Monday, April 27, 2015

Don't send me an email that I can't action

I'm getting to a busy time. I have three email addresses and each one gets a dozen requests a day. When I bounce from one request to the next I need to be able to finish the job, right then.

At this time I need people to be clear in what they need and give me all the information I need to be able to do the job. If you make a request of me that needs further clarification from me I'll probably send an email saying "I can't do this because..." and then your clarifying email will just go to the bottom of the list again.

Of I will just ignore your request. Just saying. I'm not being rude for the fun of it, just out of necessity. As it is, I'm not getting to everyone's demands so you have one chance...

Negative comments on our blog: should we censor?

I just ran a session that included the pros and cons of censoring comments that other people make on our blog, and it evolved into how to deal with them.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jetstar: Randomness is the enemy of service delivery

From Friday April 23

One of the major challenges in running a service business is variability. Sure, peaks and troughs in demand are a problem, but variations in the product you provide cause real concerns for customers.

I have taken a skydiving rig on Jetstar before. It's not a safety issue. It's packed pretty densely and weighs 9kg. This time I was asked to put it on the scales just to tag it and was told that its 2kg too heavy.

What a pain. Removing a canopy from a skydiving rig and stashing it into my checked baggage - in the airport. Still, all that done I return to the desk where they reweigh my checked baggage (and hit me for $30) but don't weigh or tag my carry on baggage.

So in order to reduce the problem of variability a service company should think about people and processes. But then getting processes to work becomes an HR and system design thing.

So I have the pleasure of reassembling my rig tonight and also the flight is gonna be late into Sydney - that might cost me $400.

I'm not liking the sound of this Jetstar.

UPDATE: Last night I came back from Sydney with the rig as carry on with no qualms. And all the other passengers were carrying 15kilo bags. Variability, go figure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saturday Cartoons Ritual: Cool McCool

A certain generation of us would fondly remember the ritual of Saturday morning cartoons. For me it was about 1977, and it was a hit parade of 1960s cartoons. I think my favourite was Cool McCool - a bumbling animated Get Smart.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Uncomfortable fact #1: Starting a business is about MAKING money not spending it

UPDATE: On reflection I have also seen that the great successes in business have required big cahones and believing in yourself. So, many businesses do succeed on raw energy and cahones. I probably just don't have the stones.

I don't wanna overstate my credentials here. For sure I've been running Cullen Habel as a business for the last four years and I've managed to keep the mortgage paid and food on the table plus a few other luxuries. I'm blessed with a wife who manages money well and earns quite a bit too. Sure I've had to take some crappy jobs but mostly I've been lucky - it's essentially teaching and market research - and my clients have behaved well. And I've stayed in pretty safe business areas. Very lucky to be able to do that.

I'm not making my living from $200 invoices - they're a lot larger - but the bookkeeping has become a little more complex and I thought I might need to evolve from my spreadsheets to some software. My sister's advice was pretty straightforward - run for as long as you can with your simple systems because even the most basic accounting package is gonna cost you $$ - and then you've gotta learn how to use it. I think my sister knows what she's talking about.

Business startups that never stood a chance

And then my thoughts wandered to start up businesses I've seen that had a good idea but never had a chance as a long term plan. Because of the owner's mindset. To my thinking the biggest load of crap in a startup is:

"You have to spend money to make money"

Pffft. That misconception has buried more promising ideas than it has built. Sure, if your idea is a food truck the you have to get - well - a food truck. Yep, you have to spend that money. Stock, licenses, insurance, plant and equipment. Price of entry. But spending money is not the action that makes your business work - that comes from producing product and selling it for more than it cost you to make.

But back to my own example. I send about 60 invoices a year, I have very few raw materials or finished goods, no real manufacturing processes and I pay very few subcontractors. If I buy MYOB for that then - sure - I'm feeling like I'm getting real but really I'm just blowing $1000 on a feeling. Strangely enough - the food truck probably does need MYOB - for them it's more than a feeling.

The Beef Jerky example

My most stark example of this came from when I was selling packaging. A couple of families pulled together (I guess) about $50k of working capital and bought a tiny beef jerky business. They would've got a brand name, a dehydrator and some leftover packaging for about $15k. Then they called me, the packaging guy.

I thought something was up when I was asked to visit them at the "New Playford" - apparently that was a newly established luxury hotel in Adelaide - because they were on a "strategy retreat". Riiiight.

To set up new packaging was about $10k in Negatives and Plates and a first order on packaging would cost them $20k (due to minimum run sizes). Or they could put a high quality label over their existing packaging they had bought with the business. I didn't care either way. They went with the new art approach so promptly went off and started speaking to design companies before the business had returned them a cent. I understand how important good branding is, but in the beef jerky category? A mature market where the main volume is sold through supermarkets and the route trade is highly fragmented? That was always gonna be a hiding to nothing.

I'm the last person to criticise another for having a go - just that some actions are smarter than others. It's not how I would've done it.

But the dominant uncomfortable fact seems to remain. Don't spend money to feel like you're a businessperson. Starting a business is about MAKING money not spending it - that's what a business does.

Anzac Day has always been big for me

I'm surprised that there's not much hype about the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. I like the way that it is still measured and respectful. It's strange that this year I won't be at a dawn service - I don't think. Just a practical thing.

But I had joined the Air Force cadets when I was 12 and that had concreted for me how important Anzac Day was. Through my teens we would have a few marches each year - one in Gawler the week before Anzac Day, and then the big one in town.

We'd meet at the Air Force Association in North Adelaide, and get our lollipop - the sign on a stick we'd march with for the particular squadron. I remember that one year I had "the flying shovels" - engineers who'd build runways. I didn't think it was cool at the time but I think it's bloody cool now. Thinking of the men who didn't even get to go to war made me remember this song:

I wonder if my grandfather (a bricklayer who built munitions factories during the war) had ever been given a white feather? How terrible would that be?

Anzac Day has always been big for me. I remember when I was in Cairns that I went to the dawn service there with dad. Yes, I'll probably go to the one at Picton this year.

Back in 2008 I walked the Kokoda track for interest and a personal challenge. Upon returning I said to a nice old guy who went there "gee you dug a lot of foxholes" and he went quiet. But not before he had retorted:

"Yeah we dug a bloody lot of graves too mate"

And he hated Anzac Day.

As I get older, I increasingly hold our military people in great awe. I get to quibble over my first world problems while they leave home and family and do what they're told. Whatever that is. I've recently met a guy whose job it was to walk in front of fighting units, scanning for improvised explosive devices. Joking about how the Afghan dust forms like a mud masque all over your body after a month. Another guy who gave me practical tips about how it's important to get the first shot off in a pistol fight, or to keep advancing in a knife fight. "You're gonna get cut, the important thing is to not get too badly hurt". Those are tips I probably will never need to use, in my comfortable little bubble.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

We love food - and you don't have to buy bags

I have discussed the cynical cost shifting of Colworths in the past. It was refreshing to shop in the Norwood Mall and was given a plastic bag. I thought that was nice of them, seeing as I'd just bought $90 of wine.

Target have abandoned their "would you like to buy a bag" idea and I wonder how long Coles and Woolworths (SA only) will persist. I love the rhetoric of "price signals" but I think Colworths are paying a price they really shouldn't want to.

Perhaps Colworths will do this forever. And I'm sure some people think that's a good thing.

Adelaide Pubs Closing: No shit, Sherlock

How's this for the biggest non surprise ever? The Adelaide City Council have been undermining their ratepayers for years now in it's efforts to build an "edgy, vibrant city centre"

Sure, they have to try new stuff but a multimillion dollar popup like the Adelaide Croquet club was sure to hurt the local trade. In a way I'm sad to see the Stag go but when that happens I ask myself - "how often have I been there?" and and realise I couldn't have loved it that much. As it was with John Martin's.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Vili's driver is a bad brand ambassador

You know the day. You have things to do and everyone else on the road is simply getting in your way. I've had it many times.

But it wasn't my day for that today. Apparently it was for a driver in a Vili's van who came up behind me with all sorts of gesticulations and horn honking, and then overtook. With a little dodging and weaving he ended up one car in front of me at the next set of lights.

And just as everyone is a mystery shopper, every person with a phone and a blog might be a piece of marketing communication. Every employee wearing a company shirt or driving a company's vehicle is a piece of advertising.

As I expected, my taking the photgraph inflamed things. A few lights along I let him know that it was going on this blog and his response (with expletives omitted) was "who cares, who reads those things anyway?".

Yep, he's right. This post will probably only get about 60 page impressions over the next ten years, and its only one post. Social media is not an advertising powerhouse. But I have my own grumpy days and I'm sometimes pretty glad that I'm not in a car with anyone's brand on it.

I'm not really cranky about this, but it seems the Vili's name is hairing around town like an eighteen year old in his daddy's car. That's some brand representation I wouldn't want.

UPDATE: I got well more than the 60 hits I thought I'd get after a day. I'm not chasing pageviews but a few people have said "Yeh I know that dude". Who would have guessed?

UPDATE: I think the best comment I got was on my FB page: "Freezy Fly essssooo leave the poor dude alone he is driving a car for minimum wage!! he doesn't skydive his life is already horrible why make it worse"and I think Freezy is right. These are minor issues in life.

Judging versus simply seeing.

I saw a Facebook post today that said

"I try not to judge because I know how screwed up I am, myself."

But I chose not to share the post. I was afraid of the roars of derision from people who think they know me. But I still like the idea that the comment is true. But that means I need to explore the idea of judging.

For sure I have strong opinions on many (most) things when it comes to what I think makes sense. I think it makes sense to put things on the shopping list when we run out, to keep your tires inflated at a safe level, to look before you cross the road, to not smoke cigarettes. I think that for me, they are good choices.

I even strongly believe doing these things are sensible ways to live your life. Perhaps that's where people get the idea that I'm judging them.

For sure - choosing not to look before you cross the road is not sensible. If you press me on what I think of you then I might say "well I don't think it's clever not to look before you cross the road".
But, ffs I have so much else to think about. I really am not spending any time on you. There are a whole bunch of things that are not even on my radar - you may be gay, vegan, meat eater, duck shooter - and it's a choice that has totally nothing to do with me. You may do things that I think would be unhelpful for myself - like smoking cigarettes - but it's not my life.

I suppose I sometimes do make judgement calls but I assure you I'm thinking about you way less than you think and when I do, I like to think I most often arrive at "no decision".

Whiteboards: Wine Marketing - a special session

Lots of fun. Good students.

150 Pageviews in one hour: Something's dodgy

I love getting pageviews on my blog. I normally get about 1,500 a month and there was a time in 2013 where I was getting 3,500. I've made about 1,200 posts - not all great - but the posts are all ones I've created.

I've noticed, recently, that I will get about 150 pageview in a really short space of time, and the views have come out of Russia, normally. I can only guess that it's some type of "content harvester" but it's a little creepy.

Is there any such thing as a "content harvester" or can anyone who knows the internet better than me let me in on the joke?

Friday, April 17, 2015

A special session: It might as well involve wine

I'm running a three hour workshop session tomorrow and most of the students there will be from a wine business program. Buoyed by my experience with dry Riesling (thanks Paul Smart) last trimester, I've set up a vertical (residual sugar) tasting tomorrow after class. It goes like this:
Tasmania, Clare, Adelaide Hills, Heathcote R0, R4, R16, R25.

I think this will be fun.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mo was bossy, but he was still a stooge.

As a kid watching the three stooges, I had thought that I 'twas only two stooges plus a boss, and that boss was Mo. But when I watched it quite a bit later I realised that Mo was just a bossy stooge.

Tough times, slow payers: Nothing is new

When times are tough, your customers stretch the friendship by paying their 30 day accounts on longer terms. Essentially using you - an unsecured creditor - as a bank.

Nothing is new.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Everyone's a mystery shopper

I was working as a barman at the Kariwara Hotel in Elizabeth West in about 1987. I liked the job; front bar,saloon, lounge. It was all fine - some loud customers and a bit noisier later in a night. But there was once when I felt the most attacked and, metaphorically, violated.

That was the time we'd had a mystery shopper.

In a quiet moment I was called in by the pub manager and he grilled me off of a three page report that came from one of the customers who'd been paid to "observe the service environment". Every sigh or hesitation was an insult, a rush from one till to the next was a questionable call - perhaps I was ripping the pub off.

I could dispute it but nothing could change the fact that the report was in. All my protestations were just backstory.

And now every a**hole with a blog or a Facebook account is a mystery shopper. Every a**hole including me. And so the challenge is now what to do once you get trashed by a member of the public who thinks they're a restaurant reviewer.

But before that, is that as a service provider you can't afford to drop your guard. If you aren't tightly managing your people, processes and your physical evidence (in that order of importance) then every two bit blogger - including me - gets a free kick.

I came to a nice pub to write this one, though. Maid and Magpie wins again.

Kent Town Hotel just failed at Servicescape

It's amazing how hard an owner can try to make a great service experience and just the smallest things can blow it. No place seems to have struggled to find its soul more than the Kent Town Hotel. They've tried to be a golfing pub with an indoor driving range and upstairs putting greens. No success. Now they're using this huge, expensive real estate to be your "warm local craft beer pub" and I was happy to try.

I've been here a few times. After a fairly solid day if doing other people's stuff I was looking for a "third place" and stopped in for a beer on my way home.

I parked downstairs and entered to a room that instantly made me think I'd like to have my birthday here in August. Up the stairs and it seemed promising - that cool idea of peanuts in shell, with a few tiny bowls for your scraps.
After waiting a little while to get served, the next remark I got from the staff was to confirm that I was using my scraps bowl properly.

Yeh right. I think I'll just go somewhere else. A nice thought, but if you're gonna put peanuts in shell out there, you're gonnawanna be cool about a few crumbs. Sorry about my crumbs. Me and my crumbs will find somewhere else to be. From now onwards.

The person who thought the idea of servicescape conceived it as being made up of design factors, ambient factors and social factors. The Kent Town Hotel has done the first two very well, but the social factors just fell down. I'm in a PUB ffs!
I'm not angry, but as a consumer I have the choice where I spend my money. And the Kent Town Hotel just made it easier for me.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Product recall on Nannas. Or use it another way.

A month or so there was a health scare over these berries and they were recalled. As always I was slow on my admin, and of course we didn't return them. But the press around it all said that if they were cooked they're fine.

So - fruit pie it is. Peter Griffin would be most pleased.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Smartphones, pfft.

Samsung voice recognition promises so much and delivers so little. For the life of me I can't get it to recognise me saying my sister's name and it just mangled this attempt at a Facebook post. At least it doesn't get mad when I swear at it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nutella discontinued: Must be an April Fool's joke!

A slightly old post, but it got me!

Time to buy some "Pressing Matters" Wine

I have some Wine students in on Saturday week and I want to impress them. How better than some fantastic cool climate Reisling from Pressing Matters? I didn't know I liked Reisling until my buddy Paul Smart let me try some of his.