People like me who care about local news spend odd amounts of time looking for a panacea for our industry. We all believe there’s still a way to remain relevant to our readers. Instead, what we usually find are headlines telling us that the latest partnership with Google or Apple News or Facebook didn’t pan out as expected, and local newspapers should just throw in the towel. Digital is king, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Over the past week, though, I’ve realized people who run newspapers aren’t any worse off than most other businesses that line our streets and matter to our communities. And what better time to realize it than during the now-passed holiday shopping season.
Each year, tech companies like Amazon surpass last year’s revenue by billions of dollars. That means local storefronts that once made their entire-year profits in the month of December have lost that much money. And we’re not just talking about retail businesses.
Local banks are losing to digital with the introduction of online-only banking. Doctors are having to re-invent as more people just log on to a website, enter their symptoms and get a prescription called in to their next-door pharmacy. Except we don’t need the pharmacy anymore, because we can get our pills delivered tomorrow through an online portal.
Grocery stores now offer curbside and home delivery, because it’s easier for people to stay in the car than actually push a cart. Restaurants sign up for delivery services because people would rather watch Netflix and stuff their faces in the privacy of their homes.
If you think about it, there are few businesses (including newspapers) that haven’t been impacted by technology.
Then, earlier this week, a specific interaction I had with a company called Meriplex made me realize why technology is winning out over local businesses.
Ironically, Meriplex is a company our business uses to connect to our technology. They are a communications company that bundles our phone lines, internet connections and data storage, and our relationship with them was forced when we acquired our sister company, The Greensheet.
The background is important: When our company purchased The Greensheet in 2018, we knew we were buying a publication that didn’t have much time left without some serious changes in our expenses.
We made those changes, and part of that meant reducing costs in places where we didn’t need to spend the money. These are the sorts of things every small business owner across the world does on a regular basis.
Like most communication companies, we were locked in a contract with Meriplex, and we discovered – through a Meriplex sales person – that our company was paying more than double what we actually needed in phone lines, connectivity and data storage. While the numbers don’t really matter, we learned – again, from the people at Meriplex – that our bill was almost $5,000 more each month than what we really needed to operate.
In the grand scheme of things, it means we’re throwing away almost two salaries a month because our company was under a contract that doesn’t expire for another four years.
As a responsible business owner, and someone who wants to save as many jobs in our company as possible, I did some research into Meriplex to see how we might lower our monthly service to what we actually needed, and not what they put in a contract when this company was twice its current size. And here’s what I found that Meriplex said about its business:
“Meriplex relies on a consultative approach… to develop a custom solution suitable for your business requirements, budget, and timeline. Our experts seek to understand your business first… Meriplex develops lasting relationships with people, serving as a trusted advisor, to earn your business as a service provider of choice.”
That was excellent news, and we began meeting with Meriplex, telling them that we really needed to cut back some of our service, and that doing so would allow us to keep a couple of people employed while only using the technology we need. If they did what their mission statement said, cared about our requirements and budget, and really sought to develop lasting relationships, this would be a no-brainer, right?
Here’s what I got back when we asked if we could get our services in line with our need.
“A thorough evaluation of (your) request was conducted. In doing so, we concluded that supporting it would set a precedence (sic) that could expose us to significant risk. Due to such, we are unable to modify current contractual obligations.”
If you want to know why people are opting to get away from standard companies and move to interactions with computers and chats instead, this is the exact reason.
I have a goal for my business in 2020, and if you’re someone who owns or works at a small business in our area, I’d encourage you to set the same goal.
The way small businesses are successful is by always – and I mean always – putting customers first. If you work at a grocery store, the customers must have a perfect experience any time they walk in the door. If you work at a local bank, customers must love walking into your branch, and they must feel like they are the most important person in the room.
If you’re a local retail store or a body shop or a doctor’s office, your customers and patients must know they’ll be treated fairly and, even if it means doing things a different way or getting off script, the people our businesses serve are the only ones who matter.
Ultimately, our issue with Meriplex could have easily been solved. Instead, they opted for the good of their company over the good of the customer. No matter if it’s a newspaper business or a boutique shop, the panacea to survival comes down to one thing: Doing what’s best for the customers we serve.