There are many purchases for which it simply makes sense to let cost be the deciding factor. Most folks, for example, when exiting the interstate to fuel up their vehicles, will stop at the gas station that has the cheapest fuel, all other things being equal, because they know that generally there won’t be a drastic difference, if any, in the quality of fuel from one station to the next, and a significant difference in price per gallon at the pump will translate into more money for other things. If one station has a much larger, newer, and cleaner store than another, and the occupants of the vehicle need to use the restroom, the perk of a better experience in the store may counterbalance the cheaper gas at the other station. But price is a reasonable factor to weigh heavily when buying gas, and many people do so, and are none the worse for it.
However, cost is not always the best way to decide every purchase. If you had been told you needed a complicated surgery that required a specialist, and whether the surgery was a success and even whether you survived it or not hinged in no small part on the skill of the surgeon, would you choose the very best surgeon you could find, or just the cheapest? Likewise, if you found yourself being sued for a sum that could bankrupt you if you lost, would you hire the very best attorney you could find, with a long track record of success in the area of law pertinent to your case, or would you hire the cheapest attorney, perhaps one right out of law school? Let’s say the attorney right out of school has a 4.0 GPA and glowing letters of recommendation from all of his professors; perhaps he even won several mock trials in school. Would you even consider hiring the recent graduate, knowing your future depended on it?
Let’s look at another example, one connected to the first one we examined. Fuel is generally fuel, and it makes perfect sense to buy it based on price. But how many people purchase a car, new or used, big or small, just based on price? Chances are high that the last time you bought a car using price as the primary consideration, you were in high school or college and made regular practice of buying pretty much everything based on cost, because you had no alternative. And even when you couldn’t afford to buy any sort of car other than a clunker, you knew that there was a difference between a good-brand clunker and an off-brand clunker, a clunker that your mechanic checked out and said was a good car versus the one he told you to run from as fast as you could. Probably once you got to where your career was even halfway established, if you’re like most people, you made quality a higher priority than price when purchasing a vehicle. I’m not implying of course that you went out and bought a Rolls, or even a Beamer; but all of the car manufacturers spend a lot of time and money advertising how their vehicles did in the latest year’s independent quality testing for a reason: they know that there are many cars for sale, across many brands, within any given price category, and most people shopping in a given category will place more emphasis on the quality of the vehicle than they will saving a few hundred, or maybe even a few thousand, dollars. It isn’t hard to decipher why this happens: the average consumer would rather pay a little more for the car and have a car that they can depend on, than save a few hundred or even a few thousand and end up standing on the side of the road at midnight waiting for a tow truck. That money saved seems like nothing more than an expensive lesson at that point.
Here’s one last example: buying a house. Cost has to be a major consideration here, because this purchase consumes a larger amount of money than any other single purchase, for most people. But who buys a home only based on price, disregarding other factors? Imagine that there are two houses you’re considering; one is 10% more expensive than the other, at the top of your price range whereas the other gives you a little breathing room. The house that is more expensive has roughly the same square footage as the other house, but it’s new construction and immaculate; it sits on a three-acre lot, in a good neighborhood, and has a two-car garage; it’s in the best school district in the city. The other house is sixty years old and may or may not have termite damage; it’s a hundred yards from a railroad track; it’s on a 0.1-acre lot with no garage and no driveway; it’s in a school district that has been taken over by the state because of its poor performance; and the day you view it, you notice someone on the porch of the house next door smoking a marijuana cigarette. Do you even consider the house in the bad neighborhood, or do you spend the extra money to ensure that your wife and children are safe and you can sleep at night?
Stocking a pond is not on a par with choosing a surgeon, nor does it compare to choosing a lawyer. You won’t spend as much to stock your pond as you would to buy a new car unless it’s a forty-acre lake and you’re stocking it afresh for the first time; even then, there are ways to stretch your budget, if you have time. All that said, if you own a private pond, you’re in the minority among even the citizens of this most privileged of countries, and you spent a good amount of money to get it, whether you had it built yourself or bought the property with the pond already on it. If you went to the time and expense to get a pond, you probably want it to be as good as it can possibly be; I’ve never met a landowner who asked me to give him mediocre fishing.
Every business field is unique; every field has particularities that are good, and particularities that are bad. One of the bad particularities about the field of medicine in this country is how much doctors, particularly the good ones, charge for their services; but the good side of this is that lesser doctors generally aren’t able to pass themselves off as experts: they haven’t produced the results that the top doctors have, so the only way they can get business is to charge less. So you, the patient, know what you’re getting. The field of law is the same way: you get what you pay for.
Lake and pond management, unfortunately, is not like medicine. There are not a few but many companies that misrepresent themselves in their advertising, and unlike medicine and law where there are independent agencies to monitor and police doctors and lawyers and disbar those who regularly are incompetent, there is no regulation whatsoever, in terms of quality of service provided to the landowner, over hatcheries and lake and pond management consultants. I can’t count the number of times we have electrofished this or that private pond or lake that, prior to us, had been managed for a few or several years by one of our competitors, most of whom are much larger companies than we are, only to find fishing as poor or poorer than what we find in the average pond or lake that has never had any professional management. And yet these same companies represent themselves in all of their advertising as experts in the field, and many landowners believe them.
Some companies in the lake and pond management field may make their money from management contracts; most companies, ours included, offer the option of yearly feeder refilling contracts, fertilization contracts, weed-control contracts, etc. But no company we’re aware of working in this area makes all or even most of their money from such contracts; we all sell fish and pond products, and we have to make a profit on those sales to stay in business. If we don’t make enough margin on fish sales and fish feeder and fish food sales and pond construction jobs, we go out of business and can no longer help you have an amazing pond. We try to keep our prices competitive; but some of our competitors set their prices unnaturally low on some jobs, sometimes at levels lower than what they charged for the same fish ten or more years ago, in an effort to drive more honest companies out of business. We don’t sell anything at a loss, never have and never will. When I take my car to a mechanic, I don’t haggle with him over the cost of every part, because I know he has to make a living just like I do; this is something I learned from my grandfather when I was a boy, and I have never forgotten it. As a business owner, I can’t forget it, or I have no business.
I regularly spend half an hour or more on the phone with landowners, some of whom are regular customers, many of whom have never bought anything from us. That cut-rate company selling fish feeders at or near cost isn’t going to spend that time on the phone with you telling you how to set up and manage your pond, and if they did it wouldn’t be of any value to you. Our customers regularly call when they have a question about their pond, and I always make time for them. Locally-owned small businesses go out of business all the time because too many people saved a couple bucks too many times at Wal-Mart. Have you ever gotten valuable guidance on anything at all from a Wal-Mart employee?
If you knew buying your fish from Company A, even if it cost you a little more, would give you better fishing than you had ever dreamed possible on a very regular basis five years from now in your very own private lake, would you do it?
We’re Company A, and it can and will make that much difference.