I have observed this summer that locally owned businesses in my community are pushing back against large companies in two industries — waste disposal and banking.
Twenty years ago, local garbage haulers and banks dominated our local market. Gradually the huge players in these industries (Waste Management, US Bank, for example) bought out or beat out the local business owners. The big guys then owned our market for many years.
My opinion is that during those years, customer-service levels went down as prices went up.
In a comical customer-service example, it became next-to-impossible to contact our US Bank branch (800 numbers were and are the only option), lobby hours were reduced substantially, and investment advisors no longer worked at the branch. It appeared — and appears — that US Bank doesn’t want local business.
New Kid on the Block
But this spring I noticed that the number of people on my street using the local garbage company was increasing steadily, to the point where now about two-thirds of the residents are using the local guys. (A few years ago, roughly 90 percent on our street used Waste Management.)
When our family’s two-year contract was up with Waste Management, I called to request a rate quote from a local garbage hauler. They were really friendly, they quoted me rates right away, and their rates are nearly 40 percent lower, so it was a no-brainer to make the switch.
My wife called Waste Management to cancel, and the person working for WM was rude and aggressive, to the point of trying to intimidate my wife into not cancelling. That was the wrong approach. My wife succeeded in cancelling, and now there’s one less Waste Management customer on the block.
I’ve also observed that local (and small regional) banks are popping up all over — providing convenient hours and locations.
Does It Mean Anything?
I don’t know what this means, if anything. Have you seen similar scenarios play out in your community? Is the Local Comeback notion quixotic? Are there lessons to be learned?