NEWER MOMS AND POPS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry came back from the deli with news. Lance and Betsy have sold the place and are retiring. Someone else is taking over.

Quaker Deli and its friendly and generous owners were among the very first people to welcome us to the valley more than 18 years ago. Until we got our feet under us and began to know our way around, it was a required stop in our daily rounds. They make great sandwiches and sell quality cold cuts. And they always know how we like it sliced.

72-Deli-032015_72

But time has had its way with them, as it does with us all. It’s what happens nowadays to almost all “mom and pop” shops. In this case, it’s not a lack of business. It’s simple tiredness. The kids don’t want the business. Mom and pop don’t want to spend all their remaining years on their feet. So, they sell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if only whoever takes over the place would keep it as what it is … a place to pick up a few necessities without going into town. Where you can buy a great lunch, made for you. Buy a lottery ticket or whatever. Most of the new owners of these shops are immigrant families. They see a small business as a ticket to the Dream of America.

72-BW-Deli-032015_70

They don’t mind the long hours and hard work. But they don’t necessarily maintain the place in any way that resembles how it was. They go more heavily into higher volume, bigger profit items — like lottery tickets and cigarettes. They stop selling food and making sandwiches. This has happened to every little deli or mini grocery sold since we’ve lived in the Blackstone Valley. If it happens here, we will have to go into town for everything. The last convenience store will be gone.

I have heard over and over again that mom and pop stores are disappearing because we don’t support them, but that’s not necessarily true. It may be true sometimes, in some places. In this case, Lance and Betsey have plenty of business, maybe more than they can comfortably handle. All the truckers stop there to buy lunch. It’s the only place at this end of town where you can get an emergency supply of eggs or half-and-half.

The problem is that — not unreasonably — their kids have different dreams. They don’t want to run the family deli. They want a job where they can sit at a desk and go home without worrying about the business.

96-CountryStoreHP-3

Small business are nonstop work. Buying, selling, bookkeeping. Ordering supplies. Tracking sales and figuring out what you should buy in greater or less quantity … or just stop selling entirely. The shop may be closed, but there’s always work to be done. I’m sorry to see them leaving and we will miss them very much. But I understand. I couldn’t do it.

Among many other reasons, this is why we need immigrants. They will happily do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. Think about that the next time you begin to rail against newcomers to our shores.

Do you want that job? Could you do it? Would you?

BLOGGING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress’s new “algorithm” has made a lot of bloggers unhappy. I’m sure they regret our unhappiness, but I think what is really making them unhappy is that other companies — like Google and Facebook — are raking in fortunes — and they aren’t. It’s not that they aren’t profitable, but in this world, merely profitable is not enough. I’d like to say that Trump is at fault, but I think he is the product of greed, not greed itself.

They want it all. Big money. Bigger money. Now.

We aren’t the money machine they want and we can’t be. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate our writing. It’s that we are not bringing in business and their bottom line isn’t big enough.

They made an ugly mistake with the new algorithm. I am guessing it was supposed to show off “new posts” but instead, effectively “disappeared” older sites and thousands of posts.

Originally, it seemed like it was just me and some other “big” sites with a lot of followers, but it’s going around and hitting all kinds of sites. The only thing we have found that fixes it is to rename the site. This is unfair and annoying, but it works.  I am seeing posts from people whose sites have been missing so long, I thought they were closed.

A lot of people don’t check to see how they are doing in the search engine. I never did. I don’t like the Reader, but they have centralized their engine into it, so at some point, if you want to find other blogs  — and they want to find you — that’s where  you have to go. At this point, it is the central “finder” for 23 million blogs around the world. It doesn’t work well and they are always fixing it.

It never gets fixed because as soon as they get it settled down, they decide to take another whack at it.

WordPress has gone from two or three million sites when I joined to 23 million now and it includes every connected country on the planet. WordPress has grown too big. too fast. They are understaffed. Worse, WordPress believes — because their marketing people told them so (watch out for those people) told them they can attract young, chic, bloggers who are looking for a home.

The problem? There are no such people. That audience doesn’t exist.

Bloggers are readers. Most bloggers are past 40 and more or less settled. Blogging is time-consuming and requires dedication. Most kids aren’t readers. Sure, some are, but not nearly as many as there were back when we were younger. We didn’t have telephones, so we read books. And newspapers. And magazines. I even read the back of the cereal boxes in a pinch.

WordPress’s attempt to attract kids is doomed. Wrong audience. Youngsters look for short, snappy products like Twitter and Instagram. They want stuff that works on their phones and doesn’t take hours of thinking to produce.

For us, there aren’t many choices remaining.

GeoCities became Yahoo and they closed their blogging sites. There were a bunch of smaller ones. All but TypePad are gone and I really haven’t figured out what Medium is trying to do. I am not sure Medium knows what they are about, either.

All the others — aside from Blogger on Google — are expensive. If you’re in business, the expense is not outrageous, but if you just want to write and post lovely photographs or poetry or your art, $25 per month is a big chunk of change. Paid services (few though there are) have better customer service and technical staff, but they lack “reach.”

I hoped someone else would jump in and build something, but it hasn’t happened. Maybe blogging isn’t profitable enough. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — they make money. WordPress? Not so much. WordPress was not supposed to be a sales platform, but that’s what they want to be today.

Blogging is something else. We aren’t selling stuff. In fact, most of us pay to NOT have advertisements on our sites. Few of us “monetize,” even though they have been trying to convince us to do that for a few years.

What’s will happen? Blogger with Google at its back, will hang in there because their platform is a small piece of a much larger enterprise.

A well-founded rumor is that WordPress is pressing for more business accounts, fewer bloggers. This bad new “algorithm” was one of many attempts to push that concept through.

That this has been a disaster from which they already are pulling back is temporary. They want money and international reach — like Google has.

Either they will go out of business and start over, or they will make it harder and harder to use them without paying much more. Some people can afford it, but many of us can’t. One way or the other, when the bottom line is money, they aren’t going to quit. They will keep at it until they are bankrupt or they find a way to get richer.

I hope we still have a place to write a few years down the road.

THE BAKING BUSINESS FIASCO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

For several years I tried to start a baking business. I knew nothing about the food industry or marketing. I should have known I was doomed from the start. But I got sucked in gradually and ended up way over my head.

It all started on a trip through the English countryside. We ate at some marvelous pubs and local restaurants and I fell in love with the desserts. I discovered a whole world of lightly textured but densely flavored desserts that were nothing like anything I had eaten before. And I’m a dessert fanatic. These cake-like creations are called Traditional English Puddings. ‘Pudding’ is the English word for dessert. It does not refer to the custardy dessert we call ‘pudding’ in America.

Cover of my marketing brochure

So I came home with some English pudding cookbooks and started to experiment. I focused on dishes that were different from the conventional American fare. Many of these desserts were steamed, not baked. Many were served with delicious sauces instead of icing, usually what we call a crème anglais. The ones I chose were fantastic confections that didn’t taste or feel like a typical American cake.

I adapted many of the recipes to accommodate American tastes and preferences, like more sugar and less fruitcake fruit. I even invented some new cookies and bar recipes that used some of the English ingredients and techniques.

I checked with a friend who worked at the town hall and she told me that I could start a baking business from home without any permits from the town. So I made some basic marketing flyers and in 2006 I started doing dessert displays at friends’ parties or at events, like a home jewelry show. I called my business Sticky Pudding.

Inside page of my marketing brochure

People loved my desserts but I wasn’t getting many customers. I hired a marketing person and developed a more professional flyer as well as some additional marketing materials. I paid for a professional food photographer to take photos for my brochure. We placed an ad in the local paper.

My very first phone call was the town, shutting me down. Apparently my friend was misinformed. You cannot bake and sell from home in most towns today unless you have a fully professional kitchen that meets all the health code regulations of a restaurant kitchen. I was devastated and furious. My friend at the town hall hadn’t bothered to double-check with the proper authorities, even though they were just a few doors down from her office.

Back of my brochure

I had already put in over a year of time and plenty of money. For nothing.

Then a friend told me about a baker she knew who had a factory in Queens, NY. She thought he might be able to work with me. So I met with him. Lo and behold, he said that he would help me develop some of my desserts from home scale recipes to mass production recipes. I just agreed to give him a percentage of my profits from the sale of any goods baked at his bakery. We signed a written agreement.

So I developed a whole line of cookies, bars and cakes, sixteen different products in all. I thought it was smart to give buyers a wide range of choices. In the development process, I also had to design and pay for packaging for every individual product. I also had to learn all the arcane rules relating to labeling the packages. I had to hire someone to do the analysis of ingredient percentages and calorie count that are required on all commercial labeling.

This is the cookie I developed, based on some English recipes

It was a lot of work, a lot of money and a steep learning curve. But I managed to overcome every obstacle that was thrown at me in the one and a half-year process.

The only problem was that I had no idea how the industry worked. The baker I partnered with sold to name places like Dean & Deluca’s, Zabar’s and Fairway Market. I ASSUMED that he had hired me to create a line of baked goods that he planned to sell to his established customers. I had no clients of my own and no concept of marketing. Certainly not on this large a scale. For example, each run of each individual flavor of cookies produced 900 cookies. All had to be sold within a few days of baking in order to make money. Multiply this by twelve! That’s how much product I had to sell, quickly, if I didn’t want to lose money on each run.

I also planned to sell frozen cookie dough that you just put in the oven

When I was finally ready to start production, to my dismay, I discovered that the baker had ASSUMED that I had done my own marketing and had my own, large-scale customers lined up to buy my products! It turned out that he couldn’t even guarantee that his regular customers would buy anything from me.

He got me a few introductions, which allowed me to APPLY to his clients as a potential supplier. None of them was interested in anything in my line.

Some chocolate bars. I also invented the recipe for these.

Most people build a business from the bottom up. You develop a customer base and increase production as demand increases. I started out using that model but had to stop. I then jumped ten steps ahead and went right to mass production before I even had a small customer base. What was I thinking?

At this point, if I wanted to move forward, I would have to invest serious money into professional marketing on a large-scale. And even then there was no guarantee of success in the limited time frame I had boxed myself into. Then the financial market crash of 2008 happened. Any money I might have had to put into the business was now gone. I had to pull the plug on the whole enterprise.

And that was the end of my ignominious career in the food industry!

U.S. AND ITS HUMILIATING WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS ACCORD

We pulled out of the Paris Accord, a decision which may be the worst ever by any American president. No one but our Republican party fails to believe in the changing climate.

National Geographics map

The good news is that this pulling out on the part of the United States is not really going to change anything.

Coal is not coming back. We would all like the miners to have jobs, but they aren’t going to be digging a lot of coal. There’s a simple reason: coal isn’t clean and people don’t want to breathe it in or have it hanging in the air. They have been closing coal-burning power generators including two this week and this isn’t going to stop. Coal is dead. The miners really are going to have to find another way to earn a living. This has happened to many people including me and my son. The world changes and even miners are going to have to change with it.

Vehicles will continue to become more efficient. Slower than we’d like, but that was set in stone before this horrendous, almost mind-boggling decision. The army is deadly serious about dealing with climate change and they’ve got a big budget to use to work on it … and they will.

Map: Boston University

All the west and east coast states are deeply concerned — for obvious reasons. All have comprehensive plans to deal with reality and what Trump says will not change their intentions. No one is going back to pollution. Been there, done that. No thanks.

Corporations working towards being cleaner will continue to do so, regardless of what the First Asshole says. It will be years before we will be out of this accord. Since it never actually passed through the Senate, it really isn’t an accord, or at least not in any legal sense. It was an agreement designed loosely so the United States and other industrialized countries wouldn’t need to vote on it in order to agree to it. Which is also why Nicaragua didn’t sign on. Nicaragua felt the looseness of the agreement was too favorable for wealthy countries — and they were probably right.

So — practically speaking — nothing will change. Except that every other country in the world is laughing and sneering at us. It is embarrassing to be us. Humiliating and so incredibly, breathtakingly stupid.


And just this final note from Pittsburgh’s mayor:

Donald Trump: “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Bill Peduto (Mayor of Pittsburgh): “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future. Pittsburgh stands with the world & will follow Paris Agreement “

FLYING THE BLOODY SKIES – HAROLD MEYERSON, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT

Soon, no one will fly unless they have no choice. The financial “bonanza” airlines have seen will diminish. Vacations involving flights will sink to the bottom of the pile — and are already doing so. 

We know many people who won’t fly. We are two of them. Between TSA and the airlines, it’s horrible, more like torture than vacation. Every day, more people say “NO PLANES. NO THANKS.” When the numbers start piling up, watch how quickly the airlines will shift position. 

You can’t continuously mistreat the majority of your customers without a payback. It always comes. Sooner or later. 


Dr. Dao received exceptional treatment, but passenger abuse is built into the airlines’ business model.


 By Harold Meyerson / The American Prospect  –  April 12, 2017

Dr. Dao received exceptional treatment, but passenger abuse is built into the airlines’ business model. While the videos of security cops dragging a bloodied physician down the aisle of a United Airlines plane clearly shocked the millions of people who viewed them, my guess is that, at some level, it didn’t surprise them. Indeed, the reason the videos were so damaging to United—and at some level, to the entire airline industry—is that everyone who’s flown in coach during the past several decades knows that the welfare of airline passengers, save for those who fly first- or business-class, is the least of the airlines’ concerns.

Photo Credit: PhotonCatcher / Shutterstock

The systemic abuse of those who fly coach has become the sine qua non of the airlines’ business model, as the incessant shrinkage of the seats and legroom afforded passengers clearly attests. “The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines,” according to Consumer Reports’ Bill McGee, “are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s.” Maverick airlines that try to market themselves as more customer-friendly have been compelled to revert to the industry’s dismal norm.

JetBlue did indeed offer coach passengers more space, partly because many of its planes didn’t devote space to a first-class cabin. When Wall Street analysts condemned company management for being “overly brand-conscious and customer-focused,” however, the airline deposed those executives and in came a new team, eager to install first-class accommodations up front even if it meant squeezing the saps in coach.

The rest of the story on Alternet: Flying the Bloody Skies @alternet

NEW MOMS, NEW POPS

Garry came back from the deli with news. Lance and Betsy have sold the place and are retiring. Someone else is taking over.

Quaker Deli and its friendly and generous owners were among the very first people to welcome us to the valley more than 16 years ago. Until we got our feet under us and began to know our way around, it was a required stop in our daily rounds. They make great sandwiches and sell quality cold cuts. And they always know how we like it sliced.

72-Deli-032015_72

But time has had its way with them, as it does with us all. It’s what happens nowadays to almost all “mom and pop” shops. In this case, it’s not a lack of business. It’s simple tiredness. The kids don’t want the business. Mom and pop don’t want to spend all their remaining years on their feet. So, they sell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if only whoever takes over the place would keep it as what it is … a place to pick up a few necessities without going into town. Where you can buy a great lunch, made for you. Buy a lottery ticket or whatever. Most of the new owners of these shops are immigrant families. They see a small business as a ticket to the Dream of America.

72-BW-Deli-032015_70

They don’t mind the long hours and hard work. But they don’t necessarily maintain the place in any way that resembles how it was. They go more heavily into higher volume, bigger profit items — like lottery tickets and cigarettes. They stop selling food and making sandwiches. This has happened to every little deli or mini grocery sold since we’ve lived in the Blackstone Valley. If it happens here, we will have to go into town for everything. The last convenience store will be gone.

I have heard over and over again that mom and pop stores are disappearing because we don’t support them, but that’s not necessarily true. It may be true sometimes, in some places. In this case, Lance and Betsey have plenty of business, maybe more than they can comfortably handle. All the truckers stop there to buy lunch. It’s the only place at this end of town where you can get an emergency supply of eggs or half-and-half.

The problem is that — not unreasonably — their kids have different dreams. They don’t want to run the family deli. They want a job where they can sit at a desk and go home without worrying about the business.

96-CountryStoreHP-3

Small business are nonstop work. Buying, selling, bookkeeping. Ordering supplies. Tracking sales and figuring out what you should buy in greater or less quantity … or just stop selling entirely. The shop may be closed, but there’s always work to be done. I’m sorry to see them leaving and we will miss them very much. But I understand. I couldn’t do it.

Among many other reasons, this is why we need immigrants. They will happily do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. Think about that the next time you begin to rail against newcomers to our shores.

Do you want that job? Could you do it? Would you?

CUSTOMER — EMPHASIS ON — SERVICE

Our internet connection went down today. I figured it was a routine need to reboot the router and modem, which I did. Still no connection. A few more tries … and still no internet. And no telephone, since our telephone is VOIP and won’t function without WiFi.

Finally, I had to face the horrible reality. I had to call Charter, get through their voicemail system, get a human being on the phone. Without the internet, we are isolated. Everything requires WiFi. Our cell signal is weak, unstable, with frequent dropped calls. WiFi is like electricity these days. A necessity, not a luxury.

I did it. I won’t review the whole day except to say I burned through the entire cell phone battery and finally got someone who understood the problem. And then … as inexplicably as the problem arose … it fixed itself. I then had to navigate the system again to tell them to cancel the service call. I should have just let them come.

I have reached the end of my patience with voice mail systems.

It got me thinking about the whole “customer service experience.” They always want you to do a survey after a call, but they never ask the right questions. They want to know how the person you (finally) spoke did. Which is usually fine.

What no one asks is “how hard did we make work to get a live person on the phone?” “How many times you were disconnected?” “Are you mad enough to dump our service at the earliest opportunity?” That last one should matter.

No matter how many times I go through this, I always come out of it tired, cranky, and frustrated.

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.”

Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is a few days or weeks ago. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not news. I am not stupid. My time is valuable, just like yours. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY YE NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination thereof) an appointment. Don’t send me to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because our service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell me to use the website. If I could get to the website, I would not be calling you.

customer-service

Do not force me to spend half an hour listening to a robot tell me to do stuff I’ve already done (and didn’t work), or misunderstand what I’m saying.

Whoever picks up the call must immediately tell me: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer me to tech support. Don’t ask me to make another call. Don’t give me that damned robot again.

Today’s outage was their issue, but they assured me they didn’t know it. Really? Seriously? You couldn’t ping the line and know there was a problem? You couldn’t figure out that the phone and modem weren’t working from your state-of-the-art central facility?

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3: The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will make us angry.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money, or lose our business. I have dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

96-Waiting-Worcester_13

A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action or inaction might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to Comcast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate Comcast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your only long-term asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to me. Be friendly. Make me feel valued. Calm me down. Avoid throwing gasoline on my fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why I pay you.