Commercial customers: cuthroat corporates?

The Wall Street Journal reports entitled "Small Firms' Big Customers Are Slow To Pay" saying how "small businesses are waiting longer for commercial customers to pay their bills as many big companies continue to hoard cash to bolster their own working capital."

The paper reports that it is a trend which began in the recession and has worsened in recent years putting growing pressure on smaller firms, who generally are more vulnerable in this area. Among the corporate stars forcing the small biz credit squeeze are venerable names like Ford, Apple and, somewhat predictably, Walmart.

Walmart took 29.5 days to pay its bills in the first quarter of this year, up from 27 days during the same period in 2009 while  Ford a spokesman claimed that 80% of the company's $75 billion in annual purchases are paid within 40 to 45 days. Apple with over $110bn in cash reserves took an astonishing 52 days up from 43 days previously. What the article leaves out is that 40-45 days really is 70-75 days as most accounting departments send out a bill upto about 30 days of incurring the expense. One Fortune 500 company even went so far as to demand 120 days to pay resulting in a spiral of financial woes going down the economic ladder.

Yet none of these tightwad titans  seem to be suffering any consequences from their Scrooge like behavior, which at least in the case of Apple seems wanton. That it continues despite their being direct-to-consumer companies is noteworthy. Though not mentioned in the Journal, the hotel industry, particularly small and medium operators, face a similar situation when it comes to payments from the giant OTAs (online travel agents) whose stranglehold is not limited to finance but also extends to trying to control the customer base.

One answer to some of the foregoing woes of small business is in a new Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor survey "on the changing economic conversation between consumer and corporation." The survey showed how "consumers now tap into their collective power providing instant feedback to companies, causes, and candidates.  Corporations are utilizing social media technologies to better understand the desires of their consumers and try to provide better products and services". While Social Media did not elicit as much trust among consumers, newspaper articles like the foregoing in the Wall Street Journal were nearly at the top for trustworthiness. Clearly getting one's story out via newspapers could go some way towards spurring the corporate giants to be more responsive.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.