The St. John’s Better Business Bureau is shutting its doors for good Aug. 16.
Internal communications documents obtained by The Telegram confirm that, as part of a North America-wide restructuring that will see the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus folded into its American counterpart, the St. John’s office is one of four Canadian locations that will close its doors.
In February, the U.S. Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) sent notices to the 14 Canadian locations that it intended to terminate its trademark licensing agreement with them effective Aug. 15, 2011, according to a board of directors newsletter obtained by The Telegram.
“It offered to receive applications from the BBBs for membership in CBBB and in April it informed 10 BBBs that they had been granted probationary membership in CBBB effective August 16, 2011,” reads the newsletter. “Four BBBs, Windsor, Hamilton, Montreal and St John’s, were advised that they would not be accepted for membership in CBBB and would therefore cease to able to use the BBB name, brand and trade marks effective August 16, 2011.”
An email dated July 21 was sent to Better Business Bureau CEOs from Stephen Cox, president and CEO of the Virginia-based Council of Better Business Bureaus, updating bureau heads on the transition, as well as the office closures.
“Their service areas will be reassigned so that other BBBs can continue serving those communities. I anticipate minimal to no interruption of service to BBB Accredited Businesses in those areas, and the transition will be largely invisible to consumers,” reads the email, which does not say which office will be responsible for accrediting Newfoundland and Labrador businesses and charities or handling consumer complaints.
The email from Cox says a “full-blown media announcement” is planned for the end of summer. “We are anticipating, and will certainly attempt to keep the story positive — we will not dwell on any past issues with the four BBBs in question, nor have any intention of causing embarrassment to any individuals,” he wrote.
Missing from the documents are reasons why the four offices have been chosen for closure, and Lisa Gray, the executive director of the St. John’s office, directed inquiries to designated spokespeople, as directed in Cox’s email: “We have established a BBB Media Hotline that will be answered 24/7 by either Katherine (Hutt) or Kelsey (Owen), as well as a special e-mail address only for media inquiries,” he wrote. However, calls from the Telegram to the hotline went unanswered.
The local office currently employs two full-time staff members: the director and a salesperson. Two summer students had also been hired this year by the bureau.
Repeated calls to the “24/7” hotline went unanswered, with messages left unreturned.
Jo Mark Zurel, director of the St. John’s Board of Trade, said he’s concerned about the closure, as the Better Business Bureau is a good consumer advocate that also provides services to businesses.
“There’s a need for that, and consumers need access to some sort of organization that acts on their behalf and businesses also benefit from support and conflict resolution,” he said.
“We are concerned that the office is closing, and it could have a negative impact on both consumers and on businesses.”
Zurel added he’ll reserve judgment, though, until the actual impact on Newfoundland and Labrador businesses is known.
Zurel acknowledged that consumers may have been using Better Business Bureau’s services less in an age where they can dig up as much information and customer reviews they can online.
“Access to information is so much easier now than it was even five years ago, because of things like Twitter and blogs and those sorts of things, so there is access to information, but the benefit of the Better Business Bureau is that they provided an impartial and a professional analysis of complaints,” he said. “Many people have complaints, but (some) complaints are not valid, so if you just rely on Twitter and the Internet to find information, it hasn’t gone through a quality filter that the Better Business Bureau would have provided.”