One thing that really brought the concept home was an Internet outage that I suffered this past weekend. My Internet access was completely non-functional for most of Sunday because Bell mis-configured a server and didn't seem in any hurry to fix it. While some individual Bell contractors (and they were contractors, not employees, another point of contention) have impressed me, their Internet service definitely has not. A previous outage occurred because an employee arbitrarily decided to physically pull out my connection, and it took two weeks to get it restored--and no compensation was offered. This time, when I called, there was no sympathy offered on the phone and in fact the first person I talked to claimed that there was no record of any service to my residence in the past five years; apparently access to records was part of the server problem. Frankly, if I had any other options for true high-speed access, I'd dump Bell in an instant. However, I don't have any other options (other than companies re-selling Bell service), so if I want high-speed access, I have to put up with them.

Contrast that with past experiences with small Internet providers like the now-defunct Brazoria.net in Brazoria County, Texas, Shore.net and 110.net in Massachusetts, or Best Internet in the San Francisco Bay Area, all of which were always responsive and creative in their problem-solving in then-state-of-the-art dial-up service, and I almost long for the days of modems. Each of these companies has been forced out of the access business or purchased by a larger provider, and all of them no longer offer the kind of service that I always appreciated.

It might seem like I would have loyalty to the Ford Motor Company, as all of the vehicles my family and friends have purchased from Ford since the 1990's have been reliable vehicles that have stood up well with time. However, because most of their money in recent years was made from oversize sport utility vehicles (Jay Leno didn't joke about their new model, the "Ford Extinction," for nothing), I actually don't have any warm feelings for them. While I have respect for their ability to make it through the current hard times in the industry better than their domestic competitors, I'm not one of those guys who would go to a Ford dealership and not look anywhere else.

People might think I have loyalty to Coca-Cola, as I have long professed a taste preference for Coke over Pepsi, regular or diet. Furthermore, arguably my favorite soft drink, the European-bottled orange flavor of Fanta (which is not the same as what is offered in North America), is a Coca-Cola brand, Minute Maid orange juice is a Coca-Cola brand, and who doesn't like polar bear advertisements. But, on mass-market consumables, price is king. I might choose a Coke product if everything had the same price, but there are currently no Coke products in my refrigerator.

I could go on, but it raised a question--is there actually anything wrong with any of these companies, or is the nature of a large company with multiple product lines just fundamentally set in a manner that picky consumers can't be satisfied? For example, is it impossible to create a relationship between a large staff and an individual consumer? I don't think that's the case. A few different policies about notifications and changing terms and I would have been extremely loyal to Washington Mutual Bank, now defunct, even though I probably could not have named a single one of their employees. Some large consumer electronics and computer manufacturers could have easily gained my loyalty had they not had quality issues with the products I purchased. There's nothing inherent about a large company that makes it impossible for them to instill loyalty.

Yet, the very fact that I can't come up with a single large company that I am loyal to, whereas I can roll off plenty of small ones, says something. If people wonder why I favor legislation to favor small companies, it's no harder to explain than I haven't had enough good experiences with large companies.

No comments: