Jim Blog

Corporate America vs. Local Ownership in our area…

todayJuly 30, 2023 62 6 5

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Interesting how buyouts of one small company by another in the name of growth, expansion, or better service often end much differently than expected. 

I remember the first time I worked with a company that got bought out, and it was partially my fault, perhaps, but without my decision we may not be talking today. 

I worked in a family-owned “rent to own” and retail store, selling and renting TVs, VCRs, furniture, big satellite dishes, and more. It was the 1980’s in Jackson, MI.  The store owner was a few years from retirement, and his intent was for me to take over the store and for it’s continuation as it was, with the family feel, the friendly service, and our method of lease-purchase which was SO much better than corporate models.  Customers only paid 1/3 more than retail over 18 months instead of TWICE retail like the big chains.

Then came the radio bug.  I got to do a commercial for this store on what was then Q-106 when its studios were LOCAL in Jackson.  I enjoyed it.  I listened for it, I was bit by the radio bug, and decided to go back to school for RADIO.  Jackson (then “Community”) college didn’t offer broadcasting so I enrolled in Kellogg Community College, Battle Creek. 

This changed the plans of my store owner, and, eventually, though he very graciously restructured my pay to fit the lesser hours I’d be bringing in new customers,  he sold the business to another firm, fully confident in “minimal changes” taking place as all owners are when they sell, which is their right.  

One Monday, I came in to work after the buyout and the whole place was different, my desk moved, my personal things unfindable, my friend Sherry’s things were also moved and boxed….even my personal MUG and desk coffeemaker were apparently gone, and had to be found.   Yeah, “no changes.” Nothing to make our current weekly-paying customers nervous.  No, not at all.  Even the WAY we took care of customers changed by “their” new book.

I was fired by fax from that company.  Actually, my hours were reduced to 8 per week.  I disliked the way the owner strutted around and acted like he was hot snot, and….HE didn’t like me for taking care of things the “old” way.  My firing happened after I was taking a payment from one of my BEST weekly customers face.  The phone kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing…and I politely ASKED my customer if I could answer the phone.  She told me she was in no rush, and to go ahead, so I did.  These weekly customers were ours. WE helped them find their needs in the store, WE maintained their weekly payment books, and WE knew them better than the new owners would for quite a time. After she left, I was pulled aside and lectured rather sternly on how “our in-person customers come first” and I was NEVER to answer the phone again while I was with someone.  Funny, how the NEW OWNER didn’t’ answer it either as he observed me being busy.  A day later, I was fax-fired. 

Changes happen.  He was my first run-in with Corporate America, and I learned then not to trust the “larger” companies that think they know customers better than the Mom and Pop ones who have invested in their customers and their community.  This new owner was from the other side of the state, had multiple stores, and didn’t know MY people or Jackson, MI. But, in retrospect, my moving on from that job was good as I nearly completed college in Battle Creek, but instead got offered my first job in radio, and never looked back.  I guess in ONE way, I should thank that jerk that bought the rent-to-own.

Fast forward to today.  WION is losing a long-time client at month’s end who I will not name, the cancellation due to a corporate buyout of a longtime Ionia business name.  We, as their choice in advertising for many years survived a few months under the new owners, but…the old “cut the budget” has obviously come up a few months into this new ownership.

Keep in mid this advertiser had been with us for more than half the time I’ve owned the station.  They wouldn’t randomly just throw money at us for courtesy. Advertising HAS TO WORK or it’s not worth the investment that we know it to be.  Usually when an out of town company buys a local one, the trouble begins.  The new ownership; because it is  not being PART of our day to day community then discounts involvement in our community as important on their list of priorities. Things start to disappear like donations to charity, helping neighbors in need, and some of the personal services we’ve come to rely-on from the former owners. 

I’ve been at the helm of WION now for almost 19 years.  With the help of various salespeople, we’ve built the station back to a status not seen in a very long time, maybe never.  We’ve grown from one signal on AM 1430 to offering a larger AM signal covering more territory.  We added a signal on 92-7, and then we added 100.3 in Lowell.  We converted to AM stereo and are now the leading (AM) station for quality of sound in this country. We’ve donated to charities, vacation bible schools, to Bertha Brock Park, We’ve headed food drives, and this will be our 10th year spearheading “Treasures for Troops” in November.   NONE of this happens without the station existing, and we exist on the loyalty of LOCAL advertisers who pay our bills with their checks, combined with local listening BUSINESSES who help spread the word that the “local radio station” is alive and well and that they enjoy it.

We’ll find a replacement for the money lost with this corporate decision from the owner of one of our former advertisers.   We’ll certainly not be destitute with one company cancelling advertising, but…be on official notice, that with every corporate buyout that happens to local businesses, loyalty to our town and everything that makes us a community is diminished, one business at a time.

Almost all the “new” businesses south of Ionia on M-66 that have arrived since I bought the station may employ local people, but they don’t make local decisions for the most part in supporting your school’s teams, your churches, your fund drives, and all the things that make our town and other small ones around us so special and so much a true “community.”  Chain stores only exist as long as money is flowing to them, and while the bottom line looks good to them. They don’t work harder to stay in our town; they pull up stakes and leave if the dollars don’t come in the door, or if they feel they have to “cut” somewhere.  Contrast that to our Main Street or that of Lowell.  Local business owners have to work every day, and FIGHT to find reasons to bring people in the door, and to make them want to return. They don’t have the backing of corporate campaigns, when times are tight.  On the flipside, however…they know YOU. They will personally consider what organizations are near and dear to their hearts to which they’ll donate.  Owners of businesses who are part of our community decide if staying after hours to finish fixing something for you is in their best interest instead of just locking-up and telling  you to wait another day to pick up whatever you brought to them for service.  THESE are the kind of things that out of town owners don’t understand, and won’t consider when making decisions.

Rewind back to the story that opened this blog.   In one way, I’m grateful for learning to be suspicious of larger companies buying smaller ones early in my adult career. It moved my career out of a store and onto the airwaves, but I did LEARN.

We’ll miss our advertiser.  We’ll miss their loyalty to WION, and we’ll miss the personal “feel” we had before the buyout some time ago.  THEY think they don’t need radio advertising, and that “free” text blasts and other methods (if any other) are ways to advertise.  I call text ads “spam” and delete them.  We’ll miss doing business with this particular company because we are what I term “fiercely loyal” to those who believe in us at WION and this drives many of our own decisions of where to spend our money.  Saying this pains me because in a small way, I’ve trusted this business with decisions regarding my safety in the past.  They’ve always treated me well….but…as we stated, the (former) owner deserved to retire, as will I someday.

I hope when it’s my turn that someone who understands LOCAL will take the helm of WION…and hopefully that’s a long time in the future.   In the meantime, be leary of buyouts, TELL OUR ADVERITSERS THANK YOU for being on the air, and please TELL THOSE COMPANIES LOCALLY THAT ARE NOT ON THE AIR to join in our advertising family on WION. Advertising works.  Some may not know we’re here even after 19 years of (WION) improvements.  Some may know we’re here but need a nudge to make the call or text to us, and some are just waiting to hear your success story of using local RADIO before they buy advertising.

We’re locally owned.  We’re here not because of Corporate America but because of locally owned businesses that care about how we serve them as clients of RADIO.  We’re here making LOCAL DECISIONS on how we can help the various parts of our community.  Facebook, Mass Texting and other media cannot claim any of that. 

Think about it.
Do something about it.
Protect local businesses by patronizing what they offer

Keep local radio growing by recommending US to those with whom you do business.


Written by: Jim Carlyle

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