I have just spent two days trying to accommodate a loyal customer who had recently changed jobs and was no longer able to purchase from us. He had gone out of his way to ask us to register as a small business vendor with the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise, which apparently includes small businesses that are not minority owned.
He, as we are, was aware of the uniqueness of the product line we offer, and liked the idea that he received his orders from us within one day, without having to pay for expedited shipping. I appreciate his taking the time to try to shepherd us through the process.
Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to keep him as a customer. Let me tell you why.
After two days of dealing with voice mail and endless phone chain commands, I was finally able to speak to a human being with the Virginia department who handles this process. After considerable digging, she told me that we had actually applied to this certification program back in November of 2011 and that the application had been received but could not be processed because it did not have the necessary certification documents. No one at the Department of Minority Business Enterprise had ever bothered to follow up.
I was directed to a web site where I could get instructions on how to submit the required documentation. Here’s what they needed in order for our former customer to buy a case of gaffers tape:
Copy of our federal tax return
Copy of our payroll records
Copy of a government issued photo ID of the company owner
We’ve never provided any sort of information like that in order to set up a customer account, and we don’t plan to do it now.
In theory, I applaud the idea of trying to level the playing field to give minority and small businesses a chance to get off the ground. The practice, however, as defined by the state of Virginia will never work. To deny your own purchasers the opportunity to buy from someone that you have clearly indicated that you would like to continue a relationship with, because they first have to pass through some “eye of the needle” that no one really understands, is simply shooting yourself in the foot.
I’m sorry that we may lose some sales to government customers in Virginia, but we will gladly give up this opportunity in order continue to be defined by the quality of service that we have provided for the last 27 years. That should be enough!