Odds 'n' Ends
Answer Your Mail, Robert A. Niblock!
by Steve Wood
January 7, 2012





As I'm fully retired, I have time to write some of those letters and emails that I rarely got around to when working full time. In my search for charity banners I described recently on Senior Gardening and in an Odds 'n' Ends column, I began writing responsible charities that appeared not to have any web banners available for sites like mine to use. While some of those emails have gone unacknowledged, most have produced a response. Occasionally, I just blew it and missed a page of charity ad banners. More often, someone from the charity would respond like Helen Keller International's Jennifer Klopp did, writing, "Currently, HKI has not created this asset of charity banners for use as advertising on other websites, although we are looking into the possibility of doing them in the near future."

IRC - Holiday Flock of ChickensEducators' News - December 14, 2011The most surprising and gratifying of the responses came from the International Rescue Committee's Jamie Kelso. IRC appears to have banners for Facebook and similar outlets once one donates, but currently doesn't have a public page of banners for webmasters and bloggers. From my farming background, their "Holiday Flock of Chickens" promotion made good sense, as one can harvest a lot of protein from a rather small flock. So I wrote the IRC, and Jamie wrote back in part, "We didn't have a banner made already that achieved what you were looking for, so I had our designer go ahead and make one for you." I was so impressed that I not only ran the ad on both Senior Gardening and Educators' News, I made a small donation! But...

...then the junk mailings from IRC commenced, capped off by a robocall from some bigwig there. From the printing and postage costs of the unwanted and unsolicited mailings, that flock of chickens just got a bit smaller.

Freakin' Amazing

After using a satellite internet service for three years, we were finally able to switch to Frontier's DSL Internet service last summer. While the satellite was considerably faster than dialup...in good weather...it was a far cry from true broadband internet. I told the story about it in Living with Satellite Internet.

When we made the switch to DSL, we were promised Frontier's 3.0 Mbps service. It certainly isn't Frontier's fastest service, but was pretty good for folks living way out in the boonies. But when the installer got our service up and running, we were limited to 1.5 Mbps, half the promised speed. The installer tested the line and found it was capable of handling a little over 6 Mbps, but could not find a way to break through the 1.5 barrier.

I spent a frustrating day talking to some uninspired Frontier customer service and technical support folks the next day. All they could do was tell me that I lived too far away from the switching station to receive the faster service, despite what the installer had found. The tech support guy was really a bit miffed that the installer had told me what the line was capable of carrying.

Having exhausted the normal channels of getting the issue resolved, I did a web search and found the name and email address of a regional Frontier president. I sent him an email describing the problem a few minutes after 5 P.M. on a Friday evening. To my complete surprise, I got an email from the regional president saying the issue would be resolved promptly. An hour or so later, I got a phone call from another Frontier executive, who was at a party, telling me things would be fixed on Monday.

I've been around the customer service block a few times and know that "promptly" can have many interpretations, and "Monday" can mean any Monday in the future. But true to their word, the folks at Frontier shook some bushes. The original installer called me on Monday, saying they'd put through some kind of manual override to remove the 1.5 Mbps block on our service. And it worked, as we finally had the 3.0 Mbps service we needed. (My wife goes on call for her job periodically and must communicate with folks with computer problems via VOIP, which takes a lot of bandwidth.)

Kudos to Frontier in Indiana, and especially to the regional president and our local installer, for straight talk with meaningful follow-through. I wrote the CEO of Frontier a letter commending those guys.

Not So Amazing

Silly stuff can kill businesses. I've just come through a couple of rounds of extremely silly stuff that got me going again on this column. (I'd started it...well, months ago...and abandoned it as too negative.)

Onion seedlingsWe have to get several of our garden orders placed each year in early December, as we start our onion and geranium plants from seed in late December or early January. One vendor, who has good stuff at good prices, hadn't gotten their home garden catalog to us when I began to assemble our seed orders. Noticing the absence of their print catalog, I emailed customer service at Harris Seeds about it, gently nudging them by noting they probably were losing sales as I ordered items from other vendors that would normally go their way.

Geranium startsI got an email back the next day, saying the catalogs would be mailed out at the end of the week. When said catalog hadn't arrived by the middle of the following week, I hunted up the name of Harris's president and cobbled together an email address for him that worked. I suggested in the email that someone really should have gotten on the stick and made sure I had the catalog I needed. I also emphasized that I don't order online without a print catalog in hand. When I've done so in the past, I always miss something we need that I would have picked up by paging through the catalog. And no, going through the Harris, or any other seed vendor's web site, isn't the same or as effective as perusing a print catalog.

Until last month, Harris Seeds had been on our list of Recommended Seed Suppliers. It's a listing of trusted vendors with links to the vendor's catalog request page. With the exception of two vendors who are Senior Gardening affiliated advertisers, we don't make anything from the listing. It's just a way of helping other garden enthusiasts find reputable vendors with a good customer service record based on our experience and ratings from Dave's Garden Watchdog.

Within a day of sending my slightly pushy email, I received a response from Richard Chamberlin, the president of Harris Seeds. He wrote that the catalogs were at the printer and would be mailed out from there. In our email exchange, he made sure I knew that my business wasn't really important to them. They'd send out the catalog when they were good and ready.

Properly chastised by Mr. Chamberlin's outrageous email, I poured myself a tall scotch on the rocks, fired off a really nasty email to the arrogant CEO, and pulled all links to Harris Seeds from Senior Gardening.

That may sound a bit unreasonable, but I'd guess the printer had delivered finished, bound proof catalogs to Harris for final approval before printing and mailing Harris's home garden catalogs. I'd also guess that there were several of said proofs within Mr. Chamberlin's easy reach, one of which he could have spared. But obviously, doing something extra for a customer is not something the Richard (think small letter nickname) at Harris Seeds does. I guess that I'm lucky it was just a catalog on the line. I can imagine their response if I had a complaint over an order.

It took two more weeks before the catalog arrived (and promptly got thrown in the trash).


Building a Raised Garden BedI've tried to line up a hardware/home improvement affiliate advertiser for our Senior Gardening site for some time. Having such a relationship would allow me to illustrate how-to features with ad photos of the tools needed and would obviously provide links to the advertiser. But despite my repeated efforts, Home Depot and Ace Hardware wanted nothing to do with us.

Tomato cagesWhen I saw that Lowe's Home Improvement had joined an affiliate consortium I'm a member of, I was in high hopes of finally having the home improvement links I needed. One future feature story on Senior Gardening will be about how to build some of the best tomato cages one can use out of remesh, a welded wire with six inch holes between heavy steel wires. Lowe's obviously would have gotten several ad links.

My application to become affiliated with Lowe's Home Improvement was summarily turned down within 24 hours. I'd guess our web sites don't generate enough traffic for whatever bean counter makes such decisions for Lowe's. But having done thousands of dollars of business with Lowe's over the last two years (think roofing, siding, etc.), I felt somewhat confident that I could get the decision reversed by writing Lowe's.

An email to customer service produced a quick response saying my message had been relayed to the proper department. And then, nothing happened for weeks. So...I emailed and snail mailed the CEO of Lowe's, one Robert A. Niblock. It's reported that Mr. Niblock received over $6 million in compensation from Lowe's last year and over $29 million in the last five years. That's a tidy sum for someone presiding over a company with mostly flat sales (4.8 MB PDF document) for the last four years.

According to the annual report linked above, Lowe's spent $790 million in total advertising costs for 2010. That's a lot of money to bring in new customers and retain previous ones. And they've just begun a new "Never Stop Improving" advertising campaign that has to cost a bunch.

But Mr. Niblock, after receiving two emails and one snail mail letter didn't even deign to have one of his subordinates answer my request. I had clearly pointed out that we are continuing to renovate our hundred year old home, and that Lowe's share of the home renovation gravy train was going to stop if something wasn't done to remedy the denial of our affiliate request. Spending almost $800 million a year in advertising and paying a CEO around $6 million apparently doesn't cover enough staff to handle my simple request.

I felt a special sense of satisfaction last week when I swiped my new Menard's Big Card while buying a few whole house water filters. While it only gives a 1% rebate at purchase, as opposed to the Lowe's card's 5%, the filters were about $2 less at Menard's than at Lowe's! And needless to say, but I will, I haven't set foot in Lowe's since this whole deal started.

Update (9/1/2013)

I never did get any real response to my letters and emails to Lowe's or Mr. Niblock. I did notice that Lowe's sales figures are still flatlined, but Niblock continues to receive around a cool ten million a year in salary and other compensation. At least I have the satisfaction that Lowe's will get zero dollars from our current re-roofing, guttering, and window replacement project. I've saved and will drop between ten and fifteen thousand this year on necessary repairs and improvements to our home. The roofing shingles we're using are the same style and brand we bought from Lowe's for our garage and back porch. Only this time, they won't come from Lowe's.

If I owned stock in Lowe's Home Improvement, I'd be dumping it off quickly due to the mismanagement of one Robert A. Niblock. Alternatively, I'd be writing the board of directors demanding the lazy, fat cat be replaced by someone who can manage an office well enough to respond to customer complaints.

But I don't own any Lowe's stock (whew!). I just have a column and web site where I can tell my sad story.

About Odds 'n' Ends

Odds 'n' Ends is a new column series to house all the stuff I want to say that isn't related or appropriate to my Senior Gardening or Educators' News sites or any of my previous column series. I kicked off the series with a little rant about our local Walmart's systematic practice of replacing lower cost items with more expensive brands, Can Walmart Make Their Aisles Any Narrower? The second column, A Charity Phone Solicitation, started as a bit of a rant and then evolved into a search for charity web banners for my use on Educators' News and for other writers to use if they're so inclined. Amusing Myself is the story of my quest for an elusive 11 1/2 inch pork chop. It also tells about how lessons learned from a reading disability helped secure a rather large grant for my school. What's That in my Salad is a bit of silliness about a spinach salad and potential critters therein.

I finally have done enough columns to post an index page linking to my Odds 'n' Ends columns that isn't a total embarrassment due to sparse content.

Appreciate the content on mathdittos2.com?

If so, why not come back and click through one of the links from our affiliate advertisers, which obviously won't include Lowe's Home Improvement any time soon, the next time you plan to purchase something online. We'll get a small commission from the sale, and you won't pay any more than you would have by directly going to the vendor's site.

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updated 9/1/2013
©2012 Steven L. Wood