BusinessWeek: Because the Customer Is NOT Always Right!
Now small business owners have a place to share opinions of their own: BadConsumers.com. The site’s tagline: “Because the customer is NOT always right!”
“Everything’s geared for the consumers and their protection. What about us?” asks Peter Robideau, 48, the site’s founder and owner of TeleTechie, a Malverne (N.Y.) technology support company that employs eight and brings in about $1 million annually. Robideau, a database programmer who started the company in 2004, has long traded gripes with fellow entrepreneurs about customers who haggle on prices after agreeing to them, stop payment on valid invoices, or don’t ever pay.
He had for some time wanted to find a way for small business owners to share the bad customer lists that many of them keep internally. “I have 7,000 customers on Long Island, and most of them are great,” Robideau says. “But there are a handful out there who are repeat offenders, and they only do it to small businesses because they know you don’t have a room full of lawyers to sue them. They make you wonder why you’re in business in the first place.” Most problem customers are not reneging on payments because they’re poor, he says: “It’s not that they can’t afford to pay you. They’re like rich kleptomaniacs.”
Robideau built the BadConsumers database and had a friend design the front end; he’s invested about $5,000 in the project. The site, which went live in early September, is offering free six-month memberships to business owners nationwide who submit valid tax ID numbers. Robideau says almost 500 people have become members and figures he’ll eventually charge around $100 for annual memberships. He envisions the site as protection for entrepreneurs: the electronic equivalent of the bounced checks that retailers post at cash registers.
Bad debt is a pervasive problem for small businesses, and it’s maddeningly difficult to solve. In a Citibank (C) survey of 750 small business owners released in September, 30 percent identified slow or delinquent receivables and bankruptcies as their greatest cash-flow management challenge. Nearly one-quarter blamed late or nonpayments for sudden cash crunches during the past year and said making a collection call was “the most uncomfortable business finance challenge,” second only to reducing staff. ...