By James Clingman
I hear it all the time. “I patronized a Black owned business and was treated terribly.” How about this one? “I went to that Black restaurant and the service was bad, the food was cold, and the staff was discourteous and very slow.” And the grand-daddy of them all: “I tried to do business with Black contractors, but they didn’t show up on time, they wanted me to pick them up because they didn’t have transportation, and they wanted me to go out and buy the materials needed for the job.”
As the “Buy Black!” hue and cry is raised by more and more of our people, we should do a collective self-assessment of our businesses and our relationship with them. Last week I proudly wrote about one of the best and most conscious businesses in the nation: Compro Tax. Now I want to discuss those businesses that are not so good and not conscious at all when it comes to reciprocity.
I write a lot about the responsibility of Black consumers to support Black owned businesses, and sometimes it’s brought to my attention that I do not spend enough time dealing with the obligation Black businesses have to provide good products and services—and likewise give their support to other Black owned businesses. I get that; believe me, because I know that everything black (small “b” intended) ain’t Black.
In my entrepreneurship and business planning classes I always placed an emphasis on good service, integrity, and simply doing what you say going to do for the customer. Our businesses have it hard enough without heaping more problems on themselves by not following through on agreements, not opening on time, not showing up to do the job on time, cheating and stealing from their customers, and the list goes on.
You would think they would make sure they are providing the very best customer service. You would think, considering our mental enslavement, that Black business owners would try a little harder, do a little more, and make that extra effort to please their customers, especially their Black customers. You know how quick we are to turn our backs on one another.
Some of our business owners feel it’s all right to do a brother or a sister wrong, maybe because we never expect to be dragged into court and sued. But we sure are afraid of mistreating others; and we make every effort to take care of our obligations to them, because we know what will happen if we don’t. Shamefully, some of us go about our business ripping off our customers with schemes and practices that pull us farther and farther apart, and we wonder why we cannot “come together.”
But what do we do? First of all, Black business owners, get your act together! Stop taking short-cuts, stop cheating and lying to your customers, and read or re-read what Jawanza Kunjufu in his book, Black Economics, calls the African American Creed Business Commandments. He points out that our customers are our most important resource and in the final analysis, if they stop coming, we go out of business. So respect your customers above all, treat them fairly, and do what you say you are going to do.
We must work very hard to bring the ultimate economic partnership together, that of Black consumers and Black business owners. Once upon a time, during segregation, we had that ideal relationship but were not allowed to have access to the general marketplace. Our access is virtually unlimited now, but we must still have a firm economic foundation among our own people. Our charge as business owners is to meet our consumers a little bit beyond the middle and do what is necessary to change them into repeat customers. “The best customer is the one who returns.”
We can ill-afford the lack of support for one another that we see in today’s Black economy, especially when you consider what little bit of an economy we have. So, indeed, “Buy Black,” but learn the difference between “black” and “Black,” and emphasize to them the importance of circulating some of their Black dollars to another Black business along the way. Let’s work together to build our relationships, our love, our respect, and our trust for one another. Through business ownership and good business management we can win.
Take care of your business and your customers, and they will take care of you.