Thursday, November 19, 2009

Big is in, small is out?

So what’s new? Wellness Village packed up and left without any warning, Customers who have paid for packages, some just before the spa closed down, are now left in the lurch. When something like this happens, civilised consumers would seek help from CASE.

And here’s the response. Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) executive director Seah Seng Choon said that he was “not surprised” by the spa’s actions.

“Don’t be fooled by the location. Spas are generally small businesses, unless they have an international chain … Consumers have to be careful when transacting with them,” said Mr Seah.

Huh? Did I get that right? What was Mr Seah (former General Manager of NTUC Denticare) trying to say? That consumers must be careful transacting with small operations like mine? That small establishments are weak, unpredictable or even nonviable in today’s economy? That they should “merge” with or just surrender to NTUC? That dental patients would be safer and better off with the big group practices and establishments employing hundreds of dentists because Mr Seah wouldn’t be surprised if small and humble practices out there fold up and pack up quietly after collecting deposits for crowns and bridges? That the big medical or dental groups going for IPO are somehow more reliable? Big is in, small is out?

OK, so Mr Seah’s comments have drawn some flak and he has bothered to clarify that the numbers show that SMEs are usually the ones that leave customers in the lurch. I don’t think we need to be reminded of that. There are far more SMEs than big companies out there. Of course the failure rate of SMEs will be higher. I think the problem everyone who objects to Mr Seah’s remarks has, is the derisive way in which someone working for one of the largest organisations in Singapore that has put so many pop and mom operations out of business should add insult to injury. And by the way, if a certain ethnic group in the country is more prone to divorce (as shown by statistics), would Mr Seah warn other people from other ethnic groups not to marry them?

Just take a look at the food courts run by the big players. Impressive theme, impressive uniforms, unimpressive food. Chances of finding good hawker food is much higher in small, one or 2-man operated stalls without any designer decor or uniforms. So why is it so difficult for so many of my middle management friends to understand why I don’t belong to group practices with scores of dentists and dozens of branches?

Why are so many seemingly intelligent people so easily impressed by the size of the company providing a service? Is it because we see with our own eyes how the big boys strangulate the little guys as the new generation of consumers place less and less value on personal touch? Will we end up as a nation of employees under one big employer? What happened to the promotion of entrepreneurship? Were those messages only meant for the scholars heading our GLCs?

Gosh, I’d better be packing my bags and heading for Cambodia soon.

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