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Archive for the ‘Good Product’ Category

A Walk without Exercise

From Left to Right: Linda, Dick, Trisha and Norbert

We just got home from a 3-hour, 13-mile “walk” all over Balboa Park, Little Italy, the San Diego Harbor, Seaport Village and the Gas Lamp Quarter, without getting any exercise at all.

When I got home and walked to the mailbox it felt odd that I couldn’t just lean forward and accelerate to 12 miles per hour.

Now I want a Segway!

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prius-line

[click to enlarge]

A line of Prius taxis, as far as the eye can see, at San Diego airport. Every taxi is a Prius. It lends itself as the perfect car for taxis as well as Uber for the following reasons:

  1. The gas mileage is about 1/2 or 1/3 that of conventional cars. For somebody driving all day long, that will make a huge difference.
  2. The engine is off when the car is standing, at a red light, or in traffic, or in a taxi line. It burns no gas and does not pollute when it stands.
  3. The back seat is roomy and comfortable.
  4. Toyotas just don’t break down. The reliability is phenomenal.

I guess I am part of the Priushood.

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American Art Collector

After I recently moved, my subscription to American Art Collector Magazine stopped coming. When something no longer happens, you often don’t notice it right away. One day I looked at my last issue and noticed that it was months out of date.

American Art Collector is my favorite magazine. When I get it in the mail, I immediately open the plastic cover and start thumbing through it. It always makes my day, and it always inspires me to paint. Always.

So when I noticed the magazines were no longer coming, I tried to contact them through  the website. To get access, I needed to have my subscription number or ID, and since those are on the plastic mailing cover, I never retain those.

So I emailed them and told them what had happened. A week later the five most recent issues of the magazine came in the mail. It was like Christmas.

I commend American Art Collector Magazine for their awesome customer service.

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I love using Uber.

When you get into a taxi in Germany, it’s almost always a new Mercedes, BMW or Audi, generally the large model, and spotless. The driver is well-dressed. The ride is superb. And then you pay a LOT OF MONEY.

When you get into a taxi in the United States, say New York City, the car is usually beat up, no more shocks left, the seat is often torn and the cushions disintegrated. The cab is filthy. The barrier separating the driver from me is too close and my legs bump against it. There is less leg room than in a Spirit Airlines flight. The driver speaks no English. He can’t take a credit card, because “the machine no works” and I am still expected to tip. Since I deal with cash, the tip is too much in the end. The receipt is usually a dirty business card where I have to fill in my own data. All that, if I can FIND and HAIL a cab in New York City in the first place.

Enter Uber.

I go to my app, and within a few seconds a driver accepts my hail. I see the map and the car coming. I know the name of the driver, the type of car, and the license number ahead of time, so I can look out for him. Within minutes he pulls up. I get in, and the driver greets me by name, and he already knows where I am going. The car is clean, he hands me a bottle of water, we chat pleasantly, if I want to, and he drops me off. I see the fare pop up on my phone, and it’s very reasonable. I love that I don’t have to hassle with a tip. The driver is his own contractor/boss/service business. I rate the driver 5 stars. Within minutes, I have an easy-to-read receipt in my email that I can use for my expense report if I am on a business trip. It does not get any slicker than that.

From the consumer’s point of view, the business model makes perfect sense. Here is a service industry that is putting the taxi business out of business.

The way I see it, Uber should not exist. The taxi companies should have created the app years ago and streamlined their business to be consumer oriented. There should be a checkered-cab-app. But there isn’t.

  • Just like Google should not exist, because the dominant search engine at the time was Yahoo!
  • Just like Amazon should not exist, since Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks owned the market and should have gone online.
  • Just like Instagram should not exist because Kodak could have created it 10 years earlier.
  • Just like FedEx should not exist, because the U.S. Postal Service owned the mail and shipping market.
  • Just like Apple should not exist, because IBM was the behemoth of computing, and DEC was the upstart minicomputer giant.

But, alas, Uber exists because the taxi business sucks so badly and they created a much better mousetrap for a huge demand.

If you have ever wondered about the inner workings of Uber, how much money (or how little) the drivers make, and how it all works, read this superb article by Emily Guendelsberger in the Philadelphia Citypaper. It’s very long, but it’s exhaustive and serves as a great exposé.

After reading this article, it is clear to me that Uber is meeting a phenomenal demand left by the crappy taxi industry, that, with its bad business model, trashy service, inconvenient hailing system, and poor financial management, not to mention the outdated protectionist medallion system, is not able to cope very well with competition that is focused — what a novel concept — on the consumer.

Uber has to deal with the issue of commercial licensing and insurance. Uber has to deal with unionization efforts of their drivers. Uber has to take better care of its drivers, or some other company like it that does will gobble up those drivers eventually. But Uber definitely is focused on the customer, the consumer.

In summary, Uber (and its competitors) are an American service industry addition that was not there some years ago and has become a huge business because there was a gaping need. Its drivers are not making a living wage for the most part, but its customers are happy and well-served. Regulatory agencies and insurance companies need to catch up with “the problem” this industry created, but they eventually will.

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souplantation

I have been a loyal customer of Souplantation since 1985, when I first moved to San Diego. When I raised my kids, we were a family of four, and we would eat at Souplantation every other week or so. Sunday afternoons at Souplantation were some my favorite outings for dinner. Frequently I would do lunch, and I would always seek out Souplantations while on the road in California. You might say I have always been an ardent follower of their brand.

Over the last year or so I found myself not enjoying the experience as much as I used to. I could not put my finger on the reason, I just felt that it was not what it used to be.

I am a CEO, and I know that customer service is critical in any business. If I had a 30-year customer that was drifting away because of the quality of my product, I’d want to know. So I decided to write to the CEO.

A few days later I received an email from his assistant, inviting me to lunch with him at — you guessed it – the Souplantation. Last week was our lunch meeting at the Rancho Bernardo location.

He gave me a tour of the restaurant. For 45 minutes he and the store manager walked me through the entire salad bar and we discussed many of the items. Then on to the soups, the breads, the pastas and the desserts. I learned so much about their business, their mission and their vision, I can’t list it all here.

Souplantation is a “farm to table” restaurant. He talked about the various local farmers that supplied the restaurants. For instance, his supplier of broccoli has to ship several acres of broccoli every week. This requires timed planting and growing of the plant in a staggered fashion, also taking into consideration the seasons. In the summer, it takes 43 days (if I remember the number correctly) to grow a plant. In the winter it’s 90 days. I can’t even imagine running a farm that can harvest a number of acres of broccoli every week, just to supply one restaurant chain.

He knows his suppliers. He pointed out the lettuce and told me it was no more than two days old, picked in Yuma, Arizona “the day before yesterday.” Every items is much fresher than it would ever be in a grocery store. We talked about raisins, sunflower seeds, cauliflower, and blueberries used in the muffins. All the dressings are homemade per their own recipes and only remain in the bar for a few days.

Getting to know the food, the supplier processes and the preparation methods first-hand from the CEO of the company opened my eyes — and taste buds. I can assure you that I have never had a better-tasting Souplantation meal in my life than I did after this tour. The bread was fresh and chewy, the produce hearty and flavorful, and the soup delicious.

I also learned that they have 124 restaurants in 15 states. See the map on their website. There are over 6,000 employees. Only in Southern California the stores are called Souplantation. In all other places  they are called Sweet Tomatoes. The reason is that in the South, the word “plantation” has an undesirable connotation. That had never crossed my mind, but then again, I am a Southern Californian.

So what was it that caused me to be dissatisfied in the first place? They were minor issues, and mostly related to challenges the restaurant has with specific items. For instance, I complained about the quality of their chicken noodle soup. It turns out that the chicken noodle soup is the single most difficult item to keep fresh in the restaurant. Once they put out a pot, it can be “bad” within ten minutes. He said that in some areas, where there is a significant Asian population, they tend to scoop off the broth to drink it, and leave the ingredients in the pot, causing a thick layer on the bottom and making the “soup” too dry for others. In other restaurants, people tend to stir the soup and fish out the chicken, leaving thin content of noodles floating in broth. Since the noodles are home-made, they tend to break up quickly when stirred a lot by the fishers and – alas – bad soup in the pot.

Another item I had complained about was the sourdough bread, one of my favorites. It turns out that bread is one of the few items that they don’t bake themselves, but buy already made. Sometimes it lies under the warming light too long and gets stale.

I don’t want to belabor my complaint points, but I found out that the items I had issues with were the more challenging ones to maintain, and the restaurant management knows it. The solution is for the customer to speak up. If the soup is no longer good, let the attendant know, and they will always refresh it, and bring a bowl to your table. If the bread is stale, ask for fresh. The restaurant walks a thin line of balancing between wasting good food by throwing it out too early, and upsetting customers by leaving marginal items on the counter too long. Their muffins are only good for about 20 to 25 minutes, so if they don’t get eaten, they need to decide whether to leave them and risk complaints, or waste them by throwing out 25-minute-old muffins.

The answer: Communicate with the staff. They want us to be happy.

I am sure not every complaining customer gets a two-hour tour and lunch from the CEO of the company, but I did, and I can tell you, it made a huge difference to me, I learned so much, I appreciate the quality of the food, and I am incredibly impressed by the commitment to customer service of the Souplantation.

I am ready to go back!

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The Tesla Model S is an app with a car attached. Today was the first day that Model S owners could upgrade their car to drive itself. That’s the way to build a car. This is American ingenuity. American jobs.

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Ford GT40

Ford build the GT between 1964 and 1969. Only 107 cars were built. GT stands for Grand Touring. 40 represents that the car is 40 inches tall. When I was a 12 years old, in 1968, the GT40 was my dream car.

Continuations, replicas and modernizations came on the market over the years. There are now 2005 models available.

I saw this one in Rancho Santa Fe this weekend. I don’t know enough about the car to know if this is an original, or if it is a continuation model. Checking for prices, you can get a nice used model (they are all used) anywhere between $266,000 and $480,000.

I am dreaming on.

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I have always respected Southwest Airlines. That company does a lot of things right.

I flew back from San Jose to San Diego on Tuesday night on flight 255. I sat in the back of the plane, so I was one of the last few people to get off after we landed. As customary with Southwest, the flight attendants clean the airplane between flights. As the passengers deplane from the front, the flight attendants work their way back through the rows on both sides, rubber gloves on, with trash bags in hand. They pick up litter from the seats, floors and seat back pockets, and they fold the seatbelts so they look clean for the next group of passengers.

By doing this, I am sure, Southwest not only keeps the cost down by not needing separate cleaning crews, but they also have unparalleled turn-around time at airports. I have seen them land, deplane, board and leave in 30 minutes.

On flight 255 the other night, I noticed something new: The captain was cleaning the plane. He was working his way through the plane with rubber gloves on, chatting it up with the crew and greeting the passengers, as he cleaned the seats.

That’s why I respect Southwest Airlines.

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The pilot of a Virgin America flight facilitates a wing to wing encounter with the Virgin Galactic White Knight and creates a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle for the passengers. I always thought that Branson’s Virgin companies were cool. This tops it off.

It’s not every day that you get to fly next to a spaceship!

 

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I went to Home Depot to buy a couple of watering cans for the potted plants front and back. The old ones had both disintegrated in the sun over the years and literally crumbled.

Watering Can1

I found this one. It cost less than five dollars and is made out of crude but solid plastic. When I looked for markings or indicators of how much water it holds, I turned it over.

It was to my delight and surprise that I found this label on the bottom:

Watering Can2

I would have sworn this was made in China. It never even occurred to me that it could be made in the USA.

We can still make cheap stuff efficiently here in the U.S. And it didn’t have to cross the Pacific to get here. Let’s do more of this.

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JD3

JD3

Jeremy Dixon is a software designer come monster truck builder. This is a perfect example of somebody who seems to be making a living out of following his passion, rather than “selling out” to life. I am not much into cars, but I have to say, this would be a fun thing to drive around from time to time, especially when going on hiking trips. I think I could skip the hiking with this thing. Check out his site at JD3.com.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years. 1984 was not at all like 1984. And I remember it like yesterday. The Apple 1984 Superbowl Ad.

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spice rack

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Cookie ButterIntroducing Speculoos Cookie Butter, a deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits. You can get it at Trader Joes, but I hear it’s almost impossible to get and therefore very expensive. A colleague at work gave it to me. Thanks!

Now I am addicted. Move over Nutella and designer-peanut-butter. Take one spoon of Cookie Butter, and be forever a slave.

Try it!

Something this delicious must be very, very bad for you. I dare not read the ingredients and nutrition facts.

Taking a spoonful of this mean product is what life is all about. It does not get any better than this.

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