Minding Your Business

January 23, 2006
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Inquiring minds want to know who’s on the up-and-up in West Michigan. And they’re finding those answers (more and more frequently) at the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan.

Last year the local BBB, which has a 37-county service area, fielded 20 percent more inquiries than the year before. That translated into 214,000 reliability reports (that’s almost 600 a day, even on weekends!) being issued. Not surprisingly, almost all of those (96 percent) came from the Web.

But even with inquiries up by one-fifth, complaints about regional companies within the service area increased by only 5 percent. BBB President Ken Vander Meeden said almost $2 million worth of complaints were resolved by the agency in 2005.

“Our services for dispute resolution and reliability reports appear to be needed more than ever as consumers and donors seek more information before making a buying or donation decision,” he said. “We are pleased that our local charity reports were used more than ever in this year of numerous disaster relief efforts.”

So what was the No. 1 industry on the inquiry list? That would be multi-level marketing. No surprise there, Vander Meeden said, since Quixtar and Amway are local and that industry always ranks first. Second last year went to the mortgage industry, with 8,414 inquiries, up 33 percent from the year before. But that wasn’t the biggest jump in percentage; that honor went to the No. 6 auto repair and service industry, which was up 133 percent

Rounding out the top 10 were new construction at No. 3, followed by new car dealers, used car dealers, auto body repair, apartments, roofing companies and heating and air conditioning contractors. Apartments were a newcomer to the inquiry list while roofers saw the biggest drop in inquiries from year to year (27 percent).

So who made the naughty list?

At the top was manufacturers/products with 132 complaints, and Vander Meeden said that was spread out among many companies. Most of the complaints centered around warranties. Mail order and catalog sales came in at No. 2, but there was a 50 percent drop in complaints compared to 2004. Vander Meeden termed it “not a problem industry.”

Rounding out the top 10 on the complaint list are Internet service providers at No. 3, followed by mobile/cellular phones, general contractors, employment services, landscape/lawn care companies, banks, new auto dealers and health and diet aids.

Banks were new to the list, “probably from never-ending mergers,” Vander Meeden said. Health and diet aids were new, too, but the BBB president offered some sound advice there.

“Eat less, exercise more and don’t believe unproven claims.” Sounds easy enough.

  • But sometimes things aren’t easy, like math. Did you read last week where Universal Forest Products CEO Bill Currie’s compensation in 2004 included $119 million in exercised options? Uh, that was a bit of a miscalculation. It was actually $119,000. But what’s a zero (or three) here or there? Hopefully, the Business Journal can avoid that same mistake when it does its annual Focus section on Public Companies in April.

  • Casual Footwear SMACKDOWN! Attorneys for Rockford-based footwear manufacturer Wolverine World Wide filed a notice of opposition last week with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, regarding an attempt by World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. to patent the name “Test.” According to court documents, Wolverine contends that consumers might mistake WWE wrestler “Test” (a.k.a. Andrew Martin) for one of the company’s work boot brands: HYTEST Safety Footwear. Although it made no comment about Test’s frequent use of the “Running Big Boot” wrestling maneuver, the company did express its displeasure over the WWE’s proposal to market an apparel line with the Test name.

It takes backbone for a company represented by an 18-inch-tall, paunchy canine to stand up to an organization recognized for characters such as “The Undertaker” and “Paul Bearer.” It turns out that the Hush Puppy may have more backbone than the WWE’s Test, however. The wrestler recently underwent spinal surgery and was released from his wrestling contract.

If WWW is successful in challenging WWE’s patent, perhaps the Hush Puppy will have the gumption to tackle Marvel Comics’ Adamantium-clawed superhero Wolverine.

  • Speaking of Wolverines, former University of Michigan football player and current Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett was asked by Super Bowl XL Host Committee Chairman Roger Penske to lend a hand for the big game.

The National Football League has converted the Pontiac Silverdome, home of the Detroit Lions from 1975 to 2002, into the practice for facility for the AFC team playing in the Feb. 5 showdown at Ford Field.

Along with a new artificial turf identical to that of the current Lions’ home, this was accomplished through the help of interior designer Kathy Waterman, who Hackett tapped to design the facility. Seventy blue-and-brown stools of a “crushed-can” design for the players’ lockers were delivered earlier this month, plus more than 100 chairs for rooms to hold team meetings and watch films.

Waterman also chose lounge furniture for use in the media center to be located in the Wintergarden area of the Renaissance Center, and Steelcase is shipping two semi-truckloads for a Jan. 31 media party at the Fox Theatre.

“Roger is as positive a can-do person as I’ve ever worked with,” Hackett told the Detroit Free Press of Penske. “He told me he had to transform the Silverdome for use by the AFC team and I said, ‘We can tackle that, no pun intended.’”

  • Kudos as well to Steelcase rival Herman Miller. The firm was featured last week on “John Ratzenberger’s Made In America,” hosted by everyone’s favorite mailman, John Ratzenberger of “Cheers” fame.

Ratzenberger travels across the country detailing how some of America’s iconic products are made. If you happened to catch the show on the Travel Channel, the first of an hour of back-to-back episodes that aired Tuesday and Wednesday, hopefully you stuck around for the next installment — in which Cliff Clavin toured the Zamboni factory.    

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