If you’re expecting this to be about football, sorry. It isn’t. Occasionally, I’m inspired to write by events not involving football or Jerry Sandusky in his pretty red prison coveralls. Today, the Turkey gets involved once again in consumerism, and why I don’t feel sorry for some local vendors when Amazon kicks the crap out of them until they yell “UNCLE!”
A Sale of Two Kayaks
Our story begins in the sweltering Central Florida summer, when those of us who love the outdoors are driven inside by the insane heat, humidity, and the naked Rainbow People in the woods. (I know, I know. Global warming is a bitch, and, being a doubter, I suppose I’m getting my share of Climate Change Karma.) During one of these long, steaming, soporific, summer Sundays, Artificially Sweetened and this Turkey hatched a plan centering on kayaking in order to give us an alternative to hiking that was better suited to the season and the aging Turkey’s joints.
The first thought was to get a tandem kayak from Merritt Supply for wholesale marine supply. We rented one at the local state park, a lumbering Wilderness Loon. It was great fun paddling up and down the Wekiva river, even though we frequently got on each others’ cases about who was supposed to be steering and who was supposed to be paddling when, on which side, and how. Nevertheless, with that experience behind us, we knew that we could handle this. So we set out to find us a tandem.
We looked in catalogs, on the Internet, and at a few local outfitters’, finding a few viable candidates, pricing them, and vowing to take some test rides. At one respected outfitter, we were given some contrary advice. “You don’t want a tandem, ” said the bearded guy I’ll call SuperFly (for he was the store’s expert on fly fishing). “Tandems are divorce boats.”
We briefly considered his words, looked at each other, and realized that it could easily come to a crew of two being a critical mass — one too many, on any given Sunday. SuperFly was right. We decided to go for two individual boats, and all indications past and present pointed to the Wilderness Pungo, a recreational kayak noted for its stability and comfort, if not its speed. What the hell, we were wanting to handle the docile waters of the Central Florida lakes and rivers, not taking long distance, multi-day touring cruises or battling white water. Fitting my fat ass into a cockpit was important. I didn’t want to do a sit-on-top—they’re even slower and heavier—so, my research concluded that the Pungo was the right boat. We arranged a test drive of a 12′ and a 14′ version on a local lake.
I was pleasantly surprised that the 14′ Pungo could move right along. AS had the 12′ boat and she was similarly impressed. After trying one more boat, just for the hell of it, we solidified our stance. “Write it up,” we told the guy who patiently waited for us on the shore as we happily paddled around the lake, not really wanting to give him back his damn boats. We eventually made it back to the store where I signed on the dotted line. Two Pungos at manufacturers’ suggested retail price. No negotiating, no haggling. I just wanted my boats.
However, there was one twist. AS and I had some specific colors in mind. After all, why put all those pretty colors in the catalog if you don’t want people to buy them? So, I ordered a 14-footer in “mango” for me, and a 12-footer in “light blue” for AS. The sales guy, whom I’ll call Sterling because that is his name, said that he would note those preferences for the boat buyer, a person I’ll call ma belle (because her real name is Michelle), who would call me to confirm that they had been ordered and all was well.
However, when Michelle finally did call me, all was not well. They would order the colors, but they would have to tack on a freight charge from the factory in North Carolina. I guessed that it would be at least $50 per boat. I said, “How about waiving the freight charge. I’m paying list price for the boats. Work with me here.” She said that she would call me back.
When she did, she had nothing to add. I’d still pay the freight. That’s the way it was. I balked. “Michelle, you just cost yourself a sale,” I said. I told her that I had briefly glanced at the REI on-line site, where the boats were heavily discounted. “She retorted that REI might not have the colors I wanted because the boats they were selling were last years’ end-of-year closeouts. But I had not even begun to explore the available deals. Now, I was impelled to. “Please cancel the order and issue a credit for my deposit,” I said with an air of finality.
Michelle — and her boss, assuming she discussed it with him — cost their store a lot of money with that dumb move. Sure, they’re entitled to their profit, and sure, I’m happy that there is a local dealer to which I can turn for information about things I could almost as easily find on-line, although not with the personal touch and business relationship building. On the other hand, my research revealed some pretty damn compelling reasons to buy the kayaks via the Internet.
To cut a long story short, I found that Austin Kayak in Austin, Texas was advertising the same boats for $780 each, as opposed to the MSRP’s of $849 and $949, respectively, for the Pungo 120 and 140. In Helen Reddyesque terminology, this was a difference too big to ignore — a saving of $238 right off the bat. Furthermore, the sales tax saving would be another $107. And as if that ain’t enough, Austin Kayak was offering free shipping at the time. So, whatever the shipping charges would have been F.O.B. North Carolina can be added to what I saved. Let’s call it an even $450 savings by going out of town. And one more thing. Austin Kayak gave me 15% off of any single item (with some restrictions) I bought within a couple of months of the kayak purchase. With decent paddles going for $400 or thereabouts, this 15% would come in handy. Werner Paddles was not one of the restricted vendors. Turkey happy.
Ahhh, but the local dealer did not just lose the sale of two kayaks. They lost my goodwill. If the kayaks were the last damn thing I wanted to buy from them or if that purchase was an isolated bit of business in a vacuum, it would be no big deal, and the story would end with both me and them happy. I saved $450 and they didn’t have to let go of the death grip on their anal sphincter.
As it turned out, it wasn’t an isolated bit of business. I needed to be able to carry the boats to launching points, so I purchased roof rack equipment for carrying a pair of kayaks. Had the schmucks at the local high-end retailer not been such tightwads, I would have spent the money with them for the roof rack stuff, too. But, nah, I couldn’t get over the foul aftertaste of “failure to budge”. The local retailer sucked. I would go elsewhere for the roof rack and boat hauling hardware, which wound up costing $700. Total business the local high-assed retailer lost thus far: $2,500. It’s starting to add up.
When I decided to think of putting the boats on a trailer to save my aching back, I went straight to Austin Kayak. They were selling the Yakima Rack and Roll 66 trailer for $1,934, marked down from $2,149. That seemed to be in line with what other discounters were getting for it, so I pulled the trigger on the deal. Austin Kayak gave me free shipping via FedEx Ground, and the damn unassembled trailer was here in three days. The local retailer be damned!
Just to be fair, I wanted to check the local guys’ website to make sure I got a better deal on the trailer at Austin Kayak. Turns out that the local guys’ price was the same as Austin Kayak’s: $1,934. Well, well well. I wouldn’t be saving the sales tax, because the State of Florida collects on the sale price when you eventually do want to register the vehicle for use on the roads. Would I have bought it from the local outfitter had I known that the price was the same and the sales tax would be moot? Answer: No. Why? Because I’m driven away by companies who don’t value my business.
The trailer hitch — that’s another $1,500 of business for someone, in this case, my BMW dealer. Mounting the hitch involves other subsystems, particularly the back-up camera, so I didn’t want to give the job to just anyone. The local outfitter could have steered us to partner who does hitches, but probably I would have been more comfortable with the BMW service department. I’ll still count this as $1,500 of potential business loss for the target of this article.
So, how much flew out the window just because one woman decided to hold the line on my initial kayak order? If you’ve followed me right along, In nice, round numbers, the total loss of business to TCO was $6,000 — oh, wait! I took Austin Kayak up on its 15% deal, so I got the Warner paddle. So, that’s another $400 I could have spent at either store, but I didn’t! $6,400 plus the potential value of my future big-ticket items is not serious money to TCO, I suppose.
Oh, wait! I blurted out the name of the retailer. Mah bad!
I might as well spell it out for you now: Travel Country Outdoors. They have been venerated and rightly so for many years by the community and their customers because of their amassed knowledge, their willingness to spend time with customers as needed, and in general, going above and beyond . I continue to shop there for minuscule items and for cheap-ass accessories. Not the kind of business they want? So sue me.
I was going to write TCO a letter telling them how obnoxious it is to decline all my present and future business, but they’re grown-ups and presumably, they can handle the heat generated by their policies. I wouldn’t expect more than five minutes of some lower-level operative’s attention to this email, so what might the net-net be? Here, I can expostulate for the public. Even if I lose, I win. I can go back to Austin Kayak if TCO gives me another snub.
This is not to say that there is a hard and fast formula for regaining my business, but it all starts with communications. By the way, those people at Austin Kayak are nice and a pleasure to deal with.
Wake up and smell the coffee, TCO. I want to keep on doing business with you, but it is impossible unless I can find some price flexibility — like, after I’m re-elected, I’ll have more flexibility. In the meanwhile, I hope you read this passive-aggressive rant and take heed.
Time for bed.