Thursday, June 23, 2011

Water Bob

We moved into our home five years ago and inherited a reverse osmosis drinking water system. And a water softener. I’m not a fan of the water softener, but for peace in the family, I live with it. But I love the RO system. An oft-repeated platitude is that you need eight 8-ounce cups of water a day. I drink about twice that. Everyday.

Each year, we call Five Cities Water – aka Water Bob – to tune up the drinking water system. We have no idea who “Bob” is – presumably the business owner – but we do know Brandon. And Bob should be proud. Brandon never disappoints. He has been the “face” of Five Cities Water for five years.

Our RO filters are changed quickly and efficiently. He asks questions and gives us tips about keeping the system at peak performance. And one of our two dogs likes him. As do Donna and I. Never underestimate the “pleasant, helpful” factor if your business is providing a service. Being good, proficient at what you do is expected. That’s not exceptional or memorable. Same goes for banks. And locksmiths. And motels. And thousands of other service-industry businesses.

This year, Brandon noticed that we’d remodeled our kitchen since his last visit. Then he noticed that our “old” RO water dispenser did not match our “new” brushed steel water faucet. He offered to install a new one for us, and just happened to have one in his truck that matched our faucet perfectly. So was that good salesmanship, or good service? Both.

Ten minutes later, Donna, I, and the two dogs were admiring our updated RO water dispenser. It was the final exclamation point on our kitchen remodel. Brandon cleaned up, gave us the annual speech about “checking for leaks” three times over the next few hours, presented an invoice, shook our hands and moved on to his next appointment.

Two weeks later, we received a “thank you” card from Water Bob. He asked that if we were satisfied … tell a friend. Will do. And we’ll see you again next May, Brandon.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Steaming Cup of Consistency

My father was a coffee lover. He’d make a big, big pot of coffee in the morning and drink it all day long. Black. Lots of sugar. Me, not so much. I never drank much coffee until a few years ago. And it’s strictly decaf.

My coffee drinking is social. A friend has stopped asking me to go with her for coffee. She likes to walk down Higuera Street, order a cup and bring the coffee back to work. For her it’s all about the coffee itself. Not for me. I like to go to the coffee shop. To sit and relax. Carry on a conversation over a steaming cup. Or just open my laptop, sipping, checking up on email or the latest “news” on HuffPost.

Lots of people don’t like Starbucks. But I do. There’s one four blocks from my house. Two more – facing each other, one in a Barnes & Noble – five blocks from my office. And tens of thousands worldwide. Their sheer numbers make them easy targets for naysayers.

My preferred coffee is flavored. On weekend evenings, I like mine with Kahlua and cream. Sometimes with Baileys. But my favorite is with chocolate – a big mocha. Decaf, of course, no whip. It’s how I size up coffee shops. Starbucks makes my favorite mocha. And the best is at the downtown SLO Starbucks.

What makes it “best?” Consistency. It’s always made the same way. Not too sweet. Heavy cocoa flavor. No thick syrup residue at the bottom of the cup. One young barista, with short platinum hair, is the queen. When she’s making the drinks, it’s going to be great. Excellent staff. Smiling, cheerful, friendly, and helpful; genuinely engaging without pretense. And there’s a refreshing sameness; I frequently see familiar faces among relaxing customers, regardless of when I visit.

I like Peets Coffee in downtown SLO. Tables outside, in a prime people-watching spot. Excellent iced tea. Cool vibe. Efficient staff. But not a great mocha. And that’s my gold standard. It all starts with the “product.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

OSH b'gosh

We had honey-do projects planned around the house for the three-day Memorial Day holiday. I was to replace the lighting on our porch, and Donna wanted to repaint our front door – red! So, off to Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) we went. It’s close to our Arroyo Grande house, and unlike Home Depot, it’s not overwhelming looking for the things we need. And it was “we pay the sales tax” weekend – the best time to buy!

We walked in the front door and right to the paint section to check out color swatches. After selecting the shade of red from a plethora of choices, it was off to the paint aisles. Which brand? Flat, satin, eggshell, semi-gloss, gloss or enamel finish? Good, better or best grade? Choices, choices – so many choices. But choose we did, and our next stop was the paint counter to have our perfect shade mixed for us.

Ricky was great! He asked questions and guided us to a more informed – and cheaper – choice for painting our front door – the first thing people will see when approaching the house. And his best tips of the day – prophetic when Donna started painting the door – were that the wet paint will look disappointingly pink when wet, and we’ll have to give the door multiple (final count was five) coats, since red is among the most difficult colors when covering a white surface.

Flush with painting confidence, we set off to the lighting department and found an equally daunting number of choices. I liked these three, she liked those two. And then we both saw exactly what we wanted. One problem. We found three lights and needed four. Enter Jared, the store manager who just happened to be walking by and asked if he could help. Yes, please! He checked – no more in the back room. Worse yet, this model was being phased out and might not be available. Scarcity – which, of course, made us want it all the more!

Jared checked around and found what we needed at the Paso Robles OSH. He called the store, asked them to set one light aside, then called his assistant manager – who lives in Paso Robles, but works at the AG store – at home and asked him to drop by the Paso store on Monday morning and pick up the light on his way to work in Arroyo Grande. Then he gave us a rain check so that we’d pay the “no sales tax” price.

Monday morning, shortly after 8 am, OSH called and let us know that our light was at the Arroyo Grande store, ready for us to pick up, at our convenience.

I don’t know if we could have purchased the same lights elsewhere, for less. But the customer service we received was of great value. And we’ll gladly go back to OSH for our next home project. Hmmm … come to think of it, our bathroom light fixtures are looking a little dated. Might be time to go shopping.