business news in context, analysis with attitude

I wrote the following letter the other day to Dennis Strigl, the president/CEO of Verizon Wireless:

    Like a lot of people, I dread the moment that it becomes clear that I have to get a new cellphone. I’m hardly a Luddite (I actually have an Internet-based business), but there are always too many choices of phones and features and services from which to choose. And in most cases, I find the salespeople at most stores to be either condescending or just confusing.

    Until this past weekend.

    I had a service question, and happened to be in the Stamford Town Center in Connecticut. In waiting my turn to talk to the technical support person, I wandered down the aisle of phones and found myself chatting with Maris Durland, who I later found out was the assistant manager of the store.

    She was great. She listened to my questions and responded in plain English. She made recommendations based on my needs, not on what she felt like selling. And when it became clear that it was time to trade in my old model for a new version, all my questions had been answered, my decisions had been made, and the rest was easy.

    Go figure.

    You probably get a lot of complaints in your job, so I thought you might want to hear a success story. I write about business for a living, and know that companies need to know when they have a great person on staff so that they can reward and keep that person. Maris Durland is just such a person, and I hope you’ll make sure that this letter goes into her personnel file and that she is rewarded accordingly. After all, Verizon may be a $71 billion company…but often it is the efforts of one person at retail that make all the difference in how a company is perceived by consumers.

Billions of dollars in sales are generated one dollar at a time.

The retailing industry often forget this as it engages in initiatives and programs and highfalutin concepts…forgetting that, as Albert Einstein once said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."

I was in Savannah this week to give a speech, and by coincidence found myself in two establishments that were located in renovated gas stations.

One was a wonderful convenience store called Parker’s Market, on Drayton Street, which is a gourmet c-store that has a wonderful foodservice operation – great sandwiches and salads and an eclectic grocery selection. It was a terrific example of how to customize a store for a specific population; located downtown, it caters to upscale professionals and students, and is different from other, more traditional c-stores owned by the Parker family in the area.

The other was a place called Queeny’s To Go Go, on Habersham Street, a soul food restaurant where they serve fabulous fried green tomatoes, light-as-a-feather grouper tacos, and delicious collard greens and corn puddin’. Good for the body, good for the soul, as a famous American minstrel once sang.

Robert B. Parker has come up with his 33rd Spenser novel – and it’s a doozy. In "School Days," the Boston private eye is investigating Columbine-style shootings that took place at a fancy Massachusetts prep school. One of the shooters was arrested on the site, and the other got away…but arrested when the one who was caught gave up his name.

Spenser is hired to prove that the one who got away actually is innocent, but the case quickly becomes more a matter of trying to figure out why he might have done it, as opposed to if he actually did it. From there, things get progressively more complicated and confusing…and Spenser responds to events with customary cynicism, humor and a clear sense of moral purpose.

Another great entry in what is one of the great series in American detective fiction.

“Ripley’s Game,” starring John Malkovich, is adapted from one of the series of novels by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote “Strangers on a Train.” The main character is the same one played by Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but now he is older, sadder and infinitely more depraved and sophisticated.

The movie hardly was released in the US, but it is available on DVD and definitely worth watching if you can enjoy a murderer/protagonist who says the following: “I’m a creation. A gifted improviser. I lack your conscience and when I was young that troubled me. It no longer does. I don't worry about being caught because I don't believe anyone is watching.”

It’s a neat, twisted little thriller that makes you root for people you’d never expect to root for.

This weekend, I’m thrilled to say, I’m traveling with my 16-year-old son to St. Louis, where a friend is taking us on Sunday to the final regular season baseball game to be played at old Busch Stadium. We’re looking forward to it immensely; it is, after all, the team of Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. And the city that gave us Joe Garagiola and Lawrence Peter Berra.

“You can observe a lot just by watching,” Yogi once said.

This weekend, my son and I are going to do it together.

KC's View: