Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Duped by Pottery Barn's aggressive marketing campaign

I like to think of myself as a smart consumer, but I believe I was duped by an aggressive marketing campaign when I purchased Pottery Barn’s "Sausalito" dinnerware:

Approximately five years ago, I drove to the mall in search of a decent set of dinnerware for an upcoming dinner party I was hosting. I came home with 12 place settings of Pottery Barn’s "Sausalito" dinnerware in natural. A friend had received a similar set as a wedding gift and I had loved the simple modern style. I was sure the heavy earthenware was durable and would last for years. It cost more than I normally would have spent, but it was Pottery Barn so the quality had to be good. I soon added a gravy bowl, 3-piece serving bowl set and a serving platter to my collection.

Unfortunately, this set has brought me nothing but problems. During my five years of ownership, I’ve replaced cracked dinner plates so frequently my local Pottery Barn store suggested I upgrade to their porcelain dinnerware and use the Sausalito plates for display purposes only. One plate cracked, making an explosive popping sound, during a dinner party while a guest was serving himself a plate of food. Also, recent plate replacements are so abnormally large I am no longer able to close the cupboard door tightly. Prior to the recent holiday season, I attempted once again to replace a cracked dinner plate only to discover Pottery Barn has discontinued making the Sausalito dinnerware in “natural” my color. After scouring the countryside, I was able to locate eleven plates in Miami, but ended up ordering only one. I have had enough; the next time a plate cracks I am replacing the entire set with a standard size durable set of dinnerware.

What I don’t understand is if Pottery Barn’s Sausalito dinnerware is so fragile why do customers continue purchasing it?

I think the answer can be found on the Solas Web Design blog where they write:

For $139.00, Pottery Barn offers their Sausalito dinnerware setting for 4. Yes, Pottery Barn’s pottery has become vastly popular, due to an aggressive, well-funded marketing campaign, but what is the actual value of the end product that shoppers receive? Though colorful, their dinnerware, serving ware, etc. is a mass-produced, made in Asia product. It feels machine-made, and frankly, doesn’t strike me as a cut above the place settings you might find at K-Mart for 1/3 of the price. My feeling would be that Pottery Barn can set a value like the above on their products because their advertising has created a mystique or buzz about their brand name. But the Martha Stewart products Kmart stocks, also mass-produced, have been slated as being for folks who live on a budget, because, after all, they are being sold at Kmart. Perhaps Pottery Barn consumers feel that they are spending their earnings on the finer things in life, because the corporation is slating themselves as such.

Yet, in the end, Pottery Barn customers are purchasing fast-food-quality pieces for their home, at a high price tag. This isn’t Blue Willow China. They won’t be passing it onto their grandchildren. Economists call us a throw-away culture and I’d say both the items manufactured by Pottery Barn and Martha Stewart’s factories in Asia fall into this category.
How was Pottery Barn able to create this mystique or buzz about their brand name?
In an old Reveries Magazine Hillary Billings Pottery Barn’s former vice president of product design and development says:

In the early nineties, nobody in the specialty retail world was addressing home furnishings. The only consumer choices were to go to mass-market retailers, like department stores or to an Ethan Allen, most of which weren't providing stylish furniture. They were presenting assortments that were very mainstream and weren't very interesting. Or you had to hire an interior designer and spend exorbitant amounts to enter the stylish arena of home furnishings.

There was nothing for the consumer who didn't want to hire an interior designer or didn't have the money to, but had an interest in style that was more sophisticated than what the department stores were selling. It offered a clear path for Pottery Barn to build a business.
So how was I duped?
I have mentioned previously I am decorating challenged, plus when I bought my dinnerware I was in a hurry looking for a quick purchase. Pottery Barn made shopping for dinnerware easy. They didn’t have numerous styles and patterns to choose from and the Sausalito with its hand glazing and visible brush strokes looked so sophisticated; little did I know it was mass-produced in Asia. Also, I didn’t realize buying good dinnerware isn’t as simple as just walking into a store and picking out the first set of dishes that catches my eye. There is actually a lot to consider. Instead of purchasing a quality set of dinnerware, I was purchasing the great “Pottery Barn name.

How about you, have you ever been duped by an aggressive marketing campaign?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Working with a “Master Manipulator”

I recently came across Miss Minchin’s fascinating post Manipulative people in the Workplace and was amazed how closely the personality traits of the “master manipulator” resemble that of the “hostile HR manager” who works at my company. I was especially intrigued to read:

The most dangerous of all workplace dangers, the manipulative coworker has mastered the art of aggression disguised as helpfulness, good intentions, or working "for the good of the company". These people are brilliant at hiding their true motives, while making you look incompetent, uncooperative, or self-centered. They can make you lose your job, do their job for them, or even get you to apologize to *them* for trying to confront them about their own bad behavior.

Over at Business Women's and Finishing School I talk about my experience working with a "Master Manipulator". Please check it out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The value of “face time”

In a couple of recent posts, I mentioned Kate an employee of a local manufacturing firm. She was originally hired as the Controller of her company’s engineering division which is located in a separate building from the company's main office. During a recent downsizing, Kate’s controllership position was eliminated resulting in her being transferred to an administrative job in the corporate building. Yes, she is fortunate to still be employed, but she hates her new administrative role and has become discouraged watching her male colleagues be promoted to positions she wasn’t aware were open. Perplexed, she sought out a male colleague asking him “What do you have to do to get promoted around here?" He responded with: “You need to be a male who puts in a lot of face time.”

Both Kate and I interpreted “face time” to mean working late nights and weekends “at the office” to project an image of a committed hardworking employee.

After discussions with my mentor, I’ve concluded Kate's male colleague actually gave her some very good advice. Kate doesn’t necessarily need to work long hours and weekends to achieve face time, but she does need to be visible and to build a rapport with her colleagues. To be promoted, Kate’s managers need to know who she is and be familiar with her work. By working in a separate building, she didn’t gain the visibility needed for a promotion; most likely her company's hiring managers have not worked with her whereas they have worked with her male colleagues.

It is important to get face time throughout the organization especially in the operations area.

How to get face time when you’re stuck in a back office job:
Volunteer for projects even if it is not your area of expertise and then do whatever you need to gain the knowledge needed to be successful. Apply for open positions even if it may not be your dream job. It helps to get interview experience and get your name out there. Volunteer to work on teams and on committees – some companies have opportunities for internally promoting the United Way.

-Do remain open to working late nights and weekends “at the office” if you need to complete special projects or to maintain deadline credibility.

-Think twice about telecommuting:
Telecommuting puts you at an immediate disadvantage; by not being in the office you will have a difficult time achieving adequate face time with managers outside of your department.

To be promoted Kate needs to be credible, experienced and visible.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Is less prestigious job not worthy of respect?

Citizen Reader left a comment on my last post that I’ve been thinking about all week, she writes:

"But just because a certain job might be less prestigious or less well-paid, does that make it unworthy of respect? I never thought so."

First a couple of misconceptions about less prestigious employment:

- It’s a fallacy to think employees who perform “grunt work” don’t work as hard or put in as many hours as employees who have more prestigious positions. It has been my experience that these employees are sometimes the hardest working and most conscientious employees in the company.

-In spite of working and getting paid for part-time work, some part-time employees are still expected to complete a full-time work load. They take work home to complete after their kids are asleep while also being accessible through email and via phone throughout the day.

-This is despite my company’s HR Director’s belief that employees who work long hours do so because they don’t manage their time well.

The first person I thought of upon reading CR's comment was Donna my company’s Accounts Payable Clerk (she is also the employee responsible for completing our company’s 1099’s). She is by far one of the most diligent employees in our company with an incredible attention to detail. In her seven years of employment, I doubt if she’s made even five mistakes. She is also pleasant with employees and vendors and much more patient with them I could ever be. One of our company owners feels she is the best employee our company has.

Too bad she doesn’t think so:
Donna regrets not earning her four year degree and hates that she is a clerical worker. So much so, she refused to attend her high school reunion not wanting her former classmates to know she was just an Accounts Payable Clerk. We have offered to change her title to Accounts Payable Associate, but she doesn’t like that either. Unfortunately, she is also one of our lowest paid employees and is aware of this through her payroll responsibilities. I have also noticed our HR Director treats her with disrespect, but she is not alone our HR Director treats all of our clerical employees with disrespect.*

I think it’s important to realize not everyone can be the CFO, if everyone aspired to do so there wouldn’t be anyone available to do the work. There is a lot to be said about having a stable job you enjoy and in which you can be the expert. Too bad not everyone including the employees themselves feel this way. All jobs including the less prestigious and the lowest paid should be worthy of respect.

*Note our HR employee gave herself the title of HR Director.

If you would like to read more about Donna I also wrote about her here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Culture of Patriarchy Observation

I had the pleasure of attending two CPE seminars within the past 30 days; both sponsored by the same organization:

The first, a tax planning and wealth preservation seminar, was strongly attended; with 70% of the attendees male. Almost all of the attendees regardless of gender were wearing a business suit.

The second, a 1099 and W2 preparation seminar, was sparsely attended with at least 70% of the attendees female. The only attendees wearing a business suit at this event were the seminar sponsors and me. (No it was not a Friday.)

In the eighties, my friend Laura earned a masters degree in tax. She likes to tell stories about being the only woman in her tax classes and subsequently at CPE tax seminars. (She is also the first person to say that the glass ceiling still exists.) I must say, I was surprised and disappointed to see how few women attended the tax planning and wealth preservation seminar. Obviously, males donning a power suit continue to manage the money and wealth in the Milwaukee area while the women continue to perform the grunt work.