All polls have closed, so it’s now time to announce the winners (losers?) from LU’s Worst of Walker 2009 competition. Like a perverse race to failure, these have won the competition by being the stupidest, ugliest, most selfish, or most endangered institutions, individuals, and areas in Walker County. (Rules for how this all works are available here.)
With that said, here are this year’s Business & Industry losers winners:
Manufacturer Most Likely To Close During 2010:
Discussion of this topic has centered on Roper, GE’s appliance facility in LaFayette. While Roper has had some difficulties in the last few years and its time will eventually run out, the appliance factory probably isn’t going to shut down in 2010 – or is a lot less likely to than other local manufacturing concerns.
Like Roper, Shaw Industries is a manufacturer of durable consumer goods with sales depending on a strong economy and healthy real estate market. But unlike Roper’s appliances, Shaw’s carpeting products are out of favor with consumers, with many now preferring laminate or wood flooring over the cleaning difficulties and allergy risks that come with carpeting. That’s a trend that won’t change even when the economy improves. Shaw Industries itself has diversified into other types of flooring and is at no risk of going under, but many of its carpet-focused facilities are being made redundant and shutting down.
Shaw recently announced the closure of its Ringgold facility, then changed course after Ringgold and Catoosa County authorities agreed to give the company tax breaks in exchange for upgrading the plant and keeping it open. Shaw has little or no chance of making such an agreement with the city of LaFayette since city leaders won’t even give larger neighbor Roper a cut on its power bill, so it’s only a matter of time before the Westview Dr. mill heads to death row or at least sees some serious reductions in its workforce.
Smaller manufacturers that lack the deep pockets of Roper and Shaw’s corporate parents (General Electric and Berkshire-Hathaway, respectively) are also at risk during the next 12 to 24 months. Record government spending and historically high levels of taxation/regulation add up to high times for companies primarily serving governmental customers (Bluebird being the best local example), but that same environment gives other manufacturers an uncertain future. Increasing sales, payroll, and capital gains taxes combined with tight credit and lowered consumer demand could result in a mass slaughter during 2010, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see three or more smaller industrials leave the area before next January.
Retailer Most Likely To Close During 2010:
Walmart is well-entrenched, and Dollar General certainly isn’t going anywhere. Despite its parent company’s financial troubles, Bi-Lo still seems to be holding steady locally (don’t hold us to that one though). The final winner in this category is Peebles. We haven’t actually set foot in Peebles for several years, but that’s the main argument against them – it seems that nobody has set foot there in several years. Higher prices than Walmart with a similar selection puts their parent company, Stage Stores, on a path to duplicate Goody’s 2008 bankruptcy. (Stage bought the Goody’s name at auction and has been applying it to new store openings, so we may soon see the local Peebles become a Goody’s in name only.)
Second place goes to the LaFayette Sears, which seems to exist only so its employees can play X-Box on a wall of TV’s and talk on the phone. We’ve expected this one to go under since it opened in July 2007, but so far it’s only changed ownership and moved to a different (cheaper) location.
(The LaFayette Blockbuster would have also been mentioned if we had gotten these results posted before they actually began shutting down. Why would anyone expect Blockbuster to continue as an ongoing operation with such high prices, limited selection, and strong competition from Netflix and RedBox?)
Lamest Business Concept:
Walker county residents have a bad record of opening ridiculous businesses that don’t stay open longer than a few weeks. Some businesses struggle due to their owners’ lackadaisical attitudes towards advertising or consistent business hours. Others struggle (and die) due to being poorly thought out in the first place. Favorite hobbies rarely turn into profitable businesses, but that never stops people from trying…
The winner for 2009 is Mountain City Mercantile, a Chickamauga business that opened several years ago but continues to represent the worst possible thinking for business ventures. Even in supposedly historical Chickamauga, a store dedicated to selling only Civil-War era clothing and accessories isn’t viable without a steady influx of secondary support. (Even the city of Chickamauga recognizes this and a committee there has recommended the town “discourage” future businesses of this type.) The concept itself is bad enough, but made worse when paired with tourism-unfriendly operating hours – and won’t be helped by the retailer’s promise to eventually expand into Revolutionary War items. There’s certainly a market for this stuff, but not enough of one to keep a bricks-n-mortar retail store open in a tiny town. We suggest diversifying into other lines of general-store type merchandise along the lines of Pigeon Mountain Trading Co. in LaFayette, a fairly decent store that actually sells things local people will buy and stocks stuff not available at Walmart.
Honorable mention goes to here-today-gone-tomorrow Kidz Play World, in the LaFayette Bi-Lo shopping center where Sears used to be. It’s a good idea (things for kids to do) but probably won’t survive due to clumsiness in execution (Indoor minigolf? Really?) and inconvenient business hours. This one would have won except it doesn’t technically qualify having opened in January 2010. After two months of inconsistent operating hours they’ve probably gone out of business, with a sign on the door saying “closed for renovation.”
Previous years’ candidates for this category would have included the skateboard park run by 14 year old kids, Maggie’s Ice Cream at Fieldstone Farms (good ice cream with inconsistent hours in a crappy location), Amanda’s Fine Chocolate’s And More (the poor-punctuation sign should have been a warning about their inattention to detail), and the fancy handbag store that opened on Villanow St. a few years ago where Scarborough gallery is now.
Worst Customer Service:
The hands-down worst customer service in Walker County (excluding restaurants, which we detail in a future post) can be experienced at the AT&T branded North Georgia Cellular store in front of the LaFayette Walmart. Local sales people, who all apparently dropped out of LHS to take their positions at the AT&T store, spend most of their time on the phone with boyfriends or girlfriends, discussing various “discounts” and freebies they can provide each other. Customers who actually manage to be waited on will likely find themselves agreeing to unnecessarily restrictive contracts in exchange for broken or refurbished phones, all billed to misspelled names at address that don’t quite exist. This is all made worse by AT&T’s corporate support, which won’t fix mistakes made in a franchise office staffed by distracted and barely-literate teenagers.
Runner up for worse customer service goes to Walmart. Forced breaks and corporate labor practices that focus more on cost than service lead to long lines and unhappy customers, especially noticeable in smaller stores like the ones in LaFayette and Trion. Customers whose checks or credit cards don’t work are sentenced to spend eternity in automated-phone-system-hell. None of this makes the employees very happy either, as Walmart seems to have more than its fair share of permanently surly cashiers. (Dis)honorable mention in this category also goes out to the City of LaFayette utilities department.
I’m sure these are very nice older people but the man appears to be hoping for a visit from Dr. Kevorkian. Surely the billboard designers could have found a… happier photo to use here.
Majestic Manor’s Web site seems much sunnier with its stock-image photos of smiling elderly people and a short unregistered-software-watermark video showing residents enjoying the facility.
Most Inconvenient Business Hours:
This area received the most entries, aided by a thread on the LU’s Facebook.
- LaFayette Animal Clinic (MTW 9-12:30, 3-5:30; FS 9-12)
Comcast (MWTF 8:30-12:30, 1:30-5)
Bank of LaFayette (read them for yourself)
Walmart Vision Center (their sign says open “some Saturdays”)
Those businesses definitely have inconvenient hours, especially for people who work, but they aren’t the most inconvenient because all of them have competitors in town that offer different hours. However, one institution with horrible hours and no competitors stands out above the rest as the city’s (and county’s) most inconvenient location for both individual and business customers: the US Post Office.
Protected from direct competition by federal law, the US Postal Service and its local Post Offices are unavoidable for most people, and everyone eventually finds themselves heading there for something or another. But that monopoly status gives the PO plenty of room to disregard the needs and schedules of its customers, many of whom would rather come in before or after work or later than noon on a Wednesday.
Post Office locations in LaFayette, Rock Spring, and Chickamauga all close at noon or 1 PM on Wednesdays and noon on Saturdays – but this obviously isn’t a universal policy since the Post Office in Trion maintains regular hours Monday through Friday and in the evening stays open 15 minutes longer than the Walker County locations. Inconvenient scheduling is likely due more to the laid-back attitudes of LaFayette and Walker businesses that traditionally close for lunch or take half-days off on Wednesdays to play golf or prepare for church services. But in this day of 24-hour operations and employers who aren’t as flexible as they were fifty years ago, that kind of scheduling isn’t convenient or productive.
Even if the Postal Service gets final permission to drop Saturday mail delivery, Post Office counter hours won’t change since the two are run as separate operations. Recent financial troubles at the USPS are generally blamed on e-mail and the Internet, but costs and time associated with traditional mail might be less of an obstacle to people if the Post Office was open during times that were more convenient. Staying open on Wednesdays and adding sixty to ninety minutes to either end of the daily schedule would go a long way to help the PO meet its customers’ needs – as would bringing back stamp machines and replacing public mailboxes removed last year.
We will give credit where credit is due. The LaFayette Post Office has been doing better over the last six months or so under the leadership of new postmaster Lori Moore. Moore took over from retiring Shelia Boyd, who led the 30728 location from 1991 to 2008. Under Moore’s tenure Wednesday hours have been extended from noon to 1, customer service during open hours has improved, and the elderly janitor/maintenance man who was always leaning on a mop discussing politics with his friends was finally replaced. Those are solid improvements, but none will make as big a difference to local customers as extending operating hours deeper into the evening.
Even worse than businesses with inconvenient hours are institutions that maintain no consistent hours at all. Setting hours of operation and sticking to them, not closing for minor holidays, not shutting down due to personal reasons or family illness, and turning the “OPEN” sign on and off appropriately are things that can make the difference between a real business and a flash-in-the-pan hobby doomed to failure. Unfortunately all too many businesses in LaFayette don’t learn that lesson until it’s too late.
Ugliest Business Web Site:
Now that the Web is nearly two decades old, locals are beginning to understand the role an Internet presence can serve in promoting their business or organization to potential customers. Unfortunately some still don’t comprehend that a poorly-done site is worse than no site at all and can make an otherwise great operation look amateur-hour to its site visitors.
The original description of this category is rather limiting. “Ugliest Web Site” is based only on appearances, and doesn’t consider that some perfectly fine looking sites can still be problematic when they have bad or outdated content (or lack content completely). However we’ll stick to our own rules and name a “winner” based on appearances – but honorable mention is reserved for sites that fail in other ways.
2009’s Ugliest Business Web site is Scarborough Designs / Room With Views (William Scarborough). While this may not be the hands-down ugliest business site in the county, it is one of the worst we’ve found – a fact made much worse because Mr. Scarborough is promoting himself as a world-class painter, graphic artist, and Web developer even as his own Web site looks amateurish. Regardless of how you feel about his body of work (we think a lot of it looks like high school art class), Scarborough’s art isn’t served well by a site that looks like it was erected by a 14 year old kid in 1998. Scarborough founded and leads the Northwest Georgia Arts Guild and serves on several committees of the LaFayette Downtown Development Authority.
Honorable mention for ugly sites goes to Travel Connections for it’s bare-bones generic travel portal (which admittedly does work decently). Honorable mentions for incomplete content go to Cowboy Church and City Club, both of which have sites that consist of almost nothing but a name. Honorable mention for outdated content goes to Chickamauga Lions Club with a calendar of events page last updated sometime in 2007.