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First Impressions

We recently set up several appointments with local companies to get estimates for a home project. Long story short, we have a couple outdated bathrooms that need to be gutted and brought into the new millennium.

After deciding exactly what jobs we wanted the contractors to complete, we met with two companies last weekend. And buddy let me tell you, it became crystal clear that first impressions make the difference — no matter what you do in life.

Estimator/contractor No. 1 arrived 15 minutes late. She was friendly, but a disheveled mess. What’s worse, she refused (or couldn’t) stay on track with our project, continually explaining projects her firm routinely does that were totally unrelated to ours. After repeatedly explaining exactly what we wanted, she took a few measurements then sat us down for a one-hour discussion about materials. While the products she offered were in line with what we wanted, the rabbit holes she kept running into were frustrating to us. At the end of two hours we had to cut her off and asked her to email or mail us a bid on the project, which she refused to do.

Estimator/contractor No. 2 arrived on time wearing a clean jacket with his company logo. He spent 10 minutes asking questions about what we wanted to accomplish and took measurements. Andy was friendly, knowledgeable about the capabilities and services his company provides and he listened to our needs. He worked up cost estimates and walked us through the project costs, pricing and time frames needed to complete the work.

Guess who gets the job?

The lesson in this story for anyone working with people/providing a service is to focus on the consumer and represent your business as if your livelihood depends on it. After all, when you make the wrong impression, you’re taking yourself out of consideration.

And business owners: Pay attention to the people you send out to meet with customers. Know them. Set expectations. Train them well. Above all, never allow someone represent your business who you wouldn’t “buy” from yourself.

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Best Buy Will Thrive

In the past couple weeks, much has been written about electronics retail giant Best Buy. I can only recall a handful of stories that generated the kind of attention and social media reaction Forbes writer Larry Downes has gotten with his post about Best Buy going out of business…gradually. But when you hypothesize that one of our country’s great business success stories is about to crumble, you might expect a little attention.

Buttons have been pushed. Nerves touched. Wires crossed.

In the end, retail shopping is about consumer experience. Let’s face it, the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer is never going to make every transaction a pleasant “win” for both the consumer and the company. It just can’t happen. That said, Best Buy must strive to be better than its previous best. The company must hire savvy store managers, train its floor sales people thoroughly, streamline its checkout process, and take every possible step to curry favor with consumers. All that while it expands its Internet business to compete with the likes of Amazon and other mega online retailers. No small feat.

For all the comments (mostly negative toward BBY) that Downes’s blog post has received there are, no doubt, millions of happy Best Buy customers who don’t make time to vocalize their public support of the company.

I’ll take the time.

In 2011, I purchased a 42-inch Insignia television from Best Buy. The sales rep was extremely helpful. The checkout and pickup process effortless. I was asked once, and only once, about my need for HDMI cables and an extended warranty plan. I declined both offers, paid for the product. End of story.  Did I mention the sales rep was extremely helpful. He was no more than 20 years old, but knew his shit when it came to TV technology. And when his store didn’t have the size that I wanted, he found it at another location convenient to me.

And that’s how customer loyalty is won.

Granted, Best Buy has hiccupped its way through the holiday season. But rather than estimating that the doors of this company will be shuttered and locked within 24 months, I’ll place my bets that the world’s largest electronics retailer will figure out its next growth step…and nail it.

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Snow and Such

It’s winter in the Upper Midwest. And because December and January have delivered on their promises to bring snow and cold to Minnesota, many local friends and coworkers are now lamenting winter’s stranglehold on the Twin Cities.

I truly don’t mind that the mounds of snow at the end of the driveway are past my shoulder in height. And, I could care less that so far this year we’ve received an above average amount of snow from Mother Nature. Consider it her gift to those of us bold enough to live here.

Still, it’s amusing how weather conditions dominate so much of our day-to-day lives.

In the past 72 hours I’ve heard or seen a fistful of news packages about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a condition caused, primarily, by lack of natural sunlight exposure. Like many forms of depression, a person with SAD can wind up unable to perform normal daily activities, like brushing his or her teeth. It’s a for-real disorder and I’m not making fun of it. We’ve all experienced those blah/blues moments…they just seem to peak in mid-January and February for those in the northern hemisphere.

Commute times to and from work are another sore subject. Just this Monday/Tuesday, the Twin Cities metro received between 3 and 5 inches of fresh snow. Of course it all fell during morning and afternoon rush hour periods. The result? Spin out accidents and traffic slowed to a standstill for practically 36 hours. Now a normal, non-resident might think most Minneapolites and Saint Paulville people would become used to winter driving conditions once February rolled around.

Wrong-o.

During this morning’s slippery-road-condition-commute I was witness to Escalade drivers weaving in and out of traffic like it was a July 4 weekend trip to the north woods. Plus, I wound up behind two different cars with rear windows completely covered in a layer of snow driving up 35W in the fast lane. Hellooooo snow scraper/brush thingy?!?! Let’s be a little courteous and try fixing the visibility problem before taking the car onto the freeway. Oh, if you have a rear window wiper built into your Toyota Rav4, turn it on for chrissakes!

Fortunately, in another 58-88 days the bulk of winter’s blast will be over and Minnesotans can start bitching about the humidity and high winds blowing in from Canada or North Dakota.

Come August, though, I’ll be eyeing my cross country skis and pining for fresh snow.

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Cans and Going High Tech

When I was a kid in the 70s, we played kick the can.

Almost every night during summer, when the sun went down, kids in the neighborhood gathered in a back yard with the Folgers or Maxwell House coffee can — or a Well’s Blue Bunny ice cream bucket (gallon-sized) — for an hour or two of hiding and kicking and getting grass stains on our knees. Lots of debate on who was or wasn’t adhering to the rules would ensue. And honestly, I can’t even remember the rules. It didn’t matter then or now.

My kids never experienced the thrill of rushing into a wide open space and sliding into or kicking a can so they wouldn’t have to be “it.” Technology usurped those summer evening back yard games.

I marvel in both admiration and horror as my son now sits and spends his evening with a head set and portable computer chatting in real-time with friends as he plays computer war games.

While the Folgers Coffee can has been replaced with other technology, I’m not so sure it’s ALL for the better.

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Grumpy Old Man

I’m grumpy.

Maybe it’s me, but lately I seem more irritable. This is not a good thing given we’re entering the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons.

My mood exudes foulness for various reasons.

First, I’m getting old. At 45 I’m definitely in the middle-age-phase of life. Perhaps I’ve recognized my time is short on this earth. So little things like traffic jams and waiting in line at a retail store check out make my fuse burn faster. Plus, my body is breaking down in areas that mystify me. Twinges in my cervical vertebra; a plantar wart on my right foot thanks to the fitness center shower at work; a sty on my eyelid that refused to go away for months (sounds like I belong in a belltower, doesn’t it?). These medical issues never occurred to the old, young me and if they did, they didn’t last for weeks on end. Apparently reaching 45 also means maladies and conditions that, in many cases, should not be mentioned in writing. Thank God for WebMed.com so I can self-diagnose myself better than my Aunt Martha did back in the ’70s.

Secondly, my gorgeous wife and I are remodeling a bathroom in full DIY mode. We’re both competent, but we’re also learning that days quickly turn to weeks and suddenly the little master bedroom bath project is already a month old and we’re behind schedule. Add to it the war wounds of remodeling – cuts, bruises, sheetrock dust everywhere, and working in a small space with large power tools and only one tiny window for ventilation – and the thought of the project now makes me frown. Fortunately, my wife is my mood counter balancer. We’ve yet to have short words with each other over that little project. We just want to get ‘er done.

The other thing making me angry (at the present moment) is all the Christmas advertising that is invading my space. It’s not yet Thanksgiving, but every retailer in town began airing their TV spots in early November. As if I’m not aging fast enough, the Best Buys and Targets of the world want to rush past Thanksgiving and head long into the Christmas shopping season to make me older, faster. Ummm. No thanks. I’ll wait until after Thanskgiving before I start my Christmas shopping or break out the decorations. Why rush a good thing?

There. Now you know. I’m angry. Don’t cross me.

Or at the very least, don’t ride your brakes in traffic and make me curse you. After all, it’ll be Christmas…soon.

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Religion and Politics

The Catholic Church in Minnesota recently mailed out 400,000 DVDs to its parishioners in the state, asking them to accept the church’s belief that gay marriage is wrong for human beings. In fact, gay marriage is so bad for the rest of the world, the Catholic leadership wants lawmakers to pass a new law forbidding it. It’s about six weeks before an election, see, and the church would really like its people to vote for candidates who oppose gay marriage.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune published this piece last week (Sept. 20).

Then, an art curator at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis decided to produce a sculpture using DVDs provided to her by other Catholics who are opposed to its content. It’s her way of taking a stand against the church’s teaching on gay marriage. She was summarily terminated from her job, of course, and the Star Tribune published this article about the debacle.

As I read the story and readers’ comments, this one struck me as the most relevant…so I wanted to share it here. Naturally, not all good Catholics are anti-marriage. Some actually think with a reasonable and “modern” process about the issue. Here’s the reader’s comment from the newspaper:

Where did the $400,000 for the DVD come from?

First, I’m a parishioner at St. Mary’s, and like many fellow parishioners, my wife and I are planning to donate the archbishop’s DVD to Ms. Naylor’s art work. We feel this work of art is the perfect response to the archbishop’s actions, and it’s the Holy Spirit at work. Second, the archbishop has clearly crossed a line of political lobbying that is totally inappropriate. The church lobbies on behalf of the poor, children and others who need the protection of the church. The church builds schools, hospitals and shelters to serve, according to Christ’s command. That’s not what this DVD is about. This is the archbishop telling Catholics how to vote to change the constitution of the secular state of Minnesota. Minnesota and the United States are secular institutions which have laws and constitutions to protect the rights of all–regardless of religious belief. Instead of fighting for the poor, Archbishop Nienstedt is fighting to get Catholic theology into the constitution of the state of Minnesota where it would govern anyone, Catholic or not. We’re not a theocracy–like Iran or Saudi Arabia. We’re America, a secular society, and one of our core beliefs is freedom of religion. That includes freedom *from* religion. I don’t want my church dictating to people outside the church. It used to be illegal to buy contraceptives in many states, because archbishops demanded laws against it. They misused the authority of the church then, just as Archbishop Nienstedt has misused his authority now. Finally, I have to ask: where did this $400,000 come from? Was it a donor? Who was the donor? What else has the donor given money to? And if it wasn’t from a donor, how can the Archbishop order $400,000 be taken from the church’s budget and spent on this theocratic attempt to deprive some non-catholics of their civil rights? That money could run a daycare center in north Minneapolis for 250 kids for a year. Or a homeless shelter. Or it could have been spent lobbying the legislature to stop cutting funding for education. The number one subject Christ talks about in the New Testament is about the poor–not fighting to take away rights that are due to others. The appropriate place for the archbishop to plead his case for the church’s view of the institution of marriage is from the pulpit. Instead he wasted desperately needed $400,000 of funds on an arrogant attempt to decree Catholic law should be secular law. Each year there is a special collection at St. Mary’s, as in all diocese churches, for the Archbishops Fund. Each year as the scandals have grown in the church, the amount of donations has shrunk. So long as Archbishop Nienstedt leads the bishops of Minnesota in this kind of arrogant theocratic campaigns, ours is one parish household that will give our money elsewhere to help the poor and the forgotten. Rohn Jay Miller, parishioner at the Basilica of St. Mary.

Amen Brother!

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Ode to The En Dash

Oh en dash! What would my writing life be without you?

Sprinkled in and throughout my paragraphs – separating key thoughts from inane flotsam and jetsam – the concept of not having you at the whim of my fingertips saddens me. Your absence in my day worse than lack of caffeine or the inability to enjoy a vigorous bike ride.

How I truly wish – on this day of National Punctuation – that you, en dash, receive the laudatory credit you deserve for making every professional writer’s life a more enjoyable life. Indeed, it is you, my friend, who I credit for giving my writing meaning. And texture. And purpose.

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