Realistically, they can’t compete

I’ve talked before how some small businesses, like Mom & Pop corner hardware stores, are disappearing. I got a perfect example this week of another reason why.

I love my Keurig coffeemaker, but the little “K-cups” are so danged expensive that I always search for the best deal. This week, the best deal was at Amazon so I ordered a case. Checking the confirmation email some hours later I was dismayed to see I got the wrong kind – I wanted decaf and ordered regular. I immediately went online to try to cancel the order, but it had already shipped.

When I called today to arrange for a return they told me I couldn’t (it’s considered a food item), but before I could even express disappointment they offered to fully refund my money anyway. And the coffee? I could do whatever I wanted with it, and thanks for being a loyal Amazon customer.

How in the world is the local hardware store capable of fighting that? Obviously, they can’t. Heck, I doubt Stanley, DeWalt or even Sears could afford to do that, much less your little Mom & Pop. Retailers like Amazon can because for them it’s all about volume, volume, pump up the volume. The little guys can’t do that kind of volume. They’re not the lowest bidder anymore.

Does this upset me? Well yes, and no. I absolutely feel bad for Mom & Pops failing because they can’t compete with that. I miss those stores a lot. But I’m also realistic, and realize that’s the way things are now. It’s inevitable; nothing you or I can do, even with the help of thousands of others, can change that. Like other things that are inevitable (my recent thoughts on the inevitability of SawStop come to mind), you have to accept it and adapt to it, whether you’re on the short end of the stick or the beneficiary.

And that’s the other aspect: No matter how badly you feel about the disappearance of Mom & Pop and “the good old days,” you still have to look out for number one. Don’t know what things are like in your shop – you may be sweeping piles of money along with the sawdust and shavings – but I’m on an incredibly tight budget. Every purchase must be weighed, whether it’s the coffee I just bought or the sharpening system I can’t buy until the next check comes in.

You can bet that when I can finally get that system it’ll come from the lowest bidder, which will probably be Amazon. Saving a good bit of money on it (and other things) enables me to keep doing my job, even if it does sadden me that that’s the way I’m forced to do it.



  • ralph boumenot says:

    It’s sad but true. I patronize a Mom & Pop lumber yard and every time I go there I don’t know if it’ll be my last time.

  • Doug Darter says:

    This is what Amazon can’t do:
    When I first went into business I needed to set up a charge account to help cash flow larger jobs. So I filled out the application at a local lumber yard. The next time I went in I asked about it. The salesman walked me into the owners office and we discussed my business and what I needed as far as credit terms. He told me as a brand new business I had no credit anywhere. I said to him that if nobody would take a chance on me I never would have any credit. He extended his hand and said he would take that chance. I got help getting started based on a hand shake. That is what the big boxes are killing. I still trade there today even though they are not the cheapest. Loyalty works both ways with me.

  • You just can’t get over the Saw Stop thing, can you? Have you ever used one? I would not trade my 3hp industrial model for anything else on the market, regardless of the safety system it offers me.
    But yes, it is a shame that the small town hardware store and lumber company is a thing of the past. At least they employed people who could answer just about any of your questions. When you’re on Amazon, and push that buy button, you better be pretty sure of yourself. Isn’t it a shame that you have to go to a real store to ‘touch and feel’ and new tool, get them to answer all your questions, and then go home and buy it from Amazon? I real shame for sure.

  • Tracy Swayze says:

    Just remember that the local business that you patronize may in turn buy from you, if they can stay in business. Good luck selling any of your product to Amazon. The buy it as cheap as you possibly can mantality is why we are now buying Chinese consumer products while we have massive unemployment.

  • Mark Coleman says:

    Well, I’m not so sure that it’s inevitable. (the demise of small, local businesses). There is a growing “local” movement out there, which gives me hope.

  • Doug Story says:

    Im with Doug. I buy what food I can locally, I buy what tools & materials I can locally. If you can’t support your what is left? We have got to start thinking a little further ahead. This “corporate” logic you use to make your decisions is depleting your local economy financially at the same time it is creating a social desert by minimizing locality based exchange. I dare you to address this in your next blog AJ.

  • A.J. Hamler says:

    Lonnie — Can’t get over SawStop? Hardly. I never even started climbing. As I’ve noted several times before, I just don’t care about SawStop with the outrage that seems to affect everyone else. Is flesh-sensing technology a good thing? Of course it is; only an idiot would say it wasn’t. If “they” mandate that my next saw must have it, then I guess my next saw will have it. If not, it won’t. Either way I’ll save my outrage for other things.

    Tracy: Buy-as-cheap-as-I-can mentality? Not at all. I buy things as cost-effectively as I can. Those are two entirely different things. And you can’t generalize “buying Chinese” as either bad or good; it depends on the red-white-and-blue American company marketing the Chinese-made products. It is they who control the quality; the Chinese just do what their specs tell them to. My Mac was made in China, as was my iPad. Both are among the most excellent, well-made items I’ve ever purchased. And they weren’t bought cheap-as-I-can, either, but both certainly qualify as cost-effective.

    Doug: Address this in my next blog? No need to. I addressed it in this one. You just missed the point.

  • AJ, although I do occassionally read these threads, I have never responded with a comment until now.

    While your commentary may or may not hold some truth for the state of things today(I believe that our views sometimes change with the ebb and flow of life in general), as a new start up business within the last year I am disappointed to hear your outlook on your current topic.

    If my wife and I took that same attitude, then we would have not put “it all on the line” by opening a new business from the ground up. Another building might have gone empty in our community; potential customers might not have been inclined to get back into woodworking as a hobby; local charities might not have gotten some added donations for their causes; my suppliers might not have added a new customer; my trade customers would not have a local option to purchase their lumber and woodworking supplies; and lastly the future potential of a new business’s success hiring future employees might never be anything more than a pipe dream.

    I would invite you and your readers to get a copy of a book called “The Mom and Pop Store: How the Unsung Heroes of the American Economy Are Surviving and Thriving” by Robert Spector. Your perspective might change after reading that book.

    You may be right about Amazon giving you a refund and telling you to do whatever you want with the merchandise. The point missed is that unlike a local business where you can return or exchange the merchandise a virtual business cannot. Is it easier for them just to write it off than go through the exercise of a return goods authorization, shipping you the replacement product, paying the freight to have the wrong product returned to them, etc? Sounds to me like it is more of a hassle to them to truely meet your needs and more convenient for them to let you keep what you don’t want and have you place another order with them.

  • Tim Neun says:

    We seem to have forgotten that the market drives capitalism. This market, you and I, all of us that buy “stuff” have thrown quality & service under the bus. We now demand cheap beyond all else.
    The manufacturers who moved operations & our jobs to sweat shops overseas are only responding to our demand for the cheapest price.
    Feeling good about finding the cheapest price for something while giving zero value to quality and service is beyond stupid, it’s not patriotic.
    We don’t give a second thought about our neighbors’ job loss or the fact that some 9 year old kid in China is working 16 hours a day for pennies just so we can save 30 cents on some plastic spatula that really doesn’t work very well. All justified by “but it was cheap!”
    We consumers, not the government, not the manufacturers but you and I are responsible. We have nickeled & dimed our own manufacturing economy nearly out of existence just so we can “get a deal” on some poorly made product. The kicker is when it stops working prematurely and it can’t be fixed we have to buy another!
    Demand well designed, well made “stuff” that works as it should for the long term. Most importantly expect to pay more for it, now there is something to take pride in.

  • Sam Winters says:

    AJ, your argument has several gaping holes in it.

    1. Had you purchased your item locally from “Mom and Pop” you more than likely would not have purchased the wrong item.

    2. Even if you had purchased the wrong item, “Mom and Pop” would have let you exchange the item.

    So where’s the problem??

    The problem is that so many people believe that it is reasonable to trade local businesses and local jobs that support vibrant local communities in exchange for cheap prices. Accepting that exchange as valid indicates that you have no understanding of real value unless it is measured in dollars and cents. That truely does “sadden me”.

    Never stop fighting.

  • Paul says:

    If you look back I hate to date myself but I grew up i the 60’s and 70’s on Saturday mornings going with my father to the local butcher shop, bakery, the corner store where the grocer had a apron and a grabber to reach the top shelf and the local drugstore then finish up with lunch at one of the many luncheonettes in town. Yes it is a shame to see local hardware stores go by the wayside but looking back it seem that they are actually the last of the holdouts. As for Saw Stop I worked for Woodworkers Supply in the 90’s and I will not even get started I do side with AJ.

  • Doug Darter says:

    Agreed Sam. It seems to me we are talking about the difference between “We are all in this together” and “Hurray for me , the heck with everybody else”. Two very different views on how society should operate. I believe we should do what is right even if it is not in our personal best interest if it is best for all. I do not believe in doing what is in my own best interest with no regard for how it will affect others around me. I was taught by my football coach in high school that what I wanted was important but what the team needed trumped that. Our society used to believe that’s how we all should behave. I’m not so sure it’s true anymore.

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