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Warning: For VLARs Only . . .

. . .like maybe this guy.

Because if you’re not, I’ll guarentee you couldn’t care less. Only read this if you’re absolutely sure you have nothing better to do.

Come to think of it, even if you are a VLAR (very loyal and alert reader), you probably don’t care about what’s to follow. In fact if, in the past few days, you’ve found yourself upset, put out, or in any other way inconvenienced by what’s been going on here at Chris Wondra . com . . .um . . .you should probably figure out a way to move out of your parents’ basement and get a life (no offense).

So with that said . . .
(more…)

Teacher Tools: This is Why I Deserve (or Don’t Deserve for that matter). . .

Once, when I was doing my student teaching, I created a test for a “Business Communications” unit. Back then it was all about me, so I titled it “The Greatest Business Communication Test Ever” or something just as ridiculous–because, in my mind–I was the Muhammad Ali of teaching.

Anyway, for some reason, I thought it was pretty damn good. A great measure of achievement. But after I’d given it, and began correcting it, I soon realized that something was wrong. The students were bombing.

These were seniors at Elk Mound High School. The best and the brightest. We’d covered the material inside and out, and we’d done it with gusto.  It was a fun class. The students loved me (remember, everything was about me). I expected each of them to knock the test out of the park. Not because it was easy–but because they knew it (because I was a shooting, shining star of a teacher dammit).

Heh . . .

About five tests into correcting it, I realized something wasn’t right. Another ten or fifteen tests, and I began to recognize a pattern: students kept repeating variations of the same wrong answers.

It was weird.

Like Sherlock Holmes, I dug deeper.  Then it hit me. Many of the answers weren’t really wrong!

GASP!!

As it turned out, a lot of the questions were vague enough to allow two (or more) different answers! It all depended on how you read the question and from what source you drew your answer–lecture notes (me-brilliant remember) or the book.

So there I was, 20 tests graded, 20 terrible scores (I’m talking D’s and F’s for students very used A’s), and me with no clear path out of this mess. I was a little over half way through grading. The tests were already marked up.  To make matters worse, after reading the questions over again, and again, and again, and then reviewing the book, and the variety of answers — I was starting to get confused myself!

Still–I couldn’t backtrack now and change all the marks and grades.

That would only make me look stupid–creating an unsolvable paradox in the students’ minds:  How can somebody so brilliant be so stupid?

Impossible!

And yet . . .

It was a complete Farkboingstumblemuck.

Then I had a brainstorm.

This was a communications class right? We’d studied all kinds of business writing and persuasive methods right? So I made a decision. I’d continue to mark them all wrong. Everything I could find.

Basically the entire class bombed.

You should have seen the looks on their faces when I handed those tests back. It didn’t take long for the objections to start.

“Grades are final,” I said. “Unless. . . you can craft a letter persuading me to change my mind. Be clear, be concise. Explain your point of view. Provide ample evidence for your argument. This won’t be easy.  But if you can convince me to change your grade–I will.”

The letters had to be professional–typed, signed, the whole bit.

It was great.

I tell you I’ve never seen letters so well crafted. A thing of beauty. All the anger and confused emotional energy converted to productivity and channeled right into those letters. It gave them a sense of control. Of purpose. Of power.

No longer were they helpless students at the mercy of an authority figure.

Anyway it worked so well that I often still use a variation of that assignment today with my eighth grade students.

Don’t want a detention? Explain to me in writing why you don’t deserve one. Think you should have gotten more time to complete that assignment? Convince me in writing.

I handed back a big portfolio project today. A couple of students didn’t think they got a fair shake. They knew the routine. This is what I got:

Dear Mr. Wondra,

This is a very unfair circumstance. I had two percent knocked off of the total percent. This was due to you not giving me the appropriate information. I was home ill and when I came back, you gave me an assignment but no direction to empty out the rest of my binder.

I was gone the day you gave this information out to our class when A__ asked about this direction. M___ and A___ will both vouch for me that I was absent that day due to the fact that I was suffering of sickness.

I know you understand that this is an unfair gesture towards me. I will make a deal with you Mr. Wondra: if you find this letter not up to your expectations, you can give me a 99% out of the 100% that I worked hard for and deserve. I know that a 98% is good but I deserve the grade that I worked hard for.

H___

This one came with a title:

This Is Why I Deserve a 100%

By: A___ M___

Now I understand that a 99% is a good grade. It is quite unfair for me to understand why I got a 99% when I know I deserve a 100% on the project I worked very hard on.  You gave me a ninety-nine percent because you said I didn’t type up my table of contents. But I never even knew we had to do such a thing.

I may be hard of hearing, but I know I would have caught you saying such a thing. I even have looked on the rubric of requirements and it does not say typing the table of contents is required. If I had known that not typing out my table of contents brought my grade down, I would have typed it up. If you still believe that that should be required for me to get the grade I deserve, which is a 100%, then I will type it up right now for you.

Thank you for your time.

Couple of Quick Notes

I haven’t found many notes this year for some reason. But when I do, they’re almost always amusing.

Found these two today:

Fine I will give you your leo bacfk on Monday. But first what did I say if I was talking about you. And someone. . . I’m not saying who but they told me that K___ said that I said that you were flat. And I don’t talk about you bad. O and by the way I’m not . . . or wasn’t using you. Cause if I was using you I would be nice to your face. So yeah

K____

Hey M____ Hon,

I love your hair, you look good as a brunette! ha ha. Yeah, so I hope I can get MSN. I really want to. Just my mom won’t let me get on our regular comuter so yeah. My Aunt might have a modem. So I can get the internet, so yeah. I feel bad for you, B____ and everyone just needs to leave you alone, you didn’t do anything to her, but just remember, I’ll always be there for you no matter what. I don’t care.

You see silly male adolescence. I see masters of double entendre.

From Webster’s College Dictionary:

double entendre n. a word or expression used so that it can be understood in two ways, esp. when one meaning is risqué.

Book projects/reports are due next week. For most, this is not news. Of course, these four had no idea this was coming. Well, maybe they thought they might have heard something about this, but lets face it, there’s a lot to think about when you’re a thirteen year old boy.

Anyway, with a due date of next Monday looming, and a social calendar similar (I’m sure) to that of a presidential candidate, today they finally launched into action. They assured me they had everything under control. All they really needed to do was finish a, get started on a project choice, finish their, start a book, find a book.

After a quick huddle, the four asked to visit the library. I gave them a hall pass and wished them luck.

Fifteen minutes later they were all back in my room, books in hand.

But . . . something was wrong. They just couldn’t settle down.

I gave them the look.

I shushed them.

I called them by name.

Then I realized my teacher/superhero senses were buzzing like crazy. This wasn’t your normal disruptive student chatter. It was laced with something more. Something not quite right. Those chortles weren’t the innocent results of good clean humor. No this was different. (more…)

Direct Buy Membership: A Consumer Report

Direct Buy and the Magic of Lead Generation

I don’t know how many times I’d seen it. That chipper blond, the irritatingly giddy couples explaining how much money they’ve saved, the irrefutable logic of being able to purchase things directly from manufacturers, avoiding all those costly markups.

If you’ve seen the infomercial, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, here are just a few of the claims Direct Buy makes:

  1. Retailers are making a killing—even on sale or closeout items. Direct Buy cites statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau to support the following average retail sales markups: home furnishings-43.3%, appliances and electronics-26.2%, sporting goods-37.7%, clothing-41.6%, general merchandise-25.2% and internet & mail order-37.7%.
  2. Through Direct Buy, you can buy items at the same prices the retail stores pay—and sometimes even cheaper.
  3. Direct Buy gives you access to the complete lines of over 700 different manufacturers—in a sense, unlimited options. For example, while a store may carry a sofa in a choice of 3 different fabrics, the manufacturer may actually offer 50 different fabrics. You, of course now get to choose from 50, all from one location. No shopping from store to store.
  4. You will belong to an organization that operates more like a private club than a store, with access to confidential manufacturer prices.
  5. Everything you buy comes with a complete manufacturer’s warranty.
  6. With a Direct Buy membership, you can now buy like the stores do. All you ever pay is cost and shipping.

If you’d like to see more of Direct Buy’s claims (ahem) directly, just visit them here. If you’re here for serious research, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Be sure to click on the testimonial tab in the lower right hand corner of the screen labeled, “What Members Are Saying.” .

Now just to be fair, let’s balance it out a bit with couple more testimonials. I found the following on this site.

3/10/2007 – Casey of Michigan, USA writes:

We were skeptical of this outfit and went prepared to say no. We are building a home and were “promised” by the owner savings of 20-30%, approximately $45,000-70,000. We have tried to take advantage of these “savings”. However, we have done better on purchases at box stores & local distributors.

We purchased four stainless steel Kitchenaid appliances and saved $311 through a big box. We found our front door for $600 less than Direct Buy’s “insider” price. Other examples: Our plumbing, lighting, hardwood, and tile have all been cheaper through the installers. Our lumber, doors, siding, roofing, and window price was $52,408 through Direct Buy, but another lumber company in town is offering the same thing (apples to apples) for $49,817. We are refusing to chase our losses and have unfortunately not been able to save a penny by purchasing through Direct Buy.

If we can’t save at least $4500 to recoup our initiation fee then you won’t be able to.

And this one can be found here.

2/25/2007 – Rocky writes:

I do not recommend this company to anyone. It is a scam. My husband and I joined in 2003 (I think it was $3600 to join and haven’t bought a stick of furniture from Direct Buy yet. If you really want a laugh try getting prices of an item off their web-site, it is so confusing just to navigate their site that I just gave up. Going to the actual site isn’t any better. The reps aren’t really helpful almost to the point you feel as if you’re bothering them. I have found many pieces of furniture and other items a lot cheaper “outside”. I will probably just take this as a lesson learned, and not try to purchase anything from them, after also hearing the horror stories about the extra shipping & handling charges and other excess fees, plus the long waiting time just to get your items. If anyone wants to start a lawsuit, I’m in, because we’d like to get our hard earned money back. I will keep coming back to this web-site to get contact info from anyone of you out there who is brave enough and angry enough to carry this out.

Direct Buy: Our invitation to the showroom

So anyway, like I said, God knows how many times I’d seen that infomercial. And of course, as a homeowner with a history of gutting rooms until nothing’s left but dust, studs and wires, it always looked like a pretty good deal to me.

But I just could never find the time to make that phone call. Always something more important to do—like chew meat snacks and watch infomercials. So, as chance would have it, last October Direct Buy made the first move and called us.

Not only did they extend a warm invitation, but they also promised us one of three fabulous door prizes—a new car, a cruise or a $30 gift certificate at a popular chain restaurant—just for showing up.

How could we lose? Worst-case scenario: we satisfy our curiosity and get a free meal. Can’t beat that.

The Rubber Meets the Road (and I slip into a coma)

If you visit the sites I linked to, you’ll get a pretty good idea about what to expect during your visit. The presentation was slick. A nice little movie much like the infomercial you see on T.V., a little talk by the owner showing us some newspaper ads, some sale prices, and then comparing those to Direct Buy’s prices.

The deal we got was $4,300 for the first three years and then something like $95 a year after that.

But we had to decide right then and there. It was a go or no-go situation. If we decided that it just wouldn’t work for us right now, or that we needed to sleep on it, we couldn’t come back for at least 4 years. And of course, who knows how expensive the initiation fee will be by then.

Anyway, after the pitch, we were invited to look around the showroom, which in our case really wasn’t much more than some furniture and a bunch of shelves packed with catalogues.

The thing to understand here is that we really wanted this to work. I’m an investment kind of guy. If I can make sense of it and think I can make my money back in a reasonable amount of time, usually I’m in. My experience with geo thermal heat pumps and CFLs are just two examples of how I’ll put my money where my mouth is.

So all I had to see was how I could recoup my investment in the next three to four years. The problem was that we weren’t planning any major building projects or renovations.

But maybe an even more compelling reason to decline was that we simply couldn’t find anything. We didn’t come prepared. So we made a hasty list of things we thought we might buy.

Gas grills? Um, couldn’t find ‘em.
How about toilets? Umm . . .hang on, let me see.
Maybe clothing? How about athletic apparel or shoes—ehh, not so much.
Bed sheets? Nope.

Direct Buy: The Deal Breaker

They don’t carry basic building materials like Sheetrock or lumber. We’ve already replaced all the windows and doors on our house. So we thought maybe siding. We’ve actually already started doing this ourselves (slowly), as time and money permits, using a brand of fiber cement siding we get at Menards. But we still have a large majority of the house left. We figured if Direct Buy carried the siding, we might be able to recoup much of the $4,300 membership fee.

Like I said, I really wanted it to work.

Bottom line: it didn’t.

After a completely mind-numbing search (first with a sales rep, then another sales rep, then the owner) of the catalogues, we finally came to the conclusion that they couldn’t get it. However, one of the advantages of being a Direct Buy member is that you also get discounts from “partner” retailers and installers and whatnot. So the owner pulls out his cell phone but, alas, it was now nearing six o’clock on a Saturday evening. Nobody who knew anything could be found.

By now I was completely comatose.

We’d spent nearly 3 hours in that place, and I’d had it. It just wasn’t working. And seriously, the hardest part about the whole process was the endless searching. The manufacturer’s catalogues are confusing as hell. Item numbers, limited descriptions, maybe a pencil sketch or a picture here or there but that’s about it.

We had heard during the pitch that everything was also online and shopping was a breeze from home—but we never got close to a computer when we were there. Indeed, I think we only saw one on the floor–and it didn’t look friendly, but that might have just been my blood sugar.

I imagined countless hours over the next 4 years vanishing in the pages of dusty catalogues, as we searched relentlessly for ways to recoup our start up fee. No thanks.

We can’t set foot within 100 feet of the building for the next 4 years? Bummer. Please tell me we won the restaurant gift card. I’m starving.

Direct Buy and Persuasive Sales: A Case Study

Persuasive Sales 101

Ok. First the crash course. If you’ve been to enough sales presentations, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. This pattern is not an accident. It’s replicated because it just plain works.

Different industries, presentation methods, and individuals all tweak the pattern to suit their particular product/media/style, but the persuasive pattern is still the same. Understand, of course, that there’s a whole lot more to this. Libraries have been written about sales persuasion. But here are the basics:

1) The Big Promise
2) The Proof
3) Stories (often in testimonial form)
4) The Guarantee (you’ve got nothing to lose, yet lots to gain)
5) The close (with a tag of urgency)

If you think about it, you’ll find all the basics in Direct Buy’s approach, but what I want to examine in particular is number 5.

You see urgency in sales and marketing all the time. “Act Now. For a Limited Time.” Sales always have an ending date. Every window and siding salesman who ever came to give us a “Free Estimate” always told us that we had to buy that night in order to get that particular deal. Same with time-share presentations.

Direct Buy’s Sales Machine

But Direct Buy puts this whole urgency thing on steroids. If you ask me, the decide-tonight-or-you-can-never-come-back is pure genius.

Why? Direct Buy knows that 95% of people who walk out won’t come back anyway. People have a strong aversion to missing out. Psychologists have proven that fear of loss is a much greater motivator than potential joy from gain.

Direct Buy knows this.

Simply put—if you can resist their tactic, they know you weren’t going to buy anyway. And in probably 99% of the cases, they’re right.

But here’s what I was wondering: Are they really telling the truth?

I mean c’mon. First of all, do you think they really keep track of every person that walks in and out of their doors without signing on the dotted line?

And even if they did, what if (say, six months later), some couple’s situation changes and now they really do want to take advantage of all Direct Buy has to offer. Are they really going to turn away another $4,300 in cold hard cash?

Testing Direct Buy’s Urgent Call To Action

I decided to find out.

Remember, our visit was in October. But last Friday I decided to experiment by clicking on that little “Direct Buy Visitor’s Pass” ticket thingy in the upper right hand corner of their website.

This is what happened next:

First I get a choice of days and times,

Then I get some preliminary instructions about who must and must not attend with me before I’m asked, “Will Saturday, 3/24/2007 at 3:30 PM definitely be good for both you and Lisa?

Followed closely by a reminder that there are absolutely no children allowed (in case you didn’t catch that the first time), and finally my confirmed Visitors Pass. Yea! I can go!

I even got a pdf version that I prints out neatly and I’m encouraged to bring along to the appointment.

So there you have it. Banned from the building for 4 years? Hah! Just try to keep me out.

Direct Buy and the The Bottom Line for the Consumer

I don’t think Direct Buy is owned and operated by the devil. I don’t think it’s an evil company. And at least from the perspective of an outsider looking in, I would hesitate before I called it a scam.

I honestly think Direct Buy is trying to do what it says–save the consumer money. It’s a good business model, and I truly think it’s legit. But Direct Buy has some serious issues to resolve to get to the next level. The first being the daunting challenge of streamlining and simplifying the flow of information to the customer.

Searching through 8-foot high shelves filled with 5 pound catalogues? Fuggetaboutit. Direct Buy is set up more like an old fashioned library crammed with technical specs than a fun, creative, imaginative showroom.

So who is it right for?

  • Probably people looking forward to some major furniture purchases,
  • people who have the time and patience to do their own research,
  • and people who aren’t afraid to wait 6 weeks without word on their order.

Oh, and it probably helps to have some experience (or at least no fear of) dealing directly with manufacturers–which is a whole different beast when it comes to customer service.

A few final tips to prepare for your Direct Buy showroom visit

So, if you’re going in for a visit, here are a few final tips:

  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Remember the initiation fee will be anywhere between $4,000 and $6,000.
  3. Be prepared. Bring a list of items you’re thinking of buying in near future. Don’t forget to include specific manufacturer item numbers, specs, and retail prices.
  4. Don’t be pressured. Take your time. See if you can find the things you want quickly and efficiently without a sales person helping you. Who knows how helpful they’ll actually be after they get your money.
  5. When they remind you it’s now or never, just smile and not your head. Now you know better–but it’s still probably best to let that be our little secret. You’d hate to upset them. They might actually remember you six months or a year from now.

UPDATE: If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy learning how Direct Buy’s corporate headquarters felt after they read it and all the comments posted here.