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Companies like to deal with local businesses, if at all possible. These small concerns usually provide extra services and quick deliveries which larger companies cannot match. The owner and his employees are often your neighbors, active in local community affairs and easier to relate to on a personal basis.

We had been doing business for many years with Citnalta, a pseudonym Ill use for a local equipment supplier. We were pleased to return for two large machines and one small one to replace worn-out equipment purchased earlier from that company. Citnaltas motto was Where you will always find personalized service. Satisfying customer needs for over 56 years.

When we tried to order the first large machine, the salesman, who knew us well, informed us that his company was no longer handling that particular brand because of an unusually high incidence of repairs. We were surprised, because our experience with that brand, originally introduced to us by Citnalta, had been excellent. Instead, he suggested that we purchase another brand, handing us related printed material. But when we reviewed the specifications, we realized that the new brand would not satisfy our requirements. We would have to find another source.

Later, when we tried to purchase the second replacement machine, also a brand previously recommended by Citnalta, the salesman told us that there had been a dispute between the owners and the manufacturers representative responsible for that and other brands, and that they were no longer sold by his company either. We were incredulous; we had returned because we had been pleased with the earlier purchases, and now we would have to go elsewhere again.

Despite these disappointments, we went back to purchase the remaining small machine. That product was the closest match to our specifications, and we hadnt yet found an acceptable substitute. But, after several weeks of telephone calls and visits, we began to suspect that this purchase, which had appeared to be an ordinary small transaction, would never take place either.

We had agreed on brand and price, and the computer showed the equipment to be in inventory; all we needed now was quick delivery. The salesman expressed confidence that there would be no problems this time. He should never have promised what he couldnt deliver.

The two machines previously shown in inventory were later identified as being damaged, but we nevertheless agreed to wait another week for a new unit to be trucked in. When we uncrated that particular unit, we found it too was damaged. We were told that an identical machine had also been received, but that the warehouse was closed until next week.

On Monday morning we showed up with the damaged machine, expecting to swap it for the good one, but were told that no such replacement existed. Nobody knew why or seemed to care. The person refunding our money said very little, and our once-enthusiastic salesman said only Im sorry and walked quickly away. Management was nowhere in sight to witness the fatal wound which its personnel had self-inflicted in the presence of a longstanding customer.

Our local supplier was dead, and we had not realized it – until then. It had somehow, unaccountably, committed small business suicide.

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