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Caveat Emptor

By Mike McGough

June, 2017

There were other restaurants in town, but none served breakfast. Folks who frequented the place had fallen into a rather predictable pattern. There were the early folks who had to be to work at 7:00. They showed up at six sharp right when Mae turn on the lights and unlock the door. The second group was the newly retired and those whose workday started a little later. The recently retired were still in the habit or rising early, but they wanted to take advantage of their newly found freedom to sleep in just a bit. 

The last of the breakfast bunch were those who had been retied for some time, and they relished the luxury of sleeping until Mother Nature woke them up. There were also some folks in there whose day started really early and by 9:30 they were ready for a break. George was in that group.

George ran a general store that he boasted sold everything from apples to zippers and most everything in between. In addition to the storefront, there was a backroom that actually held more merchandise than was on display. There was a sign over the counter that read: “It you don’t see something that you need, ask me. We probably have two or three of them in the backroom.”

His grandfather opened the store on April 7, 1917, the day the United States entered World War I. George’s grandmother, Blanche gave everyone who came in that day a small American flag. It cost them two cents each, and that was no small amount in 1917. They thought it was the right thing to do. There was still one stuck securely in the molding above the front window of the store. It had 48 stars.

George had a group that he usually sat with at Mae’s. They enjoyed the daily company and the conversation that ensued. On a particular morning their conversation turned to those annoying nuisance phone calls from telemarketers and robocalls. They all agreed that they are annoying, but that there was little anyone could do about them.

George laughed to himself, shook his head a bit, then laughed out loud. “About a month ago, one of the supply firms that I deal with tried to sell me dog whistles. Each week they feature certain items. Sometimes its seasonal items, or a special deal I can pass along to my customers. I ignored the dog whistles. The next week they were still pushing dog whistles, and this time my wholesaler explained why. He said that if you blow a dog whistle into the phone when you get a robocall or a telemarketing call, it will end the call and erase your number. Now I’m no Alexander Graham Bell, but that sounded farfetched to me.”

Then George continued. “It did seem far fetched, but over the past month, I’ve sold sixteen dog whistles, and that’s more than I’ve sold in the last thirty years, so I did some checking. Came to find out that a rather clever marketing firm touts itself as a company that can help you sell most anything. Through the use of annoying phone calls, the internet, well-placed advertising, and good old fashioned word of mouth, they promise to increase the sales of any item you’ve got. They do it by creating both an interest and a perceived need. And in the case of the dog whistles it seemed to work, at least in my store.”

“And that’s just it,” Matt, another member of the group added. “When you get sucked in by one of those jokers, you’re too embarrassed to do anything about it, so you just move on and they get away with it.”

“Well, not in my store. The whistles I sold were around for decades, so I sold them for two bucks. There’ll be an ad in the paper tomorrow that anyone who bought one can bring it back for a full refund, no questions asked. We’ve been in business for more than 100 years, and that’s a small price to pay to protect the integrity my Grandparents established a century ago!”

The lesson in this story is clear. The power of suggestion is great, and the means for sharing suggestions, both good and bad, seems to expand daily. Advertising is everywhere. Those seeking your attention cover the range from data-driven honesty to deceitful deception. They play on your fears and vanity with impunity and reckless abandon. The need to be a thoughtful and careful consumer is essential. Patronize those that market with integrity, avoid those that don’t. You have the power to send a loud and clear message to both.

There is an ever-increasing need to pay heed to the old warning, caveat emptor—let the buyer beware!