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Country Capitalism

by Stephen Lautens


September 27, 2002

The country is a nice change from the city. Especially this time of year - the fifteen minutes we get between the sweltering heat of the summer and the first snowfall.

The only problem with being out in the country is you can't get anyone to take your money.

For example, we had a great plumber to look after our cottage. He showed up fast, got things working again in short order, and left us with a ridiculously small bill. Then one day we sprung a new leak and gave Bill the plumber a call. When we couldn't get him (and the water was almost up to our ears) we called around and found someone else to repair my repair.

When we asked our new plumber (and therefore new best friend) if he knew when Bill had retired, we were told he hadn't retired - he just didn't need any more money that year. Apparently he figures out how much he needs to get by for the year, and when he reaches that amount, he takes the phone off the hook and just stops working.

What a novel concept - not needing any more money. Try explaining that to some of the high-flying CEOs we've been reading about lately, who feel they absolutely need a two thousand dollar wastepaper basket or a million dollar birthday party for the wife, complete with an ice statue that pees vodka. And I'm sure they didn't even try to save a buck or two by using a cheap bar vodka.

This whole corporate greed thing doesn't seem to have taken root with the country capitalists around us.

We called in another country tradesman to look at our sinking cottage foundation. Over the years it's shrunk more than Saddam Hussein's Christmas card list. I'm someone who likes to know that a building will still be there from one week to the next, and so I was worried about our crooked foundation. A couple of contractors promised to come out and have a look, but only one actually showed up. After inspecting the shaky pillars, he announced that he had seen worse and we should give him a call in a couple of years. I literally had to force him to take the job.

In the city, asking a contractor what he thinks needs doing will automatically turn the smallest of repairs into a project on par with the building of the pyramids. The real money is in what's known as "upselling". For example, the other day I took my car in for an oil change. It was advertised at $29.99. By the time I rolled out of the garage I was three hundred dollars lighter. In the country they'd stick a finger in the oil, lick it, and tell you it isn't that dirty and you don't even need to spend $29.99 on an oil change.

This lack of the corporate killer instinct even extends to the food industry. A few weekends back our favourite greasy spoon in the country inexplicably closed early leaving us out on the sidewalk. The next time we were there I asked what the problem was.

"We were so busy last Sunday," the owner told me, "that we finally just decided we'd had enough, so we closed."

"So, the problem was you had too many customers?" I asked.

"Exactly. So we finally just locked the door on them."

"Sounds like a tough business." I tried to sound sympathetic.

"Tell me about it. One Saturday last month we were so busy we had to lock the customers out two different times."

Anything to avoid making a buck.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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