As the national Better Business Bureau celebrates its centennial, the Spokane office of the BBB is reaching more people with more services despite the effects of the recession.
Launched in 1929, Spokane’s BBB office offers ratings, reports and consumer information on thousands of businesses across the region. In the 1960s the local office added North Idaho companies; in 1990 it added businesses in Montana.
The recent recession has taken its toll, said Elea Katzele, the Spokane office CEO and president.
The number of paid or “accredited” companies using the BBB has dropped to 2,200 in the past year from 2,300, Katzele said.
Yet the economy also is creating more demand for the BBB’s services “in that more of the population is more desperate to get or save money,” she said. “They are quicker to fall for scams, quicker to choose the cheapest business without doing extra research,” she said.
The Spokane BBB website had 250,000 visits in 2011. “We are trending 32 percent higher this year,” Katzele said.
The Spokane BBB is also working on providing more detailed information for consumers, she said.
Last year it adopted a grading system with an A to F scale for all businesses. The rating uses business activities, legal actions, length of time in business, consumer complaints and other factors to determine a grade.
The website also lets customers upload reviews of a business, then gives the business a chance to respond online.
While the BBB’s original mission was to be a business watchdog, the 21st century focus has evolved well beyond that, Katzele said.
The local offices keep records of business practices, provide referrals to consumers, send out notices of local scams or ID theft threats and develop consumer education programs for area high schools.
The other challenge is covering a wide area, Katzele said. There are differences between companies and consumer needs in Montana and North Idaho compared with Spokane.
“We have to find the nuances that are important to them,” she said.