Saturday, March 29, 2008

The costs of maintenance

I am a proponent of preventative maintenance and usually follow recommended guidelines; flossing my teeth daily, scheduling an annual physical, following the manufacturers’ recommended car maintenance, but I'm having a hard time believing the $304.65 I just spent for my car’s 30,000 mile maintenance service was really necessary. All of the money books recommend following manufactures' guidelines, plus the service technician at the dealership made a point of telling me not to miss the 30,000 mile service. He did say it could be a little pricy running somewhere in the range of $100-$200. Maybe if his estimate would have been a little closer to the actual cost of $362.46 (without coupons); I wouldn’t feel quite as ripped off. Sure they inspected everything tires, brakes, fluids, fan belt, you name it, but was it all really necessary. The results were great; everything passed inspection and no further work was needed.

With car maintenance I always feel at the mercy of the dealership or repair shop. I remember taking my previous vehicles to those quick oil change places. There were occasions they were so convincing I felt my car would not make it to the next block unless I spent hundreds of dollars for additional services. It was because of these high pressure sales tactics that I stopped going to those places.

One thing I know for sure:
With my next car (which hopefully will not be for several years), I will forego most of the 30,000 mile maintenance.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Salesperson Lacks Professionalism

Last fall, our company, which is in a male dominated industry, hired our first female salesperson. She was a recent Marquette graduate with a marketing/communications degree. Our current staff of twenty male salesmen had a lot to say about this, “She will never make it.” “Our customers won't take her seriously.” "She's not going to stay; she just took this job to puff up her resume, after getting a year or two of experience she will leave.” "The company will never recoup their investment in her.” In our industry, it takes approximately two years for a new salesman to build their client base and support themselves on commission alone. To help with the transition the company typically pays them a salary in addition to commissions for the first two years.

This particular salesperson has now been with the company a little over 6 months. So far, she has not sold anything to speak of, but this is not unusual considering her territory and the current state of the economy. She has brought new marketing methods to her position; baking brownies for potential customers and even dropping off a pan or two of her homemade lasagna. For the most part, she’s been moving along status quo and the sales staff if not accepting her have stopped being adverse to her presence. They too, have enjoyed a brownie or two.

This past week all of our salespeople converged at one of our locations for our annual spring sales meetings. They attend three days of presentations given by upper management and vendors discussing everything from current marketing trends to the latest products and services. The salespeople spend evenings with their managers at local restaurants and bars where there is always plenty of food and drink. The first night, our female salesperson got a little tipsy and was too hung-over to attend the second day’s presentations. Now, there is an unwritten rule amongst our salesmen, if you drink on the company dime, you show up the next day even if you have the dry heaves. Her absence at first was overlooked probably because she is young and female. But then, low and behold, after spending the day ill in her room, she recovers just in time for dinner and another night of partying.

Drinking problems aside, this salesperson is no longer in college where she may have been able to get away with this behavior. Unprofessional actions such as this may be just the proof that our salesmen’s initial impressions were correct.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Where is the real money made?

I am a regular listener of the Clark Howard radio show. One of his common caller issues is the listener who has recently attended a hotel ballroom seminar pitching strategies to attain great wealth and is concerned that they are about to be "ripped off". These strategies come in different forms; buying manufacturers receivables, purchasing foreclosed real estate, buying over priced investments, and home based-businesses to name a few. The common denominator amongst all of them is the request for further outlays of cash; payments of hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars are necessary to receive additional courses, books, tapes, mailing lists and other materials to make this money making endeavor successful. Clark’s response is always the same; if this was such a great money making idea, the presenters would be off making millions, not hawking their techniques in hotel ballrooms.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Clark’s response as I read Warren Buffett’s biography, “The Making of an American Capitalist,” by Roger Lowenstien. One thing that stood out from the beginning of Buffett's investment career was his aversion to giving stock tips. In the beginning years of Berkshire Hathaway he would not keep his investors informed as to where their money was invested and only provided return updates on an annual basis. Much of the investment purchasing he made for Berkshire Hathaway was accomplished by quiet accumulation.

Think about these questions the next time someone pitches a get rich quick scheme to you. Where is the money really being made? Is it by using the actual techniques being pitched or is it in the pitch itself? Warren Buffett became the richest man on the planet by investing in stock, not pitching subscriptions for stock tip guides in hotel ballrooms for a monthly fee of $19.95.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Enough With the Bottled Water"

I find my co-worker's bottled water in our work refrigerator and freezer; partially filled bottles are abandoned in the copy room and lunch room. Many of the members at my gym arrive toting their bottled water. I'm sure many prefer the taste, enjoy the convenience and feel it’s safer, but I never understood why anyone would buy bottled water if they had perfectly good tap water. I assume most are somewhat aware purchasing bottled water is not good for their budget or the environment. To further deter them, I recommend they read "The Blue Death", by Dr. Robert Morris where he points out the following:

Bottled water is immensely popular with Americans ~
Americans toss nearly 50 million empty water bottles into trash cans every day. More than 7 billion gallons of bottled water are consumed every year.

The bottles have a huge impact on the environment ~
The production of the bottles themselves requires more than two billion pounds of plastic per year, which translates into millions of barrels of oil consumed and a steady release of toxic waste into the environment. The manufacturer of a single bottle requires more water than the bottle will ultimately hold. The transport of these bottles over hundreds or even thousands of miles by ship, train & truck further adds to the disportionate ecological impact of bottled water.

Bottled water is not necessarily safer ~
Despite the fact that it costs almost a thousand times more than tap water, there is no guarantee that bottled water is safer. Bottled water is less closely regulated than tap water and is not required to meet stricter standards for purity. In fact, a major portion of bottled water in the US is nothing more than tap water in an expensive bottle.

To be sure, many brands of bottled water are superior to tap water and can offer a valuable alternative, particularly when traveling or after a local disaster threatens the water supply.

He closes with ~
But environmentally, economically, and in many cases even with respect to disease prevention, they fall short as a replacement for piped water.

Need I say more?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"Open Every Door"

Networking is a continuous process:
I've been an active member of a professional organization for the last ten years. I maintain this membership for many reasons, but my primary goal is networking. What many new members do not understand is that relationships are developed over time. I have seen new recruits join our organization, attend a meeting or two, distribute their business cards to every member present, then quit when that great job offer does not materialize in a month or two.

I received a call this week from a recruiter whose membership I have mentored in this organization for at least three years. She was recruiting for a great position that paid an excellent salary with a company known as one of the best places to work in the Milwaukee area.

Why Me:
She thought of me, after the employer specifically requested someone with a pleasant personality. I was flattered, this was the second time a recruiter from this organization had thought of me for a position because of my personality. I attribute this to working closely with them on committees within the organization. It is not always easy for me to talk up my attributes, but it is easy for them to see my real personality and work ethic after working closely with me.

My Response:
Unfortunately I had to turn her down. This company is located 45 miles from my home; I am not fond of long commutes or in a position to relocate. I did refer her to two other accountants who would also make great candidates for the position. I asked that she keep me in mind for future positions. I followed up by thanking her again for thinking of me, and forwarding her my resume.

What else I learned from her:
While discussing her business, she mentioned one unsettling experience. A candidate she placed with a company nine months ago had recently called requesting she find her another position. Feeling this was unethical she refused.

This reminded me of the recruiter who placed me with my current firm nine years ago. Since then, I have pretty much entrusted her with my job search. We meet a couple times each year to talk about my current company and discuss my career goals. She is instructed to call me if she sees a position that may be of interest to me. In thinking back, her firm (not her) has called me only once in nine years with an open position. I can't help but think my recruiter’s loyalty is really with my employer who has provided her with a paycheck. It is a good thing I have not been overly serious about changing jobs, but by entrusting her almost exclusively with my job search I may have missed out on some great opportunities.

“Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door” Emily Dickinson