Americans seem to have a strange relationship with business. We extol Mom and Pop stores, love stories of individuals who have an idea and turn it into a reality and treasure the idea of entrepreneurship. However, when an enterprise gets too successful, we decry it as we patronize it.
Starbucks is successful because people get coffee there. People may ‘tsk, tsk’ when a local coffee shop closes but they appreciate features of Starbucks that are only available in a large business. We like Wal-Mart prices and variety even as we feel bad when the family owned general store goes out of business. We feel warmly about our local bookstore, but we still buy books online from Amazon.
At one point McDonalds and Wal-Mart, along with most other behemoths were small businesses. It is rather hypocritical for us to stop rooting for them (even as we patronize them) simply because they became super successful.
Large businesses that manage to retain a small business feel help us to overcome this dichotomy. Here is a personal story that reflects this:
My husband and I do a fair amount of shipping for our ministry, but a few weeks ago we had a large and heavy personal package that we needed to send cross-country. We took it into our local FedEx store and off it went with ground shipping, meant to arrive in Seattle in ample time for our summer boating trip. Foolishly, we did not insure the case, relying instead on numerous positive experiences with FedEx. The package contained a number of replaceable items, but others were low-cost and irreplaceable such as a pair of worn-in shoes. More importantly, the case included a fair amount of marine electronics to ensure our safety, communication and comfort while boating. These could theoretically be replaced, but not in time for our trip.
We were able to track the package for a few days, as usual, when it suddenly disappeared from the tracking screen. Pressed for time, we didn’t immediately follow up (if you’re counting, this was mistake number two).
After flying across the country to Seattle, we set about shopping for kosher food that would be difficult to find in small British Columbian anchorages. As we crossed the Evergreen Floating Bridge, my husband’s cell phone rang. Calling was a stranger from Oregon who had ordered a rather small item from a store, and was confused when it arrived encased in a huge box. Inside the box was not only his item, but our package as well. Fortunately, our name and number were visible.
A call to FedEx revealed befuddlement on their end with promises to pick up the box and get it moving. The next morning, when we checked again, we found to our consternation that not only hadn’t the package been picked up but there was no plan for that to happen. It seems our knight in shining armor lived in a small town, distant from any FedEx center and they didn’t see getting to him for a few days. By that time, of course, we would be aboard without necessary equipment or the ability to predict where we could reliably receive a shipment.
To say that we were annoyed is an understatement. We worked our way up the company’s phone chain ladder. Finally, they transferred us to the manager of the Salem, OR transit center. She promptly told us that she had no idea why they told us to contact her as she did not have the authority to order a pick-up or, what at this point needed to be, an overnighting of our case. We began to worry that the easiest thing for FedEx to do would be to send us $100 (the standard reimbursement for uninsured packages) and wash their hands of the problem. We seemed to be the victim of depersonalized corporate America, lost in a labyrinth whose goal was to make us throw up our hands in despair.
Except, at this point, one individual’s personal responsibility combined with the resources available to a behemoth company and set everything right. Instead of hanging up on us, the manager not only empathized with us, but she was embarrassed for the company she represents. “You are getting a run-around,” she told us, “this is not how we are supposed to treat our customers.” Accepting our dilemma as a personal affront to her honor, she guaranteed us that we would have our package where we needed it, when we needed it. And we did.
A small business wouldn’t have had the resources to so quickly fix their mistake; the large business could only do so because one individual chose to step above the rules and regulations. Between this manager’s actions and the kindness of our small-town patron who didn’t simply shrug his shoulders and discard our case, an irritating, inconvenient and potentially expensive mishap instead rekindled our faith in Americans and free enterprise.