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Smitherman: BBB is here for you

David Smitherman helped answer a lot of questions about what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) does at the Rotary Club of Greenville’s weekly meeting on Thursday.

Smitherman has been the president and chief executive Officer of BBB serving central and south Alabama since April 2006. Prior to his tenure with the BBB, Smitherman spent most of his career in hospital administration as vice president of Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham, and later as V.P. of Jackson Hospital and Clinic in Montgomery.

He started his talk with two questions — who the BBB is and how many people know what it does?

“The Better Business Bureau is one of the most iconic brands in the world, but nobody knows what we do,” Smitherman said.

The BBB originated in 1912 in New York when a group of concerned business people who were outraged with the abuses of advertising done in that day, got together and started challenging certain companies that were making claims.

“Today, 103 years later, there are 112 Better Business Bureaus in Canada, the United States and Mexico,” Smitherman said.

Each BBB is an independent incorporated organization that has its own board of directors.

Smitherman said all 112 BBBs operate under the council of BBBs in Washington, D.C.

In Alabama, the BBB of Mobile formed in 1954, the Birmingham location formed in 1955 and 10 years later, the Huntsville location was formed.

Last year, the Birmingham office merged/bought the much smaller office in Mobile, and combined, services 50 of the state’s 67 counties.

To answer what the BBB does, Smitherman talked about what the 501 [C] 6 organization doesn’t do.

“We are not a government agency,” he said. “We do work with the Attorney Genera’s Office, the Alabama Securities administration, the U.S. Postal Inspectors, the (Federal Bureau of Investigation), Federal Commerce Commission, and local law enforcement when they see activities that are fraudulent or criminal.”

Smitherman said the BBB is often times subpoenaed for records to help build cases against companies that are fraudulent and or criminal.

A big portion of what the BBB does is provide unbiased information for consumers and other businesses so that they can make better purchase decisions, Smitherman said.

“We do that through reviews,” he said.

Within the Birmingham and Mobile BBB sites, there are 70,000 files on businesses in the 50-county service area, Smitherman said.

“We provide this platform for unbiased info,” he said.  “We also provide dispute resolution. That’s when someone does have a problem with business, and do want to file a complaint. We help the business and consumer to come together to reach a resolution.”

Smitherman said the BBB does far more dispute resolutions for nonmembers.

Last year and on a national level, the BBB provided more than 185 million instances of services to businesses and consumers.

In central and south Alabama through the Birmingham and Mobile offices, the organization handled 2 million instances of services.

“If you don’t think the Better Business Bureau is relevant in today’s economy, think again,” Smitherman said.

Additionally, Smitherman said that the BBB compiles information on charities, and that people would be surprised how many aren’t legit.

After natural disasters, they pop up all over the place, he said.

“It’s another part of what we do in terms of helping you to decide on an organization you want to support,” Smitherman said.

At the end of his presentation, Smitherman listed the top 10 types of businesses consumers have questions and complaints about in south and central Alabama.

He said construction and remodeling, heating and air, attorneys and lawyers, car dealers, plumbers, auto repair, general contractors and roofing contractors were in the top 10 for consumer questions.

Those that made the complaints list are banks, auto repair, book publisher, insurance, apartments, collections agencies and moving companies, to name a few.