By Yvonne Sam
Yes, you may not be desirous of hearing this, or may say that is my opinion. You may also become offended, but we both know it is true, and it is my intention in this article, to tell you why.
If you become aggrieved, it may be due to the fact that I am addressing the very thoughts, ways, habits or practices that you need to change. Hence this article is a message to the buyer and the seller, the customer and the dealer. It is a message to every Black person in business, every Black planning to start one, and every Black, who buys or uses any product or service. That includes all of us.
I am fully aware of the fact that nobody of any race, ethnic group or gender, is perfect. Nor do I consider myself anywhere near perfect. Each group has its problems. I am nevertheless more concerned about the problems of Blacks in business, because I am Black.
Yet we need higher standards, and expectations for ourselves, our businesses and those with whom we conduct business. It is time to elevate the bar, stop scamming and scheming, be fair, do business honorably, sticking to what we say. More of us need to make that stronger effort. We should exercise no patience with willful ignorance, indolence, tardiness and lack of follow through.
In our communities, we own practically nothing, including restaurants, hair stores, nail salons, gas stations, jewelry stores etc. Yet our people appear agreeable to drop their dollars into the hands of those, who take the money out of our communities and right back to theirs.
Sadly, sometimes we are left with little or no choice, because the Black-owned shops are not offering those products and services, price gouging or offering inferior quality. This has to cease.
Stand behind what you sell or offer.
Plainly and simply stated, if you would not buy something, then do not sell it to someone else. I have seen too many Blacks in small business selling low-quality products at top dollar prices.
I have also seen many of our people selling fakes as authentics. And perhaps you have experienced one of our own trying to bait you into a get-rich scheme “opportunity”, without even telling you what it is. Yet if it is such a profitable venture, such a turn-key business and such a life-changing product, why can’t they say the name of the company up front? Bear in mind that Blacks are not the only group that does this, but rather the only group I am most concerned about.
Price products and services fairly
Some black merchants have a tendency to overcharge for their products and services, ignoring market rates and industry standards. It is not always a good idea to charge as much as you can, because doing so places you into a different competitive market. And in the event it did not, there is a big difference between making a modest, well-deserved profit and just plain greed. As a rule of thumb, we should never charge our people more than we would be willing to pay.
Be willing to pay a fair price if you are a Black buyer
If you would pay the Caucasian community, the Indian community, the Asian community or the corporation a set price, then be willing to do the same towards a Black business. Negotiating the best price is fair and should be expected. Notwithstanding, playing games, trying to lowball Black businesses or expecting something for nothing, is simply wrong.
Be willing to beat the competition
This needs to be true on both sides of the coin. As Blacks supporting each other in business, we should be willing to pay a little bit more. As Black business people, we need to be willing to provide the most for your dollar, offer giveaways, referral incentives and special promotions. We need to offer the best wages we can afford to pay our people, wages that we would feel comfortable making. Wages that allow our people to live, and not just survive.
Keep your word and expect it of yourself
It has been said that your word is your bond. At the very least, keeping your word is about building credibility, dependability, reliability. Sadly, all too often, I see Blacks failing to follow through, unless they would get in legal trouble. It is extremely lamentable that so many of our people think nothing of breaking their word.
Perhaps you told someone you were going to buy something, but then neither followed through nor called. Maybe you thought it was no big deal to you. Shame on you if you did that, as you have no idea whether or not you caused the other person any inconvenience.
I have every right to expect you to do what you say you would do, excuses aside. And while no customer is always right, concerns should be fairly addressed. The Black community remains in dire need of a wake-up call, regarding how we conduct business, how we treat each other, and how often we fail to support each other.
We must stop being skeptical and pessimistic when dealing with each other. However, before you voice it, I know there are many Blacks who run scams, play games and set people up, and many of us have experienced it firsthand. Additionally scams, games and hustles are not unique to Blacks , but all too common. That happens in other ethnic groups. Woe unto our people who do each other like that.
More importantly, if an individual, business or organization has not given you a specific reason to distrust them, it says more about you in a negative light if you distrust them anyway, without specific cause. Distrust of one person or business is never justified simply because of what someone totally different did to you.
A good rule of thumb for dealing with anybody of any race, ethnic group, gender, business or organization, is to never risk what you cannot afford to lose. Some risks are bad, not all.
Don’t run a hustle or a game – run a business. This one-foot-in-one-foot-out hustle, half-stepping attitude and approach is killing the Black community’s ability to do good business. Karma is a monster and you will most certainly reap what you have sown.
If you overprice an item, sell a lemon, offer poor service or run a scam, know that it will come back to you like a boomerang, at the worst possible time. There is enough money out there for all of us to make a profit doing business the right way – not any kind of way we can get away with.
Allow yourself to be corrected
Some of you reading this article may have already come up with a dozen reasons to discount and discard what I have said, primarily because you do not want to be corrected. You may say I am being judgmental. You may say I am not perfect either. You may even say, who am I to be saying anything at all.
However, none of these answers alter the fact that Blacks have to do better in business — much better. We have to correct each other constructively, but firmly – and we have to learn to listen and receive it, like it or not.
You can criticize me, if you like. But do so justly and with valid points or objections, not simply because you do not like that I am bold enough to speak the truth.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.