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Why This Coffee Shop’s ‘Clever’ Sign Isn’t So Clever At All

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

A coffee shop in Roanoke, Va., put a “clever” sign outside that said:

“Small coffee” – $5
“Small coffee, please” – $3
“Hello, one small coffee please” – $1.75

The sign went viral. News stations reported on it. Redditors rejoiced. Bloggers and tweeters gushed.

“It might be a small gesture, but is it really that hard to remember your manners and the fact that there are actual people behind the counter?” one writer admonished her readers. “You’ll always be rewarded for good behavior, and now in some places, you might even save a little bit of cash.”

An employee wrote the sign because he felt he needed “to solve all the injustices of the world (and) to start charging more for people who didn’t take the time to say hello and connect and realize we’re all people behind the counter.”

Oh, brother.

This is not clever. It’s stupid. It’s insulting. And, regardless of all the viral attention, it’s bad for business. Are you one of those foolish businesses that think it’s funny to criticize, make fun of, lecture or patronize your customers? Do you hang signs like…

“Don’t worry. Our staff is accustomed to dumb questions.”

“Notice: Prices subject to change according to customer’s attitude.”

“The customer is sometimes right.”

“Sarcasm is just one more service we offer!”

“Yesterday was the deadline for all complaints”

“Complaints will be heard on the second Tuesday of next week.”

These signs drive me nuts. Whenever I walk into a small business and see one of these silly things hanging on the wall behind the cash register my first inclination is to walk out. I say “small” business because you would never see this nonsense at a professional organization. Can you imagine management’s reaction at Starbucks or Marriott or Target if one of these signs were hanging there? Big, experienced, customer-focused, service-oriented companies would never put up with this bunk. It’s just bad for business. It’s very, very “small” business.

But, hey, go ahead and hang that sign if it makes you feel better. But just be forewarned that if you do then you deserve what you get. Customers don’t want to hear this tripe. We have our own problems in our little lives. Every day we’re castigated by our bosses, chided by our significant others and treated with disrespect by complete strangers, rude customer service agents and the government. I get yelled at by homeless people just because I’m walking by them. I’m disparaged by my friends just because I’m a fan of the Kardashians and I’m made to feel guilty just because I like a Big Mac once in a while.

So now I have to be treated like an 8-year-old and told to be “polite” just because I want to buy a cup of coffee? You’re kidding me.

Sure, I realize serving coffee can sometimes be tough. I bet that sometimes a customer or two can be rude. Hello, welcome to life in human society! I’ll bet that 98 percent of the people that a barista serves every day are polite. So 2 percent are jerks? Deal with it. That’s the same percentage of customers who stiff me on bills, vendors who don’t deliver on time and employees who don’t show up when promised. That’s life. Those are your customers — the ones who pay your bills.

The stupidest thing any business owner can do is to treat their customers with disrespect. Hanging stupid signs making fun of them is basically saying you hate your customers. “No I don’t,” you say? That’s the perception I’m getting.

By the way — the owner of the Virginia coffee shop quickly told one news station that the higher pricing was “a joke” and that “no one has paid $5 for a cup of coffee.” Ha ha. Is there a Starbucks nearby?

Why Does Senator Al Franken Make Cold Calls?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Al Franken (D-Minnesota) is now in his second term as a U.S. Senator.  As a U.S. Senator, he meets foreign dignitaries and leaders, recommends Supreme Court candidates and votes on matters of national importance.  Oh, and he also makes cold calls.

A former comedian, actor and cast member on Saturday Night Live, Franken has built a reputation in Washington as a hard-working, policy-oriented member of the judiciary committee and a strong supporter of progressive ideas like a single payer healthcare system. Agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that Franken is also very, very funny. That sense of humor has helped him wrestle with the frustrations of Washington — and for making cold calls to donors.

In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air to promote his new political memoir “Giant of the Senate,” Franken not only shared his thoughts on the challenges of being a Senator in these crazy times but also the challenges of making these calls – a challenge any business owner can understand. “It’s called Call Time,” he explained. A typical conversation:

Franken: “Hi, this is Al Franken. I’m calling for Mr. Myers.”

Receptionist: “Oh, he’s not in the office right now.”

Franken: “Uh-huh. I’m calling to invite him to a fund raiser in Dallas on June 7th.”

Receptionist: “Oh, he and Mrs. Myers are going to be out of town.”

Franken: “Uh-huh. But will his checkbook also be out of town?”

Franken says that the approach oftentimes gets a laugh – and money. Sometimes it doesn’t. But he’s doing it. He’s a United States Senator. He’s a national celebrity. He’s Stuart Smalley. He has a “cold call director” — someone akin to a marketing manager who accompanies and coaches him through the multi-hour sessions.

He follows a script.  He’s on the phone.

Of course, Franken hates making these calls. Who doesn’t? It’s not easy so he tries anything to relieve the boredom, pass the time and keep his sanity — even going so far (in his head) as to replace the lyrics in famous Broadway tunes with the scripts of his calls (“Please answer the phoooone, Howard Goldfine,” he croons to the tune of an Evita song. “You’ve maxed out to me last cyyyycle. Oh, won’t you be hooooome, Howard Goldfine?”).

It helps a little, but not a lot. Cold calls are a necessary part of being a politician. You need donations to get re-elected and stay in office. You need to reach out to your biggest financial supporters, make sure they’re happy with your work, then ask for more money.

I was thinking about this recently when someone asked me the last time I called up my clients out of the blue. I couldn’t think of one. I’m usually sending emails or relying on others in my company to do the follow-ups. I know that people don’t want to be bothered. I rationalize that I’m very busy. But am I too busy to check in with a client for just a few minutes to see that things are going OK? Am I too important to find out if there’s anything else a client needs, or recommend another service or product we sell that might help in his or her business?

Franken, like his Senate colleagues, is also very busy. He could delegate these calls to underlings if he chooses. But he does not. Being a successful politician is a business and successful politicians have learned that emails and letters have a purpose, but only go so far. Donors (like our customers) respond to a personal outreach. I close more deals when I meet a prospect face to face. I strengthen more relationships when a client hears my voice and I can hear hers. The internet and our wonderful digital universe is great. But nothing replaces human contact — at least once in a while.

So the next time you’re grumbling or avoiding a phone call with a big client just remember: everyone does it. One U.S. Senators even does it to the soundtrack of Evita. Howard Goldfine, are you theeeeere?

Why You Must Go See That ‘Flop’ ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is unfortunately, a huge box office flop. But you must go and see it!

The story is great, of course. Who doesn’t love the legendary tales of the English king who pulls a sword from a stone and realizes his true destiny? Everyone loves the film’s director, Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two of my favorite films). Is there anyone who doesn’t love Jude Law or the Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam or the gorgeous Astrid Bergès-Frisbey? The acting was great, the writing was sharp and the overall production was terrific. Yes, it’s 2017 and I used the word “terrific.” That’s how terrific the film is. I’m not alone in my admiration either. The movie got a 7.3 on IMDB and everyone knows that anything over a 7 is a legit rating. Read More…

The Problem With Whole Foods Is the Doritos It Won’t Sell

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

I never do my food shopping at Whole Foods.

It’s not that I don’t like, or appreciate the store. It’s a very nice store. In fact, they just re-opened one right near me that’s twice the size of the original. It’s got an incredible prepared food section, a couple of small eateries and a delicious coffee bar. Of course, it’s also got an excellent selection of meats, fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and baked goods too. It’s all organic and natural, naturally. It’s Whole Foods. Like I said, it’s a very nice store. There’s just one problem.

I can’t buy Doritos there. Read More…

Why Did So Many Contractors Once Fear ‘This Old House?’

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Nowadays you can’t turn on the TV without stumbling upon some type of home repair show, right?

“House Hunters Renovation.” “Flipping Vegas.” “Love It or List It.” “Rehab Addict.”  These shows are super-popular and pretty darn addictive, particularly to people like me who don’t have much of a social life and can’t hammer two nails into a board without risking a hospital visit. The programs have different stars and locales but they all owe their debts to a much older, groundbreaking show: “This Old House.”

“This Old House” debuted on a local Boston PBS station in 1979 and has since then won 17 Emmy Awards and spawned spin offs, a magazine and a few for-profit websites. It has been, and still is, a simple show where both homeowners and contractors (made up of various hosts over the years starting with Bob Vila) renovate an old house over a period of weeks or sometimes an entire season. “This Old House” was a first of its kind. And yet when it debuted, contractors…well…hated it! Read More…

Hey Juicero, Erlich Bachman Just Called and Wants to Invest

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

If you’re a fan of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” then I’m sure you’re looking forward to the season four premiere on Sunday night. I know I am.

The show centers around a fictional tech company called Pied Piper located in — you guessed where — and its protagonists include Erlich Bachman, Richard Hendricks, Gordon Felson and a bunch of other narcissistic, self-centered, arrogant tech “geniuses.” They keep promising to “make the world a better place” with their incredible technology, yet are routinely unable to talk to women, boil a cup of tea or handle most normal social situations.

It’s a hilarious show. But if you can’t wait until Sunday, don’t you worry. There’s a bunch of other Silicon Valley people who are just as funny to watch as our friends on the TV show. Their story is true and you can watch it right now. Have you heard?

These are the people behind the “Juicero” machine, developed by Doug Evans, a real life Erlich Bachman. “Juicero” will remind Silicon Valley fans of Aviato, Bachman’s failed airline booking aggregator startup. We’re never quite sure if Aviato does anything useful, and we can’t be sure about the Juicero either.

According to  Bloomberg, the gadget is an “internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage.” It’s the “Keurig for Juice”! It all sounds so cool and techie that Evan’s company has raised more than $120 million from a bunch of Silicon Valley investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google’s Alphabet Inc. Having bought into the idea, they have proved themselves to be as dopey and comical as the investors from Raviga Capital, the fictional VC firm from the TV show.

Why? Because this week it was demonstrated that anyone can just as easily and in less time — with bare hands, mind you — wring about as much juice from the pre-packaged fruit bags as the Juicero does. Not only that, but the “internet capabilities” of the Juicero — which are surely what romanced the community of tech investors —  is reporting on the same nutritional information that is on the label already attached to each bag of fruit. What’s even funnier is Evans’ description of the product: “There are 400 custom parts in here,” he once said. “There’s a scanner; there’s a microprocessor; there’s a wireless chip, wireless antenna.” Wow, is there a data compression algorithm just like Pied Piper’s?

Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn insisted the machine, which costs a whopping $400 (reduced from its original $700 price but don’t forget the weekly cost of its “Produce Packs”) is still an “incredible value” and a “great experience” that will not only save us time but, through its state-of-the-art wireless technology, be able to “remotely disable Produce Packs if there is, for example, a spinach recall.” Phew!

And here I was waiting for “Silicon Valley” to start on Sunday. C’mon HBO, just admit that the Juicero story is a funny marketing stunt to promote the TV show. Hah ha. Please? Erlich Bachman, it’s you, right?

Oh. This is not a TV show. These people exist and they really did raise $120 million. It seems like those brilliant, Stanford-educated, latte-drinking, BMW-driving, tech savants who think of themselves as geniuses changing the world aren’t nearly as smart as they believe they are. If you’re ever in negotiation with one of these people, just remember Erlich Bachman and the Juicero story to put things into perspective. It will remind you that you may very well be the only one in the room with some common sense — particularly if that room is somewhere in Silicon Valley.

Apple Just Admitted That Your Next Business PC Shouldn’t Be A Mac Pro

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

It’s a question I get asked all the time. Do I buy a Mac for my business or a PC?

More than a decade ago, the answer was pretty clear: Get a PC. For years, Microsoft owned the corporate ecosystem. Servers ran Windows. Networks were more easily configured for Windows. Thousands of Microsoft employed, trained or partner-geeks were available to help support the famously-less-than-reliable Windows operating system. Businesses bought PCs. Sure, there were Apple products for the corporate world, but these were mostly used by a small group outliers — those organizations that were generally in the arts, design or education industries.

Then things changed — Microsoft lost its mojo. People bought iPods, then iPhones, then iPads and iMacs. The Mac, particularly the Mac Pro, became a more accepted tool in the business world. As networking software improved and more developers wrote applications for the iOS platform, I began to see more and more Macs sprouting up at my clients’ offices. Apple’s applications were cooler and its devices just worked better than the Windows counterparts. Its products gained market share in the business community. And even as more people migrated towards devices and laptops, its desktop — the Mac Pro — symbolized the company’s resurgence against Microsoft’s declining Windows operating system and the PCs that relied on it.

Then . . . Apple blew it. Read More…