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Blogs - When Small Business Get Their Own Back

Retailers and the like often cop public flak for poor service. But do they have any recourse for dealing with bad customers?

  • Michael Baker was director of research at the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) from 1998-2003. In this role he oversaw dozens of retail industry research studies and surveys, and became one of the most respected shopping center and retail analysts in the US. Now, based in Sydney he is an independent economic consultant on retail projects in the pre-development and repositioning phases. Aside from consulting he serves as vice-chair of ICSC’s Asia-Pacific Research Council.
Retailers and other businesses are constantly under the cosh from frustrated and angry clients who are dissatisfied with their level of service. The media spotlight is firmly on shoddy businesses because good stories about bad businesses make good copy.

Often the complaints are justified. Shoddy workmanship, defective goods, long wait times, gouging on price and "how-did-you-like-that-slap-in-the-face-fella?" service. It’s the reason why so many Australians will tell you they prefer to shop overseas and rave to you about how positive their experiences were when they shopped or paid for services in the US, Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai.

But it works both ways and Australian retailers and service providers have to deal with plenty of jerks – meaning people among us, the consuming public. There is no recourse for complaint against us when we behave badly in the course of a transaction or negotiation with a small business.

Same goes for the US, and one ex-tradie in Philadelphia has decided to do something about it. He has set up a website - now two years old - that turns up the heat on deadbeat clients instead of the small business guys at the other side of the transaction who usually get all of the criticism.

The website is called, graphically, "" and if you are a business person you can go there and for a small nominal amount become a member, which among other things entitles you to expose clients with whom most of us wouldn't want to be doing any business.

Matt Stachel, founder of, is even offering temporary free membership to Australian businesspeople who would like to partake of this service by writing reports about bad client experiences and reading ones that others have written. Interested people can sign on here.

To this point, Mr. Stachel says many of his members are people in the construction and graphic design trades. Main complaint is about money not being paid for services, but other problems include the usual ones you come up against as a small businessperson such as "brief creep" (constantly expanding or changing the scope of a project without being willing to pay for the extra work), being uncontactable at strategic times, being abusive, or wasting your time getting an estimate without any intention of hiring you. offers other services apart from just a forum to let off steam and warn other businesses about bad customers.

For example, there is an “Ask the Lawyer” section where a small businessperson can obtain free advice about a legal question for tricky issues that arise with clients.

One question goes as follows: “I recently completed some work for a guy under a written contract. At the end, he cried to me about the pricing despite how great he said my work was and we agreed on a new reduced amount in writing. Later he sued me for “Defective Workmanship” which I had to defend. Even though I won, I had to waste a lot of time and money. How can I prevent this in the future?”

So am I understanding this correctly? The client said the contractor did a great job, renegotiated a lower price, then sued for defective workmanship.

Just how bad can a client get? If you have a story that can beat that, I’m sure would love to hear about it.
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