5 Companies That Show Why Bigger Is Better
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
Recently, a writer was lamenting the closing of a local grocery store in his neighborhood. He was sad to see yet another small business fall victim to the larger chains. “The managers and butchers were mostly men,” he sadly recounted. “…cranky old guys who never smiled and who barked at you if you asked them a question about a sale item or a cut of beef.”
Really? This is what he missed? Maybe, just maybe, we should think differently. Sure, change is hard. It’s easy to hate the evil corporation, and some corporations deserve the hate. And of course there are thousands of awesome small businesses that are loved by their loyal customers. I’m a fan of small businesses and I run a small business. But it’s just a fact that some big businesses are just better than we are. Period. Want some examples? Here are five.
1. CVS Pharmacy. My wife and I recently moved downtown from the suburbs. For years we used a local family-owned pharmacy to fill our prescriptions and they were always very nice when we called and had our orders ready that same day. We were sad to leave them behind. Until we started using the CVS store a few blocks away. Our CVS store is huge, with a large selection, and it’s open 24 hours a day. Its pharmacy is staffed by four (four!) very smart people (with little turnover) who have recommended better products and given us better, more current advice. Not only that but CVS has an awesome mobile app (what?) where we fill prescriptions in advance and get alerts when it’s time to refill. Is this better than our local mom-and-pop pharmacy that closed at 6 p.m. every day and still stocked cassette tapes in front of its octogenarian pharmacist? You’re damn right it is.
2. Wegmans Food Markets. There’s a Wegmans in a central suburb that I sometimes use to meet with people (stop laughing–their cafe is nice, with free Internet, and I’m not the only guy doing business there, OK?). What’s more laughable than watching me conduct business at a supermarket cafe is that every day at 10 a.m., without fail, the entire store stops what so that an “exercise session” can be held for its employees. That’s the kind of place Wegmans is. With more than 43,000 employees and $7 billion in revenues, Wegmans is no small business. But its employees seem to act like they’re working at one. Why are they all smiling? Maybe it’s because the company reimburses them for charitable work, provides generous health care (85-100 percent reimbursement), paid time off, and tuition reimbursement. Do you think that local grocery store was doing the same for its people? Judging by the attitude of the cranky old guys behind the counter I’m going to guess…no.
3. Wells Fargo Bank. Big banks and financial institutions get a bad rap for all the money they make and their role in the last financial crisis. And a good bit of that is deserved. I’ve been banking with Wells Fargo for years and during that time I’ve suffered through employee turnover, bureaucracy, name changes, and branch moves. But there’s a reason why big companies bank with big banks rather than small savings and loans, community banks, or credit unions: they provide more services. They have more resources. They use better technology. I snap a photo of a check I receive on my smartphone and boom–it’s deposited in my bank account. I need to transfer money to our developers in Ukraine and it’s taken care of. My clients require letters of credit for overseas transactions and it’s handled. I want to set up automatic bill pay for my vendors and the facility is there. Smaller banks can be friendlier, more responsive, and more personal–all important traits in a banking relationship. But the bigger banks like Wells Fargo can just do more stuff and when you need those services it’s nice to know they’re there.
4. Outback Steakhouse. I travel a lot–maybe 3-4 times a month. Travel is full of uncertainty. But not when it comes to dinner. That’s because I try to hit an Outback at least once a month if I can. Why? Because with Outback you know what you’re going to get: a really good steak, salad, and fries for under $30. Make no mistake about it–Outback is a big chain. As of 2015, its parent company Bloomin’ Brands also owned Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. But I like that. Big restaurant chains like Outback, TGI Fridays, Applebee’s, and the like deliver reliable, delicious meals the same way across the country. You don’t get that at small restaurants. At small restaurants it’s very hit or miss. No matter what that Yelp review may say, your night may be a bad night for the chef or a mix-up in the dining room, or a signature dish missing from the menu. Most small restaurants, like most small businesses, aren’t consistent in how they deliver our products and services. We don’t have the policies and procedures like big companies do to ensure that their customers are getting the same experience each and every time. Which is why I lean towards the big chains when I travel. I know what I’m going to get and I’m happy to get it.
5. Amazon. Need I say more? Is there anyone who doesn’t love Amazon? Ruthless? Yes. Monopolistic? Probably. Awesome? Definitely. You know you’re going to find the cheapest price there. You know the website will work. You know you’ll get your package delivered when promised (my God, even by a drone someday?). And you know it’ll be fast and easy to do. It relentlessly builds and builds to dominate the retail space and step on its competitors to provide the fastest, most affordable way to get products in the hands of its customers. You know your website can’t hold a candle to this. No small company can. Amazon, and other big online companies like them, set the standard for what technology can do to improve lives.
Selection. Resources. Treatment of employees. Expertise. Consistency. Use of technology. This is how some big companies are just plain better than small companies. Can your company do all of this? Some of it? That’s the challenge we face. But then again, that’s the challenge that every big company faced before they became big.