Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Either the economy is back or we're doomed, so pay attention small businesses.

The last four years have been a case study in frustration for my wife and myself, as well as many of our friends.

We keep hearing about the bad economy, the joblessness, the struggles of small business owners, etc etc.

But as we gear up for the November elections, I want to share some observations and experiences.

• Joblessness? Have you seen the way the majority of people show up to apply for a job? Holy cow! Maybe I'm old, but in my day, you put on clean slacks, a pressed or starched shirt, and maybe even a tie, and polished/shined shoes before going to inquire or apply for a job--and that was even for something as simple as a grocery sacker job.

I was in a retail store the other day that had "help wanted" signs on the door and saw two different job-seekers waiting to speak with a manager. I chatted with both of them, mainly out of curiosity. They were guys, one a senior in college the other in his mid-twenties. Both were wearing faded jeans, t-shirts, dirty tennis shoes. . . but both had high-dollar smart phones, of which both were fiddling with.

No surprise that the manager came out, took one look then told the two that the position had been filled. Neither applicant had a resume in hand, neither said "sir" or even stood up straight when the manager was addressing them.

I wonder how often this scenario presents itself each hour of each day?

• My wife just got off the phone, slamming it in frustration, with a carpet cleaning service. We had made an appointment to have a specific individual with this franchise come out and clean the only carpet we have in the downstairs area of our house.

Most of these franchises try to charge us--belay that, rip us off--by claiming this area encompasses two or even three rooms. It does not and a tape-measure proves it. I've escorted more than one of these salesmen to the door who cannot read a tape measure. The carpeted area downstairs covers part of our living room and part of the dining area immediately adjacent to the living room. Essentially, the area is only slightly larger than the area in our master bedroom--which, thankfully, is now tiled.

Yet these small franchises continue to insist that such an area is two or even three rooms. Bull Stink.

But what's really rich is when I see these same idiots at our local chamber of commerce meetings and breakfasts and they're moaning and wringing their hands about this horrible economy and how bad business is and how nobody needs their carpet cleaned.

• I've been trying to get bids to have a fence company come out. What I want are bids to remove a section of old fence, haul it off, and then set steel posts in concrete. That's all. I'll do the rest.

For some reason, this is a problem with both large and small fence contractors alike. The idea that I'll haul out my table saw, mitre saw, air compressor tools, etc., and finish out the fence exactly the way I want it befuddles them.

That is, it befuddles them whenever I can get them to even come out to give me an estimate.

We get these doorhangers all the time from fence companies. We get coupons in the mail from fence companies. We get homemade flyers taped to our front door and garage door from fence companies. But when we call them, they rarely show up. Those that do hem-haw around and insist on finishing out the fence themselves even in spite of how clear I made it that we'll finish out the fence.

To date, two different fence companies have given me estimates which have the same costs whether they finish the fence or I do. That's more Bull Stink.

What these geniuses forget is that I can go down to my local rental place and rent an auger and cement mixer and do the job myself. Problem is, my back is acting up again and I really don't want to subject it to all of that. I will if I have to.

I do have another option, however. We have an area of town where the illegals and immigrants hang out looking for work each day. I have zero compunction about hiring and paying them to do what I need done.

• We hired a tree service to cut down a half-dozen trees on the property and to trim up the others. We took bids, chose our company and gave them the job. We're talking four-figures here.

The job was done as sloppy and half-ass as anything we've ever seen. Repeated calls to the company garnered us zero satisfaction and our check had already been cashed. I filed the obligatory negative Better Business Bureau reports, which also have done zilch, and found every internet survey/feedback site I could find and wrote an honest assessment of the experience.

Yet. . . the principle of this tree company is an alum of my old college and I read in the last month's ex-student association publication how this guy commented about "business being so bad that he may go out of business."

News flash, pal. It ain't business that's bad--it's you that's bad.

And these are but just a few examples of poor small business experiences the wife and I have had. I won't even go into the experience our consulting group is having with vendors and contractors except to say that is much of the same.

Have we simply accepted, over the past four years, that mediocrity is acceptable and that is WE can't make it in business, then it's Bush's fault and therefore the responsibility of the Ozero administration to now take care of us?

Have our job-seekers decided that for some reason, they are so awesome and indispensable with their whopping no years of experience and incomplete college education that retailers and restaurants can't live without them, and therefore no reason to even shave or shower before casually strolling in and literally demanding a job?

What the hell is going on here?

Small business IS the backbone of America, but from what I'm experiencing, it is rather indicative of why this country is broke.

The people I hear who aren't constantly griping about the economy aren't doing so because they're too busy working their butts off. They're getting up early and staying late, they're answering their phones and returning messages to their customers and clients. They're giving their customers one-hundred percent satisfaction and they're doing it for a fair price.

When they need help or have a position open up, they're looking for like-minded applicants--not people with surly attitudes and pants dragging the floor.

So, I don't know. Judging from experience, we either have fantastic news and that being that the economy is back to one-hundred percent, or we have some not so good news, and that is, we're doomed.

Either way, the one thing for certain is that we simply cannot continue on in the status quo.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The idiocy of Uncle Sam.

A friend of mine met me for lunch today and was shaking his head in utter disgust mixed with disbelief.

He'd just returned from an appointment he and his wife and his three-month-old son had with the State Department to get their passports.

His was rejected because the State Department official said he was smiling. My friend told me that he argued he was not smiling, and in fact, was grimacing over the bureaucratic stupidity of the gov't drone reviewing his application.

The wife was rejected because the same gov't drone could not see her ears in the picture.

At least she wasn't smiling.

And just to make it a three-strikes and you're out typical government experience, their three-month old son's passport application was rejected because. . . get this--his eyes weren't open enough.

Did I mention my friends are Korean?

My friend got a little agitated with the gov't drone and explained that A) 3-month-old babies tend to spend a lot of time with their eyes close, B) All Asian 3-month-olds pretty much look all the same, and C) Even at three YEARS of age, the severe "slant" of a Korean youth's eyes are going to make them appear almost completely shut.

"Oh, I didn't realize that," said the gov't drone.

Best part about this idiot? He was assigned to the Asian desk.

God help us all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Barstool Economics

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for a beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100.
If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.00
The sixth would pay $3.00
The seventh would pay $7.00
The eighth would pay $12.00
The ninth would pay $18.00
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.00

So that’s what they decided to do. The men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with arraignment, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.

“Since you are all such good customers, he said, I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.00.
“Drinks for the ten men now cost just $80.00

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide the $ 20 windfall so that everyone would get there “fair share?” They realized that $ 20.00 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay!
And so:

The fifth man like the first four, now paid nothing ( 100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of 12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid 14 instead of 18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before! And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got a dollar out of the $20“ declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, “but he got $10!”

“Yeah, that’s right, shouted the seventh man. “why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in union. “ We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalist and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.