The old man used to tell us a grim business story, he claimed it was from his Jewish side of the family but I'm not so sure. Anyway, goes like this: Father places his five-year-old son precariously on a living-room mantelpiece and invites the nipper to jump into his arms. The little tyke launches himself, the father steps aside and lets him crash to the floor below. "There, let that be the lesson of a lifetime", he tells his startled son. "Never trust anyone."
Now, before you start, I've not been able to warm to the moral of the story, either. Looking back I'm pretty sure my father, as business-minded as you could possibly imagine, was snorting in derision too. We were probably just discussing what made a successful business venture; that was a frequent topic in our household. He wouldn't have been agreeing with the sentiments under any circumstances. He always insisted trust was the key ingredient.
Still, the old anecdote keeps leaping into my mind. Having sold up and moved out of apartment living, there's been a need to re-organise our inventory. We've had to sell stuff, buy stuff and rent a house; not to mention change our suppliers, retailers and service agencies. On top of that, we've been helping our daughter locate a decent used car to purchase; budget $6000. I've already jumped off the mantelpiece on several occasions.
Result? Well, am not sure if the world is becoming less trustworthy or I'm just becoming a grumpy old bastard, but it feels as if the hard landings are more frequent than ever. And I'm not just speaking of the used car dealers. They've never exactly been near the top of the country's most trusted lists; in fact, on most occasions only journalists have ranked lower. No, across the board, it seems more of us are prepared to rip off customers for our own benefit.
There was the company from whom we purchased a wifi booster almost a month ago. What they omitted to tell us was that they didn't physically possess the items they were selling; they just sourced them from overseas after payment. Result? Goods still haven't arrived, emails have been ignored and only a very public discussion on Twitter last weekend eventually prompted a response, almost smarmy in manner. They'd be happy to make a refund if we'd prefer. Nice one.
A bloke sold us a flash, wireless, multi-function printer that he was lauding as the future of copying and scanning. In reality? The absolute opposite, a discontinued line. Worse, you can't procure replacement ink cartridges at any price. He undoubtedly knew this, and we should have made it our business to know too. But no, he seemed pleasant and straight up; a decent sort. So I took him at his word and jumped off the ledge. Splat.
Same happened the other day with some bedroom furniture. Bought it at sale price, paid for it over the phone with the credit card, only to be billed the full, non-discounted price. When queried, after seeing the account, was told the "special" didn't apply to phone sales. Splat.
Thought we'd found a car a week ago for my daughter; paid a deposit, arranged a flight to collect it. Meantime the vendor, a private owner, sold it to someone else for a higher price. Splat.
There have been exceptions. A laptop arrived but refused to start; apparently there was a software problem. The seller did everything possible to help, eventually replacing the faulty item with a slightly better and more expensive model. Couldn't have asked for more, really. And the carriers who shifted our household effects? Wonderful people; blokes who went beyond the call of duty to help. We made sure we spread the word.
Having said that, you can only jump so many times off a mantelpiece before you start questioning your logic. Guess I can see where that story came from now.
» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times.
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