Many of my friends and acquaintances already know this so it’ll be old news, but I’m happy to write that I’m finally leaving New Jersey, once and for all.
Shocked? Well, the time has come.
Pam and I plan our lives on rather long timelines. We may not know what next week holds. But we know what we want to be doing along periods measured by several years or even decades. This chunk was to finish raising Damian, get him though High School and off to college. That part’s just about done. (I think we did a fine job of it, too. What parent doesn’t?)
So we’re off to Florida. Why the Sunshine State? Mostly for the endless motorcycle riding season. Central Florida holds some of the best riding on the east coast, and the best of that will be in our backyard. We figure it’ll hold our interest for many years to come.
Another big reason is that New Jersey is literally sucking us dry. Cost-of-living, taxes and more. So many hands in my pocket I can’t find my… well, you know. We stay here, by the time we’re ready to recreate full time there won’t be anything left.
So, we’re packing up. Taking our property, our money, our spending, our business, and all that other good stuff. Away. To where it’ll do US good.
So far we’ve acquired property, custom-designed/modified a plan (AutoCAD rocks!) for a home that’s perfect for us, contracted our builder… We’ll be breaking ground soon. And come 2013, not a dime more goes into New Jersey’s coffers. Yeah, it really feels damned good to write those words!
Over the coming months I’ll tell you more about this all-consuming adventure. You’ll hear about some of the cool people I’m meeting and doing business with.
A few years ago we discovered the Beach Bar. In nearby Asbury Park, NJ on the south side of Convention Hall it was a fun place to just drop in, hang out for munchies and a couple of cold ones. Can’t say how many times it was the destination for a quick, couple-of-hours-to-kill motorcycle ride.
Yesterday we took a ride down, the first time this season. It just might be the last. Huh?
It’s ruined. The atmosphere is, well, gone. Where to begin…
In the past, the first thing you’d see were the potted plants and trees, even a fake palm. Gone. Now just a sign announcing SECURITY and ID requirements. The outside seating, once tall tables and chairs, now replaced by low, slouch-style plastic seating. It’s comfortable enough, I guess, but encourages sleeping, not socialization. What’s worse, the view from the low seats is now dominated by railing, not ocean and beach. We went for their Sangria, once pretty good, but they no longer offered it. We quickly switched to beers. We were hungry for a little lunch but no, there was no menu, no food for love or money. Time and again I saw people sending one of their group out to the boardwalk to bring food back. The experience was a total disappointment – except for our server, who was competent and attentive.
Now, I’m not shy so I asked around. (I won’t give any clues about who I talked to; most were candid and deserve to keep their jobs.) It turns out that management changes had brought a series of changes. Employee protests had fallen on deaf ears. It’s as simple as that, a story we hear all too often. Was it just too early in the season? Nope, this is it. How’s business, overall? Okay, but not like it was – and trending downward. Any hope for change? Any hope for better drinks? Any hope for food? Those I talked to had heard it all before – from customers and fellow employees alike – but it just didn’t matter.
Only 4-5 weeks into the season? Could be trouble. Bummer, that.
I had a look at their Facebook page just now. The contrast between last year’s activity and now is like night and catfood. Yeah, that different.
I’m afraid I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this place anymore.
We left, much quicker that usual, to find nourishment elsewhere in town.
A pickup rolled by, then reversed and stopped in front of the mailbox. “You getting rid of that?” That’s how I met the Metal Man.
I was wrestling a double bed spring up the driveway toward the rolloff. He explained that he recycled metal. There was metal to be found all over: everywhere from people like me cleaning up to construction sites and general trash, even simply discarded on the side of the road. He would haul it away and sort it before taking it to the recycler. The less pre-processing that needs to be done the higher the value. Take wire or cable, for example. Strip the plastic insulation from copper wire and get paid for pure copper.
So I gave him the ancient bed spring and gave him a hand throwing it into the bed of his pickup. Predictably, Metal Man asked whether I was discarding any other metal. This is a house that’s destined for sale or demolition, so there definitely was metal to be found. We walked around the property talking about… well, metal.
It was a real eye-opener, learning how Metal Man could take something that, to me, had a value of less than zero – a heavy, worn out window air conditioner for example, and extract real value. By breaking it down to its component parts, there was several pounds of copper, more of steel, etc.
Despite this fouled economy Metal Man makes money. On a good day, he tells me, he can earn a few hundred bucks. Not too shabby. Which is also why I’m not mentioning his name or number. The nature of Metal Man’s business is such that (while he didn’t come right out and say so) I’m absolutely certain he’s flying under the radar, if you catch my drift. His source materials are free and the recyclers pay anonymous cash. He’s part of a cash economy where each of his dollars is worth about a third more than each of mine. No too shabby. And business is good, to the point that he’s got three others he employs part time as needed, mostly for muscle or sorting.
I’ve got a lot of respect for Metal Man. He’s made something from nothing, found a niche and filled it. He’s got an admirable work ethic. He does what he says he will do and shows up when he says he will show up. He doesn’t make excuses or complain. He smiles a lot. All qualities that you see less and less in our gimme-gimme, me-first world.
I’ve got the feeling that no matter what the future holds, Metal Man will be a survivor.
I love it when I have the opportunity to talk about companies that do things right. Here’s one: Will Powered Products.
Will Powered Products is a small company out of Dingman’s Ferry, PA that produces a limited line of high quality motorcycle parts. Hand grips, foot pegs, cable clamps – stuff like that. Simple stuff. But made from serious metal, cast and machined with quality and workmanship that you just know will last forever.
I first ran into Barry Will at a swap meet a couple of years back. I had gone through several sets of Harley-branded hand grips on my Dyna and I was sort of idly looking for something better. Funny thing, the Harley-branded grips start out looking and feeling great but they just don’t hold up over time. The Will Powered Products grips are machined from solid aluminum. They’re kind of expensive at nearly three times the cost of Harley-Davidson grips but they felt like they’d outlast the bike. I mulled it over as I wandered the show floor and ended up buying them on the way out. Today they look and feel just as good as the day I installed ’em.
I saw Barry again at the Jersey Giant show/swap meet last April. This time it was his polished cable clamps that looked interesting. Ever see the stock Harley-Davidson cable stays? Cheap, plastic-coated slivers of spring steel, they’re functional but kinda ugly. Anyway, I needed two clamps but there was only one on hand. Barry promised to ship another right away so I paid for both and took one, handing off a business card with my shipping address. As I walked away from the table – sans receipt for the cash purchase – Pam gave me a questioning look. “I don’t think I need a receipt, he’ll do the right thing,” I said. “It’ll be worth the price to find out if my judgment’s still good.”
This is where things got interesting. After the weekend Barry emailed that he had sent the camp. And a few days later he emailed again saying that it had come back for insufficient
postage – and that another would go right out. A few days later it arrived. Bummer, though, it turned out to be the wrong size for my needs. I emailed Barry, sent it back the next day and left for some travel. When I returned from St. Louis the correct-sized clamp was waiting. But that’s not all. Also in the package were two key chains styled after their dipsticks, AND three bucks – cash – presumably to cover my return shipping.
There are a few basic principles at work in this story. The principles are proven – they work in business and in life. Do what you say you will do. Will Powered Products did exactly that every step of the way, from shipping to keeping me informed. When something goes wrong, assume responsibility and do what’s necessary to fix it. Don’t make excuses. Mistakes happen. There were a few in this story but each were always handled as well as could be expected. Barry even mentioned that they took the extra step to ensure that their stock was correctly identified for size in order to reduce the possibility of future errors. Delight your customer. Throughout this extended transaction I always felt like I knew where things stood, so there was no anxiety or tension. Then Barry stepped up with unexpected extras in the end.
So, two thumbs up to Barry and Will Powered Products! Check out their Web site and if you’ve got a need for that kind of stuff for your bike then don’t hesitate to do business with them. They’re an American company making high-quality products that are absolutely worth the cost. You’ll know that the moment you hold one of their parts in your hand.
As for me, maybe some of those spiky footpegs are in my future…
Obligatory disclaimer: I don’t have any interest in Will Powered Products other than that of a satisfied customer.
Pam still reads a pulp newspaper and it was there that she spotted the ad. She thought that our friend Will (also a whiskey enthusiast) and I might enjoy the nearby event and offered to drive. (Can’t beat that, right?)
About 30 of us convened in a back room of the pub to eat, sample whiskeys and converse with Whiskey Master Kevin Loser. Our host (and pub owner) Chris got the evening going with a few stories and jokes while the first of some 7 whiskeys were poured. Kevin took over and began with a high-level description of different whiskey types and common distillery operations. Each new pour was introduced with a great deal of detail. Between tastings, plates of finger foods appeared, prepared by chef Johnny O’ to compliment that particular whiskey. Delicious!
I already had varying degrees of familiarity with most everything we tasted, save one – the Redbreast. The 12-year-old didn’t impress me but it was followed by the 15-year-old which was simply outstanding. A triple-distilled pure pot still whiskey is unique. A Web search will bring you lots more information about the whiskey, here’s a good place to start.
The pace of the event was good. The hours passed quickly and afterward we had a pint in the pub proper, taking in some live music. Chris spent some time hangin’ with the three of us, talking. (Nice touch, spending time with the noobs.) He runs a nice hands-on operation and customers know him by name. The house was packed – normal, I’m told.
Hailey’s has a great atmosphere, everyone made us feel welcome. It’s someplace I’ll definitely try to visit more often. Besides, I want to explore their menu.
I don’t get it. The trend is supposed to be toward zero. Toward cost reduction, toward savings, resource conservation, and so on and so forth.
I’m a big fan of rebates. Yeah, I’m one of those folks that actually sends ’em in and keeps track of whether or not they pay off. (They always do pay off, by the way.) By the end of the year they make for a pretty good return for the few minutes it takes to satisfy the requirements.
Yesterday’s mail brought the latest one. But instead of the usual check there was a thick envelope containing a Visa debit card.
The card was adhered to a cover letter, printed single-sided on heavy stock. The envelope also contained a Know Before You Go! insert explaining a few situations where you might expect difficulties using the card, like restaurants (where they typically pre-authorize an amount that includes gratuities) and gas stations (where the card simply won’t authorize at the pump). Finally, a tri-fold Cardholder Agreement: “IMPORTANT – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY” it implored, followed by dense, tiny print that covering both sides of the unfolded page.
Instead of the eyestrain I turned to the log. It all started when the 8+-year-old network switch in Damian‘s room finally failed. (I wasn’t unhappy; the failed switch was the last piece of stuff less than gigabit speed on the wired LAN. I wondered how many frames that old Linksys beast had switched in its lifetime…) Anyway, the Netgear replacement was on sale for about $36, then there was this $10 rebate. The rebate process consisted of a quick visit to a Web page to complete a form and print the qualification sheet (maybe 2 minutes), copy/paste the address and print the envelope, fold the qualification sheet, razorblade the bar code from the box, stuff and stamp the envelope (another 2 minutes or so to ). Then the logging and tracking on my part (another minute, tops).
The value of the whole thing? Ten bucks. All that stuff had to have cost Netgear more than that to process, produce, mail and track. Not to mention the involvement Parago, Inc., who runs Netgear’s ProSafe Rebate Center, and Visa International.
The old checks were easy to handle; just shove it into a convenient ATM and be done with it. Now there’s this card to bulge my wallet, another value to keep track of and – oh yeah – that trifold of fine print. (Where can I use it? Where can’t I? It says ‘debit’ but they said use it like credit. Hmmm.) And I’d better remember to use it before it expires. Wait a minute, expires? It’s good through October of 2011, it’s embossed right there on the plastic, but in that Fine Print…
Account Maintenance Fee: Subject to applicable law, a fee will be applied to all accounts each month, after the six month anniversary date. The charge will be recurring each month until the balance of the account is $0.00.
So, considering that the Account Maintenance Fee is $3.00, if the card sits on my desk unused then on May 2, 2011 it’ll be worth $7. On June 2, $4. August 1, $1. And finally, on July 2, $0. Hey! For three months and 29 days – from the date the fees drain it dry until the thing expires – the card will have no value at all!
So I don’t get it. Can someone explain who makes out on these things? I mean, I understand coupons. Print a lot, the redemption rate’s pretty low (Groupon fiascos excepted – small companies have been nearly put out of business!) But these? I’m sure Visa gets paid, but beyond that it baffles the mind.
I’d argue that the iconic Zappa mustache logo is far more famous and certainly has been around a lot longer.
Now that’s a famous mustache! What’s more, it’s been copyrighted by the Zappa Family Trust. Hey, Paul, better be careful. Y’know, Gail Zappa‘s got quite the reputation for defending all things Zappa. Wasn’t that long ago Gail sued a… Zappa fan club, of all things… over their use of the mustache in promoting their annual “Zappanale” festival. (Okay, ZFT lost that one largely, as far as I can tell, on technicalities.) Your pockets are deeper, I’m bettin’, and you’re right here in the good ‘ol USofA rather than Germany.
I don’t know what to make of this oldie-but-goodie – Toyota.
Won’t these corporate assholes ever just play nice with each other? Every time they get their collective shorts in a knot there’s only one loser – the consumer. Now, trust me on this one, there’s no love lost between me and Cablevision. They’re the local cable monopoly franchise and, for me, the only viable Internet service provider. I’d drop ’em in a heartbeat if I could, but there are no alternatives. Essentially, they’ve got a gun to my head.
But I digress. In this morning’s email was this missive from Cablevision.
A MESSAGE FROM CABLEVISION
We regret to inform you that News Corp, in an act of corporate greed, has pulled Fox 5 and My9 from your Cablevision channel lineup. This is an unfortunate attempt to extort unreasonable and unfair fee increases from Cablevision and our customers.
News Corp is demanding more for Fox 5 than we pay for every other broadcast channel. In fact, they want more for Fox 5 than we pay CBS, NBC, ABC and Univision combined and are asking for more than $150 million a year. That’s an $80 million increase for the exact same programming! In these tough economic times, an increase of these vast proportions is irresponsible and unfair.
We have made numerous fair and reasonable proposals to News Corp and they have refused every one. And now, News Corp has pulled the plug on Fox 5 AND My9. This was News Corp’s decision, not ours. We want to keep these channels on the air while we negotiate a fair agreement.
As a result of News Corp’s refusal to negotiate, Cablevision is willing to accept binding arbitration to resolve this matter fairly. We are confident that an independent third party will agree that what we are offering to pay News Corp is fair. We call on News Corp to accept binding arbitration, and return Fox 5 and My9 to the air until an agreement is reached.
We apologize for the inconvenience caused by News Corp’s actions, and we ask for your help. Call 1-877-NO-TV-TAX (1-877-668-8829) or visit www.cablevision.com/fox and tell News Corp to put Fox 5 and My9 back on the air, and to keep you out of the negotiations.
Thank you for your patience, your patronage and your support.
(The link in their message eventually expired. I removed it, but note that when it appeared in Cablevision’s email it actually pointed to an internal tracking link before being forwarded – deceptive at best.)
[sigh] Who’s the bigger liar? If you take Cablevision’s statements at face value then News Corp looks like the dick. I’m sure that if I sought out News Corp’s take – I didn’t bother – I’d find that Cablevision looked like the dick.
It’s the customer that takes it on the chin. Pam‘s grumbling that some of the television shows she likes are affected. I told her to watch ’em over the ‘net. Me? I don’t watch television, no time for that, so I’d dump the subscription and not miss it in the least. (Sure, I’d lose the multi-product discount I get for the Internet service portion of the bill but the benefit is so small it doesn’t matter.)
Well, here’s to hoping those profit-mongering bastards resolve their differences.
Obama’s coming to visit a neighboring town, Edison, NJ. The reason that he’s in town isn’t important to me; what I found interesting is that he’s supposed to have lunch at the best sub shop in the whole wide world: Tastee Subs. [ed: link added – they’re online now] (I’d link to ’em but they’re not online. Yeah, I’ve talked to them about that but the owner’s just not interested.) My Dad introduced me to the place back when I was just a little kid; it’s been around that long.
You can read this morning’s local newspaper article to learn more about the particulars of the planned visit. [Bummer, the article link expired.)
Tastee Subs is just a stone’s throw from one of the busiest intersections in that area, Route 27 and Plainfield Avenue. During rush hour – actually, several hours in the morning and several more in the afternoon – it’s not uncommon to have traffic snarled in every direction. Traffic so intense that the signal cycles green once in turn for all four entrances to the intersection. I’m certain that the intersection and surrounding streets will be choked all day long. Harry, my father-in-law who lives not a half-mile from there, will find that incredibly aggravating.
Sam Ash, where I buy stuff like guitar strings, is just on the other side of that intersection. Needless to say, I won’t be going anywhere near these places on the day of Obama’s visit.
In the linked newspaper story there’s mention of Tastee’s roast beef sub. While the roast beef’s good, my recommendation is for the smoked turkey, pepperoni and swiss. It’s not on the menu but they’ll make it for you, no problem. Take all the usual fixings and add some hot peppers for a little extra kick. Mmmmm, good.
I hope Obama enjoys his sub.
Y’know, I’m bitchin’ about the traffic (and I will surely avoid it myself) but I’m actually thrilled that the choice of which small business to visit is an all-American business. Tastee Subs is very well known and highly respected in these parts. With each passing day these kinds of businesses are getting harder and harder to find, especially in the Edison area. Tastee Subs is a business that deserves your support. Might want to wait until after Wednesday, though. Tell ’em Rick sent you.
This morning brought a little bit of snow. Last night it was said that it was supposed to be a huge honkin’ storm but it turned out to be not much snow at all, just a dusting. Pam went outside to get the newspaper, as she usually does on Saturday morning, but came back inside empty-handed. “There’s no fuckin’ paper,” she muttered disgustedly, partially to me and partially to the Universe.
A little while later I was checking the weather maps to see what had happened to our storm and collecting the morning email. Here was something from the paper:
We’re experiencing possible delays throughout our delivery area today, December 19, 2009 due to the current weather conditions. We apologize for the inconvenience; however you can access our e-edition immediately by visiting […]
A couple of years back the paper took the decision to outsource delivery to some faceless fulfillment company. And years earlier than that they stopped the practice of using neighborhood kids on the street. Each change has brought a corresponding drop in service levels.
Anyway, those kids earned their tips. (I wrote about newspapers and delivery gratuities last year, too.) Weather? It just didn’t matter; the newspaper was delivered and that was that. I think our parents called it “responsibility”.
Our e-edition is an exact replica of the printed version that will be delivered to you later today.
And it is, I guess, but the navigation is clunky and you can’t fold it up on the dining room table while you enjoy breakfast and coffee. Also implied is that they intend an eventual delivery, but they’re already four or five hours late.
If you like the Home News Tribune e-edition, you may subscribe by visiting […]
Extra, or a substitute for pulp delivery? Not sure, as I write.
It happens that I just paid the bill for our subscription. Delivery performance has incremented downward and the paper itself has shrunk – actually become considerably narrower – over the past year. Yet rates had risen again. We already know they’ve outsourced delivery. Apparently they’ve also outsourced billing because my check went to a PO box in Louisville, KY. It used to go to an address down the shore.
Newspapers all over are wringing their hands over their reduced market share. The Internet is kicking their collective asses! Is it any wonder? Maybe they deserve it.
About a month and a half ago my main personal computer, an (ancient) HP zd8000 laptop, began dropping keystrokes. I traced the problem back to the battery. No longer taking a charge, the interrupts generated as the charging circuitry tried, failed and tried again were interfering with the keyboard interrupt. My typing is bad enough; I pulled the offending battery, scanned the ‘net and ordered a new battery from overstock.com based on – what else? – price.
That was September 3rd, and the replacement battery arrived some days later. Unfortunately it was the wrong one! The order showed the correct number as did the packing list, but the thing that sat on my desk clearly showed a different number. The plastic bag it came in was already open (uh oh, could mean trouble) so I took the opportunity to stick it into the laptop, thinking perhaps it was a substitute. Nope, the computer refused it.
I used the online chat on Overstock’s Web site and explained the situation. The rep thought it best to escalate to a tech person so she told me to expect their call, which came some hours later. I hadn’t expected his call so quick. The tech generated the RMA and return shipping label and said he’d overnight another replacement.
Meanwhile I did a little checking. HP has an excellent online parts lookup tool, and I used it to check the two part numbers in question. They were markedly different. I looked them both up on the Overstock site and found the descriptions to be remarkably similar. Maybe this was the problem?
As it turned out, the next few weeks proved frustrating – for both me and Overstock – as we shipped the same incorrect battery back an forth across the country three times. In the end they said that they didn’t have the correct item. They’d process my refund and I was free to keep the incorrect battery. I sent it back anyway; there’s no sense in recycling a perfectly good battery I couldn’t use.
But that’s not the end of the story. Last Friday evening I took a call from Thomas at Overstock. He explained that my case had made it up to the executive level and that they had spent some time analyzing what went wrong. There were a few things, including a mis-SKUed warehouse bin (aha!) and lapses in communication. The analysis had resulted in some process improvements and Thomas called to tell me about them. We talked for a while about things like quality and customer service. Full disclosure: Thomas offered – and I accepted – compensation for my frustration and understanding: a correct battery and some store credit. He left his email and direct phone number.
(The correct battery arrived this afternoon, shipped overnight from Overstock’s supplier. The number fits several applications; the plastic cover trim isn’t right for my particular laptop, but I have spares from previous replacements so it’s no big deal. Overstock, if you’re reading this, don’t panic – I’m good, and I appreciate all you’ve done. You might want to follow-up with the warehouse, though.)
In my experience, the larger a company becomes the less likely is becomes that a minor customer problem actually results in action. Sure, refunds and credits are common enough, but not the continuous improvement part. To do that, and more importantly, to take the additional step of reaching out to the customer after the transaction is complete is exceptional. More should follow Overstock’s example. I’ll use them again.
Six Flags, the world’s largest theme park company with 20 parks in the United States, Canada and Mexico, is bankrupt. Still, they’re moving ahead with planned expansions in Quatar and Dubai.
One of their parks is nearby and I’ve visited quite a number of times since they opened when I was a kid. It used to be a lot of fun. But when they installed the metal detectors a couple of decades or more ago I swore I wouldn’t go anymore. I haven’t quite kept to that.
By all accounts the parks are crowded to capacity. Admission, parking, food – everything – is incredibly expensive, even for Jersey. The lines are painfully long for every ride, all the time. I was there a while back and we spent a good deal of wait time trying to calculate the cost per minute of ride experience. In excruciating detail. It’s okay, we had the time and it was good mental gymnastics. (At least I developed my company’s slogan from that trip, so I suppose it wasn’t a total loss.)
Anyway, can someone please explain to me how it’s possible that a business like that can be bankrupt? I just don’t get it.
I was in an automobile dealership service department yesterday and overheard something I’ve never heard before.
A woman with a Chrysler product needing service was being turned away! Her story, following a good hour of waiting for a diagnosis, unfolded something like this. Chrysler hasn’t been paying their third-party suppliers and so some have stopped, well, supplying. Bummer, but the thing that she needed happened to be affected. There was no stock, nothing available and the prospect of an order being fulfilled was virtually nonexistent.
The service writer went on to advise her to take her plight to Corporate and appeal to them as a wronged customer on the shitty end of the stick, through no fault of her own. It was right about then that the light bulb came on over her head – this was no ordinary conversation. She needed to take notes.
The service writer was sympathetic, gave her specific people and addresses to write to, coached her on what to say, stuff like that. But that doesn’t help her ailing car very much and, after listening to her yap on her phone while she waited for that news, wasn’t what she needed in her life just then.