Archive for the 'Austin' Category

The search for customer-aware clerks.

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Yesterday I took my daughter on an errands run, which included shopping for a few things for myself. We went to a particular store where I have shopped any number of times; I’m going to keep the store’s name out of this because I don’t want to tar it, for reasons that will soon become clear.

My daughter and I went into the store, wandered down some aisles of accessories, then drifted over to the main selling floor. We waited in vain to be acknowledged by the staff. No one was rude to us, but we might as well not have been there. As I told the owner of the store in an e-mail to him — it’s a local outfit and I have some friends who know him slightly, so it was easy enough to find his contact info online — I don’t make a habit of flagging down clerks. I’ve been a clerk and always figured it was my job to find the customer instead of the other way around. (By the way, can we all agree to resurrect the honorable title of “clerk”? There’s nothing wrong with it.) Minutes passed, but no service seemed to be forthcoming for us. There were a few other customers in the store, but the place was nothing like packed. There were plenty of staff around, but they kept not looking in our direction, not smiling at us, not giving us a nod, not noticing that I had a particular product in my hand and a look in my eye that said I could use some help.

We gave up and went to the store next door, which had some of the same things I needed. The clerks there were eager to help, despite far more customers in the store. I spent near $200 that would have gone to the first store had any of its clerks so much as given a nod in my direction.

I wrote the owner last night around midnight. When I first checked my e-mail today, around 9 a.m, he had already written me back. He thanked me for my feedback. He apologized for the bad experience. He told me that this particular kind of inattention drives him crazy (his words) and that he’s been stressing this to his staff. Then he told me that he would keep looking to hire staff members who naturally seek out customers. He said he hoped I would come back and do business with them again.

All I can say is that I’m delighted with this response. He didn’t duck my charges, didn’t lay blame, didn’t make excuses, didn’t get snide. In short, he didn’t do any of the many things that set our teeth on edge when we encounter them from a company’s customer service representatives — whether clerks, store owners, call-center operators, ticket agents, or maitre d’s.

Good merchants seek out the right kinds of clerks, then teach them the business if necessary. People who know everything about a product are useless as clerks if they don’t have the natural customer awareness that the store owner talked about.

I’m glad this one merchant has figured that out. And even though my experience in his store yesterday was negative, I’m sure I’ll give him more chances to earn my business.

People power at Northcross Mall.

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

The other day I mentioned the slate of activities planned for today by RG4N. This morning at 10 a.m., my little family of four joined 2,000 of our neighbors on the public sidewalks around Northcross Mall to encircle it. We ended up standing next to another family of four who we know from my kids’ elementary school. The whole outing was characterized by good organization, good order, and good cheer. A second-grade girl we know played slightly off-key on her bagpipes. (!) Smiles were the rule of the day.

I was proud to stand out there in the sunshine with my children. I am proud that my neighbors are asserting their voices in the future direction of our neighborhood.

Whatever the challenge in your neighborhood is, stand up and take action. Don’t expect life to turn out the way you want it to just because you want it that way. You have to make your life.

More on Austin’s climate protection plan.

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Pursuant to yesterday’s post:  The Save Our Springs Alliance has an analysis of the plan here.  (Just a quibble, but why couldn’t they frame this with their usual page design, their logo, etc.?  Missed opportunity for them.)  Via that page, I found the PDF summary of the City’s plan.

I’m hopeful . . . but not expectant.  The city will grasp the possibilities of climate-friendliness when and only when it’s citizens grasp them.  That’s what will put teeth into the bland well-wishes of the City government.

Austin announces a climate plan.

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Austin is just one city, but progress is progress.

Mayor announces Climate Protection Plan

I have wondered what it would (will?) take to wean Austin off of fossil fuels, as the town of Kinsale in Ireland is trying to do. (See the second item at the link.) Carbon-neutrality may not be quite as good, but it’s certainly a start, and for Austin to lead the nation in its responsiveness to the threat of warming? A good thing, indeed.

Austin: RG4N keeps up the drumbeat against a Wal-Mart at Northcross.

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

I’ve posted about this before, here and here. The Responsible Growth for Northcross (RG4N) group is showing an impressive level of organization and savvy with its efforts to prevent Lincoln Property from building a Wal-Mart where Northcross Mall now stands. Earlier this week, RG4N held a standing-room-only meeting in a neighborhood church, and now it has several events planned for February 10. If you live in this area, mark your calendars and do turn out for this important community issue.

Scheduled for the 10th:

Arms Around Northcross

Benefit Concert

Business Support Day

I think next Saturday will be a perfect day to pick up some things I need at Zinger.

The Troublemaker departs. May she rest in peace . . . and may her enemies come to grief.

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Molly Ivins no longer counts the years. I cannot count the ways that Texas failed to deserve her abiding attention.

Maybe someday Texas — and this Republic as a whole — won’t need a journalistic scourge like Molly Ivins. Until then, may her spirit live on.

“The premise is easily understood: If the government can take away one person’s rights, it can take away everyone’s.”


Addendum, Thursday, 6:30 a.m.: The New York Times has posted its obituary here.

Dear Austin/Northcross neighbors: Make your voices heard.

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Last month I posted about Wal*Mart’s plans to build a mammoth store where Northcross Mall sits now. This isn’t going over well with the neighbors (including me).

Well, if you’re in this area and have opinions, you can take the survey posted at the Responsible Growth for Northcross site.

Make your voice heard, neighbor.

Chilly in Austin.

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Not that this would so much as raise the eyebrows of folks in Hibbing or Buffalo, but this . . .

. . . . is unusual weather for Austin. When we get freezing precipitation around here, the city shuts down.

(I’m futzing around with my blog interface and I can’t get the resolution right on the picture — if for any reason you want to see it in full resolution, just click on the image.)

Going somewhere? Check out Ridester.

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

My new pal Jake Boshernitzan is the motive force behind Ridester, which unleashes the power of this here “Internet” to solve the age-old problem of finding a ride from hither to yon. You pick a few simple parameters — where you’re starting, whether you’d like to ride with a male or female, a smoker or non-smoker, etc. — and the service helps you link up with a driver or rider who’s going that way. Cheaper than Greyhound!

The service looks cool in itself, but I’m just as amazed by Jake’s ability to drum up coverage for his young venture. Dig this spread of coverage:

So, more power to Jake and his entrepreneurial verve!

Austin: No Wal*Mart at Northcross.

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

Here’s a community issue that my wife has rightly encouraged me to rant about. Wal-Mart wants to build a new supercenter — the largest in the area — on the site of the current Northcross Mall. Now, economic redevelopment is all to the good, especially since Northcross has been moribund for years. But the scale of what Wal*Mart is proposing is far beyond the pale: a store of more than 200,000 square feet, open 24 hours per day.

What’s the big deal, you say? Wal-Mart has lots of big stores, you say? Well, here’s the big deal: Northcross is surrounded by city streets, not highways. Burnet Road and Anderson Lane, which flank the site, are major thoroughfares, but they’re not built to accommodate the level of traffic — in customers’ cars or suppliers’ trucks — that such a store would draw. There are many, many ways that Northcross could be redeveloped, and it’s hard to imagine many that would be worse than the proposed Wal-Mart plan.

Two things worth noting:

1. I’m not anti-Wal-Mart per se. Some of their labor practices have been shady, and the company ought to be penalized for that. Wal-Mart has very often been callous to local opinion in siting its stores, for which it should suffer. Box stores in general are not a great environmental solution to anything. BUT, before we get all knee-jerk about how Wal-Mart is The Source of All Consumerist Evil, consider that (a) they’re putting serious muscle behind intelligent, greener consumer products like compact fluorescent light bulbs and organic coffee, and (b) there are a lot of poor people who can afford more of life’s comforts by shopping at Wal-Mart. My own view is that a lot of the knee-jerk reactions against WM find at least some of their roots in middle-class hauteur toward the unwashed masses. Yes, Wal-Mart deserves loads of criticism for various reasons, but it’s not the spawn of the Devil.

2. This is not a NIMBY issue. It’s not about the fact that this Wal-Mart would be a few hundred yards from my house. It’s about the fact that it’s clearly the wrong kind of store for the site. When Cabela’s built its new superstore in this area, it chose an exurban site in Buda. That’s appropriate, given the huge amount of car and truck traffic the store generates. There are important reasons you wouldn’t build a new baseball stadium or 40-floor office tower on the Northcross space — and these reasons apply to a 219,000-square-foot Wal-Mart as well. If Wal-Mart wanted to put one of its smaller, sleeker urban stores there (it’s done this in downtown Los Angeles), especially as an anchor to a well-designed Arboretum-style shopping/living district, that would be fine by me. The company has a right to do commerce within the city center. It just shouldn’t do it in the way it’s trying to.

For more on this issue, start with Responsible Growth for Northcross, a local group that has been all over this issue. Also see the short Austin Chronicle write-up here by my family friend Katherine Gregor (Ctrl-F for “Grow It Great” to jump to the story), and the longer Chronicle analysis by Michael King here.

So, Austinites: contact the City Council. Tell them you don’t want 100,000-square-foot box stores in the city center. That’s for starters.