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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When inauthenticity has a scheduled appointment…

With four mouths to feed in this family (not counting Luna’s cat kibble), my wife and I are always trying to keep our radar open for some savings, whether it is more quantity at a reduced price or better quality at a similar price. Let’s face it, food isn’t cheap and the money tree has trouble surviving our Canadian winters.

One of our discussions centred around purchasing a part of a cow and/or pig. We were up at the market in Wolfville, NS speaking to some fabulous cattleman who will rough butcher and deliver a cow to you (1/4, 1/2, or the portion you want) as long as you find the right group of people to split the rest of the animal with. Fair deal – four families who all want a 1/4 of a cow each can purchase directly from a local farm, and have it butchered and delivered by his team.

We hadn’t pursued it any further. We became distracted, busy with the day-to-day business of life, but we still have their contact information. Easy to find at the market every week and we could visit the farm to talk more at any time. Great people! But this story isn’t about them, not directly anyway.

To quote the great Bill Cosby, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one.”

Last week, we get a call from a ‘local’ company who somehow had my name, saying that we had talked about buying 1/2 of a cow. This company apparently does all the middle work – we no longer needed to find the other families to split the animal with. They asked if they could drop off a price list on Friday around 6 pm.

Friday comes and it is storming out. We get a call from the representative staying that he’ll still be by – no worries about the weather. Door bell rings at 6 pm. Being hospitable, his coat is taken and hung to dry and he’s invited in to the kitchen. It was storming after all. Come, sit for a second, share the price list.

The sales pitch begins. He’s asking questions about how much meat we eat, what would we like to eat if price wasn’t an option, how his company would customize a one year delivery of our chosen food and specific cuts of ‘local’ meats. He’s using such badly prepared sales patter than we wonder if this actually works on people. Twenty minutes go by and he’s still building our list; no mention of prices yet, just dreams.

The boys are getting bored playing by themselves at this point and need encouragement to leave us for just a bit longer. But he’s not getting to the point. The ‘local’ meat just became Canadian meat, and he’s not able to provide one example of a local farmer that they deal with. “We don’t share that, but it will be on the government ID sticker that comes with the meat.'” Scanning his four page list upside down, we start tossing in items not listed – trout is our preferred fish, and boy do we like lamb. The ''local’ fish just became Ontario and Pacific; the meat they can now get becomes international. “We can’t always guarantee the meat is Canadian but we get you the best we can.”

Then it’s food knowledge time. He starts into the speech on their aged meat and why it’s so tender. “You know why meat shrinks so much when you cook it, right?” Andrea looks at me. “Umm, yes. I actually used to teach food chemistry.”, I say. He doesn’t even pause, he explains it anyway. I start to ask about this list he is creating as it is apparently based on a pre-set total price that he is simply arranging our ‘optimum’ order to fit. I see a few unit costs, but not many, and he is not writing down quantities. He keeps saying they always send ‘enough’. The grocery store gives me unit prices. My tourism students will not pass unless they can calculate and work with unit costs. But none here. This is a strange combination of aggravating and insulting with the train-wreck, can’t-look-away phenomena.

After an hour, I very casually say, “You know that we won’t be buying anything tonight. Right?” Shock and horror as he looks down on his questionnaire form that looks remarkably like a filled in order sheet. I mention doing my due diligence, looking them up online, getting references first. No web page I’m told; can’t be found except via the one phone number to his head office in Ottawa. Saves on costs that way – lucky us.

From the get-go, he didn’t pass the smell test. His information on his company was vague and he had no collateral material or business cards. When pushed for a method of contact, he wrote down his name and an Ottawa phone number; that was the owner’s number of course, even though this guy apparently had an office in Burnside not 10 minutes away. Payments were easy he said, and scheduled to best fit us, but I had to push for the financial institution they use to perform ‘light credit checks’ and had never heard of them. When I said that we were going to discuss it first then call him back, he was offended and left his entire order sheet, including all of our contact information. Friday night, inauthenticity rang the door bell and we took in the full floor show.

I think next week, Andrea and I will take a drive up to that local farm, visit the cows in the barn and shake hands with our cattleman. You see, even he had a business card, given to me after the first inquiry. He prints a map on the back so you can find his ranch easily. I remember him working his small booth at the market, looking each local person in the eye, shaking their hand, and answering every question they had about his product. He took his time; people bought what they wanted. If not today, maybe next week. No rush.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll even get some of his dirt on my hands as I shake them once again with renewed respect. He’s the real deal. And his value just went up tenfold.

4 comments:

  1. I have to wonder how many people wouldn't think to do their homework or question & get taken by people like him. Sad... Scamming has become a career even in Canada.

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  2. Bill, we deal with this frequently in our hotel, my favourite is the seafood salesman who shows up with a great deal on fish sitting in the back of his non-refrigerated truck or the ones who can only be paid by cash. You can't beat shaking the hand of the person who produced your raw food product.

    Our family enjoys the hunt for the best product at the best price. You should try the eggs that are 2 kilometres away, what a difference from the supermarket.

    Good luck!

    Keep up the great blogging.

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  3. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for the post. This is shocking, but not surprising. Local food is trending and people will try to take advantage of that. I feature local providers that I actually use on my blog. realcreativeeats.blogspot.com. Unless I eat the food I do not feature it.

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