Tales of Customer Service; Forster-Gill Fades away

CUSTOMER CARE- There was a time, not so long ago, when the Chamber and other business leaders here became alarmed at the lackluster customer service and welcoming skills demonstrated by our retail and restaurant employees- the most critical workers in a tourist economy Well, I am pleased to report that  anecdotally at least, the customer service bar seems to have been raised and I have been showered with customer care of the highest order just in the past week, and largely from businesses  I had never dealt with until recently. To wit:

My iMac started telling me it could not complete its backups and was also unstable in other ways. I hadn’t had it worked on since before the demise of Capital Business Machines, so I called Cornerstone Computers in Henderson Center, largely because they were willing to make a house call.  They fixed it in an hour, but then the next day it started having power problems, so I ended up taking it back in. Of course, as soon as it got to their store it started working perfectly. They ran some tests, kept it on for 3-4 hours to make sure it wasn’t overheating, then I took it home and now everytime I turn it on it performs better. They didn’t charge me for the in-shop work.  They have made a new friend and I will be using them again in the near future to undo some of the CBM work that seemed like a good idea at the time.

I stopped by Mike’s DriveUp for an LA/Tommy’s style cheeseburger and a shake. It was supposed to be a chocolate shake but only tasted of vanilla. The next time I went in, I explained the problem and asked if they could put more chocolate syrup in the shake this time. They not only did so but refused to charge me for my new shake. Now,  I always cringe a little bit at their political literature on the counter- politically they seem to be to the right of Louis IV and I’m a lifelong Democrat- but I can see how hard they work and how they came to their point of view. They are NFIB members and the kind of salt-of-the -earth people who made this country great.   They want to put up Obama cartoons, let’em. I will gleefully boycott certain establishments (Walmart, Safeway) but Mike’s had me at “Chili with that?” I’ll be back, you  bet.  (No website, phone 707-442-4755).

Also last week I slammed the driver’s side door of my Cruiser on the seat belt in such a way that it jammed and I couldn’t open the door. I called AAA and was told they couldn’t help me because “you can turn the engine over.” Well, yeah, I could turn the ignition but you can’t steer a car from the passenger seat, or if you can, I’d like to meet you. I called  Lithia, where Robert reassured me that a fellow named Bob at Humboldt Lock and Safe (no website, phone 707-445-4865) would fix me up without us having to tow the car. (This happened when I was trying to take the iMac from the first story above, back to Henderson Center.) Anyway, Bob got down on the concrete floor and went through numerous and demanding procedures; I never saw anyone work so hard in my life. He got the door open in an hour and advised me to appeal  my bill to AAA, which I am in the process of doing.  Humboldt Lock gets good grades for customer service. Let’s see how AAA does. 

Finally, a couple of years ago I had a new furnace installed through the PG&E Energy Partners program, which replaces old appliances with energy-efficient ones. Recently, the thermostat stopped working.  I made a few calls to the program, whose hotline was staffed with people who knew very little, then finally I called the contractor who had installed the furnace, Evans Mechanical.  Within four days I had a new thermostat. Service was superb.  Enough said.

Do you have any customer service heroes or heroines who deserve recognition? Tell us about them!

FORSTER-GILL FADES AWAY – Cutten breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when County planning staff confirmed that the ill-conceived “second city” development has been relegated to the inactive file. There is still a nuisance lawsuit filed by F-G in the system,  but all in all it appears the intense opposition from the residents and the concerns of the Eureka City Council over adding retail space to a town with many many retail vacancies carried the day. I couldn’t agree more. Let’s fill the empty storefronts downtown and in Henderson Center before initiating a sprawl south of town. 

Happy Official Summer!  It’s been a long time coming.





Happy Small Business Week -Oysters, Enterprise Zones, ROI’s for College and Who’s Reading Newspapers?

Our friends at Google remind us today that this is Small Business Week. They’re not sending us flowers or candy or a discount on a coveted service but it’s the thought that counts, I guess.  Makes you feel kind of like a father on Father’s Day. Anyway, cheers.

THE OYSTER FESTIVAL – I haven’t heard yet whether the proceeds matched those of previous years but I can tell you it was the most enjoyable OF I’ve ever attended. There were a couple of hopefuls walking around trying to pick up a buck by holding places in line for the eager oyster-eaters. Only problem with their business model -there were no lines!!!  The longest line I saw had four people waiting.   As usual I managed to miss out on the prize-winning entries but the cooked oyster that blew me away was a crunchy fried number from Smokin’ Moses. A relaxed and very enjoyable outing.

ENTERPRISE ZONES GOING AWAY-  I know that certain local businesses have taken advantage of the Enterprise Zone program although when I worked at State Rehab it seemed we never got it quite right. The employer was always located just beyond the zone limits, but it seemed like a good program.  Apparently in celebration of Small Business Week, we’ll be saying  goodbye to all that.  Capitol Basement’s The Roundup reports quoting the LA Times’  Marc Lifsher: “At issue are enterprise zones, which were established to boost employment in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods and rural areas. California is home to 40 of these special districts, in which about 35,000 companies have qualified for tax credits. Last year they reaped an estimated $700 million in credits — a figure that state tax officials project will grow to $1 billion by 2016.” “Giants FedEx Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have availed themselves of these incentives, which are worth as much as $37,400 for each hire. So have small businesses, including two Sacramento strip clubs named Gold Club Inc. and Deja Vu Showgirls.”

“But the identities of most beneficiaries are a mystery. Because of the confidential nature of state tax laws, it’s nearly impossible to find out which companies got credits, how much they were worth and how the companies qualified for them.”

Still, it seems like a good idea and hopefully, there will be a replacement soon.

WHAT’S THE ROI ON COLLEGE?  For all those freshly minted graduates we’ve been celebrating this week, the stats on bankrate.com offer grounds for hope and despair. The salaries of course are completely out of sync with what is paid locally but it’s still intriguing to note that according to PR Daily, it takes an average of nearly 32 years for a journalism student to repay his or her loans, while advertising/marketing/promotions boasts the lowest number of years it takes to repay loans at 5.83. Marriage and Family Therapists are especially disadvantaged, according to the table at bankrate.com.  Maybe don’t read it while your new grad is around.  Let them enjoy themselves for a few days.

WHO”S READING NEWSPAPERS? A research company called Scarborough (apparently no connection to Joe) reported the highest daily readership of papers currently takes place in Pittsburgh with second place a tie between Albany NY and Hartford/New Haven CT, fourth Cleveland and fifth a four-way tie  between  Buffalo, Honolulu, NYC and Toledo. The lowest readership? Atlanta, followed by Houston and San Antonio, tied, then Las Vegas and our own Bakersfield.  I wasn’t even sure they had a newspaper in Bakersfield. It’s comforting to know there are still other primitives like me who enjoy opening a paper in the morning. How long will we have this option?

So Happy Small Business Week and don’t forget to bring the family to the Redwood Acres Fair, “The Best of Humboldt” on Thursday through Sunday.  Complete schedule of events at  redwoodacres.com   See you there!



The Week in Redwood Coast Business- renaming the airport, charging for the Oyster Festival, getting no love from our homies and train vs turkey

Renaming the Airport- The sorry spectacle of a town renaming its airport to attract visitors is a plot worthy of a comedy, one of those good British comedies with Peter Sellers .  The good news is that it will take the proposed name change at least a couple of years to be approved so perhaps someone or thing will come along in the meantime to save us from ourselves.  “California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport” is too long, was obviously , like a giraffe, put together by a committee trying to please everyone, and leaves unanswered the question : what about those obnoxious folks in Mendocino who think THEY have a Redwood Coast? The Mendocino -Sonoma Chamber calls  itself “The Redwood Coast Chamber”. There are so many other “Redwood Coast” businesses down there I almost decided to call my blog something else.

What if instead of perpetual confusion, the airport promoted clarity? Why not spend the money on educating folks that the Eureka-Arcata Airport is in Humboldt County, home of the Redwoods? I called the always-affable Tony Smithers of the Visitors and Convention Bureau and asked for his estimate of the number of tourists we host yearly.  He guesses he number is around 1.5 million all but one or two percent of whom arrive here by means other than air travel.  So if changing the airport’s name would double the traffic there (it wouldn’t- I’m just stretching for an example) the number of air-arriving visitors would go from 30,000 to 60,000.  Would these folks be visitors who wouldn’t come here otherwise? That seems to be the hope. Frankly I think the drive UP here is just as much of a draw as the attractions in Humboldt area,  but only time will tell.

By the way, our friends in Redding just concluded an unsuccessful campaign to attract another carrier and are heading back to the drawing board.  In a climate where airlines are squeezing the passengers for every dime and shutting down as many routes as the government will let them,  attracting more service to a marginal market like Redding or ACV will be quite a trick.  

O Oysters, Come and Walk with Us- The Oyster Festival is making a  brave and necessary change by  instituting a $10 admission charge. I was a volunteer, selling drink bracelets a couple of years ago, and it was obvious something had to change. The drink bracelets didn’t stay with the purchasers for long and the frenzy for beer would cause an onlooker to think they were at a beer festival, not an oyster festival.  I’m looking forward to this weekend, fence and all.  Kevin Hoover’s thoughtful editorial in the Eye lays it all out .

General Patton- Mike Patton,  surely the most influential musician ever to emerge from the Redwood Coast, (sorry, Sara Barielles), was featured in the Critic’s Notebook of the June 3 issue of the New Yorker, as an “indefatigable vocalist and visionary” on the occasion of the Manhattan concert introducing the fourth album by his current band, the “frenetic and experimental post-rock” Tomahawk. “General Patton” , as they dubbed him, the lead singer of Faith No More and founder of Mr. Bungle, among other bands,  is a true original but I haven’t heard of him playing up here, ever. Twenty years ago, when I was getting ready to move back here, Details magazine quoted him as saying, of Eureka,  “It’s a void. There’s absolutely nothing to do there. I mean nothing.”  I wonder if he has been back here since?  He won’t be around this summer, that’s for sure. He’s touring Europe with Tomahawk, opening for Nine Inch Nails.  The Film Commission has been trying to get the attention of Jeff Bridges (whose grandparents ran the Vance Hotel) for years but hasn’t been able to lure him up here. I believe he actually grew up in Petaluma. If the Redwood Coast is to market itself as being a cradle of creativity we need these folks. Incidentally,  After Earth is getting universally terrible reviews, which is a shame, but kudos to Cassandra Hessletine and crew for luring that production here.

Terror on the train- Finally,  as if the problems with starting up any kind of rail service to the Redwood Coast weren’t fraught with perils enough, the current issue of the RAILPAC newsletter reports that at 11am on June 1 in West Mansfield MA, a wild turkey crashed through the window of an Amtrak train, stopping service on all tracks. “The engineer was covered with  glass…and the engine compartment was full of the remains of the turkey, making it unusable”. You can’t make this stuff up.  Thank God no one took pictures. 

Stay hungry. Stay creative. Now, more than ever? 

NCEPD- Honoring the success stories of people with disabilities

I just attended an event that more of you should go to- the annual recognition luncheon of Northwest Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities, or NCEPD. As an old Rehab counselor and former member of the Committee, I’ve attended quite a few of these and they are truly amazing events. You hear stories of courage, stories of generosity, stories of ingenious problem solving, a glimpse into a world people without disabilities rarely think about.  Our friend Bob Van Fleet used to refer to the non-disabled folks as CRABs- Currently Regarded as Able Bodied. It only takes one car collision, motorcycle crash or work accident to turn a CRAB into a person with a disability and of course many people are disabled from birth.  Giving these folks a chance to be self-sufficient is one of the best things an employer can do, for themselves and for the community. Thus, both the employee and employer are honored.

I hadn’t been in a couple of  years and was pleased to find that Reaching for Independence , a parents’ group in Fortuna which was just getting started when I left, has become a multi-service agency. If you’re not familiar with the rehab agencies and their programs, be aware you can locate a suitable candidate for your vacancy and get tax credits and FREE job coaching which which continues during the entire term of employment. The clients range from folks who do best at repetitive tasks to geniuses who happen to use wheelchairs. Or medications for seizure disorders. Or clocks that TELL you the time. Or screen readers for visually impaired people so that they, too, can waste time on Facebook as well as attend distance learning classes at schools and colleges. I should mention that both CR and HSU have many services for people with disabilities, who by most counts comprise about ten per cent of the population.

Services for those of us who are older? Not a problem. After all, you have two choices in life- you can become disabled or you can die young. I know which I’m picking.

I met a gentleman who is retiring from HSU after 38 years. Could have sat out the whole time on Social Security, but  chose to work. The Department of Rehabilitation is not a perfect agency but they DO turn people with disabilities into taxpayers. We should  all support them.

Another agency worthy of your support is Tri-County Independent Living, which is having its seventh annual disabilities expo on Friday from 10am to 3pm in the Vickers Building at Redwood Acres, where many of the local organizations offering choices to people with disabilities will be present, including HTA which will be bringing a bus to demonstrate their accommodations and services.  Admission is free.  Finally, the next day, Saturday, the Humboldt County Library is holding a Reading Fair to familiarize low-vision and blind patrons with a range of equipment to help with reading. The library has a loan closet which offers an opportunity to try equipment before making expensive purchases.  The Fair is from 1pm to 3pm Saturday. Show up! You just might learn something.

One thing I learned in my time at Rehab is that people with disabilities appreciate having a job, because it’s hard for them to get one. The next time someone from DOR, EDD, HCOE or any of the other agencies that work with people with disabilities approaches you, please consider giving people with disabilities a chance. You won’t be sorry.