business practices

Business 101

I’m pulling my head out of the ostrich-hole that is teaching in the fourth quarter to note a couple of business practices that have jumped out at me over the last few weeks. One was brilliant, and underhanded as Hell, while the other seemed like it should be left off the syllabus of Business 101.

My phone died. (Love live my phone!) It stopped charging, which was disappointing because it was only a month old. Fortunately, either the good people at Verizon or the insurance I paid for (the sales guy wasn’t clear which) allowed me to get a replacement.  All I had to do was wait another day for it to be shipped, on top of the day I had already been phoneless. Thirty-Six hours without texting capabilities in 2015 might be a violation of the eighth amendment, but I guess it’s too much to ask the Verizon store to carry a model that’s a whole month old.

So they shipped a new phone to me overnight, with the instructions that somebody would need to sign for it. Cool, sign me up.

Oh, except for that whole “somebody needs to sign for it” thing. I get home and compare schedules with my wife. Neither of us can take the day off.  Hmm, maybe I should call Verizon back and have it delivered to work.

Nope. No such luck, the order’s already in. But there’s a tracking number through FedEx, so maybe I can log in and change the address through them.

Nope. But I can request an evening delivery. Boom! Done! And all it costs is five dollars.

Wait a second! I have to pay them to deliver it later? Doesn’t that fly in the face of, I don’t know, every business practice ever? Most companies give you a discount if they’re late. And here’s FedEx doing the opposite. Next thing you know, Dominoes will start taking ten percent off if they deliver your pizza while it’s still hot.

But here’s the extra kicker. Keep in mind this was already an overnight delivery. I assume Verizon paid a pretty penny to make sure that phone was to me with little delay. In fact, I bet there was a “before 10:00 AM” stipulation. But then here I was paying to have it delivered later. I highly doubt that money was being funneled back to the purchaser. In fact, I doubt Verizon even knows that they wasted their money on getting it to me ASAP. What a brilliant business plan – have both the sender and the receiver pay an extra service fee.

Oh, and I ended up not even needing to sign for it. So maybe Verizon and FedEx were both in on it after all.

The second business decision came up a few weeks ago when I was searching for a Mother’s Day card.

As far as I know, there is only one Hallmark store in my general vicinity. There might be more, but I’m a guy, and the three or four times a year that I need a Hallmark, it’s where I go. One of those annual treks occurs in early May, prior to Mother’s Day. Of course, this Mother’s Day was more pronounced as it is my wife’s first as the mother of a human child.

When I drove up, the Hallmark store was dark, but a note was visible on the door from my vantage point in the parking lot. Sure that it must read something in the realm of “Back in 15 mins,” I absconded from my vehicle and approached said treatise. However, with each step, I felt a growing sense of dread. Something was not right. This did not appear to be a temporary abandonment. Pieces of display furniture were not in their normal place. And by normal, I mean not only where they had been in every previous visit to this establishment, where they are in every Hallmark store ever placed upon God’s green Earth. The tapered rows upon which the cards displayed themselves to the world were not set up in long parallels, but were off to the side, in clear violation of Hallmark Decree #1.

One step closer revealed those haphazard rows were empty. No merchandise whatsoever.

But hope, plus the desire to not have to find a new source of “I’m Sorry” cards and singing stuffed animals, sprang eternal. The sign still said “Hallmark.” There was a note on the door.

Just ignore that it’s not a temporary note, Wombat. And ignore the other man standing in front of it with slumped shoulders. Perhaps it is a map to the closest Hallmark, and he is a man with no sense of direction.

But alas, it was not. It was a note saying the Hallmark store had temporarily closed, but that it would be back “in a couple months under new management.”

I started formulating Plan B, while the slumped-shoulder guy stared through the dark plate-glass window. He shook his head, looked back at the sign, then into the empty store. His level of concentration implied he was wishing the store back into existence. If he just believed enough, and maybe clapped his hands, Tinkerbell might appear inside the store. Or at least a Tinkerbell Christmas ornament.

“Why would they-?” He started before the shaking of his head evidently cut the oxygen from his vocal cords. “Why?”

But the guy had a point. What exactly are they remodeling for? Is there a big Independence Day Fluffy Convention I don’t know about? I don’t think people send a lot of “Happy Labor Day” cards. Maybe the new owner thought all of those “Thanks for going through Labor” cards were for September, not May.

Come to think of it, what goes into a Hallmark remodel anyway? It shouldn’t take two months to move the Beanie Babies from table to shelf. I know cards are getting heavier now that they all play the theme song from Friends, but that shouldn’t necessitate new load-bearing racks.

Of course, the answer is probably that some entrepreneur with more money than sense is going to take the gift-wrap world by storm. The new owner wants to make it over in the manner he described in his MBA class.  I mean, that paper got a B-! That means it’s good! Why would he keep things as they were, even if only for a few weeks? Why would one want to build up capital in April and May before some off-season investment?

I don’t know the official Hallmark business plan, but it would seem to me that “be open before major card holidays” should be somewhere on it. Unless they’re going to be selling nachos after the redesign, they’re still going to need to sell cards. And by my count, it’s another six months before any more card holidays are coming along.

While Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day rank behind Christmas in card sales, I’m guessing they both beat out Grand-daddy Saturnalia in the number of cards bought by men. And dudes aren’t very creative when it comes to shopping for cute and sentimental. We pretty much find our local Hallmark store, then return semi-annually until the end of time just like the swallows to Capistrano.

What? The swallows don’t return anymore?

Okay, then like salmon swimming back upstream to-

Huh? You’re saying the California drought is stopping…

Okay, twice a year like… um… like paying property taxes.

Boom! Romance! Is it any wonder I need a Hallmark store?

I eventually left my companion staring through the window, and went to the grocery store, thanking fate that this was the first Mother’s Day that I could settle for a standard card. Sure, I would have preferred a special one that said “First Mother’s Day,” the type that can only be found at a Hallmark store, but grocery store beggars can’t be choosers. At least I didn’t have to travel the Earth for days upon end to find the obscure “From the Dog” cards of yesteryear.

Add a bouquet of flowers in place of whatever chocolate or plush addendum I would have purchased at Hallmark, and voila! Turns out I actually saved some money.

I wonder what I can spend it on.

Maybe I can delay a Fed Ex shipment back until Hallmark’s Grand Arbor Day Re-opening.

The Dukes of NorCal

Just the Good ol’ Boys
Never meanin’ no harm

Then maybe they should’ve used a little lube. Because after a few days of the Good Ol’ Boys tearing through my neighborhood, I’m a bit chaffed. To them, it’s just a little “straightenin’ the curves, flattenin’ the hills,” but I’m going to be walking funny for weeks.

My wife and I have been looking to upgrayedd (“upgrade” for you non-Idiocracy fans) our 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom house ever since baby made three.  It was already tad small for two grown adults who waited until our mid-thirties to cohabitate, thereby accumulating two full sets of household appliances, furniture, and animals. When baby came along, I realized that not being able to park in the garage was one thing. When the man cave becomes the nursery, something’s gotta give.

Fortunately, there are some new developments being built nearby, so back in October, we decided to go check out the models the day after a phase was released. We weren’t sure we wanted to buy new, but as soon as we heard things like tankless water heater, solar lighting, and granite countertops, we stopped looking at the decade old hand-me-downs.

The kicker, when we returned the next day, was that we would be the first name on the priority list for the next phase, meaning we would have our choice of which lot we wanted. So on the list our name went. That was a rather whirlwind 36-hour period for the two of us, both of whom tend to be more methodical and analytical. Hell, we knew each other for five years before we finally decided to go out on a date. But when you see what you want, you’ve gotta grab it, right?

Silly Wombat, nothing ever falls in line that perfectly. That elation and ease of that 36-hour period found its equal-and-opposite reaction this past weekend.

In the four months since our name went first on that list, we’ve been up to the models countless times. Our daughter is a bit of a celebrity in the sales office, and I’m pretty sure she could give a tour herself. Sure, the tourers would have to pick her up off the ground continuously, and hold her pacifier when she spoke, but it could happen.

We walked the locations of the lots, too, and quickly knew which lot we wanted. An ample sized lot at the end of a cul-de-sac. We knew there would be a lot premium for it, but based on what similar lots had gone for in the previous releases, we felt we could budget for it. And being first on the priority list, the lot premium was really the only variable we were looking at. So the other three lots that our model would be on never truly entered the equation.

Can you good English students sense some foreshadowing here?

Last weekend, we again visited the models. Some of the foundations were starting to be laid. The next release seemed imminent.

“We’re still first on the priority list, right?”

“Of course.”

“Do you know what the lot premium for Lot 66 will be yet?”

“We can’t divulge.”

“Fine, fine. No biggie. As long as it’s under $<REDACTED>, that’s the one we’ll take.”

On Tuesday, three days later, we got the e-mail. The next phase was being released. Our lot premium was actually a couple thousand under what we were budgeting for. Woo-Hoo!

The e-mail had instructions: “If you are first on the priority list, send us your choice, if you are second, give us your top two choices, and so on. Send your requests to us before 2:00 this Saturday, then come in after 3:00 with your $<REDACTED> deposit check.“

We could not respond fast enough. “Give us Lot 66. Let us know if you want us there right at 3:00 or at a later time, depending on how busy things are likely to get.”

No response from them on Tuesday night or Wednesday. Thursday comes and goes, nothing back. No biggie,they’re busy. We’ll just show up at 3:00 Saturday with our check.

Wife wanted me to double-check. Fortunately, I was home from work on Friday because our tour-guide baby has Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease, which has to be one of the dumbest reasons to not be allowed to go to daycare. It is literally just a rash around the mouth and some blisters on the feet and hands, yet it requires the child to be out of daycare for a week and requires a doctor’s note to let them back. I understand that it’s highly contagious, but the symptoms are all cosmetic and temporary. Ugh.

In fact, the absurdity of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth disease might very well have been the topic of this week’s blog entry if the Good Ol’ Boys network hadn’t taken this time to spin the General Lee in donuts all over precious Lot 66.

“Yeah, so sorry about what happened,” the sales lady said as I stepped inside, before I could even pose question number one about how the next day would go.

“What do you mean?”

My face looked perplexed, and her face slowly changed from confusion to something approaching guilt-shame. As surprised as I was that there was bad news coming equaled her surprise that I was unaware of it.

“Didn’t you get the e-mail?”

She then goes into a convoluted explanation that her assistant was supposed to e-mail, nay telephone, nay deliver via teleportation device the news. And, of course, said assistant will receive a very stern talking to, nay hand slapping, nay crucifixion. I fully expected the sales lady to bust into a Monty Python-esque “Bad Zoot, bad, bad Zoot” and require a spanking.

It turns out we can’t have the lot for which we were first. Why? Well, you see, there’s a priority list and then there’s a list of people they really like. The denizens of this latter list include employees of the company and friends of the owner. And anyone on this super-secret list can jump to the front of the line at any time they wish, including between Tuesday, when the list of available lots was published, and Friday, when I walked in to a mock-mortified realtor.

So, unbeknownst to us, we should have been working on a back-up plan. Kind of like, I assume, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be preparing their number one draft pick with the assumption that both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are already off the board. Because the morning of the draft, the owners of the New York Jets might call up Roger Goodell and say they are better friends than the Tampa Bay owners. Or that they get better TV ratings. No, wait a second, giving the best draft picks to the more popular teams is the NBA’s strategy.

“So yeah, sorry,” the sales lady says, ”a friend of the owner decided to trump you some time in the last 48 hours, and my assistant was supposed to call you, but hey, now that you’re here, why don’t we take a look at these other wonderful lots you can choose from. And if you could please kinda hurry on this, because you’re now rudely holding up the line for the second and third people on the priority list, who now might have to settle for their third and fourth picks, respectively. And the fourth guy? Well, there are only three of this model available now, so fuck him.”

So here came my options. I could move across the cul-de-sac from our first choice. This would not only have the benefit of being on a lot about half the size of the house we wanted, but would also be right across the street from it, too! Oh joy!  So every day for the next twenty years, I can pull out of my postage-stamp sized lot and stare across at the house I actually wanted. At least I could flip off the assholes who stole it.

Option number two was on a larger lot. Eight feet of side yard instead of the five feet on option one. Back yard a little bit deeper as well. The drawback of this lot was its location right across from the models. Sure, the models are only likely to be there for the next couple of years, but who wants to have to put pants on every time he walks out of his house? The road was also the main entryway to the neighborhood, so the amount and speed of traffic would continue to be a drawback even after the models close. Two cats would be problem enough, but I also have a future toddler that might cause issues with the 50-MPH jackass tearing through the neighborhood.

The third option was on a triangle-shaped lot formed by the arcing of a side-street. The house would be placed at the corner of the short side and the hypotenuse, right at the front of the lot. This house would therefore have very little back yard, but a long, oddly-configured side yard. The main problems with this lot were not its size, though, but its location vis-à-vis the neighbors. First, that long-side of the triangle forms our back and side yard, and it touches no fewer than five other back yards. Second, this house is lower than all of those neighbors. Our current house is at the low-water mark on our street and every time there is rain, or if people are watering their lawns, we get a wonderful coagulation of stagnant water.  So we would be adding to that joy the fact that our many neighbors could look out of their bedroom windows right down into our backyard. Dammit, now I have to wear pants in the back yard, too?

The kicker of this final house is that the neighbor on the short side of the triangle is the house we wanted. So every day, they can look down on us, both literally and figuratively. Oh, and then maybe they can water their back yard and have it trickle down onto our porch. Awesome. And I can’t even throw burning feces over their fence. Too high. And they’d know which direction it’s coming from. I’d have to go all the way around the front and burn the feces on their front doorstep. Just as soon as I find some pants.

So the sales lady asks which one I want, right there on the spot, five minutes after I learned that I have to choose. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. First I have to inform my wife. Then I have to talk my wife off the ledge. Then we have to confer and spend a full night without sleeping at all. Plus find some time to slash the tires of every orange Dodge Charger I can find.

So I walked out the door with an admonishment that I have until 2:00 the following day to pick my second choice. Because darnit, the other people on the priority list are waiting to find out what lots are available to them. How rude of me to keep them waiting.

The next morning found the two of us trudging through the mud of each of these lots, working out the calculations and permutations of each. Which one could we get our minds around in the next six months as it’s being built? Was it just too raw right now, and would we get over it soon? Or would the bitterness grow to make us already hate the house by the time we moved in? I tried to determine which choice I would regret the most a year from now, but had trouble distancing myself from the emotion. I’m sure the owners were secretly hoping we’d walk away, because then the others in line would never know what happened. Maybe one small consolation is that if we picked right, and the second person now had to settle for their third choice, we’d have more neighbors to hate the company and those A-holes in Lot 66 when we moved in. Or maybe they’ll just hate us like we hate those Good Ol’ Boys.

In the end, we chose the triangular lot at the low point. We’ll just need to make sure we put some good drainage in and grow some trees to ward off nosy neighbors. I wonder if I can trim one particular tree in the shape of a middle finger.

But on further review, maybe we should’ve taken the one across the street from the models. I could forget those pants and just hang out in my front yard all day long in my holey boxers and a stained wife-beater, sunning myself on some plastic chaise lounge purchased from a Motel 6. That would do wonders for the company’s sales going forward.

Beside me would be my toddler, wearing only a saggy, very full diaper.

Does anyone know where I can get some diapers with a confederate flag on the butt?