Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

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Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What’s With Business Today?

Am I the only one who has noticed that American businesses in recent years have gone precipitously down hill? With notable exceptions here and there, they seem to have abandoned even a pretense of trying to satisfy their customers with decent goods and services. I have no doubt that the onus of excessive government regulation, confiscatory taxation at all levels, and the general lack of work ethic, ambition, or even functional literacy among much of the population all are contributing factors. Still, I have to ask: Have we so completely evolved into a society of socialists with a sense of entitlement that we no longer feel obligated to succeed?

As just one example, I ordered some flowers the other day from a well-known on-line florist to send to a friend whose mother passed away this week. At times like these we certainly want a product that will bring good cheer to the bereaved and we also want them delivered on time and to the correct location. In this case I wanted the flowers delivered in the name of my friend’s deceased mother, care of the funeral home, and in time for an 11:00 AM service today. Suffice it to say that the flowers did not arrive on time, were not fresh, were not contained in a vase (despite the florist’s on-line advertisement), and contained fewer flowers than advertised.

I’ve noticed with this industry in particular that nearly all of the major florists have become averse to delivering anything anywhere on weekends. Those that do tend to charge outrageous weekend delivery fees on top of the standard delivery fees they already impose on weekday orders (steep delivery fees are understandable in light of current gas prices). I find this most bizarre for a business that caters largely to events such as weddings, funerals, and holidays, the bulk of which take place on weekends. Call me naïve, but logic would seem to dictate that if I were a florist I would realize that a sizeable portion, if not the bulk of my business centers around weekend commerce and I would organize my business hours and services accordingly. To not deliver flowers on weekends makes about as much sense to me from a business perspective as Domino’s Pizza not delivering on Friday or Saturday night, the two most profitable nights of the week. One would think that at least one of the major on-line florists would want to get ahead of its competition by boldly advertising that they deliver anywhere, at any time.

Alas, this seems not to be the practice in today’s business world of flavorless oligopolies with indistinguishable products and services. Particularly among large corporations there seems to be goal to make each industry’s product or service indistinguishable from that of its competitors. One can almost adopt the attitude that it doesn’t matter who or where you buy from; you’re going to get the same mediocre or lousy, overpriced product or service whether you buy it from the Acme Corporation or Ace Industries. Neither one is particularly concerned with quality. The attitude seems to be “hey, if you don’t like what we have to offer, go somewhere else, but don’t count on getting a better deal. You’ll be back!” They’re probably right; where the hell else are you going to go, and if you really need the product or service, ya gotta get it from somewhere, right? Having gone back to the website of the florist I ordered from and submitted a complaint about the floral delivery, I got back an email saying “Your concern has been received by our customer service department. We value your business and will respond to your request within four working days.” I’m not holding my breath on getting a response to my complaint or a real resolution.

Since the malaise is affecting small mom-and-pop businesses as much as giant corporations, I can only surmise that the culprit is the artificially and unnecessarily high cost of doing business in today’s America. By the time businesses get through paying protection tribute to and complying with the counterproductive regulations imposed by all three levels of government, there is little working capital and even less incentive left to invest in quality products or services. Because each “hidden” cost induced by government regulation cuts into the company’s profit margin, the incentive to produce is further reduced with each added burden. Add to this the fact that “good help is hard to find”, particularly at entry-level wage rates (try getting a teenager in your yuppified suburban neighborhood to mow your lawn on a Saturday for twenty bucks. Why earn your money when Mom and Dad give you all the allowance you want?), and what you have is a system that rewards mediocrity while making quality next to impossible.

I’m not sure what can be done about this in the near future, other than to start by getting the State off the back of business as quickly and as fully as possible and let the market sort the wheat from the chaff. Since that’s not about to happen any time in the immediate future, I suppose the next best thing is to do is: 1) reward good service and value with repeat business; 2) complain loudly and often when bad service happens, and 3) do without those goods or services that you don’t absolutely need if no one will provide them with quality and value.