Monday, November 8, 2004

George Mindling Column 11-08-2004

Rebates Won't Help Unless You Use Them


A local chain store recently offered two mail-in rebates on a PC I wanted to buy. One was from the retail store chain itself for $150, the other was from the PC manufacturer for $50. I wouldn't have purchased the PC without the rebates simply because I wanted to wait for a competitive offer from another vendor. The rebates would have expired before long, so I bought the unit.

After waiting the usual six weeks without a response from either of the offers, I went online to check the status of my rebates. Going on line to check the status of my two PC rebates was as easy as signing in to each of the web sites and following a few simple instructions. The results, however, were as different as night and day. The rebate check from the retailer was already on its way, in fact it came two days after I signed in. The PC manufacturer, however, had no record of my rebate.

I had followed instructions explicitly, making copies of everything from the instructions and the receipts and the product proof of sale tags and had carefully submitted the originals to the manufacturer. I haven't given up on that one yet, copies are still being submitted.

Many savvy shoppers carefully watch for rebates on products they purchase. Rebates can make almost any new product price affordable when compared to the actual off-the-shelf cost. Amazingly enough, according to the Federal Trade Commission, about half of all rebates are never redeemed! In addition to that astonishing fact, posted on TCA rebate fulfillment center's home page at http://www.tcarebates.com/advantage.htm, is one almost as incredible: 10 percent of all issued rebate checks are never cashed!

TCA is a leading rebate and fulfillment center service organization in New Rochelle, New York, that handles rebates for many manufacturers and retailers. They actually advertise on the same page that they rejected 800,000 fraudulent or non-compliant rebate requests. Making the rebate process complicated of course is a great help to the manufacturers. The fewer rebates submitted or approved is to their benefit.

Rebates are an interesting marketing tool. Similar to a coupon to the consumer, the differences to the manufacturers are great. With a coupon, the seller takes the price off at the register, actually reducing collected sales tax on the item. The seller then places claims against the manufacturer to reclaim the lost credit or money at the register. In a rebate, the buyer pays full sales tax on the item and the seller is usually not involved in the process, except for supplying receipts and forms. The manufacturer usually claims the financial loss of rebates against advertising or product costs.

Following the exact rebate requirements is the only way you can be sure you will get your rebate. Read the rebate carefully and make sure your purchase is actually covered by the time and conditions stated on the rebate.

One way to make money for the manufacturers seems simple enough: throw away the rebate and pretend it never got there.


George Mindling© 2004

Friday, September 17, 2004

George Mindling Column 9-17-2004

Something Good Out of Charley


While idly watching the local conditions on the Weather Channel, it dawned on me they were playing "Cast Your Fate to the Winds" as background music. We were in Georgia, waiting for the updates on Hurricane Ivan at the time, so the irony of the music was more than just a little pointed.

My friends in Miami sent me e-mail animations of the Hurricane Ivan track showing the hurricane cutting Florida completely off, leaving the seashore at the Georgia state line. And, of course, there's the current Internet favorite, postcards from Florida showing nothing but a huge photo of a hurricane cloud with a small arrow pointing to the middle saying, "We are here!"

Hurricane Charley's direct hit on Charlotte County put the fear of hurricanes into our local population more than any lecture, film or television show could possibly do. After Charley and the slow, agonizing week of watching Frances toy with us before passing close enough to flood our streets and byways, all it took was the 5 am. Friday NOAA Hurricane Ivan prediction chart showing another direct hit on Port Charlotte to be the catalyst for action as many of our residents said, "Enough! We are out of here!" We were among those that split for the hills of Georgia

To say we needed a breather is an understatement. We needed a chance to reflect on Florida and our lifestyle. That is when we began to get our sense of humor back. We stayed with our daughter and her husband in the rolling hills just south of Athens, Ga. Our daughter is a Georgia transplant thanks to Hurricane Andrew in Miami in 1992. She lost everything when her condo in Cutler Ridge blew apart like so many matchsticks. She did not return to Florida, finishing her college in Atlanta and joining the work force there.

Many in Port Charlotte may relocate elsewhere, but there will be those who stay. New people will move here. Some businesses closed permanently on August 13, 2004. Others will find a way, with good planning and insurance, even government help, to rebuild and reopen. They will not be the same as before. Now, during the rebuild, is the time to correct mistakes.

People are looking for something good to come out of Charley, although that is hard to say to someone who lost everything, perhaps even a loved one. Those who have been through these storms in the past know our community will be back It will be back better and stronger than before. No matter how badly someone was damaged, they say, "Oh, we got hit, but others had it worse than us ... "

Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda will finally be less of a group of relocated, and sometimes dislocated, northerners, banding together because they had no common experience in their new home. No matter how you did it up north, you didn't do it like Charley. The people of Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda are starting to sound like Floridians.

George Mindling © 2004

Friday, July 16, 2004

George Mindling Column 7-16-2004


County Planners Face Busy Times


I was wrong when I told Deanna that Miami-Dade County has 48 high schools, when in fact they only have 39. They do have 55 middle schools, though, and 210 elementary schools. Deanna is a fire/EMS specialist with Charlotte County, and we were casually discussing the growth of Charlotte County and the need for future schools and fire/EMS stations. Will Charlotte County ever reach the population that requires as many schools and fire/EMS stations as Miami? Even the high-growth areas of the state will be hard pressed to match the phenomenal past population growth of Florida's lower East Coast. However, we are growing here, as well. It isn't just retirees corning to our area.

With the outside structure of the new 880,000-square-foot Wal-Mart distribution center in DeSoto County, adjacent to the DeSoto/Charlotte County line, nearing completion, the immense size of the center becomes obvious. The structure has over 20 acres under roof and will feature a fully automated cold-storage facility. According to original figures from Wal-Mart spokesperson John Hay, the number of employees is expected to be over 600, almost all of them full-time.

While both counties will benefit from the arrival of the new center, Charlotte County's gain will be indirect. While many residents from our area may find employment at the new center, many Wal-Mart people will relocate here from other assignments. The gravity of the center will pull in not only needed new housing, but also the retail and support services to support the hundreds of new employees.

The desirable residential properties near Prairie Creek and the area around Washington Loop Road are already experiencing increased queries about availability. Whether or not all of the increase in activity is due to the soon-to-arrive Wal-Mart employees is a matter of opinion, but the area is bound to show growth in the near future. The Peace River area of eastern Charlotte County may indeed be a growth area to rival other areas of the county.

The area east of 1-75 and north of County Road 31, near Prairie Creek and Washington Loop Road, is proving to be of interest to not only residential buyers, but commercial developers as well. Most of the area is now zoned for farming, citrus groves or five-acre ranchettes, rather than pre-platted, 10,000 square-foot lots like those in northern or western Charlotte County.

This, in itself, lends to the gated -community style of growth, where larger tracts of available land offer flexible interpretation of community growth. With access to 1-75 via the almost-finished, four-lane, divided U.S. 17, the international airport at Fort Myers is just a 45-minute drive. The zoned industrial complex at the Charlotte County Airport overlay district is just minutes away from the area.

Charlotte County planners will have a very busy future. We may never need 39 high schools, but I'm sure that is something that never crossed the minds of Dade County planners 60 years ago.

George Mindling © 2000

Friday, June 18, 2004

George Mindling Column 6-18-2004

Sales Clerk Does All the Right Things


Almost like the movie 'Pretty Woman,'" my wife said, smiling as we walked across the parking lot headed for our car. We had just left a furniture showroom where a nice, polite sales lady named Elaine had just sold us our new leather couch. Elaine had done all the tight things, spending 30 minutes answering our questions and being a representative of not only the store, but of the furniture manufacturers as well.

In the movie "Pretty Woman," a young woman in a posh Beverly Hills boutique is brushed off by a sales clerk who has decided the potential client didn't warrant her time or effort. We weren't brushed off by sales clerks in a furniture store, just ignored.

Elaine's store was our second furniture showroom visit that Friday morning. We had spent half an hour earlier browsing floor displays at a different store without once being approached by a salesperson. Several had weakly smiled from distances that intentionally precluded conversation, but not one of them asked to help us.

After checking prices and reading tags by ourselves, we left the store, slightly confused and definitely unhappy. Our next stop was just the opposite experience. We were greeted at the door of the second store with a smile and a few basic questions by Elaine. We simply said what we wanted to see, but that we were just shopping, trying to define prices and what kind of furniture we really wanted.

We were led to the area we wanted and told just to call if she could be of assistance. It didn't take long until we had questions and Elaine came over. A line from Joan Campf's poem, "Selling Is" popped into my mind: "Selling is knowing/How to treat your public."

All sales are based on the financial qualifications of the prospective buyers. Qualifying a potential customer, however, is a skill developed not by guessing, by interfacing with potential customers.

In a unique twist of Alan J. Zells “(Dis) Qualifying Customers" selling guidelines, the first furniture store disqualified itself from our selection of suppliers simply it couldn't fulfill a basic rule of selling. Perhaps the first store had a policy of leaving customers at a distance until summoned: however, being invisible makes it difficult to summon anyone. No one is going search a store for a sales person twice.

Customers return to a given store for four main reasons: confidence, quality, selection and service. Stores that fail to understand the basics have far fewer customers, even if they have price as their main attraction. Price actually the fifth reason given by customers as to why they return to a given store over and over.

Not offering a capable, well informed salesperson to engage a customer had disqualified the first store. Whether the first store had product at the price we wanted became a moot point when we decided its idea of service differed from ours.

Maybe that's why Elaine doesn't work there.

George Mindling © 2004

Friday, May 21, 2004

George Mindling Column 5-21-2004

At Quixtar, Recognition Outranks Cash


A recent NBC "Dateline" report on Quixtar, the highly touted Internet marketing organization, was not favorable to Quixtar or its directors. As a component of Amway, the sometimes infamous home marketing organization, Quixtar was shown as benefiting only executives who sell motivational tapes and books, not the rank and file members who resell . consumer products. In response, Quixtar has devoted a Web site to rebuttal of Dateline's charges at www.quixtarresponse.com .

What NBC failed to show, and Quixtar doesn't mention, is the one aspect of Quixtar that keeps many people as members even though they may not be seeing the financial gains alluded to in the recruiting. The one item is recognition.

Most everyone from corporate America has been to an awards or recognition event of some kind. These "feel good" events are just that: Make the rank and file members feel that they are not only appreciated, but they are also essential to the success of the organization as a whole.

It is a known fact that salary is not the prime motivator in employment. It is a component of overall satisfaction that keeps an employee with a given employer, but by itself is not enough to keep a person bound to an otherwise unsatisfactory employment. Quixtar also realizes that monetary rewards are just a part of the commitment.

Even though Quixtar members pay for the right to attend their "feel good" meetings, seminars and conventions, the company uses titles such as “Reunion” to make members feel part of a huge, successful and morally good organization. Almost everyone gets to go on stage at one of the local meetings amid balloons and confetti, dreaming of the time when they will do the same at a larger convention.

My wife and I joined Quixtar before the Web site was actually launched. Buoyed by the quality of people we met, and being new in our community, we looked forward to the Internet marketing opportunity that loomed in the future with great optimism. It wasn't until we were actually members of Quixtar that we realized it was really Amway. We decided to stick with the program until we determined whether or not it was worth the time and effort, not to mention money. We attended our first "Reunion" in Orlando along with many of the people involved from our area.

We were struck by the resemblance of the "show" to what we had experienced in our former corporate careers. The one main difference was Quixtar's heavily promoted component of religion.
Later, after refusing to share the names of our family and friends with Quixtar recruiters, we were "dropped" from the active meetings. Seeing no financial benefit other than tax write-offs, we dropped out of Quixtar,

Quixtar knows feeling good is as important as making money when it comes to maintaining their membership. By offering camaraderie and friendship as well as the opportunity to meet friends on a weekly basis, Quixtar rolls along, even though no one in the
trenches is getting rich. At least not with money.

George Mindling © 2004

Friday, April 16, 2004

George Mindling Column 4-16-2004


Time to Build New Highways is Right Now


We loved it when the whole building would shake. Everybody would look around to see if any damage was done to the classroom. West Miami Junior High School was directly adjacent to the new Palmetto Expressway being built just a few hundred yards west of the band building. A canal, which ran from the Coral Gables Waterway to the Tamiami Canal, was between the new roadwork and the school, but that was it. Dynamiting went on during regular school hours, and we seventh-graders just loved it. The teachers tried to maintain their composure, but every once in a while, their eyes would dance around the room with the look of "Why now?"

Back then, the Palmetto was so far away from Miami, they didn't even build overpasses north of Okeechobee Road, still relying on stop signs on streets like 103rd Street, where cows still watched the sparse traffic whiz by. Today, the Palmetto is part of the main thoroughfare system in Miami-Dade County.  Huge shopping centers have stood for more than 30 years where pastures once dominated the countryside. Greater Miami has long since expanded past the now venerable expressway, being supplanted by the Florida Turnpike Extension, which parallels the old Palmetto several miles to the west.  It too is no longer outside the greater Miami area, being a regular traffic bearer for most people who work in downtown Miami but live in the communities such as Kendale Lakes and the Hammocks.

The growth and expansion of Florida's east coast is now catching up with Southwest Florida.  Recent Sun editorials have highlighted the inadequacy of our current network of highways. The seemingly daily closure of I-75 due to traffic accidents proves constantly that alternatives are needed now, not just in 20 or 30 years.  When a single truck accident can close our one main evacuation route for days, warning flags should go up with every planner in the area.

I have always supported a new link to the Florida Turnpike system, a toll road that runs from Wildwood, south of Ocala, to just south of Homestead. I would like to see a new turnpike link leave the current turnpike at Orlando and head southwest to Naples.

Access to the Southwest Florida Turnpike extension could be easily made from Charlotte County via State Road 31, or perhaps even U.S. 17. There are other alternatives to the heavily traveled 1-75, but so far there has been no planning other than multilaning the already busy highway.

One thing is certain: U.S. 41 does not adequately provide an alternative to traffic rerouted off me interstate, other than as an emergency bypass. Your kids will always remember if the opportunity to build new highways was ignored by their parents. They will live here 40 years from now-and so will their kids. The days of blasting next to a school are gone, and if we aren't smart, so will the opportunity to build needed highways while the property is still affordable.

George Mindling © 2004

Friday, March 19, 2004

George Mindling Column 3-19-2004


Wal-Mart invests in growth


Wernher von Braun once said, "One test result is worth a thousand expert opinions." Not that we don't have a thousand expert opinions here in Charlotte County.

On the other hand, the Wal-Mart Corporation, planning to expand its stores here. has its test results. The area from the existing Supercenter in Venice to the Punta Gorda store has already been targeted for growth. The Punta Gorda store has been planned for a Mediterranean-style rebuild, taking the store from just under 100,000 square feet to just over 192,000 square feel, with parking for 693 cars. The new Wal-Mart stores planned for Kings Highway and 1- 7S and the new store at Sumter and U.S. 41 in North Port will both be Supercenters.

The Supercenter planned for Kings Highway will be even bigger than the Punta Gorda store. At well over 220,000 square feet, the store will be on a 50-acre site just inside the Charlotte County line, adjacent to Lake Suzy. Ground-breaking should take place early next year. The store is planned for opening in about two years.

While the new North Port store will only occupy 26.3 acres, it is also planned 8S a Supercenter, Rumors of a "Food Only" Wal-Mart grocery store coming to North Port have been around for a while, but this new store, adjacent to a planned new Home Depot, is planned as a full scale Supercenter.

The Wal-Mart store in Englewood will soon face the boom in home sales and building in West County and will eventually be considered for growth, if it hasn't already. In fact, if you go to the
Wal-Mart Web Site, www.wal-mart.com, and search around a little bit, you'll find a page to suggest where to build the next one in case you don't have one in your neighborhood.

Punta Gorda, though, may face the remote possibility of forcing the new store out of the city limits into Charlotte County. The new store will certainly be close to the 'old store, so complaints against Wal-Mart may leave local residents with an empty building while a new Supercenter opens not far away in Charlotte County. The corporate planners at Wal-Mart know where the potential growth areas are and most certainly plan on maximizing their current assets. Abandoning the old store is not the preferred course of action.

Both the Punta Gorda and North Port stores will be built to comply, and probably exceed, the local beautification standards and guidelines. The end of the "ugly gray box" has been dictated by local design standards. The design standards local communities impose are a sign of growth . management, helping shape the environment in which we will live.

The care with which Wal-Mart approaches the zoning and beautification mandates are an indication of the willingness of Wal-Mart to invest in the growth of our community. The potential revenues the stores are planned to generate are not just numbers based on expert opinion. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Wal-Mart isn't planning on wasting its money.

 George Mindling © 2004

Friday, February 20, 2004

George Mindling Column 2-20-2004


Could This Be the Year of The Big Storm?


Planning on more visitors from out of town this year? I don't mean the college visitors coming to town who will get this town rocking for a month at the Charlotte Sports Park on State Road 776, starting Feb. 28. No, I'm talking about ones who may not come at all: Alex, Bonnie and the rest of the 2004 Atlantic hurricanes. Alex and his friends could start their visits in just a little over three months. The 2004 hurricane season gets under way officially June 1, and runs through Nov. 30.

According to Professor William Gray at Colorado State University, 2004 will be an active Atlantic hurricane season with more activity than usual. In his December 2003 extended forecast, Dr. Gray predicts seven Atlantic hurricanes and 13 named storms. He forecasts the Net Tropical Cyclone activity in 2004 to be about 125 percent of the long-term average. The next update from the CSU Department of Atmospheric Sciences will be in April. For information, check the web page at http://hurricane.atmos.colostate.edu/forecasts/

If you are new to the area, you will hear a new term called the Saffir-Simpson scale. This is a rating system to indicate the severity of a hurricane, from category 1 being the first level of hurricane force winds of at least 74 mph, to category 5, the strongest storm, with winds over 156 mph. According to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, a category 4 storm averages 250 times more devastating than a category 1 storm.

Newcomers need to understand the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning as well. A hurricane watch means to hours or less. Go about whatever preparation you need to insure your safety in case the watch gets upgraded to a warning. A hurricane warning is issued when the threat is 24 hours or less away. A warning means take urgent action to protect yourself and your family.

With area hotels reaping the benefits of the upcoming College Baseball Invitational series and guests are waiting an hour to get seated at restaurants, it is difficult to envision anything but beautiful weather and great baseball. Balmy skies now are a great time to order those storm shutters and update insurance policies. Generators and chain saws are plentiful now, but they won't be if we go under a hurricane watch. Now is the time to plan for what you need to do.

Alex and his friends will have to wait just a little while longer, though. I'll see you at the Sports Park for the Port Charlotte College Invitational Baseball series starting Feb. 28, when Urbana plays Grace at noon in the main stadium. Talk about visitors! The Sports Park will be rocking until March 27 with colleges from all over the country playing great baseball on all four fields plus the main stadium!

Tickets are adult daily at $3, $2 for a child's ticket. Weekly passes go for $10, and the whole month can be had for $25! Tickets went on sale Feb. 18 at Charlotte County Recreation Centers and Papa Johns pizza stores.

George Mindling © 2004

Friday, January 16, 2004

George Mindling Column 1-16-2004

Port Charlotte Must Look to the Future


A recent newspaper ad for a sign installer in Port Charlotte drew few responses in 10 days. This was for a full-time installer, with benefits at a good salary. The same company also placed an ad at the same time for part-time clerical work, only a 30-hour a week, with no benefits, at $6.50 an hour. That ad drew 52 responses.

Port Charlotte has the highest per capita number of single female parents in the state. Will there ever be enough employment to satisfy the number of often well-trained office and clerical people who must work one or two jobs just to make their rent or car payments? Not if the current attitude of standing with our backs to the future continues in Charlotte County. It is also difficult to compete with Lee, Collier or Sarasota counties for craftsmen labor as long as those areas pay a higher scale than Port Charlotte.

While the social and economic factors that cause Charlotte County to have a disproportionate number of single parents is an ongoing discussion, the inability of the local economy to employ these people is an indication of our limited economic diversity. For many of the unemployed, their parents - and now their grandparents - are becoming beacons of hope. People on retirement incomes, well beyond their peak earning periods in their lives, now find their offspring can't support their own families on wages paid here. They become not only the new home, but often the prime financial support as well.

Grandparents raising grandkids has become commonplace in Charlotte County. Grandparents have become more than daytime babysitters while their children are at work; they have now taken a mainstream role of guardianship as well.

The opponents to economic growth in Charlotte County would prefer to go back 10 or 15 years in time. "Let everything take care of itself" was a common attitude then, and it has resulted in the inability of Charlotte County to maintain economic parity with the rest of Southwest Florida.

The Charlotte County Commission's duty is to all residents, including the future ones. They are our children and our grandchildren. They will live here long after we are gone. Courage often means doing what is right for the future while the opportunity exists. We do have courageous commissioners, now bombarded by vocal and often overbearing opposition who want to return to the past - the past of only basic retirement homes and no infrastructure to support them! Commissioners are trying to do the right thing for Charlotte County by ensuring that our children and our families have a chance for employment and education today and tomorrow alike. Our future cannot be shackled to our past.

Those who want a better place to live in the future Charlotte County should not stand silent while a vocal opposition minority tries to drive the political bus. The road in Charlotte County can go backward as well as forward.  It depends on who is in the driver's seat.

George Mindling © 2004