Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why I think national health care might be good for small businesses

There used to be several (& still are a few) family/mom&pop farm supply/feed store type places within just a few miles of our house. They carry a lot of the same stuff, which comes as no surprise I am sure, but horse feed distributors often require an exclusive contract with any retailers. So while there was a store actually just around the corner, the brand I feed my horses was carried by the father&son business on the other side of the stoplight downtown.

Still, I did an awful lot of business with the shop close by. First because they were close by, but also because of G******. She took care of the sales inside & printed the tickets for anything that needed to be picked up at any of the bays outside. She was almost the first person in town to learn my name. She remained one of the few to pronounce it correctly. She knew what brands of whatever everyone bought & how often. She could remind you of what you meant to get when you brought what you remembered to the counter. & when I first met her, she was a junior in high school.

Right around the time G***** graduated, a large chain built their first store in town. Let's call them Tractor Supply. In the first months they were open I went maybe twice. The shelves were stocked with stuff I would love to buy & the prices were lower than at the small local-owned stores . The drawback was (& remains) that you would be hard pressed to find someone who could help with anything. There were plenty of employees wandering around, talking on their walkie-talkies but most of the conversations went like this: Do you carry Cowboy Magic? If we did I think it would be over there; Can someone help me load these 50lb bags into the back of my truck? No ma'am I have a bad back & so does he; the list goes on.

Not long after graduation, G***** went to work for the big newcomer. I missed her terribly at the small mom&pop & told her so whenever I ran into her. She said it came down to one thing: health insurance. The small mom&pop would put her on their plan, but would not pay much towards her premium. She could not afford not to take the other job.

It will surprise no one that G***** is now long-gone from our local Tractor Supply. She moved quickly up the ladder & last I heard was assistant manager at a store about 30 miles from here. & I can guess the mom&pop are kicking themselves because within a month after she left, they started to go downhill. The rotating crew that worked behind the counter never did get a good idea of what anybody was likely to buy. I would often go in & find standard items out of stock for weeks at a time (livestock antibiotics, for example or dog food), I was often given a story about how suppliers were all out but as neither Tractor Supply nor the place I bought my horse feed seemed to be having the same problem, I never believed them.

After not walking through the door for well over a year, I recently tried to do business with them again. I called & asked if they had a particular horse grooming product in stock & was told, yes absolutely, a whole shelf of it. When I got there less than five minutes later, I could not find this "whole shelf" . When I asked (& was asked if I was the lady who called) I was shown to a shelf of an entirely different product & was told it was the same thing. I asked to speak to the manager; I was already speaking with the manager. I showed her the list of ingredients on the label & pointed to the one my horse is allergic to & said the other brand, the brand I asked if they carried, does not have that ingredient. Her response: "I don't know nothing about that, I just know they are the same thing".

Would G****** have stayed forever if health insurance concerns were off the table? Probably not. But the small business owner would be more competitive when it came to keeping people who are valuable to them if health care coverage was the same for everyone, no matter who they worked for.

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