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Better Business Bureau heads North.

Andy Cotnam was not around when his father registered Advanced Prefabs Ltd. with the Eastern Ontario Better Business Bureau (BBB) in 1959.

But from the Ottawa-based company's helm today, Cotnam can imagine why his father chose to join seven years after his incorporation.

"(Registration with the Better Business Bureau) adds legitimacy to the business," he said from one of his two Fireplace and Patio Center retail outlets. "It would be more beneficial to a younger company."

Companies in northeastern Ontario looking for that legitimacy, and even a competitive edge, now have a local place to find it.

The BBB that has counted Cotnam's company as a member for 45 years has moved into Northern Ontario. There will not be a physical presence right away, but that is of no concern to executive director Diane Iadeluca. Most of the bureau's work is done online or by phone, so bricks and mortar are not necessary.

In fact, the Ottawa BBB already counts some Northern Ontario operations among their ranks. The outward move just made sense, according to Iadeluca, considering the two closest BBBs are in Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively.

On top of the standard storefront display, some companies use the BBB logo on their fleet and in print advertisements, according to Cotnam.

"There's an extra cost, but it can give you a competitive advantage," he said. "Knowing any concerns will be dealt with in a professional manner gives peace of mind to the customer."

The mission of the BBB is "to promote and foster the highest ethical relationship between businesses and the public through voluntary self-regulation, consumer and business education, and service excellence," said Iadeluca.

Member businesses generally use the BBB to:

* Check out new suppliers

* Obtain impartial help when hurt by questionable advertising and/or business practices

* Stay abreast of changing regulations affecting businesses

* Keep employees knowledgeable about dubious operators

* Get neutral assistance in solving customer dissatisfaction.

A "marketplace watchdog," the bureau responds to all inquiries and business/customer relationship issues. It was founded in 1912 in the United States. The Ottawa bureau opened its doors in 1937.

A group of prominent business people was concerned about truthfulness in advertising, shopping hours and the timing of street light illumination, according to a BBB fact sheet. The staff consisted of one manager and a stenographer in a one-room office rented for $35 per month.

The bureau is a federally registered not-for-profit organization supported, owned and controlled by its members. It is not funded by, nor connected with, any government agency.

The BBB also offers independent mediation if a complaint is responded to, yet the consumer is still dissatisfied and still has reasonable unresolved issues.

"The Better Business Bureau is a communications link between the business and the consumer when normal communications may have failed," says Iadeluca. "Consumers are very savvy today. They look for someone they can trust, and they do their homework before they shop."

Over 2,000 Canadian businesses hold memberships at one of the country's 14 offices.

Those offices comprise the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus (CCBBB), a subsidiary of the (original) Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) in the United States.

Bureaus in both countries work together seamlessly, according to Iadeluca.

The cost of joining depends on the number of employees a company has. It can range, for example, from $190 for one year for a self-employed entrepreneur or small home-based operation to $1,000 for a large corporation.

The move to include Northern Ontario gives local consumers a valuable tool to check the reliability of a company before opening their wallets via the aptly named Reliability Reports available online or by phoning 1-877-859-8566 toll-free.

Cotnam today employs 30 people and thanks referrals for generating most of his business. He doesn't have to worry about credibility these days, although he was surprised to learn of an outstanding complaint-along with a note that others have been resolved smoothly-listed on the BBB's Web site.

"We'll have to look in to that."

www.easternontario.bbb.org

BY CRAIG GILBERT

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2005 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Gilbert, Craig
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:672
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