Paul Fenn

The Great Thanksgiving Day Massacre

Now it all started a few Thanksgiving’s ago, that’s a few years ago on Thanksgiving (as Arlo Guthrie would say), when my cousin Tom invited my wife and I along with our three kids to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner. Tom lived a few hours south of us near Norfolk, VA. He and I spent many summers together at our grandparent’s place on Canandaigua Lake in up-state New York since the time we could crawl, so we knew each other well to say the least.

We jumped in the car early Thanksgiving Day morning and blasted down Route 301 towards Norfolk. In addition to our three kids, we had with us our long-time, 4-legged companion, Alee. Alee  looked like a young black lab but was actually a mix of lab and beagle with perhaps a little cocker spaniel thrown in for good measure. Alee was a great dog and like all good dog lovers, we took her everywhere. She was a spirited dog who loved the woods and took great pleasure in chasing squirrels, cats and the occasional stray deer although to the best of our knowledge she never caught much of anything with the exception of an old tennis ball once and awhile.

Alee1Now one thing I have learned is that there are people in this world who are true dog lovers and there are others who are not;  and the ones who are not, are really not. And I get it, dogs smell and sometimes slobber on you and jump on your clean pants and bark at strangers and poop in the yard and even pee on your floor now and then. In short, they can be a nuisance. But dogs are also truly man’s best friend. They are always happy to see you, always want to be with you, are incredibly loyal and once they are part of your life, they are hard not to love. Unfortunately, My cousin Tom and his wife were not dog lovers. They weren’t dog haters but they definitely were not dog lovers, so when we showed up with Alee in tow, I think it’s safe to say they were less than thrilled. But, be this as it may, they were happy to see us and welcomed us into their home, dog and all.

Tom took us on a tour of his property which backed up to a small creek that was not overly large but big enough to launch a row boat and go fishing if you were so inclined. It was a nice place surrounded by lots of trees and wildlife. And while Tom and his family may not have been dog lovers, their daughter Teresa was definitely an animal lover and was enjoying raising guinea pigs. She had a large pen out behind the house where she currently had upwards of a dozen guinea pigs, many of them babies.

Black Dog with Guinea PigsNow, as you can probably imagine, Alee was mighty interested in the guinea pigs. So much in fact that we quickly threw a leash on her and were going to put her in the car when Tom says “Oh don’t worry about her, nothing can get in this cage, we have all sorts of animals around here; foxes, muskrats, raccoons, all kinds of things. This baby is more secure than Fort Knox.” “OK I said, if you’re sure?” “Yep, I’m sure” Tom said, “nothing to worry about.” With that said, we let her go and off we went in search of some afternoon libations.

About an hour later, I came around the corner of the house, only to find Alee smack dab in the middle of that cage having an absolute field day with those poor guinea pigs. She was jumping up and down on them and picking them up with her mouth and swinging them around; It was a total massacre in the first degree. You can just imagine how my heart jumped right up into my throat upon seeing this scene.”  “Alee” I screamed, “get out of there!. Oh man, this is bad, very bad.”  I muttered to myself. I managed to get ahold of Alee by the collar and quickly tossed her in the car and went off at a jog to find Tom.

Now I don’t mind saying, I was more than a little rattled when I pulled Tom aside and stammered out “Tom, we have a BIG problem!” I proceeded to tell him how Alee had gotten into the guinea pig cage and wiped out the entire family. “Seriously”  he said. “all of them?” “All of them I replied, every last one of them.” The situation was more than a little awkward to say the least.  He was a good sport about it however and suggested that we tell Teresa that something got into the cage but we’re not sure what. Teresa took the news surprisingly well considering her entire brood of guinea pigs had just been slaughtered by an “unknown” wild animal.

200384049-001We managed to make it through Thanksgiving dinner and the rest of the day without any additional major incidences, thank heavens for small miracles. The next day we paid a visit to the local pet store where Teresa picked out two new guinea pigs, one male and one female. Later, as we were saying our goodbye’s, I said to Tom that some day we will look back on all this and laugh. After all it’s not everyday that you invite your cousins to Thanksgiving Day dinner and their dog proceeds to eat your kid’s entire family of guinea pigs. I mean what are the chances? On second thought, I guess you never know, do you you?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featherless Turkey

MasterCard, Because When it Rains it Pours

I’m not sure if it’s a planned conspiracy or just dumb luck but have you ever noticed that just when you’re about to break free of the financial riptide that threatens to drag you down, everything you own suddenly up and dies leaving you with an assortment of outrageously expensive repair bills? Well I have and I am having one of those moments right now.

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It all started on Monday when I managed to lose my last remaining key to my 2004 Toyota minivan. You wouldn’t think this would be a catastrophic event but because the key has a computer chip in it, I was told that I needed to have an entirely new key made with key fob and a reprogramming of the car’s computer. Oh and I had to have the car towed to the dealership in order to have all this done. Total damage, $989.00! 

On Tuesday, I got the call from the service department at the marina to inform me that while winterizing my boat they came across a few items that “needed attention.” This is always code for “get ready, the bill is going to be a big one.” I won’t bore you with the details but by the time all was said and done my $250 winterization job had mushroomed into a $1,350 repair bill.

Furnace-Repair-MinneapolisOn Tuesday night my furnace decided to quit which made for a chilly evening in the old abode. By Wednesday morning I was on the phone with Larry the repair guy who was running me through my options. The conversation went something like this: “The problem you have here Mr. Fenn, is that system is simply one tired old horse and it’s ready to be put out to pasture.” “Well can it be fixed” I asked?” “I wouldn’t even want to try Mr. Fenn, it’s darn near 27 years old and it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a new system” said Larry. By Wednesday night I was signing a contract for a completely new HVAC system which they began installing first thing Thursday morning. Total charge all in, $5,900.

While we were mucking around in the crawl space dealing with the furnace, we discovered a leaky drain pipe. Now I probably could have fixed this myself but there would have been a lot of bad words involved along with numerous trips to Home Depot so I elected to take the easy way out and called Bruce the plumber. Total charge $450.

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I came to the conclusion that somewhere along the line I had gone to bed and woken up in a commercial for MasterCard. But instead of there being some grand heart-wrenching ending like two long-lost twins being reunited after being separated at birth, it simply went like this:

 Lost keys to the minivan, $989; repairs to the boat, $1,350; a new furnace and air conditioning system, $5,900; leaky water pipe, $450; out of cash and ready to pull your hair out?

Don’t despair, this is how life goes sometimes. And besides, as the saying goes, for everything else there’s MasterCard. When it Rains It Pours!

On we go…

Why I Changed My Mind About Social Media

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One of the many things that come with growing older is the inability to accept new ideas and new ways of doing things. I never really saw myself as falling into this trap but nevertheless, a few years back I viewed the entire concept of “social media” as nothing more than one big gimmick, just a passing fad that would be gone faster than you could say bell-bottom trousers. So what if Facebook has 1.1 billion users, give it a couple of years and it will be out of here like a wet watermelon pit squeezed between two fingers.

Of course social media hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s only gotten stronger. And so I eventually caved in and took the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach. And interestingly enough, I’m glad I did; not only have I found the world of social media rather enjoyable but also a useful and powerful marketing tool. What I really like about it is, it allows people to see our company’s true personality; an ongoing view into our company’s culture and the people who make it up.

I also like it because for the most part, it’s hard to fake what you put on YouTube; what you see is what you get. I think it’s a lot like running a personal ad. If you’re not straightforward and honest with what you’re putting out there, don’t be surprised when the wrong people come knocking on your door.

One of my favorite videos of a sail across the Gulf Stream for a photo shoot in the Bahamas. A fun, casual look at what goes on behind the scenes with the Jeanneau team.

In this global world of ours with increased competition and similar product offerings, I really see social media as being the vehicle to set ourselves apart from everyone else. Our only challenge is to be bold enough to hang ourselves out there and let our charming personality shine through.

On we go….

How Much Value is Created by Providing Exceptional Service to your Customers?

DSC00515The other day I had a nice surprise when out of the blue, through my office door marched 6 very nice bottles of wine, sent to me by an old customer, Kim and Gary Baright. Kim and Gary had purchased a Prestige 46 from us back in 2007; it may have been the first one sold in the USA. I remember them well, they fell in love with their boat right from the start and named it “Our Three Buoys” after their three sons. My first thought was, wow this is a pretty nice gift, ideally suited for someone who firmly believes that life is too short not to finish the bottle. My second thought was, what had I done to deserve something as nice as being given 6 bottles of good quality vino, especially from someone who had purchased a boat 6 years ago? I hadn’t talked with Gary and Kim in some time but it made me happy to know that they were still enjoying their boat and more importantly, still satisfied customers.

We talk a lot in our office about customer service and what we can do to be more customer-centric. I happen to be one of those people who really love being a satisfied customer. I know that sounds simplistic and obvious, but I really do. And, when I am made to feel special, I become extremely loyal to those companies and brands who made me feel that way.

A favorite company of mine is Southwest Airlines. I love these guys, they make air travel simple, easy and manage to throw a little fun into the mix along the way. I remember one time I was taking a 6 am flight out of Detroit back to Baltimore specifically so I could make it to my office by 9. It was the first flight to go, hence no reason for any delays right? Unfortunately, not this time.

It was February and it had snowed during the night. Our plane had not been parked at the gate the night before but rather left out in the field somewhere. When they went to move it to the gate, they learned that they were stuck and needed help getting unstuck. This took some time and caused the first of many delays.

Once on board and settled, the pilot hustled us over to the de-icing station but because we were now off-schedule, we found ourselves in a long line of other planes also waiting to be de-iced. OK I thought, this is taking longer than expected but if we can get out of here in the next 15 minutes or so, I can still make it to the office by 10 am. Finally, after more like 30 minutes, the guys with the guns started hosing us down. By this time, we were easily an hour behind schedule and although some of the passengers were growing impatient, the flight attendants (always good-natured) were doing a great job of keeping everyone as happy as possible.

SWA SnowSo the guys with guns are outside shooting away when all of a sudden, “boom” everything shuts down; the engines, the air conditioning, the lights, everything. Everything goes down and we are left sitting quietly in the dark.

The pilot comes out and has to shout to be heard because the intercom has also gone out. “No need for concern folks” he said. “It seems one of the guys outside got a little over zealous with his de-icing gun and managed to fire some de-icing agent up our tail pipe which knocked out our computer system. Just as soon as we re-boot the system, which will only take a few minutes, we’ll be on our way to Baltimore.” By this time, the situation had become completely humourous with many of the passengers actually laughing out loud.

After several minutes, with still no power, the pilot sheepishly comes out to once again, address the troops. “Folks” he says, “we’ve been trying to re-boot the system but haven’t been able to, so we have a service crew on their way out to essentially give us a jump.” These words are met with true side-splitting laughter at what has now become a scene right out of Candid Camera. It was truly priceless!

We eventually made it off the ground and back to Baltimore. All together, we arrived 3 hours or so behind schedule. The next day, I received an e-mail from Southwest that read something like this:

“We would like to begin by apologizing for the trouble we may have caused you and your fellow passengers on your recent flight with us. While some of the problems were weather related, others were clearly ours and we should have done better. To make it up to you, we would like to present you with the attached voucher good for a free SWA flight.”

SWA Mission

I was completely blown away by Southwest’s level of customer service in an effort to make me happy. In my view, it was completely unnecessary since I viewed the entire mishap to be weather related and out of Southwest’s control. Their gesture cost the company a lot of money and believe me it didn’t go unnoticed. As a result, I always fly Southwest, always!

So, how much value is created by providing exceptional service to your customers? I guess I answered my own question, A LOT! And, if you’re lucky and play your cards right, your customers might just surprise you and send you a really nice collection of good wine!

On we go….

Halloween, An American Tradition that Thankfully Remains Largely Unchanged

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You really have to love Halloween, it’s such an American tradition. OK, maybe it didn’t originate here in the USA but it’s been here for a long, long time and for the most part, as far as I can tell, it’s pretty much the same as it was when I was a kid and I think the same as when my father was a kid and he’s 92!

This year I had one Soul-Taker, one Werewolf and one Veterinarian. I had to smile when they all elected to abandon their fancy pre-made trick or treat bags in favor of the traditional, DSC01538always-reliable, never-fail, pillowcase. And, they acted like this was an original idea! I mean seriously, did they actually think they were the first kids to think of using a pillowcase to haul their loot around in? I think not!

The night’s festivities started on a dead-end street with a pre-trick or treat Halloween party. Here the Soul-Taker, Werewolf and Veterinarian hooked up with a few clowns, candy corns, a Cat-in-the-Hat, a few dead Presidents, a witch or two and an assortment of other characters all primed for a night of first-rate candy collecting. The parents, just like thousands of parents before, hovered nearby; the dads with their flashlights in hand and the mothers with their motherly look of concern on their faces. Some things never change!

Just as soon as darkness fell, the kids were off like a shot! Big boys went with other big boys, girls paired off with other girls, and little kids pretty much ran with anybody they could in an effort to ditch the old guy with the flashlight that trailed close behind. Ring a bell?

By 8pm my Werewolf and Veterinarian were home going through their stash sampling bits of this and that along the way. My 11-year-old Soul-Taker staggered through the door closer to 9 with a sack on his back weighing north of 15 pounds. He proceeded to dump his haul on the coffee table and then went about counting each piece of candy to see how the night had treated him. Snicker bars, Milk Duds, Milky Ways, Hershey bars, Nestle Crunch Bars,  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfingers, Clark Bars and more, they were all there, just as they had been when I was a kid. I had to wonder, hasn’t anyone invented anything in the way of good candy in the past 50 years?

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“277 pieces he shouted, now that’s what I call a good night’s work.” I rolled my eyes but couldn’t help but smile as I remembered my own days of trick or treating, how similar things have remained I thought, how similar I hope they will remain 100 years from now. I guess time will tell.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

On we go…