Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's true: Comedy is tragedy + time

I wish I could say that the subject line is something I remembered from my years attempting to get something called a "liberal arts degree," but it's not. It's a line I remembered from the video game "Portal 2." Heh. Tragedy indeed. Things are getting farcical around here, employement-wise. I put another couple of ads up on Craigslist looking for a few good men. I recycled what I'm now calling my "angry ad." I basically say that we're a company with a decent reputation, here's what we're looking for, here's what we're NOT looking for, and if you follow these simple instructions, I'll likely review your resume and get back to you as fast as humanly possible. And then I rant. I rant about guys who can't follow directions, can't show up on time TO A FREAKING JOB INTERVIEW, and give me all kinds of sob stories about unemployment, then bitch when they actually have to work. It's actually quite effective, if you define "effective" as weeding out 75 percent of the totally unemployable burn-outs looking to fulfill their dream of doing nothing and getting paid well for it. However, there are still plenty of those who apparently don't read beyond the subject line and completely disregard everything I ask them to do. At first, it seemed tragic. I have a pretty big heart and I believe everyone deserves a second, maybe a third, and maybe even a fifth chance. But after making it as simple as possible, I still get innumerable responses to my recruitment ads that are unbelievably clueless. Now, it's comedy. For example... In the ad I instruct them to tell me a little bit about themselves. "Why do you want the job?" "What do you want to do with your life?" Etc. I explicitly tell them NOT to just send a resume. These will be automatically deleted. I'd say about 40 percent of the applicants send their resumes (which are invariably crappy templates beginning with an objective like "To utilize my skills in a dynamic work environment...") and nothing else. I tell them that while I am extremely sympathetic to the horrors of job hunting, "needing a job" is NOT an asset I'm looking for. I need to know what you bring to the table. So, invariably, a good chunk of the applicants start their responses with "I really need a job." One guy even made that the first of three bullet points after saying he believes he's "the perfect candidate because..." One guy lectured me about being inconsiderate because I didn't even bother to send him a response one way or the other the last time he applied for a job. This is a guy who told me he'd be leaving in June to go out of state for school. Then he asked if he could come in for an interview. Huh? And then there's the guy I actually interviewed and hired who didn't show up to the "on-boarding." This was a couple of months ago. He said there was a miscommunication somewhere, and I told him "No hard feelings, we'll keep you on the list." Keep in mind that this was the FIRST guy I hired in the last round of recruitment. Later, in a moment of desperation due to a shortage of guys, I actually brought him on board. He did great, but when I shot him a text tonight saying we needed him tomorrow, he simply replied "Can't make it." I asked why not more than two hours ago.. No response. So, if you're up reading this blog, Mr. Man, this is your notice: you're officially back in the unemployment pool again. Best of luck. I blame myself. We have some big goals this year, and we're going to need top-notch guys. Real professionals. If ti means we have to cut way back on the number of jobs we take, so be it. I'd much rather have a tiny, barely profitable company than continue to give all these chances, be the caring pushover boss, etc. I have created this situation. I have assumed the best of people and made excuses for acres of compost. Those days are over. I've been through this so many times that I should have assessed the evidene and made systemic changes two years ago. Instead, here we are, still dealing with the same old BS, four years into the life of the company. It's not tragedy. Now it's just kind of funny.

Vote for My Truck Buddy!

It's time once again to vote in the Washington City Paper's "Best of DC" Reader's Poll. I have no idea if we've ever been nominated before under the "Best Movers" category, but it would be nice. :-)

The link above will take you to the ballot. The Best Movers section is in the Goods and Services category. I can't say for sure, but I strongly suspect that voting for My Truck Buddy will make you a better person, but also is a leading indicator of awesomness.

Oh yeah, and the voting ends...ah...tomorrow night at midnight, I believe. Hurry! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another reason Yelp sucks

The mobile platform doesn't show owner responses to reviews. So, as more and more people migrate to mobile devices for their primary browsing experience, business owners are further marginalized. Psychotic negative review writers can't be challenged (which is the way they like it, of course).

Perhaps Yelp will fix that, but they've already admitted that their paying customers, business owners, are third in line of importance, so I doubt it.

Damn, I hate Yelp. Filthy, corrupt, dirty organization...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Unemployment isn't nearly as bad as they say...

"Right on time -- to be fired!"
As we prepare for the crushing, soul-sucking, what's-left-of-our-hair on fire summer season, we're looking for new guys. It's really an amazing process, and provides all kinds of interesting and sometimes useful insights into the state of America's workforce. You've heard that it's officially around nine percent unemployment, right? Other estimates put it at somewhere near 20 percent when you account for the people who just aren't trying to find a job anymore.

I want to put America's fears to rest: there is no unemployment crisis. At least not according to my unofficial, anecdotal survey of the available labor pool. Apparently, everybody has jobs -- even the ones who apply for a job at MTB -- because they don't show up for interviews or, as often as not, fail to make basic plans to get to the interview on time. Or at all.

I recycled a Craigslist ad I frequently used for recruitment, but added a little more...ah...strong language. Here's a snippet:

Who we're NOT looking for
--Guys who can't show up on time -- or at all. Tardiness or failure to show up at all has been a constant problem, and one which I now have a "no tolerance" policy for. If you're late for the interview, you won't be interviewed. Of all the times to be late, THIS IS NOT IT. Let me repeat: if you show up late for the interview, that is the best sign I can have that it wouldn't have worked out anyway. I don't want to belabor the point, but right now the ratio is about 50/50. That's right -- roughly half the guys who I schedule for an interview don't show up. Of the half who DO show, half of them are late. Our customers don't tolerate that kind of track record; neither do I.

We've gotten quite a few responses, and I'm working my way through them. Today I blocked out three hours to do three interviews. The first guy showed up early, was personable, nervous but not spastic. All in all, an easy second interview. The second guy? His interview was scheduled for 10:00. He called at 10:01 to tell me his doctor's appointment was running long. In fact, he was still waiting for the doctor.

Now, I sympathize if he's at the doctor's office for a serious reason. But come on. Let's say he showed up early for an 8:00 or 8:30 appointment, but was kept waiting until 10:00. At some point he should have thought to call the potential employer to say he might be late. But if his appointment was for 9:00 or any point thereafter, he probably shouldn't have scheduled an interview for 10:00.

Not Truck Buddy material.

Oh, and the third guy? Fell off the face of the earth, I take it.

This is common. It's happened to us dozens of times, and all the other moving company owners I know joke about it. Only about 50 percent of potential new candidates show up. Maybe half of those show up on time. It's a joke.

Or, it's encouraging news. Based on these (albeit unofficial) statistics, it suggests that unemployment isn't nearly as bad as we've been told. It's a testament to the resilience of the American work ethic.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day -- our second anniversary

Happy Valentine's Day! Is it okay to say that? I never know anymore. I get the feeling that this might be one of the last times we can say that without a permit of some kind. Maybe that's just my nearly cowed business owner mentality, but you never know if wishing someone a Happy Valentine's Day is going to invite a lecture about corporate holidays, the evils of men, despair over the state of love in the world, or even some sort of anti-Catholic rant. Can't it just be about the love? (Or St. Valentine?)

Whatever the culturally approved holiday is, let me take a moment to shoot some smooches at my wife. Valentine's Day is kind of like another anniversary for us. We've been married for about five-and-a-half years, dated about one-and-a-half before that. When we got married, both us had...concerns. I was an easy going slacker who couldn't manage a checkbook. She was a why-wait-until-later-when-you-can-do-taxes-right-now kind of person. My ideal weekend was waking up at noon, playing video games until 6:00, then heading downtown to check out some kind of Americana/roots rock band (local, of course.) She on the other hand, might wake up at 7:00 AM on a Saturday and work on her life plan for the rest of the year.

She won professional awards. I got fired a lot.

It was an odd relationship, and one that didn't really get started for some time after we met. But I was never able to shake, much less answer, a question came out of nowhere the night we met. At some happy hour thing for budding journalists and activists (yes, that's pretty incestuous, I know), the guy who basically enabled my moved to Washington saw her and and brought me over for introductions. "Hey, I think you two are going to be colleagues," he said. We were -- I'd just gotten a job as an editor, and she was on a different desk in the Metro section of the paper we worked. "I'll let you two chat."

We did. I think I was still feeling pretty much like a big DC hotshot. I'd just moved here from Montana, and through a series of conspicuously lucky events, landed a job I could brag about. She's a local girl, and worked her butt off to get her job. So, even as I was speaking, all I could hear was "blah, blah, blah." She didn't seem impressed, but when we finally said goodbye, that question leaped to my mind: Did I just meet my wife?

It was an odd, unprecedented thought. I mulled it over for a few years.

Our friendship grew out of 30 second conversations as I'd deliver a piece of paper to her desk every day. Eventually I made up other reasons to visit her desk. When I finally decided to sort of potentially think about making a plan to consider whether I should decide to ask her out, we more or less went out on an accidental date.

We were talking about skiing, and how there were no good places around here. She said she loved skiing (a lie, as it turned out). We made plans to go skiing that weekend. But then the water pump in my Jeep blew up, and she hit a pothole that took out her front wheel. "Ah, dang," I said, feeling like it was my fault. "How about if we just get dinner?"

To give you an idea of how clueless I am, I made plans for whatever the next day was. It was Valentine's Day. I had no idea until I looked at the calendar later. She knew which day it was, of course.

And that was our first date. We went to Mama Ayesha's in DC. Back then, it was a red-and-white checkered table kind of place, but still awesome. Since it's renovation, it's apparently gotten even more awesome. (As of right now, it has 191 reviews with a 4-star average on Yelp -- to have that many visible reviews and such a high rating, it's GOT to be good.)

I don't remember anything we talked about, but afterward I remember thinking "Uh oh. I'm dead. This wasn't in the plans..." (What plans?!?) It was still a while before we officially began dating, but like small comet caught in Jupiter's gravity well, impact was inevitable. Hah.

So, here's to my beautiful, intelligent, dedicated and inspirational wife. I'm so glad my Jeep blew up and you hit a pothole just before Valentine's Day. Love you, hon!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Big Thing -- LivingSocial?

I've been thinking for years that we need to do something Big to jump-start things. You know, like streaking across the field at a Nationals game Big. So far, nobody's volunteered for that, and I'm just too out of shape (hmm...maybe that would be good for marketing...) We've considered many other things, like, oh, some sort of viral video. Of course, the chances of infuriating some segment of the population are pretty high, and we're not quite ready for that kind of notoriety.

So, as we mulled things over, we succumbed to some (professional and friendly) pressure from and did one of those deals. Holy cow. This was big.

I should qualify that -- it's big for our little operation. We were scraping by with a couple hundred hits on the website, a few jobs per week, etc. Pretty much the usual slow season load. But when we launched a LivingSocial deal last week, we were buried. Website hits quadrupled. Facebook "likes" increased by about 50 new people, work orders poured in. It's amazing -- thank you, DC! (And, oddly enough, Portland -- who bought a voucher out there? You know we don't yet go cross country, right?)

The downside: LivingSocial takes a chunk of the sales of these vouchers, and since most of our jobs are pretty small, we are likely going to do a LOT of them for free. We've already done a few of these voucher jobs, and the net afterward has been in the $5 to $15 range -- and that's before payroll. So, this is going to obliterate our bottom line. We were fairly aggressive savers last year, so we have a small cushion to absorb the shortfall, but still...yikes.

The big plus side: more exposure, which is exactly what we were looking for. In fact, apparently one of the on-air people at the country station, WMZQ, bought a voucher and talked about us on the radio. We don't know who it was. We only know that happened because someone heard about it on the radio, she told her husband, he filled out a work request form on the website and mentioned it. WMZQ has 237 million monthly listeners in the U.S. according to their website. Again...yikes. We might need another truck.

Still, I'd like to do something even bigger. We've got some momentum now, so, when does the Nats season begin? I have plans...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Yelp sucks: By the numbers

Honestly, most of the time I'm not obsessing about Yelp, but part of my daily duties is to monitor social media about MTB, of which Yelp is a big part. I had no intention of writing about Yelp today, but we just had yet another REAL 5-star review from a REAL person go "behind the veil," and it inspired me to run a report.

We've been tracking the lifespan of reviews for about a month now. We have about 200 other reviews yet to archive, but this snapshot is particularly interesting because it came right after we canceled our advertising contract with Yelp.

Summary of the data:
  • With one notable exception, none of our 5-star reviews stayed visible longer than five days.
  • The one that did stay up for 29 days was taken down three days after I cancelled the contract.
  • The average number of days 5-star reviews stayed up WITH the one outlier is 5.3 days.
  • The average number of days 5-star reviews stayed up WITHOUT the one outlier is 3.5 days.

Granted, this is a very small slice of data, but it's interesting when analyzed in light of our cancellation. I can't wait to dig in to the numbers when we can figure out how to track down the archive dates for our 200-some other archived reviews.

First pic: the cancellation email. I thought it was pretty friendly and to the point -- nothing antagonistic and straightforward. I wrote our Yelp rep on December 29th, 2011, and told her we wouldn't be renewing our contract. Since then, all but one positive review has remained, and that's only because, as of this writing, there's one recent five-star review since we declined to renew. Given the pattern, I expect it to be gone in the next day or two.

Thanks, buh-bye...

Now, here are the numbers. I plugged in all the reviews along with other information and ran a report.

Almost all of our 5-star reviews were archived within a week of being posted. The one exception is particularly interesting -- Justin S.'s review was "disappeared" three days after I canceled the contract. We only have somewhat-educated guesses as to why his review survived as long as it had -- other, more active reviewers' posts have disappeared more quickly, and about-as-active reviewers' posts have stayed longer -- but it seems just a little TOO coincidental that his review would be taken down right after I cancelled the contract. And since he posted his review, no other 5-star reviews lasted longer than five days.

Yelp is going to have to do some 'splainin' sometime soon. Even if their algorithm works correctly and they DON'T futz with the numbers or review placement, it APPEARS to be very shady. The backlash is growing, and I'm not the only business owner paying very close attention to the numbers. My guess is that they don't want anyone probing their servers too closely, even if everything's legitimate.