SOMETIMES THE BUYER
NEEDS A LITTLE HELP
This is kind of a sad story, the kind that might shake your
faith in human nature. It's not about pain, or disease, or death, or
anything on that level. It's just about money, the root of many evils in
I know this will come as a shock to many, but here it
is: There are people out there who want to rip you off. They have no
qualms about overcharging you for their goods or services.
Technically, they're not criminals. They're just greedy, and
they'll do whatever they can to take that extra dollar out of your pocket.
Obviously, we all know this. The Wells Fargo fiasco was
reminder enough. There's just been so much talk about deregulation that it
makes me wonder if some people have much more faith in human nature than I
I started giving this a lot of thought the other day when I
rented a car in Palm Springs. I was there for business and a little
pleasure, and I needed a car for six days. And since I had to carry some
people and luggage around, I needed a big one.
"No reservation?" said the man at the counter, his
eyes lighting up. "Let me see what we've got."
I usually make reservations, but I never got around to it. I
just walked up to the shortest line and took my chances that they'd have
something available. And with all the choices of car rental companies,
they'd have to be competitive.
"I've got an SUV you can have for $100 per day," he
said after scanning his computer.
I hadn't rented a big car in quite some time, but that
seemed ridiculous, and I told him so. He replied that he could talk to his
manager and see if he could cut me a deal.
"I can give it to you for $75 per day," he
said, acting as though he'd done me a monumental favor. "With taxes,
it's $540 for the six days. Would you like to take it?"
I looked around at the other counters, all of which had huge
lines. I didn't have time to shop around, and he knew it. Reluctantly, I
told him I'd take it.
As he took my credit card and driver's license, it
dawned on me that I could go on my iPhone and check prices. I went on
Expedia.com and within seconds had offers for an SUV in Palm Springs for
$30 per day. FROM THE SAME COMPANY.
"Let's see what I can do," he said, a little
sheepishly, after I informed him he was ripping me off. "I've got one
here I can give you for $140 for six days."
If I hadn't checked my iPhone, I would have been charged an
extra $400. I wondered how many people without reservations had been
ripped off by this guy.
The car rental story was a culmination of other
examples in the last couple of months. A fire sprinkler bid for one of my
retail stores: $10,000. A second bid: $2,300. New signage for a new store:
$17,000. A second bid: $7,400. A retaining wall at our house to hold back
a sliding hillside: $75,000. A second bid: $26,000.
Who are these people with these exorbitant bids? They
are people who are basically saying we don't need the work, but if you're
naive enough not to get a competitive bid, we'll be happy to rip you off.
I don't think that's right. If they don't need the work,
don't bid for the job. But for some, that's not their nature. A windfall
from some unsuspecting and uninformed customer is all good. That's free
enterprise. Let the buyer beware.
Please don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting the government
regulate car rental prices or construction bids or anything of the sort.
I'm fine with "let the buyer beware" on a small scale. What I'm
suggesting is that the same thing happens on a larger scale (for sake of
argument, let's say at financial institutions) because some people are
always looking to make the quick buck, consequences be damned. And that's
where, in my opinion, we need help.
But enough of that. Back to the car rental. "There's a
survey on customer service inside your packet," he said as he handed
me the keys. "Fill it out and you get 10 percent off your next
I checked the packet when I got in the car. No survey
included. What a surprise.