Solid Foundation of Shifting Sand

Our economy is built on a solid foundation of shifting sand

In our society today there is a great shift in emphasis as to what makes our economic wheel spin. When I went to school during WWII they taught us about primary industries. They were oil and gas, mining, forestry, agriculture, fishing and to a lessor extent fur trapping. In the minds of our teachers and leaders the secondary industries like manufacturing (except for war effort), construction and home building were a product of need satisfaction and certainly not wealth or export industries.

Once the war came to a close the world started focusing on consumer needs and some of the primary industries began taking second place to secondary industry and even to tertiary and luxury wants. There was a great land stampede a slight delay in food production driving many commodities up to an unprecedented height to fall again as needs were filled.

The Ontario Auto Pact with the US car manufacturers shifted much focus from primary to major manufacturing. We began seeing lots of small secondary manufacturing in food products too. For example, local dairies, bakeries, small packing plants and canneries, even regional coffee blenders and roasters. There were two small vegetable canners in Taber, Broders Canning Co., and Alberta Canners. If we had a new store opening, I would phone up Mr. Broder and tell him we were opening a new store and he would offer us a store opening special of one case free with every two cases we bought. His plant canned cream corn, kernel corn, peas, and pork and beans. It was a great way to give our customers a break on pricing with good Alberta product and Broder always appreciated our business. Then one day we phoned for an order and no one answered, the plant was sold to Safeway. Fortunately for us, Alberta Canners was still there and we made a deal not as good as Broders but better than regular pricing. Shortly after a couple of deals Alberta Canners sold out to Canadian Canners whose products are the Aylmer brands. After that, there were no more deals no more access to manufacturers. Pride of Okanagan canners were also sold. We still had a good supplier in Nabob Foods. They sold the coffee our customers liked. They sold Squirrel Peanut Butter, Lemon butter, Sungold orange crystals, Nabob jelly powders, Nabob Jam and Nabob spices. They had a great franchise in our towns, at least I thought so. They were one of my favorite suppliers. Then one day a Swiss coffee giant bought Nabob. They proceeded to rid themselves of everything but the coffee. They did such a good job that they even sold their coffee division to General Foods whose coffee brand was Maxwell House, who our customers wouldn’t in those days take on a bet. Today it seems people will buy any coffee for their home, they only discriminate when it comes to Tim Hortons and Starbucks.

From our first experiences with Broders, there has been a great rush to merge, consolidate and change. In the grocery business there were dozens of wholesalers. Even in Peace River we had Horne and Pitfield, Royal Fruit, Brown Fruit and Scott National. They shipped product all the way up the MacKenzie Delta and the Arctic circle. They had to make up barge loads and the delivery was once a year. How things have changed.

So I suppose this long litany of prose was just to set you up for what is happening now. There are very few small manufacturers. There are fewer small wholesalers. The primary industries excepting oil and gas are so are so efficient that their trading partners are putting arbitrary embargos or tariffs on their exports making primary manufacturing vulnerable to political interference. Free trade seems to be great only if it benefits the big guy.

Which leads us to the engine that we’ve tied our train to. It is local service business. We provide goods and services to the communities we live in. We don’t work in a vacuum. Our basic operational standards are built around fair pricing, quality, cleanliness, freshness with personal service and concern for our customers and team members. All this is bundled as a value package to our consumer. That’s who we are, that’s who we want to be. Sometimes though, we make a mistake or overlook a problem. When this happens, use this 3-step program.

1. Fix the person.
2. Fix the problem.
3. Fix the system.
The steps are:
a. apologize to the person
b. listen and empathize
c. fix the problem fairly and quickly
d. offer some atonement
e. keep your promise
f. follow up and make certain it happens

The future is still bright for organizations that know their business and are customer focused and have owner managers who are more concerned with business than they are with stock options and golf games. Someone once said it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, rather it is the size of the fight in the dog that really counts.

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