Category Archives: Business

Shamway

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While I worked at Cargill, one of my white coworkers approached me with his pitch. He was enthusiastic in his approach. What he didn’t know is that I saw him coming from a mile away and was already calculating how best to both amuse myself and learn something from him in the process. Being poor granted me the ability to avoid spending all my money foolishly; most of mine went for rent, pico de gallo, and an acre of french fries.

I’ve been thinking about some of my shenanigans due to the Showtime show, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” starring Kirsten Dunst. It takes a darkly comedic view of MLMs.

I invited my coworker Mitch (not his real name) to come to my residence. At the time I lived with a co-worker from Cargill. He owned a trailer in a park in Johnson. This is the trailer that would later give me the opportunity to say, “A plane crashed on my house.”

Mitch left his car running in the driveway, a common tactic used by converts to the scheme. As I listened, my roommate Ray shook his head in wonderment. He lived for years in California. As a result, his exposure to MLMs was vast. Later, he shared some of the stories of friends who had ruined themselves with such endeavors. I let Mitch do his pitch without being too problematic. It almost killed me. At the end of the first phase of his pitch, he asked me if I was interested. “Yes, but I’m more interested in how this ends for you, in three months or a year because it is going to end. Badly.” Because he’d spent a great deal of time with someone in his upline, he had a pat answer to redirect my point. I then said, “One thing I noticed is that you didn’t identify your company by name at any point. That’s one of the key warning signs for a pitch.” Mitch became nervous. I stood up and shook his hand and told him I wished him the best of luck. “Think of this as a training exercise. I’ll make a list of things that caught my attention.”

Ray stood up and told him, “Your pitch is pretty good, Mitch. I’ve heard a lot of them. But I recommend you quit now and start your own business or do your own thing before you spend a lot of money to make $10.”

Later, I gave Mitch a list of critiques. I made my comedic recommendations alongside my serious ones. He took the list. He stuck with the program for several more months, although after a couple of months, he began to drastically talk about it less. He quit Cargill without notice. Months later, someone told me he lost several thousand dollars buying his merchandise before quitting the MLM.

Over the next few years, I went to several pitches to see how much creativity might be involved. As you would guess, not very much.

Later, as people approached me with new opportunities to own my own company, be my own boss, I varied my responses from amused to indignant to gauge how it affected them. They couldn’t understand that I’d already peeked behind the MLM curtain. I asked them all, “Name one person you know who made the kind of money you claim. I want to talk to them.” No one ever gave me such a name, at least not a reasonable one. “I’ll follow up with you in a year. I hope you strike it rich. I’m rooting for you. And you should feel free to tell me ‘I told you so’ when you do!” No one ever did.

The same was true with timeshares and other similar high-pressure sales. One of the best I ever witnessed was in Mexico during vacation. The presenter was incredibly adept at countering every conceivable question or insight. Discovering that I spoke Spanish, he tried the ‘divide and conquer’ method. I switched to ‘batsh!t crazy’ mode and completely destroyed any means he tried to get back to normal. I ran down the clock and many of the other participants/victims joined me in ruining any chance we’d be stupid enough to buy a timeshare. Despite the free souvenir blankets, ponchos, bottles of tequila, and free meals, I finally got him to admit that each session paid for itself with only ONE person or family signing up. His usual success rate was 1 in 5, much higher than the average. This interaction was one of many that reminded me that when a person argues after the first “No,” you’re being manipulated and it is best to flee by any means necessary.

I learned long ago that you can’t convince a person in the cult of an MLM to listen to reason; they must finish the fatigue and finish line of their own accord, often after weakening countless friendships and connections.

One MLM currently going the rounds had to disclose that less than 2% make more than minimum wage doing it, and very rarely can someone live on the income generated. Most quit after losing more than they ever earned. Having a family member or close friend involved in any MLM is exactly like having a used car salesman living with you.

All of us have experienced the agony of a social media friend getting started in an MLM. The cringe factor is immense. Many of us have learned that it is impossible to tell them they are making a mistake.

MLMs are like religion; those involved want to do all the talking and seldom wish to hear your input.

All of us universally cringe when someone gets snagged by the tendrils of the promise of easy money.

As with some religious views, don’t make the mistake of trying to get people to see reason. They have to discover it for themselves.

Whether it is skincare products, essential oils, nutrition drinks, or clothing, it is never worth it. I am still waiting to get to know one person who has made a living from it. I certainly know a lot of people who have lost their social media friends by abusing their connections with these ‘business opportunities.’

For just an hour a day and $43,543, I’ll teach you how to do the same.

What Exactly Are They Sending You?

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I wrote the draft of this post years ago, precovid.

Years ago, I remember watching a “60 Minutes” segment and seeing a railroad car carry chemicals to one destination and then refill with apple juice, without being cleaned between fills. When I worked at a dairy, I was surprised to see that clumpy, black, clotted milk would be put in the holding tank to save money, because as long as the main tank passed inspection, it didn’t matter if someone shoveled manure into it. It’s true that pasteurization awaited the milk.

To frame it another way, though, you likely wouldn’t eat a bowl of ice cream if you knew it had 1% manure in it, no matter how safe it might be to eat.

I saw other things which were more troublesome while working in the poultry industry, which is plagued by food-borne illnesses and contaminants, even though they constantly assure us that every conceivable measure is being taken to ensure a safe food supply, even as they speed up processes, reduce costs and USDA inspectors, and reduce human intervention. If human beings are involved and profit is a primary consideration, it is no stretch to imagine all possible scenarios where corners might be cut. People inevitably cut corners, especially people who are pressured into working faster, with fewer people, and whose profit margin shrinks as they take the time to do their job more safely.

PSA: You’ve all seen the delivery drivers throw packages in and out of their trucks, across fences, or into swimming pools. If you haven’t witnessed it personally, the internet has probably shown you a few examples of packages being tossed like beanbags all through the delivery process. Even when they don’t throw or mishandle packages, they are constantly falling over, rolling, or upended during handling and transport.

I won’t mention any companies by name, of course, but some bring you clothes, electronics, food, and toys for your children. It’s convenient.

You don’t think twice about it, I’m sure.

Without being specific, a huge range of things is shipped by carriers. They can send diagnostic samples, clinical samples, blood, human tissue, and about a 1,000 other things you’ve never thought about. I’m surprised how many people assume that such things are segregated on other carriers or trucks. They are not. Also, it’s important that people know that the classification systems used to determine what can be shipped are a little dubious. Some items are recycled medical devices which are treated as highly infectious inside their point-of-use, yet are packaged and transported on the same trucks as your personal items.

The same drivers you see throwing packaged from across the yard are often the drivers transporting the things I’ve mentioned.

Whether they are hazardous or not is at times subject to opinion. Many times, no one knows what is inside the boxes. Even if they do know, speed demands that the packages be handled quickly, not carefully. The packaging is at the whim and mercy of anyone who took the time to ensure it was sealed properly or not. Anything in the distribution chain, however, is subject to the same treatment that you’ve watched on YouTube videos. You can Google the issue for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what can be sent on the same vehicles as your children’s toys, clothes, and food items.

It’s a small leap in logic to assume that these unmarked packages sometimes containing hazardous materials spill, going out onto your food packages, baby toys, or laptops. You then touch them without ever realizing that they have been exposed to waste products.

Many delivery and shipping companies use contractors. These contractors control their own processes, pay for their own vehicles, and so on while using the logos of the respective companies. Speed and efficiency are prized factors at every step of the delivery process. If you didn’t know, many drivers often resort to urinating in containers in their vehicles, no matter whose packages they are handling. Think about it the next time a driver hands you a scanner to sign your name.

Although I have not expressed my point very well, it can be summed up this way: if you receive anything shipped, you should assume that careless people handled the items and that anything you receive might have been contaminated accidentally or negligently at any point in the process. Further, reducing costs tends to drive what processes and training are in place to protect us.

Those videos of drivers throwing your packages are simply the visible consequence of our poorly-managed distribution system.

 

A Sign Your Boss or Job Sucks

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Do you want to know a sure sign you work somewhere where either the organization is terrible – or the boss is?

If they want to limit discussion to only your reaction, rather than the actions, words, or circumstances which triggered you, it’s a poor organization. Even people accused of murder have the opportunity to detail the timeline of events that preceded the alleged crime.

People are complex. Most people rarely flame out or over-react.

If your boss fails to listen, regardless of how ‘busy’ he or she is, it is likely the job or boss sucks. If it becomes a pattern, it is a certainty.

If your boss vocalizes the idea or emails any insinuation that your concerns are trivial, you work for a poor boss.

If someone uncharacteristically lashes out, you need to stop and examine what happened – as if human beings are involved. Forget the check-boxes and paint-by-the-numbers nonsense that HR insists that you use. Good HR representatives are compassionate, but it’s vital to remember that their primary responsibility is toward the company, which by definition is impersonal.

Good people don’t lash out or lose their sh#t unless they’ve been ignored.

In the last few years, most of us have witnessed the role of HR diminish from watchdog to whitewash. As organizations silo their areas, poor managers tend to become worse managers – and without anyone properly keeping an eye on them.

So many of us tolerate stress, mismanagement, misbehavior, or other cumulative craziness without a comment. Without warning, the valve blows and we react.

The boss rarely understands that we might be around a toxic employee or drama llama, or that employees are expected to do too much or tolerate behavior that would never be forgiven outside of work. Because businesses are running leaner or management is less well-trained than previously, the issues tend to flame out with greater consequence.

I see this becoming a worse problem as managers focus on metrics and impersonal considerations ahead of our humanity. As we emerge into a postcovid workforce, I predict that there’s going to be a great deal of backlash with this, even though many workers will continue to work from home.

When managers shift to priority management, especially during a crisis, people have fewer ways to vent their grievances. Despite the fact that most bosses grow to despise this part of their job, it’s actually more important than ever that they grin and bear it as they listen to their subordinates. Even if they don’t appreciate the alleged severity of the issues, failing to provide a release valve will hurt everyone. Pressure always leaks out of the organization. Whether it leaks out harmfully depends on the individual who is being ignored.

While it is simply my opinion, I think organizations need to stop leaning toward efficiency. Most people do their jobs well without micromanagement. The human component, the part needing attention, is suffering now more than ever. I see it in real-time.

I know the agony bosses suffer when they listen to a lot of complaining. It works precisely like a marriage, though. If you stop listening, you’re going to find your stuff piled in a flaming heap in the driveway.

Besides, in my experience, the terrible bosses who do this sort of thing are the worst when someone does the same to them. They will destroy the entire business if necessary if they are judged in a vacuum and without being afforded the opportunity to explain why they lost their sh#t.

 

$5 Is The Price For Happiness

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Hey, Mr. Impersonal Retailer: today, I erased the damage you did to one of your customers.

On the way home, I listened with interest to the NPR story regarding the necessity of human contact, especially in contrast to the demands of the pandemic. Without much thought as to whether I needed to go inside, I pulled into a store. The story was still very much on my mind as I made my meandering way about the store. I wandered like one of Trump’s sentences.

Mr. Magoo helped me at the self-checkout. I had an item that needed approval. I was focused on being kind to him, as Mr. Magoo and I have a storied history. In the past, he upset Dawn a couple of times. He is a fervent follower of the anti-customer credo: “He’s not happy until the customer isn’t happy.” Because of my history with him, I try to remind myself to be as neutral as possible when interacting with him. Without going into specifics, I’ve repaid my debt to him by way of several pranks.

On the opposite self-checkout belt, less than 3 feet across from me, I saw a dark-haired woman quickly step back from her cart. Another cashier, one I often refer to as Mrs. Molasses, had left her customer to approach the dark-haired female customer. If people had floating icons above them, the cashier’s would be a languidly flashing “E for Empty” icon. From the other side, another worker approached, trapping the customer near the belt and between the two employees, both of whom were very close to the customer.

As I’d made a couple of passes through the store, I noted that no one seemed to feel any urgency. I’m not blaming them; I’m just commenting on the overall atmosphere of the store. For whatever reason, I had two employees who seemed to have suddenly acquired an unnatural interest in the female customer across from me. I assumed she was trying to steal something.

They were inside her personal space, despite the coronavirus, despite the floor markings and signs, and despite the fact that they were too close even for precovid society. Regardless of their motivation to be so close, they were ignoring the bigger issue of what prompted the fluid rules regarding purchases in the first place. Whatever triggered their sudden enthusiasm, it caused them to ignore all the social distancing protocols.

The customer had already stepped back. Her body language told me she was upset. To my surprise, Mrs. Molasses admonished the woman for having two cans of Lysol in her cart. The other employee, on the other side of the cart, berated the customer for ignoring the ‘one per customer’ signage. She had two 6-packs of toilet paper. Their tone suggested she had killed a puppy on Aisle 7.

“I’m so sorry, there’s so much toilet paper, even huge packs of 36 rolls. And the Lysol was all on clearance. I didn’t think it mattered,” she said, looking back and forth between the two employees. Her eyes were teary, and her voice sounded alarmed.

I won’t say precisely what one employee said as she grabbed one of the 6-packs from the customer’s cart to put it out of her reach. The other employee grabbed the Lysol from the customer’s cart. The customer cringed and flinched as they did so.

The Lysol can was huge, I’ll admit. It had a clearance tag on it and was marked down to slightly under $5. The 6-pack of toilet paper was much smaller than the 12, 18, or -36 roll packs still on the shelf. I made a pass through the toilet paper aisle during today’s retail adventure.

Regardless, the employees were enforcing the ‘1-per-customer’ rule literally. That the Lysol was marked for clearance or that the woman could have said, “Please exchange my two 6-packs for one 36-pack,” was completely ignored.

It wasn’t what each employee said that mattered, not really. It was their body language and tone. They saw an opportunity to express their authority. I don’t know what prompted them to be so needlessly harsh.

Because the employee grabbed the toilet paper so quickly, I didn’t have time to react to what prompted the tirades. I did, however, have time to say, “Miss, might I have that can of Lysol?” She looked up at me and at the can in her hand. She was weighing telling me “No.” I couldn’t imagine what might be her reason. Instead, she said, “I can’t give it to you. You’ll have to pay for it.”

I bit my tongue, as four or five clever things to say sprang to mind.

“Uh, okay, given the nature of commercial transactions, I’ll offer money in exchange for the can of Lysol.” The employee only grew more confused.I had to spell it out. “Yes, that’s fine.”

It provided the female customer a brief moment to collect herself.

I waited inside the double entrance. I saw Mr. Magoo looking over at me a couple of times, even though I was about fifty feet away. I think he knew what I was up to.

In a couple of minutes, the female customer who’d been accosted approached.

“Ma’am, I bought this fine large can of Lysol and suddenly realized I no longer need it. I’d like to give it to you as a gift, if you don’t mind.” I probably sounded crazy, especially since I was wearing my mask.

The woman reached out and took it. “Why, thank you. This means a lot.” She trailed off, uncertain of what to say.

I jumped in. “I apologize for the way those employees treated you. If they’re so interested in safety, they’d require everyone to wear masks. And everyone noticed how they invaded your personal space at the register. That was uncalled for. They are officially on my prank list.”

The woman’s eyes teared up. She was about to cry.

“I can’t thank you enough. I don’t know what to say,” she told me.

“Then say nothing and have a good day. Put those assholes out of your mind and focus on the people doing it right.”

Way behind the customer, I could see Mr. Magoo gesticulating in dismay to one of the employees. It was obvious he was communicating that I bought the female customer the can of Lysol. I waved and smiled. Perversely, I hoped that Mr. Magoo would make the mistake of trying to approach me and reprimand me for doing the horribly unjust thing of buying a can of Lysol for another person. He’s learned the hard way that I am very unpredictable.

The female customer and I left the store, both now happier than when we’d entered.

It cost me $5.

I’m not sure how close to edge the female customer was before I intervened.

When she left, I knew she was happier and that what I’d done had lightened her mood drastically.

Let’s face it: that’s often a difficult feat.

X

Pest Control

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In the “after” of all this, if there is one, many people will take skeptical looks at their spending habits. It will affect everything: grooming, clothing, food, vehicles, dining, and every aspect of our lives. It’s a safe guess that I’m not risking much to predict this. It’s going to be okay to wear last year’s pants (even if they belonged to your grandfather last year), have hair that is so disheveled it puts your head in danger of being entwined in that drooping ceiling fan you never replaced, or make ear wax candles in your mom’s garage.

One of a household’s avoidable expenses is pest control. I’m not referring to your husband, the kids always underfoot, or your brother-in-law Brad, the one who disguises all his humor under poorly crafted insults. Those are nuisances. Now that I think about it, even a beetle in your breakfast cereal is a nuisance too. (Anything is edible if you try to eat it, or so the cliché goes. Also, it gives additional meaning to the word “Captain Crunch.”)

For all those who don’t like to read closely or at all, there are exceptions to everything I’m about to write. This isn’t about those exceptions, caveats, ‘buts,’ or ‘what-ifs.’ It is about the general and avoidable overpayment that many seem driven to regarding pest control for their homes.

Note: in anonymous surveys, a LOT of people have no routine or scheduled insect or extermination service at their residence, much in the same way they pretend they floss more than twice a year or follow their routine scheduled maintenance guides. If you’re among those, that’s good: you’re saying money by not doing pest control. As for your teeth, you only need one to open bottles. That’s okay. In reality, some don’t need pest control, although you’d never know that given the way that pest control companies routinely and dramatically convince you that armies of killer ants are going to eat your earlobes during the night.

But…

If you need pest control, you already own what you need to do it safely yourself: a bit of intelligence, a willingness to do it yourself, and a bit of time to investigate my outrageous claim that you are almost certainly overpaying for pest control for your residence.

If you hire a pest control company to treat your house 4-5 times a year, I recommend that you watch how they do it. Do they use a spray pattern extending into the lawn, do they treat your attic with sprayers, bombs, traps, or other devices? Do they spray all vents, pipes, doors, seals, foundation, seams, and all other points of entry and exposure? How long does it take to complete the treatment?

It’s common to see a pest technician not wearing gloves, eyewear, a mask, or any other protective equipment. This is true even if he or she is using a wide dispersal sprayer. They wouldn’t be doing it if there were a significant risk. For anyone who embarks on a D-I-Y approach, you can buy protective equipment inexpensively. You can also learn the best methods to avoid environmental exposure.

In the best scenario, you’ll wear personal protective equipment which includes a mask, eye protection, and gloves. We’re all going to own these things for the rest of our lives. This is one positive outcome of COVID.

It is possible to do routine spraying yourself, safely and much less expensively. I didn’t believe it myself until I asked a million questions, all of which was confirmed by people doing it as a job.

Each time I encountered someone reluctant to answer a question, it signaled my BS detector. An expert would never fail to give honest information to the consumer giving them their business.

You’ll find that the average pest control company doesn’t want to tell you exactly what chemicals they use, their concentrations, or their exact methodology. Despite me directly asking two of the companies I previously used, neither would divulge exactly what they were using, the concentrations or any of the usage data. Their refusal to tell me followed their promise to send me the MSDS for any chemical, the application sheets, and so forth. One of the companies technicians told me they weren’t going to share this information with me simply because the chemicals he was using could be purchased directly from the internet. While considering engaging another company prior to going D-I-Y, the person trying to ‘sell’ me promised I would get the information. When he emailed back with pricing, I told him that I’d need a list of chemicals and all the related information. He replied back that federal law prevented him from sharing this information. P.S. This isn’t true.

Almost all of them also don’t have matrix pricing that you can use to figure out what everyone else is paying. (Square footage, lot size, attic, basement, etc.) As most of you know, any business that has commission-based sales has a huge level of wiggle room in its pricing structure. It’s precisely why such companies do so much “selling,” and why you almost never see flat pricing on their websites.

Can you imagine going to a new car sales lot and seeing baseline pricing for everything? We’d die of shock.

While you’ll pay at least $70 per treatment (and often much more), the cost of the chemicals being applied to your house is at most a few dollars. Companies have learned how much of a particular chemical is needed to maintain a bug-free environment.

You can learn this, too.

The catch is that you can learn how to minimize how much insecticide you use, including dispersal methods, concentrations, and the critical coverage areas. The chemicals available to professionals are available to you, too.

I’m not recommending a D-I-Y approach to all pests, especially termites, bedbugs or any issue outside the normal scope of routine pest spraying. There are many scenarios where professionals are required. Anyone taking my commentary out of context to state the opposite needs to take a moment to distinguish between ‘routine’ and ‘specialized’ treatments or inspections. (Having said that termite control isn’t rocket surgery, either.)

I found that some companies use bombs in the attic. Some of them use these while you are at home. After grabbing one of the empty cans, I discovered that this is discouraged, even if you are in a new home and are certain that no seepage will occur. The same is true for inside spraying, as they often spray around baseboards, under sinks, and in perimeter areas. While it may ‘safe’ for you and your pets, almost all the literature recommends not being exposed to it, especially until it is dry. But it doesn’t stop extermination companies from spraying while you’re at home.

 

-Don’t use a pest control company which refuses to divulge exactly what they’re using.

-Don’t use a pest control company which won’t give you flat pricing or single-application services. Contracts benefit them, not you.

-If you are generally capable of performing routine household repairs, take the time to see if you are comfortable doing your own pest control.

-Also, if you knew how much training, on average, a new hire receives prior to doing their first ‘hands on,’ you wouldn’t be so reluctant to try it yourself.

In my case, I paid a technician for one of the major pest control companies to use Amazon to show me specifically which chemicals are the safest and do the same function as his company. While he was at it, he showed me a D-I-Y forum that explicitly answered all my concerns. No, it wasn’t an Alex Jones website, either. Because of my enthusiasm, he gave me the information for free because he knew I wouldn’t be a customer. I paid him as a reward. Both of us left very pleased.

I bought everything I needed for 1/2 of just one treatment for a quarterly plan, or 1/8 of my yearly cost. I’m still using the same initial shipment of chemicals I originally bought, pushing the cost to 1/24 of one year’s costs.

Other than a few seizures, it hasn’t affected me at all. And I can’t feel the right side of my face.

I’m just kidding about that last part.

If you take nothing else away from this, I hope you doubt that you’re getting the best value if you’re paying a big company to come say “Hi” to you a few times a year. Even better, that you’re resolved to do this for yourself.

By the way, if you choose the D-I-Y route, you’ll need some earplugs, too. Those pest control people will shout at you for their business.

If you pay a pest control company, get the MSDS for everything being put into your house and watch how it’s done.

 

 

 

 

Subway

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I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.

It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.

Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.

Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.

If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.

That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.

Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.

Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.

Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)

Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.

As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.

Robin Hood of the Retailers, Version Aldi

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I’m not going to share the ‘why’ of my previous oath to avoid Aldi grocery stores. Suffice it to say that they earned my dislike. Unfortunately, I carried the prejudice forward for years. Once bitten, twice shy, at least for this guy. It’s for the same reason I don’t buy meat products at a Dollar General. Russian Roulette is a game I like to watch in action movies – not participate in when my gastronomical choices are at play.

Aldi has many fans. People like blood sausage, too, as well as watching baseball on television, so popularity doesn’t equate to sensible. The store chain does have a few things going for it. It’s like the “Frugal Hoosiers” made famous in the tv show “The Middle.” The chain does have the “Twice As Nice Guarantee.” I’ll take the expectation of a safe, quality product or my money back. You don’t have to sing and dance for me – just meet expectations. Anything else strikes me as a means to acknowledge that you’re cutting corners on a square house.

“There’s a sense of discovery at Aldi that you don’t find in a traditional grocery store,” say many fans.

Yeah, like discovering the off-brand version of the mustard I had to buy tastes like a chicken fart.

I don’t mind that an Aldi store doesn’t have staff answer the phone. I don’t need to talk to a head of lettuce before I shop. It’s stupid, though. Just my opinion. Any corporation which reduces a customer’s ability to interact isn’t customer-focused, no matter how prettily they paint such an arrangement.

Location quality varies, as is the case for many retailers. Even I often forget that it’s unwise to compare one location of a business with another. There’s too much volatility between managers, cleanliness, and adherence to quality standards. Sometimes, a great manager can rescue an otherwise failed store. The Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs, for example, is spectacular, while the Kroger in my original hometown is… not. One of the Springdale Neighborhood markets is operated as if it’s a psychological experiment geared to determine how much people hate themselves. Harps Foods is so inconsistent in quality that I’m still incredulous that the individual stores are operated by the same system. I dare anyone who visits the Gutensohn and Lowell locations to challenge me to a pie-eating contest to decide the truth of my opinion.

On a whim, I stopped at a local Aldi earlier in the year. I went home a different way, and Aldi was locationally convenient. It didn’t hurt that I had recently suffered blunt-force head trauma. I don’t know what came over me, but the urge to eat a bowl of fish aquarium pebbles and stop at Aldi penetrated my reptilian brainstem.

The smaller footprint of the stores and parking lots of an Aldi store make a trip less invasive than a similar trip to the airfields found at Walmart. The smaller footprint of the stores means you might not find everything you need, either. Like your sanity.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I did the hands-full shuffle. I found some interesting items. One of the items I bought was inedible. (No, I didn’t attempt to return it.) On the next visit, I had a quarter. I stuck it in the slot for the cart, and it literally stuck. None of the carts would come out. I went inside and waited a couple of minutes for an employee to make eye contact. I told them the cart corral was needing attention, and I couldn’t get a cart. Eye roll. “There’s no one to deal with it.” Back to checking. Aldi’s employees often must do multiple jobs simultaneously. It’s not their fault: it’s corporate’s fault. Like Walmart, they ‘save’ money by eliminating jobs. Many of those jobs lost would have allowed for attentive customer service and real-time listening when things go awry. I didn’t get irritated at the cashier.

I can only hope that this attitude of cost-cutting doesn’t one day find me in the O.R. needing a suture to sew up my own abdomen.

For my next trip to Aldi, I withdrew $20 from an ATM and then stopped by the car wash and made change for quarters. I drove back to Aldi and parked on the outer perimeter of the parking lot.

I then went to the cart corral nine times. Each time, I inserted a quarter and ‘rented’ a cart. I took each cart to the edge of the parking lot and used the nine carts to make a large arrow facing the store. I’m no Banksy, but I did feel a twinge of stupid pride when I finished my artwork with the shopping carts.

I then went back to the cart corral and took out ten more carts, one at a time, by paying a quarter. I left them loose to the left side of the return corral. Because I always carry white index cards, I left a card on the first few indicating, “Free Cart. Please leave loose.” People observed me doing all this but didn’t comment.

Was it petty? Yes. Worth it? Yes. I was also paying it forward, though, even as I entertained myself.

One of the women shopping exited the store and told me she had watched me assemble the arrow on the other end of the parking lot. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? Just hire a person and keep the store tidy.” Due to her appearance, I was sure she was going to scold me. Her face was pulled back so tight I could hear her ears yelling in pain. She was nice, in any case.

People saw the loose carts with the cards on them, and each smiled and grabbed their free cart.

I felt like Robin Hood of the Retailers.

Imagine. Free carts, with each of us leaving them for the next person. Like a typical store not corraling us into doing their jobs for them.

If I can enter a store and not worry about expired food or being unable to shop easily, I’ll pay for the entirely reasonable expectation of a normal shopping experience.

When people ask me, “What do you like best about Aldi,” the only thing I can tell them is, “I don’t have to go there.” The second-best thing is, of course, the feeling of walking out of one of them.

If I have to choose between Aldi and Walmart, I’ll choose a lobotomy.

If I make the mistake of going to Aldi again, I plan to take 500 quarters with me. I’ll let you imagine what I might do with such a quantity of quarters.
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P.S. If you’re a fan of Aldi, I’m not worried about you reading all of this. It’s a lot of words.
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Meet Wally Weasel, The Ineffective Customer Service Helper

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Meet Wally Weasel, The Ineffective Customer Service Helper. He can’t help you, no matter how trivial or serious your issue is.

I created it for one of our local multi-billion dollar corporations, the one with a tangible public relations problem on its hands.

Instead of ignoring a question or problem, Wally Weasel can step in and fix it all simply by saying “Dunno” and making us forget our real problems or what we were complaining about in the first place.

I think I might be onto something here. I pity all the local global corporations.

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P.S. Bonus points if you can guess which global corporation inspired this mascot.

An Ode To A Supermarket

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After our food misadventure on Saturday, my wife and I or my wife and me (depending on whether anyone cares about grammar) whimsically decided to go find the new Harps Food Store in Lowell, the one by Goad Springs Road and Monroe Street. The weather was cold, rainy, and windy; since we survived a visit to one of our “Never Again” eateries, we were feeling adventurous.

The newest Harps is over by the incredible trail system and the nice Workman’s Plaza. (The section of trail on both sides of this location is among my favorites of the entire trail system.)

Upon our exit, we decided to ask that Harps demolish the location in East Springdale and build a replica of the Harps in Lowell. I’m not sure if we were feeling envious or jealous.

For those of you with youth still in your eyes, you should know that finding a great grocery store is right up there with winning the lottery or being able to reach that itchy spot on one’s back.

Dawn even found her much beloved sugar-free Tampico mango punch, a drink I got her addicted to a few months ago. A gallon of it costs less than a regular soft drink and tastes delicious. We walked around this new store, making faces of astonishment and saying ‘Aha!’ with each new discovery. Due to our visit, I even grilled yesterday in the afternoon typhoon. The selections were too good to pass up.

Since our move from one side of Springdale to the other, we’ve missed the Gutensohn Harps. It’s part of the reason we are afflicted with the diabolical Walmart Market on our side of town, the one dedicated to destroying people’s hopes and dreams.

The difference between this new Harps and the one in East Springdale is astronomical, both for presentation and inventory. The fresh salad bar almost made me openly weep. After falling in love with the Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs last year, I’m more likely to cry in a great supermarket than just about anywhere else.

I know it’s unfair, but I’m going to have to ask Harps to demolish the store by my house and build one like the Lowell location. Anything short of that will be a modern tragedy.

Also, the new Harps has a great selection of beer and wine. It’s strange that our East Springdale location doesn’t have it because it’s just plain science that those of us on this side of town have more motivation to drink ourselves into a stupor.

Signed, An Old Dude With Supermarket Envy
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Note: someone wrote to me on social media to say that the East Springdale location doesn’t offer alcohol due to an agreement with a liquor store on the edge of the property.  That was probably the best decision at the time – but is no longer a good strategy. Some people, especially the older demographic of the store’s base, feel a stigma regarding liquor stores. Moving the store slightly would allow Harp’s to build a new store, one with all the amenities in one location. As much as some people despise Walmart Market, having alcohol available tilts the scales for Walmart; otherwise, people have to make two stops, which lessens the benefit of Harps being so much easier to get in and out of compared to the bigger grocery stores.

One of the best things Harps ever did was to rebuild the Gutensohn location in Springdale. I’ll never forget the last remodel or how fascinated I was by the upgrade. The time has come to do the same for East Springdale. While I don’t have access to the profitabillity for the store in East Springdale, I assume by customer volume that it’s underperforming compared to the population density of the area. When I moved from my previous house in another part of Springdale, I knew in advance that I was going to regret it in part due to the lack of an amazing Harps in East Springdale.

If Harps builds a store comparable to the new location in Lowell, I would consider doing all my grocery shopping at the new location, as well a much higher quantity of  ‘on-demand’ shopping for lunch and quick meals. I’ve heard many of my neighbors say the same thing.

I also want to clarify that I have seldom had issues with rudeness from Harps employees, unlike the behavior I’ve suffered from Walmart Market across the street. Even when I encountered a malfunctioning pump that bathed me in gasoline or encountered critically out-of-date refrigerated products, Harps didn’t argue with the the details; they simply wanted to fix the problem. Also, Harps doesn’t have self-serve registers, something that seems stupidly obvious to everyone except Walmart.

Harps is the grocery store I want to flourish, for a variety of reasons. But Harps is continuing to the lose the grocery battle over in my neighborhood. They’re losing for no justifiable reason, too.

Please bring your bulldozer over and fix the one in East Springdale.

 

 

Even If You Leave, You’re Not Going Anywhere

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I know it’s fashionable to say, “I’m leaving Facebook,” especially for the seemingly never-ending data scandals.

But for those who don’t know, Facebook (and most other media companies) can and will follow you across your life, even if you’ve never had a social media account of any kind. I’ve written so much about the unicorn of privacy that I find it impossible to believe that someone thinks they have privacy if they are using electronic devices of any kind.

If you close your social media accounts, it will have almost no effect on the quantity and quality of information collected about you. Your behavior and history are unflinching indicators of everything about your life. Even non-electronic information is being used, so unless you opt for a life in a shadowy cave, there’s no escape from being included in the heap of other consumers.

Yes, you might be leaving Facebook, but it’s not leaving you. And neither are any of the other companies watching you. (FB and Google directly control about 70% of the entire digital ad market.) Whoever you use for your internet is allowed to sell your history.

You might as well set fire to your own underpants.

We’ll film it and upload your fire dance to social media for you, though.

Amazon will show you an ad for burn cream or new underwear to let you know they’re interested in your well-being and business.