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Friday, September 11, 2009

“Ya gotta dance with them what brung ya.” (A Treatise on Loyalty in Business.)

It’s cheaper to get your printing done in China or Hong Kong. Even non-union shops can’t compete with Asian prices. So in a tough economy such as this, doesn’t it make sense to go for the lowest bid? I don’t think so, but I am in the minority. And that worries me.

I happen to live in Hawaii. I have been surprised to learn that this blog is read by people all over the country. Maybe not a lot of people, but still…. The concept of loyalty in business applies anywhere, it is just that in Hawaii we are so isolated and insular that the obvious often seems easier to recognize.

I am careful to bank at one of the few financial institutions that is 100% locally owned. My bank is not a wholly owned subsidiary of an international financial conglomerate. There are no absentee shareholders screaming for dividends. A Chinese family that understands the unique needs of the neighborhood and has a deep investment in the community’s future has owned it for generations. They have no plans to move their customer service department to Indonesia.

I try to buy my fruit and vegetables at the local farmers’ market. Not only do I get to choose exactly how many tomatoes I want (no prepackaged 5 lb. quotas) but I support a hometown family who will take my money and put it right back into the community through neighborhood purchases and state taxes. We grow avocados right here in the islands; why do I need to buy avocados from California? Furthermore, by buying locally, I reduce the environmental impact caused by fuel to ship fruit across the ocean.

I purchase my office supplies exclusively at Fisher Hawaii. Their décor is not as pretty as Office Max (boy, that’s an understatement!) but the money stays right here in Hawaii, and that’s important to our economy. Also, it must be a pretty good place to work because the employee turnover is zilch and whatever you’re looking for, they can quickly find it. It may be coated with five years of dust (both the employee and the item) but you name it and they’ve got it.

Sometimes I have to shop at Home Depot, but only if City Mill doesn’t carry what I need. Not that there is anything wrong with Home Depot; they seem to be a conscientious company that provides a lot of local jobs. It’s just that their profits (which were up in both the first and second quarter of 2009, by the way) get shipped to the home office in Atlanta. Now there is nothing wrong with Atlanta. It’s a swell town if you’re not trying to find an address on Peachtree Street (there are 71 streets in Atlanta with a variant of Peachtree in their name). But those profits aren’t helping build the infrastructure of Hawaii, and I live in Hawaii.

A number of years ago, I was the speaker at the local Ad Federation luncheon. I used to produce television advertising and I took advantage of my speaking opportunity to annoy several ad agency executives by publicly noting that while a recent Hollywood-based film was shooting on Oahu, a number of no-name imported California actors had been cast in local commercials. These were not actors with special talents. They brought no “star quality” to the spots. In fact, the parts they took were minor roles with a minimum of one or two lines, any of which could have been handled nicely by at least 10 competent local actors who weren’t working enough to be overexposed; but the clients paid a premium for out-of-town talent.

“What’s the problem?” someone in the audience challenged me. Well, here’s the problem: Those actors were already drawing a paycheck from the film. Shooting a spot on the side was just “gravy” to them. The residual checks were sent to their homes where they paid their rent (in Los Angeles), bought some groceries (probably at Ralph’s) and gassed up their cars at the Slauson Avenue 76 station. In other words, it generated absolutely no economic impact in Hawaii.

Furthermore, each job that went to one of these out-of-towners deprived a local working actor of his livelihood. Who knows? That might have been the month that the local actor couldn’t make his rent and was forced to quit acting to sell Hondas at Pflueger Auto. Why should the client care? Because next month he will need to shoot another spot, and that California hottie will be long gone. By the way, so will the local actor. The talent pool just got smaller and the client will have no one to blame but himself (or herself). Either way, everybody lost.

Investing in your community is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. Frankly, we need the tax base. Tourism is down even worse than it was last month. The Lord helps those who help themselves. Encouraging local prosperity is just good business. Think about that next time you reach for those raspberries grown in Peru. Papaya tastes better anyway.

1 comment:

  1. My daughter helped put herself through college by working as a telephone reservation agent for a major airline. Now that work is all done through a contractor in India. My son works for a division of General Motors, but they only make a small part for the cars. The SUVs themselves are actually made in Mexico. The television ads for GM trucks are set to the tune "This is Our Country." Is it any wonder that the American economy is in so much trouble? We can no longer even define what is "American."