Service of The Only Show in Town

March 19th, 2012

Categories: Attitude, Following Instructions, Indifference, Quality Control, Responsiveness, Tone of Voice


When Greg Smith left a much talked-about billet doux on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” he set off enough tongue wagging that Mayor Bloomberg dashed to the banking institution to give management a supportive hug.

I read and heard some of the conversation.  Take-aways: The company was always known for making money and had no reputation for treating its customers either with kid gloves or kindly. Further, as they are currently about the only investment banking company left standing, companies that need their services don’t have a choice.

flashlight-in-darkI thought of this when a client described his experience at a well known convention center, [not in NYC], where there is only one choice of vendor if you want to light your exhibition booth-an essential for visitors to see what you’re selling.

At some trade shows or art, craft and other events open to the public at convention centers, lighting is part of the exhibit space package, but not at this one.

My client followed the procedure and placed his order by fax, before the deadline. It was worth it: After the deadline, the price for the lighting would increase almost 60 percent.

On the second day of the show, he arrived five minutes before the doors opened as his exhibit was set up. He found a letter from the electric vendor in his booth. It noted that since he hadn’t placed an order, if he didn’t pay for the electricity at the show office immediately, they would turn off his lights.

fax-with-copyWith no minutes to spare before crowds swooped down the aisles, he dashed over and explained to two young men at this vendor’s desk that he had sent a fax with his order-even kept a confirmation that the fax went through. They replied, “That doesn’t mean it went through.”

He said he’d pay but as he’d placed the order before the deadline, he’d appreciate the pre-show price. Not possible. One replied, “It’s not up to me.” Client: “So who is it up to?” Answer: “It’s up to the fax machine.”

The young men went on to say that the instructions stated he should receive an email confirmation. There was no such info on the fax sheet-my client checked on his return to his workshop office–though he admitted it might have been in the online instructions.

“They weren’t aggressively rude,” he noted. “However, they didn’t get it and they didn’t care. They probably know that they are the only show in town.”

My client is a successful businessman and entrepreneur-which describes many of the hundreds of exhibitors at this event and thousands if you count all the others. He is so busy filling orders–and does most everything himself–that he hasn’t had time to lodge an official complaint to the vendor and the show management–yet another dynamic that this vendor and others like it count on. [Perhaps he’ll copy this post and fax it in with a note: “She is writing about YOU,” and that he tells them they are lucky because the blog’s policy is not to bash a brand unless it is in the news.]

This is my prediction: Goldman Sachs and this event’s lighting vendor had best watch their backs. Regardless of unpromising odds, I bet that an enterprising person with a better mousetrap and attitude, such as Fredrick W. Smith who founded Federal Express in 1971, will slip in and knock out Goldman Sachs, this lighting vendor and countless others. Who would have thought, some 41 years ago, that the United States Postal Service would have competitors such as FedEx and the Internet?

Do you know of other companies or services that are the only shows in town that don’t fight to maintain their positions, they smugly take advantage of it? How about those that honor their spot and try to do everything right?


8 Responses to “Service of The Only Show in Town”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Be careful of what you predict. Some weekend pundit pointed out the possible sour grapes factor in that now famous letter, adding that Goldman Sachs benefited in sympathy from some areas. It’s hard not to suspect that the use of “muppet” in referring to clients may have been used by one person, and that the writer might have stretched the number for effect. Disgruntled ex employees often gather few brownie points.

    On the other hand, if there is more truth than fiction, the writer has given the company a chance to change its game to the better. Not all corporate America is made up of idiots, and not all large enterprises go down in flames.

    What happens remains to be seen, but let’s not expect Goldman Sachs or similar outfits to croak on the say so of one grump – even one so influential as to make Page 1 of the New York Times!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The Pollyanna in me would like to think that any customer–whether or not they are dealing in $ multi-millions as Goldman’s clients are–might be treated well which, according to others, not the disgruntled ex employee, they are not, name calling being the least problem.

    I recall a boss whom I respected who warned his employees about writing or using disparaging language in describing clients because any one of us might be dragged into court to testify–lots of his clients were associations and testifying happened from time to time. It was so much better for all concerned if our answers could be, “No, I never said/wrote that Joe Jones was a dingbat [or worse].”

    I don’t expect Goldman and the unforgiving lighting vendor to croak, but to reform and there’s nothing like competition or fear of loss to encourage this. My nephew wrote in a comment here a while back about the motor vehicles office near him where the staff was surly, uncooperative and difficult as well as rude until they got wind that their branch was in jeopardy of being closed. Suddenly they practically bowed and scraped when he entered and left the place.

    Being served by a sycophant is almost worse than being treated offhandedly and without consideration. The middle ground would be nice.

  3. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    I remember hearing a story about a top-level meeting conducted at the
    Xerox Corporation some years back. After various executives had
    projected graphs, flow charts and growth figures on a willing
    screen—all pointing to a striking upward curve that signaled continued
    business success—one executive, a visionary, got to his feet. And
    while apologizing for sounding a sour note, he cautioned that if Xerox
    didn’t immediately hatch plans to broaden its field of interest, in
    light of growing competition in the world of duplicating machines and
    services, the company could be out of business in ten years. Of
    course, he was practically laughed off the platform. But ten years
    later. . . . .

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can envision the eye-rolling and the finger wagging by the others in that conference room, while one in the group said, “Gosh, Frank***, you are being soooooo negative.” [***or whatever his name was.]

    Americans have a thing about being negative. They themselves may be mean–hence the Goldman S name-calling–but they don’t want what they consider negativity around their sales staff. It poisons the “go get ’em” air. I don’t see being prescient, smart and cautious as being negative–I see it as providing counsel. Is a physician who warns his/her patient not to smoke and to cut back on ice cream treats being negative?

  5. Peter Moffat Said:

    On Goldman, Sachs, I worked quite closely with them on several transactions in the 1970s. Their people were all smart and aggressive. One fellow I knew thought nothing of telephoning Belgrade, Yugoslavia from a phone booth in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in the days before satellites and computers. (I told him that it was impossible to do, and he proved me wrong.) They also did business others would not touch as long as there was a pretty good chance they could get away with it. As to the people, some were nuts, one or two were unscrupulous verging on the criminal, and several of them were damned decent human beings. I doubt that much has changed, except that the firm is far bigger now and far more powerful.

    On the substance of your post, what you are talking about is what happens when monopolies or near monopolies dominate an economy. For the last thirty years or so it has been this country’s public policy to let large companies grow larger and swallow up or squash smaller ones. There is far less competition now as a consequence, and the middle class is shriveling.

    Just one example of this is the way that Staples, with their purchasing power, has put neighborhood office supply stores and copy shops out of business. It used to be that you could find a Ma and Pa outfit within a couple of blocks of your office or home. Now most of them are gone.

    In the short run, monopolies clearly can offer customers better prices and sometimes better service, but in the long run, they become like the convention center vendor you described, and their existence ill serves the public good.

    How do you stop them? Get lucky and find someone beholden to no one, like Teddy Roosevelt and elect him President. As long as your politicians in both parties are in the pockets of big Goldman Sachs, big business, big unions, big media, big medicine and big education, big not-for-profits and big military, you haven’t got a prayer.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I feel blue having read your comment because I always think that there is SOMETHING I, or someone, can do.

    Yet if your analysis is accurate, and if one of the candidates must risk what you propose–to conduct a Teddy Roosevelt style election with appropriate attitude–Mayor Bloomberg, perhaps? we’re sunk for now.

  7. KF Said:

    Read with interest your post about set-ups at convention centers. Having had very little experience with trade shows, even I know that the various outfits — like lighting, sound, installation, etc. — have monopolies and cause havoc to the exhibitors’ nerves and pocketbooks.

    I’d like to share info on a company that is the exact opposite. In the South, at least in Naples, FL, almost the only supermarket in town in Publix, so everyone shops there. There are many of them, making going to the supermarket not a long trip.

    Everyone I’ve been in has been clean, well stocked and most importantly, staffed with friendly, helpful employees. It’s not uncommon to see Publix staff carrying or rolling carts with customers’ orders to their cars. And with a smile! Ask at the Customer Service Desk where a particular product is and the person at the desk will escort you to the correct shelf, and with a smile! Obviously, since they’re just about the only game in town, they’re not being so helpful and friendly to woo customers away from a competitor. That’s the way they operate. Just wish they were up North!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Publix sounds like an amazing place. In May 2009 I cover it in a post, “Service at 1,000+ Supermarkets vs. a Pair of Bread Boutiques,” It has always provided superlative service according to its fans and reputation, even though it’s the only show in town in Naples.

    Just a mention of Publix also generated enthusiastic comments three years ago. I’m quoting, below, a part of one from a friend who went on to give her husband a birthday party at Publix! She wrote:

    “When we used to visit my Mom in Florida, one of the first things she’d suggest we do is go with her to Publix. She’d introduce my husband to the staff and she knew their names—I remember Margine in produce–and they knew hers. The young people were wonderful to her.”

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