Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Be Alert! (We need more Lerts)

After many years in the hospitality, franchising and sales business I have become quite attuned to watching for potential theft.  It's not that I think the worst of people, it comes after watching franchisees try and duck royalties, or bartenders pad their own pockets.  Here's a few scams I observed in businesses over the recent holiday season that could spell trouble for you and the business if left unchecked by management.

  • The old "cash drawer open" trick you'll often see in bars, coffee shops and especially in variety stores.  The clerk "rings in" the purchase so an amount shows on the screen (this works best if it's only one item and you're paying cash), announces the total and then calculates your change manually.  He then deletes, or voids the purchase.  
    • Result: money in the clerk's pocket, not the business'.  
    • Signs of this scam:  Cash drawer left open between purchases.
    • Victim:  The franchise organization which collects a royalty on sales, the bar/restaurant/coffee shop owner, you - because prices creep up over time to cover such losses. You the taxpayer - since the shortfall in sales tax has to come from somewhere.  I have observed this time and again everywhere from Mac's Milk to Second Cup.  
    • How you can help?  Ask for a receipt.  The clerk has to complete the sale and then if it is voided later there is a record of it.  It's up to management, head office or CRA to find it from there.
  • The old "do you have a loyalty card?" scam.  I saw this in a major drug store chain, where the clerk had already entered her own loyalty card number manually before she even started ringing in my purchase.  
    • Result:  Had I not produced my own card, the credit for the sale would have gone to her, or a family member's account.
    • Signs of this scam:  You have to be paying attention, but watch the screen and see if there is already a card number entered before you even begin, or if her fingers start dancing across the keyboard between customers.  Another sure sign was that when I produced a card and she had to delete the information already entered.
    • Victim:  You.  If someone asks if you have a loyalty card and then doesn't offer to get you one right away, even if they're not scamming they are wasting an opportunity to create future business and save you money.  
    • How can you help?  This one you have to call them on right away, which you can do politely but firmly.
  • The old "gift card" scam.  The clerk pretends to use the gift card at the cash register, and then tosses it into her garbage can.  If you're not alert, you then pay full price on the "remaining" balance, and she retrieves the unused card later from the garbage.  I saw this effectively done on a $200 grocery bill with a $25 gift card - easy to not notice with amounts that large.
    • Result: clerk retrieves card from the garbage after you've gone and gives it to a friend or family member to use
    • Signs of this scam:  The clerk makes no mention of the gift card.  Typically she should ask you if you'd like to reload it, or if you'd like the card back.  Throwing it away without discussion is a big red flag.
    • Victim:  You.  This one relies on you not to pay attention to the cash register screen and not to check your receipt before you leave the store.  Even if you do, and catch the "error", she innocently apologizes and pulls the card out of the garbage, thus further maintaining the illusion she wasn't scamming in the first place. 
    • How can you help?  Pay attention and ask questions. 
  • The old "taxi credit card" scam, where the taxi driver uses his own iPhone app to run your credit card instead of the system in the cab, to avoid paying 3% or higher on the credit card transaction.  
    • Victim:   You or your company, if you're expensing the ride.  The iPhone account comes with a $4 or higher transaction fee which you pay.
    • How can  you help?  Unfortunately in many cities cabs are not yet fully regulated in this regard, so you have to be aware and challenge the cabbie.  The other variation on this is when the cabbie claims his credit card processor isn't working and insists that you pay cash, just to avoid the credit card transaction fee.  I feel for the difficult position these cabbies are in, but that shouldn't come at your expense.  The system needs an overhaul.
    • Other potential solution?  Use Uber to book your ride.  It's an on-line app that will get you a black car (limo) for about the price of a cab, is fully automated and your credit card is automatically charged complete with tip, and you get an emailed, detailed invoice.
These are just 4 separate occurrences that I observed in the month of December alone.  In each of these it is possible to alert management without accusing anyone - and indeed it may all be a misunderstanding or a genuine error.  However, if there has been a pattern with the employee in question you are helping to resolve the issue.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


"Unfriend"  What a nasty word to describe the process of releasing one's on-line Facebook contacts from the burden of seeing another status update about your baby, puppy or hip replacement.

Disconnecting from the social media connection doesn't necessarily mean a friendship has ended, although I suppose it could.  Here are some other reasons one might "unfriend"
  • You're a one-trick pony.  The only thing you ever post about is your cause, whether it be environmental, your sexual-orientation, politics, unions or all of the above if you're a member of the NDP.
    • Unless your one trick is sports.  Then it's kind of cool.
  • Your bring us down.  You're negative and judgmental.  You're soooo hard done, by everyone you come in contact with:
    •  your mailman, 
    • the lady in front of you at the supermarket, 
    • your waiter/front desk attendant/housekeeper/anyone making minimum wage, 
    • the guy texting in the car beside yours (while you update your status).
  • We wouldn't recognize each other in public - either literally since we only see each other on Facebook, or figuratively if one of us doesn't want anything to do with the other in real life.  If we can't be friends in real life, I'm not sure how we can call each other friends on the world wide interweb. 
That's why I don't get all bent if I notice I've been unfriended.  I hope I'm not guilty of any of the above, but perhaps, in someone's eyes, I am.

It's cool.  I'm still good for a coffee, in person.

Read this great article

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Pedal to the Metal

I have often wondered if, in the course of an intense sales challenge, there is something to be said for just backing off and riding the wave for awhile, if only to catch your breath.  Even if you have achieved your sales goals, I can think of three acceptable times to slack off and forget all about work, and their exception.
  1. It's your day off
    1. Exception:  you have a hard and fast rule about working on days off, which includes but is not limited to not working after 5, in which case you may need to rethink your sales career
  2. It's your vacation
    1. Exception:  you have knowingly left a mess for others to handle while you're away, in which case you really need to get your act together
  3. You're dead
    1. Exception:  They revive you, in which case we'll be needing you back at your desk on Monday.  We miss you.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Breaking the Rules

I guess the only other time I got accused of cheating in sales was when I sold cars.  As a rookie I was trained and authorized to sell new cars only.  Used car sales require an enhanced skill set of negotiation, product knowledge, tenacity and closer attention to the bottom line.  They also pay WAY more in commissions, so the experienced guys were reluctant to share the lot with newbies.

On the day in question I saw a young man wander into the showroom, and I met him at the door and began the qualifying process. I learned he was interested in looking at a used red Pontiac Firebird like the one in the picture, out there on the lot.  He had been into the Pontiac showroom next door (I worked for Saturn on the same lot) and no one had acknowledged him, let alone paid any attention to him.

To put it charitably, he didn't look like a millionaire.  I have no idea if he is or was, but I did know a thing or two about customer service from many years in the hospitality industry.  I broke all the dealership rules, and hunted down the keys to the Firebird in the Pontiac show room next door while the sales people gawked at my audacity, and went with the customer on a test drive.  He drove straight to his bank and went in for awhile.

Long story short, the young man had withdrawn cash.  He didn't want to negotiate the price, he wanted the car.  Back at the dealership I grabbed my manager for a little assistance, and a short while later later this guy drove off the lot in his dream car.

From that day forward I was authorized to sell any car on the lot from either dealership, and as you've surmised, it didn't have a lot to do with my limited sales skills.  It had everything to do with my customer service skills.

I took a lot of heat from the Pontiac sales guys about how I had cheated, broken the rules, didn't deserve the commission, etc.  All I know is I'd actually paid attention to a guy they'd viewed as a waste of their time.

The whiniest people I know are sore losers.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Read my Lips: No More Rats

In 2003 I unsuccessfully ran for city council.  I came in fourth out of four - dead last place, having had my ass handed to me by the two incumbents and the one other candidate.  I was the first candidate to register for the municipal elections in all of Ontario, as soon as the doors to City Hall opened on January 2nd.  It was a long and grueling, and rewarding 10 months until a disappointing election day.

One of the reasons I lost was my platform.  While most of the other 25+ candidates across 5 wards campaigned on a "no new taxes" mantra, I never promised not to raise taxes.  If I was to run again I wouldn't promise zero tax increases, and I would probably face defeat again.

I have no issue with raising taxes for the right reason.  I have no issue paying increased taxes for the right reasons.

If I ran, it would be on a campaign of  "no more rats".  NO rats.  Total eradication of the disgusting creatures in the city of Windsor.  This isn't the only issue, but it's one of the biggest issues threatening our city.

Our city is infested and has been for decades, and yet no politician will speak of it.  It's a quality of life issue.  It's a health and safety issue.  It's preventable by enforcing property standards, and regulating garbage pick up and back alley food sources, just for a start. 

If the city could rid your neighbourhood of rats by increasing your property taxes by just $5 a month, would you go for it or stick to the "no tax increases" party line?  What if it was $5 a year?

That's the problem with focusing on taxes only. 

  • It places value on taxpayers, not citizens.  Not all citizens are municipal taxpayers.  Children, for example, are not taxpayers.  The next politician who says (s)he is working for the taxpayer should be made to go and spend some quality time with a homeless person (also not a taxpayer but no less a citizen).
  • It doesn't speak to quality of life.  
  • It isn't even a vision for the future.  It's short sighted, and unfortunately while we will be "enjoying" the sixth straight year of zero tax increases in 2014, we will also be "enjoying" another year of rats, homelessness in the downtown core, abandoned houses, decreased services and a declining quality of life.