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Look at the numbers to choose good companies

Sometimes as I sit down to write this column I struggle with having too many things to say, or too much inspiration. Today, in the sunshine in my office, I am under-inspired. Spring fever maybe?

Since I don’t have three columns in progress in my head, today I turned to the BBB statistics from our service area (Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana). What do our data comparing 2010’s first quarter to 2011’s first quarter indicate that people are considering buying? Are those seeking business reviews on local companies increasing in numbers as the economy improves? And is there a change in the most asked-about industries? These statistics always inspire me, and this time they also cheered me.

In the first three months of 2010, we delivered 70,673 business ratings; for the same period this year it was 104,835. This is great news. What this shows is people are beginning the research before they spend money. That’s good for all of us. This is a 48 percent increase in pre-purchase research.

Google sure has changed the BBB world, directing more and more people to our business ratings than ever. When you search “roofers, Spokane” you will see the list of BBB Accredited Businesses in the top results. An increase this substantial is also an indicator that people are getting ready to make thoughtful, well-researched purchases.

General contracting is the top industry searched on our 2010 and 2011 lists. Despite the major downturn in construction, projects still go on, and research into which company to hire continues to climb. There are a number of municipalities that use BBB Business Reviews as part of their pre-bid award screening – a smart use of taxpayer money.

This year, collection agencies are second for inquiries, and not even in the top 25 last year. I have a theory on why: Many people who never had to deal with collection agencies in the past have suffered income losses, and companies that never had to turn over accounts before also are struggling.

Third on both the complaints and the inquiries list are new car dealers, and the news from that industry continues to improve. I am still dismayed at the number of buyers who call us after the fact, when they are already in a bad situation with a company that has earned an F grade with the BBB. It is so easy to check before picking your dealer.

Tax consultants dropped from second to fourth on the 2011 list With so many changes brought on by income reductions , many people dipped into 401k savings and found themselves in trouble tax-wise.

Financial planners and consultants took a jump for the same reason. Other industries in the top 10 both years include used car dealers, electronic equipment dealers, roofers and banks.

Credit and debt consultants (fourth last year) moved down to 16th in 2011 – more good news. If your income saw such upheaval that it moved you to seek credit counseling, that is not a good sign for the economy. But aligning with a good, holistic credit counseling service will teach you budgeting and responsible spending lessons that will serve you the rest of your. life. That is the silver lining in taking this step to get control of your financial situation.

As the BBB continues to enhance the services provided to those researching where to spend money, these numbers will continue to grow. We recently added a new feature on that allows you to click and request a quote from any BBB Accredited Business. And people are using it. We too keep looking for ways to make it easy to make good choices. Use our website as one of your tools.

The best part of the statistics is that while our delivery of business ratings grows, our complaints are staying about level. Why? I have always said if people did more checking first, they would use the ethical, caring companies, and stay away from those that get the majority of complaints. And I think I am right.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at