Easton Bell Sports: Now That’s Customer Service

Entrepreneurship, Health

Easton Bell $0.00 highlighted

Just wanted to send out some well-deserved praise for a company with excellent customer service.

Last December I damaged my Giro snowboard helmet.  I bent the metal snap of the goggle strap on the rear of the helmet.  (I mean the strap at the rear that clamps down over the strap of ski goggles).  After unsnapping the strap to remove my goggles, I found I could no longer close the snap.

I use this snowboard helmet for winter cycling.  As I don’t have a car, I need it on a daily basis.  This was an especially cold winter here in Madison.  I generally switch from wraparound glasses to ski goggles below 15°F.  While I don’t use goggles everyday, this is Wisconsin!

So, I emailed Giro, asking where I could buy the replacement parts.  I wasn’t optimistic.  In this age of disposable products and terrible customer service (I’m looking at you, AT&T, major airlines, Chase Bank, etc.), I half-expected to be told there are no replacement parts, if I were to be answered, at all.

They actually got back to me the very next day.  It was Customer Service Rep Amber Thomas, from Easton-Bell Sports, the parent company of Giro.  She said she would put the replacement strap in the mail, and I should receive it by the end of the week.  Sure enough, the strap arrived two days later.  I was thrilled to be able to use my goggles the rest of the season, without having to buy a brand new helmet.

(For those of you who say you don’t need the helmet strap to use goggles:  while running errands around town on my bike, I’m constantly removing my goggles and putting them back on.  This is much, much simpler to do with your helmet’s goggle strap latched to your goggles, as if the goggles were an integrated part of your helmet.)

When I wrote Amber back expressing my gratitude, she replied, “We just want you to have a fully functioning helmet.”

What you’re looking at in the image above is the packing list that arrived with the replacement parts.  Notice the figures listed in the “price” columns.  That’s right, “$0.00”

But, wait.  There’s more.

Several years back, I had a great little micro-light for the top of my skating helmet.  This was back in Houston, where the heat and humidity made Rollerblading at night the natural choice.  You need a light to skate at night, obviously.  Some of you may know this micro-light I’m referring to, called The Flea, by Blackburn.  They still make the Flea, but back then the Flea charged off of any battery via a little charging device.  My charger had a wire break loose.  I emailed Blackburn about it.  Same as with my helmet, Easton-Bell Sports, the parent company of Blackburn, sent me a replacement charger at no cost.

We’re talking a company with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.  So how do they succeed while giving away equipment at no charge?  By making lifelong customers like me.  That’s how.

Just FYI, after selling one of its several manufacturing divisions, the company has recently rebranded itself as BRG Sports.

Beautiful New Business Cardholders

Entrepreneurship

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For all the mind-numbing busywork of starting a new business, certain tasks come with real  emotional rewards.  That’s certainly the case in choosing this new business card holder.  Like practically every other piece of start-up research, this one took time and shoe leather.  After visiting four physical shops and nearly two dozen Etsy stores, I finally settled on this handsome handcrafted wooden piece.

What clinched it for me was the manufacturer, Inelastic Goods, is a one-man operation based right here in Madison.  Steve, the creator of the line, delivered the item himself, eager to show me six or seven different models.  I jumped at the chance to buy two additional cardholders at a discount.

I’m keeping the white oak for myself and have bought two of the darker wenge wood models for gifts.  The wenge wood model is striking in the contrast of two dark planes sandwiching a lighter maple side piece.  The white oak does the opposite, playing up the continuous grain and color, as if the box were carved from a single block of wood.

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All models come with a magnetic closure that clicks shut oh so satisfyingly.  I catch myself playing with it constantly.  Plus, beyond the visual delight of the hand-finished hardwoods, Steve’s execution of the clean, minimalist design is unparalleled.  Each piece feels stunningly smooth in the hand, the joinery, edges, and curves so silky and organic.

By day, Steve works as an engineer for the state of Wisconsin.  On his own time he exercises his entrepreneurial spirit, refining his craft, streamlining his processes and tools, with the aim of not only perfecting the product, but boosting productivity.  His woodshop has become so efficient, he’s recently made good on a private order of sixty business cardholders to a private individual.

Head over to Steve’s Etsy shop for a look at the different models:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/InelasticGoods?ref=l2-shopheader-name

A Quality Color Laser Printer + Great Customer Service = Dell C1760nw

Entrepreneurship, Media

for blog - color printer review

Ah, researching office equipment–one of my favorite pastimes.  (Not!)  I took my time with this one, going back and forth with my decision tree (for instance, shifting my budget from $200 to $600, and back again).  I ultimately ordered from Staples.com, so I could return any lemon locally.  That’s a sign of me bracing against all the ways a purchase like this can go wrong.

I’m happy to report my good fortune:  not only do I have my new color printer up and running, but I found Dell customer support highly competent and remarkably responsive.

After setting up the printer, my initial test run appeared problematic:  underscore was showing more like strike-through.  Contacting Dell tech support through live-chat was instantaneous:  Niegel, the support analyst, came online the very moment I opened the chat dialogue.  Niegel was great.  His troubleshooting helped me isolate the problem to a specific application; the underscore issue only appeared when printing from Evernote.  Yay!  I wouldn’t have to return the printer, after all.

After closing the live chat module, I received an email from Niegel offering his direct contact info in case I had further questions.  He even included the contact info of his supervisor.  Now that’s transparency!  To top it off, the following day, Niegel followed up with another email, offering further assistance if I had come up with other questions.

The photo above shows the excellent quality of the printer’s text output.  Oddly, two separate PC Magazine reviews of this printer clashed in their assessments of the printer’s text quality.  Review A praised the “unusually good graphics quality” and called its text output “outstandingly sharp.”  But Review B was lukewarm, calling it “a touch below par,” further specifying the text output to be fine for “general business use, though not for uses requiring very small fonts.”  As you can see in my photo, text looks great in even 7-pt. font size.

Good show, Dell!

How to Create Pre-Press PDF Files on a Budget

Entrepreneurship, Media
bus-card Adler GRACoL 2006

Need to order a commercial print job from an online printer, but don’t have Adobe Illustrator ($560)?  That’s my situation.  I’ve laid out a nice business card in PowerPoint (above), including the logo I also designed in PowerPoint.  But Powerpoint does not produce vector graphics.   Printers need vector graphics.  They also recommend submitting PDFs that have been “pre-flighted” using certain Adobe Acrobat presets, such as PDF/X-1a.

Huh?

That’s what I said.  What a bear it was to research this.  And for an additional challenge, I wanted to see if I could accomplish all this on a budget.  I assumed I could find some vector-graphics freeware with which to reproduce my designs.  But the question remained:  how to  save the graphics file in the “pre-flighted” PDF  format that online printers specify?

(In case you’re considering skipping the preflighting step, know that preflighting helps avoid printing glitches such as font substitutions and color alterations.)

Turns out, the key to all this is Adobe Acrobat.

Some of this terminology rang a bell, as I used to  own the Adobe Creative Suite (ACS; back then, $1500) when I ran my photo equipment rentals business.  ACS includes all the programs that produce file formats press printers require, such as .ID (InDesign), .EPS (Photoshop), .AI (Illustrator), and of course .PDF (Acrobat).  I needed all four of them to design marketing materials for that business.  But that was four years ago.  For the past four years I’ve been running my healthcare business, with no need for ACS, at all.  Now that I’m starting up my freelance commercial writing business, I’ve been crossing my fingers that I won’t need to spend $1000+ on design software.

The bottom line is, yes, one can create vector graphics using freeware/shareware (I used Inkscape to recreate my PowerPoint designs).  But for press printing, you need to create properly preflighted PDF’s.  For that, you must have Adobe Acrobat (price varies depending on version and how purchased, $100 – $429).

I verified this by downloading the free trial of Acrobat 11.  With Acrobat installed, the Acrobat Virtual Printer will appear in your list of devices and printers.  (This is in Windows, obviously.)  You simply design your graphics in your vector software, then follow these steps to preflight your PDF:

1) “Print” your file (That’s right, “print” not “save”!)
2) In the print dialog, select Adobe PDF as the “printer.”
3) Click preferences (or printer properties).
4) In Preferences, the “Default Settings” area offers a drop-down menu of PDF format presets.  For business card printing, Moo.com specifies the preset PDF/X-1a:2001.  For printing a brochure, Vistaprint.com requires PDF/a-1b:2005 (CMYK).
5) Click okay to get out of preferences.
6) Click print.  You’re done.

Now you have your vector-based,  properly pre-flighted  PDF to upload to your online printer.

Favorite Clients from My First Small Business

Entrepreneurship, Media

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While running my rental studio, Silver Street Studio in Houston, it was exciting to work with photographers and agencies of international renown, like Mary Ellen Mark and Mark Seliger, Art Department and Greenhouse Reps.  But it was a special pleasure to work with those photographers and crews that were at bottom simply great human beings.

TONY D’ORIO PHOTOGRAPHY

I think immediately of Tony D’Orio, of Altoids fame.  (Note:  Tony’s photo used in the ad above was not shot in my studio).  How refreshing that, in a profession so rife with jealously guarded tricks of the trade, Tony instead offered a broad openness and generousness of spirit.  Over the course of a two-day shoot for McDonalds, he showed me a couple of studio equipment hacks that made my job easier and that would be enjoyed by other photographers in my studio for years to come.  For instance, he showed me how to switch out the hand-crank machine clamp of an Elinchrom Octabank–which have infamously weak grip—with the more robust clamp from a Matthews C-stand.

http://www.tonydorio.com/

FULTON DAVENPORT, PWL STUDIO

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Lucky for me I like photographer Fulton Davenport as much as I do since he was perhaps our biggest repeat client over the years.  With his busy creative firm, PWL Studio, Fulton was shooting in our space practically every other week for years.  One of his specialties is product photography, which was also a specialty of ours.  Take a look at the photo above, of Fulton at work for a high-end antique shop client.  The tabletop set is comprised of expendables and hardware we kept in stock and offered at no extra charge.  Even more to the point of product photography was our studio’s unsurpassed natural light.  Heres Fulton on shooting day light in our space:

“I love the highly technical work, like photographing objects with intense detail, a la Irving Penn shooting for Saks Fifth Avenue.  You’d normally need (or have to build) a light tent.   But here, you’ve got such huge windows on north and south, the light is perfect.  Tents are used just to simulate this.”

http://www.pwlstudio.com/

JUSTIN CALHOUN PHOTOGRAPHY

Imageastronaut mailer sofa guy

One of my favorite people, photographers or not, is Justin Calhoun.  Justin brought us a big job one summer, and one could tell how much the crew liked working for him.  The makeup department, the photo assistants, even the kraft service people were obviously inspired to work hard for Justin, with smiles all around.  What you see here in the two photos above is a Polaroid test shot (the client wanted Justin to shoot film, not digital) and one of the direct mail pieces ultimately produced from the images.

http://www.justincalhoun.com/

FELIX SANCHEZ PHOTOGRAPHY

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Another of our busy-busy clients was Felix Sanchez.  Felix was one of the first to shoot in our studio in the early days, and he continued to bring interesting jobs into our space over the next seven years.  (He has his own beautiful new studio now.)  Before becoming a photographer Felix played in a touring Tejano band, so naturally he’s photographed many musicians throughout his career.  Early on with us, Felix was kind enough to help me assimilate the vast expanse that is studio equipment.  He’d report on all of his new experiences experimenting with lighting equipment.  I based many of my equipment acquisitions on Felix’s information.  The job in the photo above was for Walmart, for which Felix transformed our cold, empty space into a warm and cozy living room.  Go check out his handsome new website.

http://www.felixsanchez.com/