Archive for July, 2007

One of the things Kyle and I have noticed is a growing low-level incompetence of people in their paying jobs. I’ll let him explain that more at length if he feels like it, since he’s better at articulating what we mean. Today’s blog entry is about another data point in that body of evidence.

A couple of weeks back, I ordered a wall calendar from an online office supply company (which I won’t name). Nothing fancy, just paper with a cardboard backing that I can hang on the wall. I needed one now because I’m going to start the academic school year soon and I keep track of things better if they’re on the wall in front of my face instead of in a day planner. So the calendar I ordered is a 2007 calendar:

Problems begin when the thing arrives. Below is a photo of the calendar itself. On top of it is the box it came in:

Notice the disjunct between the size and shape of the box, and the calendar (also note, just for amusement’s sake, how badly damaged the box is. UPS delivered it like that). You may be wondering how they made it fit.

Yep. They folded it. Twice. I’ll remind you that the calendar has a cardboard (read: rigid) backing.

Okay. I’m less annoyed by the condition of the calendar than I am by the sheer ineptitude, or perhaps laziness, that caused whoever packed this item to think this was acceptable. So I sent email to the company that boiled down to “I can still use this calendar but c’mon guys, what the hell? You might want to talk to your drop-ship company about this.”

So a few days later I get a voicemail from someone at the company. She gives me her name and her direct phone number, and apologizes. She says she takes full responsibility and that she will 1) mail me a new one, flat this time, and 2) send me a UPS return shipping label so I can return the damaged one without paying shipping.

I’m pretty impressed by this, since it’s rare for a company to respond so promptly and thoroughly to a customer complaint, much less for someone to take ownership of the remedy. So I wait a few days. Then, the new one arrives:

Looks good so far. It arrived flat (note the simple solution: a regular box, unfolded flat and then taped). I’m pleased. Then after I take the new calendar out, I notice something:

Notice any difference between the two? My original damaged one is on the left. New one is on the right. Need a hint? Okay:

Yeah. They sent me a 2008 calendar for a replacement, rather than the 2007 I needed.

At this point I actually feel kind of sorry for the woman who took charge of fixing this problem for me. I’ve been in her position (making a retarded mistake and then making another retarded mistake in trying to rectify it), and it’s utterly humiliating. When she calls back to follow-up (which she said she would), I’m not going to be mean about it. But I will suggest that I just keep both and we’ll call it even.

My primary concern was making the company aware of the fact that their packing employees may require some re-training. I can use the 2007 calendar. It’s just bent a little. But damn…folding something rigid to make it fit in a box is right up there with sawing a ladder in half to make it fit sideways through a doorway.

Attention customers of my storage facility: The following are not legitimate excuses for having late fees waived:

1. “I never got my bill.” Read your contract. It states (and you were told at the time you rented) that we do not invoice. What we send you is a courtesy reminder that your rent is coming due. It is your responsibility to remember to pay your rent on time. Failure of the post office to deliver your mail properly is not our problem. Do you think the phone company would be sympathetic to “I didn’t get my bill”? Do you think the IRS would let you off if you told them you never got your W-2 form?

2. “I don’t have a lot of money. Can you cut me a break?” If you don’t have a lot of money, then pay your goddamn rent on time and you won’t have extra fees to pay. If you don’t like it, take your stuff somewhere else. If you can’t afford to have a storage unit, then don’t have one. We don’t want to hear your whining about how life is unfair and you’re just trying to get by, especially while you flash your $300 cell phone and trendy clothes after getting out of a brand new VW Beetle. If you’re under the age of 25, sport any kind of retarded goatee (if you’re a man), and I detect any entitlement vibe from you, you’re already well into the negative range, so don’t tempt fate further. Your late fees amount to 2 days’ worth of Starbucks. Pay it and GTFO.

3. “I don’t understand the simple explanation you are giving me about why I owe late fees, therefore I shouldn’t have to pay them.” You being stupid is not our problem. If you have that much trouble with life, find someone who can help you.

4. “I mailed my payment but you got it 1 day late.” Payments are credited the day they are received. If you can’t rely on the post office, mail it sooner. Call us and pay over the phone with a credit card. Pay a month ahead. Drop by in person.

ADVICE: Thank whatever gods you believe in that we let you rent here. Larger companies and corporate chains would not put up with any of this B.S. for a second, and their fees are higher.

While I’m at it, here are some other things that storage facilities don’t want to hear:

5. “I know my unit is in lien, but can you take the overlock off for just one second so I can get something?” No. The presence of that overlock technically means that we have the right to auction your belongings and they are being held hostage pending payment (in full) of what you owe. There are exactly TWO exceptions I make in cases like this:

a. I will allow you to remove tools you need to do your job if you have made some kind of payment toward what you owe, and I believe you will continue to attempt to pay it off. The overlock will stay on in the meanwhile. You’re welcome.

b. I will allow you to remove anything that is not supposed to be stored in the unit, such as open food (human or pet), hazardous materials, or anything valued at more than the limit stated on the contract. Nothing else may be taken, and the overlock will go back on.

Normally people should not have to be told things that fall under the heading of common courtesy and common sense. But we all know these things are in short supply, so here are some other things storage tenants should know or observe:

6. The dumpster is chained up for a reason. If we let people dispose of trash here, we’d need a dozen dumpsters and we’d have people lined up down the block waiting to throw stuff into it. Take your own trash away. If you leave it here, and we know it’s yours, don’t be surprised when a collections agency tracks you down demanding $50. We don’t care that you don’t know what to do with your mattress/couch/car axle. It’s not our problem.

7. Be careful when backing up a rental truck. Have someone else stand outside and guide you so you don’t hit the building. I’ve had to pay over $3,000 to repair structural damage to 2 of our buildings from large truck strikes (one building was pushed off the foundation, fer crissakes). If I knew who did it, they’d be getting the bill.

8. Don’t park on the street outside the facility for more than 12 hours if you don’t live here, and don’t park there overnight. The parking on our street is very limited, and must be shared by 3 residential homes and 6 businesses. Your camping out is illegal, annoying, and you’re nothing but a bum who lives in his/her smashed-up car and sleeps in it all day. You keep coming back even though we’ve called the police on you multiple times. That new sign on the fence is aimed at you. You know who you are. You’re not welcome here.

9. Don’t fuck with me. If you do anything illegal on my property, you will be evicted. If I ever have to call the police on you, you will be evicted. If you argue with me about the terms of your tenancy, you will be evicted. If you ever threaten or attempt to intimidate me, I will call the police (and then you will be evicted).

10. We know what you’re up to. Whatever you’re doing in your unit that you’re trying to hide from other people, we know about it.

Now, I realize that this doesn’t apply to most people. 99% of my tenants are responsible, friendly, courteous people who understand how to behave in a civilized way. But for that 1% of you who don’t, be aware that other people do notice your barbaric ways, and resent the fact that you force us to make rules that are a pain in the ass for everyone. Stop being a dick and we’ll stop picking on you. Nobody cares about your excuses for why you are incapable of acting like a human being rather than a chimpanzee. Stop burdening us with it. In fact, stop burdening the world with yourself.

Thank you,

The Management

UPDATE 07/12/07: People ask me why we charge late fees in the first place. The complaint usually revolves around something like “Corporations are just taking advantage of people to make a few more bucks.”

No, that’s not the reason. Businesses operate on a margin.

Gross Revenue = Net Revenue (Profit) + Expenses

It’s the Expenses part that is relevant here. It costs money to operate a business. The salary of employees, liability insurance, workman’s comp insurance, health plan, shrinkage (inventory loss through theft and damage), the phone bill, ISP, garbage bill, sewage, water, electricity (HVAC alone in a modest office building can run $30,000/month), etc. etc. These expenses are called “overhead”. Paying overhead on time requires that a certain amount of money be available every month to meet these expenses. That money is called “cash flow”, aka “liquid assets”.

A business like a storage facility calculates how much cash flow will be available based on occupancy and the amount of money tenants are paying for their units. Expected Gross Revenue and expected Expenses are projected into the future to make a budget.

When people don’t pay their rent on time, it creates a shortfall in the projected Gross Revenue, and reduces cash flow. Unpredictable cash flow is a pain in the ass, and can expose the company to financial loss and legal trouble if they are not able to meet expenses on time.

Late fees are both a penalty and an incentive. It helps to compensate the business for the aggravation of a disrupted cash flow (which is a real, quantifiable loss), and encourages the customer to pay on time in the future.

This lovely story comes to us from Minnesota:

A Belleville man accused of trying to kidnap a former girlfriend in Minneapolis laid out his plan in a notebook and a flow chart, outlining his goal to stun, Mace and “club her hard,” according to court documents. . .

According to the plan, Pentaleri was going to make contact with an ex-girlfriend with the initials of JML. Internet directions to the woman’s home were also inside the vehicle, according to the documents. Also found was a handwritten flow chart outlining his plan to “club her hard.”

The plan also listed two alternative plans on how to deal with her if she wasn’t alone, including a “lethal” option, the documents said.

Pentaleri, an Army officer, showed up at the airport wearing a long-haired wig, a fake mustache and beard when he was stopped and questioned near an airport carousel, according to police. . .

The duffel bag contained six condoms, a pillow case cut into strips, a camera, a turkey baster, KY oil, a bag of plastic gloves, two bags of zip ties, a package of Bic lighters, two-sided tape, shoe polish, a pair of nylon socks and Clorox disinfectant wipes.

Okay, so basically what we have here is your typical stalker freakjob. Bonus points that he’s an active Army officer. But this isn’t really what concerns me about this article. The part where I started getting confused was here:

Pentaleri was found carrying a stun gun, three chemical aerosol Mace cans, a folding pocket knife, a set of SUV keys and an expandable baton. He was issued a trespass notice and dropped off at an area hotel.

Wait, what?

This guy showed up at an airport wearing a disguise, carrying a stun gun, Mace, a knife, and a collapsible baton, and all they did was cite him for trespassing and take him to a hotel?

We’re talking about a US airport, right? The same place where they make me take off my shoes, my jacket, put my “3 oz. or less” shampoo and toothpaste in a Ziploc bag, confiscate my hair styling cream because it’s 5 oz., and forbid the presence of aerosol hairspray or deodorant? The same kind of airport where people waiting for arriving loved ones are not allowed past the security checkpoint anymore because they are not ticketed passengers? Where I have to show my damn ID about fifty times before getting on a plane and no one is allowed to bring a farking bottle of water on board unless it was bought inside the “sterile area”?

I note from the picture with the article that the man in question is white, not to mention active Army. Did either of those play a role in the decision to send him on his way rather than arresting him? Would this situation have played out differently if the man were of Middle-Eastern descent and was named Samir?

My cynical side says that if the guy had looked Middle-Eastern, we would still have sent him on his way, except we would have also given him a fruit basket and an apology for racial discrimination.

If it was because he was Army, why would that be a factor? Do we give a free pass to anyone in the military who acts like a kook or a murderer? Obviously not since we are prosecuting some Marines right now for killing unarmed prisoners, and sent the Abu Graib folks to prison.

I want to know who was responsible for that decision in Minnesota. That person or people need to be disciplined and retrained, or possibly criminally charged depending on the level of negligence involved. It’s outrageous that anyone could get away with being a genuine threat to an airport when ordinary folks are having their scissors confiscated.