Monday, September 3, 2007

Grohe You Get What You Pay For...Best Warranty

There is an old saying that goes "You Get What You Pay For." I can tell you that I have always been a bit skeptical about this saying because it was my belief that some items that cost more then others are not necessarily better or worth the extra cost.

This is certainly not the case when purchasing Grohe plumbing fixtures as I have found out over the many years I have had them installed in my home. My first experience with Grohe goes back almost 25 years ago when I purchased a faucet for my bathroom sink. Some years later, we added a second floor on our New Jersey ranch home and once again decided to go with the top manufacturers at that time. The water basins and sinks were made by Villeroy & Boch, all the faucets, showers and tub hardware was Grohe. Now over the years, I have always loved my Grohe items, because the quality is beyond compare. The faucets are made by Grohe in Germany and they have been engineered to last a lifetime and look as good 20 years later as they did the day they were installed.

A couple of years ago I purchased a Grohe kitchen sink faucet, it wasn't inexpensive and I think I paid almost $400 for it, but even the Home Depot units from China were over $150 and they just didn't compare. The chrome finish is flawless and is hard and shiny as a diamond. All you need to do is spray it from time to time with a mixture of plain white vinegar and water and wipe off any white lime deposits. For a higher shine, use a high quality chrome polish and it will look new.

Getting back to my sink faucet...I noticed my water flow had diminished a great deal in the kitchen. A friend who is a plumber took the head off and the water was fine so we realized the head was probably clogged up. I called the Grohe, dealer where I had purchased the faucet and he took care of getting me a free replacement. I didn't even have to send the old part back and Paul Stewart at Richmond Tile was my dealer and he knew me well. Now if you think this is great, wait until you hear this story.

I decided it was time to update my downstairs bathroom again. We actually did it about 12 years ago, but had some water damage and couldn't replace some of the tiles on the wall and had to use different tiles on the fix and it never looked right. Add to this my work changing all the doors on all my downstairs rooms from the flat panel doors to the 6 panel raised doors. When replacing these doors, I had to pull out all the doors and the frames and this ended up damaging the tile floor in this here we go again, doing it one more time.

As I shopped for new tile, vanity, sink, water basin (toilet), lights, fan, etc. I also thought of replacing some of the Grohe fixtures with new ones. The dealer also showed me Jado another upscale company that also makes a great product, but after seeing the cost to replace it all, we decided to simply use the existing Grohe fixtures and just purchase a new sink faucet (Grohe of course) to go with the updated sink/vanity.

As I took the fixtures down and began to demo the walls, I noticed that some of the Grohe parts had worn out. The hot and cold water cartridges were not working properly and were all clogged up with lime deposits. The hose on the shower was showing some wear on the top and a cap on the bottom of our shower bar was not staying in place due to a broken part.

I called Grohe and spoke to their warranty department. Mr. Michael Montalbano who works in their International Customer Support area was my rep and he asked me a few questions about my products and asked me when I purchased them and then asked me to send him some photos of the parts that were not working properly or damaged. Since I am a professional photojournalist and the president of International Press Association, taking those pictures was simple for me.

I shot the photos and uploaded them to my server and send Michael the list of what I needed and a link to the photos. Once he verified I was the original owner of these items, he began the process to replace them. I received the replacement parts in about 3 days total. I was shocked to say the could a company operate so efficiently and really live up to a Limited Lifetime Warranty as Grohe did?

They didn't ask me to return the defective parts, they didn't require me to dig up a 10-15 year old receipt for the product and they didn't take 4-8 weeks to make the replacement as others have done before. The process was so painless and Mr. Montalbano was such a helpful gentleman that I know I will become one of their best evangelists. Not only have they produced quality products and have put their money where their mouth is (their warranty), but in the event a product does not live up to a customers expectations (or theirs), they step up to the plate and make it right.

Now that I have all the parts needed to reinstall the shower and other items in this bathroom, I have gone upstairs to my master bathroom and noticed my shower head shows some peeling on the chrome head and the knob on my shower which is a crystal like lucite has some small defects, so once again I will contact Michael and ask for his help. I am sure he will once again prove the old adage "You Get What You Pay For." So I would recommend that before you go to Home Depot or Lowes, think hard and fast and check out the Grohe line of bath and kitchen items and spend a bit more (or a lot more) and enjoy every day you use you sinks, baths or showers and you will never purchase any one of those rip off extended warranties the stores try to sell you. There is no need to do so with a Grohe product, because this company will take care of you for your lifetime on any one of their products, no matter what goes wrong.

By the way, I asked a bit more about their Limited Lifetime Warranty. Michael explained that it covers the original owner of the product only. If you sell your home, then the Warranty on those installed items is no longer in effect. Glad I decided to continue to upgrade my home over the years and keep it current, nice to know that their are still companies that value their customers and stand behind their products. Kudos to Grohe and their staff for a job well done.

Visit their web site and find a dealer near you.

Special Thanks to Paul Stewart at Richmond Tile, visit their showroom in Staten Island, New York or their web site at:

International Customer Support
Grohe Americas
Tel: 630 582 7711
Fax: 630 872 5669

Friday, June 1, 2007

Letter To Imperial Healthcare - Neptune , NJ

With the passing of my father, I wrote a letter of appreciation to the people that took care of him during the last 4 weeks of his life. The following is a letter sent to their administrator and one I felt compelled to write.

May 29, 2007

Mr. Josh Bambergers
Imperial Healthcare
919 Green Grove Road
Neptune, NJ 07753

Dear Josh;

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you and your caring and efficient staff for taking care of my father Julius Rapoport during his short stay in your facility.

As you know, my father at 93 years of age, came to Imperial only a few short weeks before he passed. His congestive heart failure and other physical and mental issues made living in assisted living impossible and his rapid decline made it even more important to have him in a care facility that could keep a keen eye on him. Although we have discussed the hallway near the nurses station as not one of the best solutions, I have to admit, that this temporary fix was one that kept dad in the eyes of your wonderful staff at all times.

It is hard for any family to have to say good bye to a loved one and both Compassionate Care Hospice and Imperial Healthcare helped the Rapoport family get through a very hard time. I can say with conviction that I have never met a more caring and warm group of professionals in all the years I have taken care of my father.

Although I hate to name individuals for fear of missing a few names, I can’t help to mention the exceptional support from Ben ( I felt he was family), Maria, Izzy, Yanni (not the famous singer, but the beautiful aide), Suzanne, Barbara, Robin and all the others, my heartfelt thanks to all of you for not only a job well done, but for your sincere kindness during a difficult time for our family.

In a world that is often motivated by money and greed, it is rare to find people that love what they do and love the people they do it for. I am not sure I could be as noble as your staff, nor be able to meet the many challenges they have to deal with each day.

My father kept his sense of humor to the end and told me how wonderful the staff was to him. I know he blew kisses to some of the aides and Yanni must have received some kisses on the cheek from dad, it was his way of thanking them for their care and kindness.

I hope to visit in the next few days to say thank you once again in person. In the meantime, please feel free to use this letter as one of recommendation to anyone considering a long or short term care facility for a loved one.


Len Rapoport


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On The Passing Of My Grandfather

On The Passing Of My Grandfather

By Andrew Rapoport - 3/22/2007

My grandfather was a great man. More than anything, he cherished and cared for his family. He left behind a family tree that he often told me he was very, very proud of.

In the last few weeks he was awake, it was apparent that my grandfather's defining quality was likeability and his sense of humor. He defined the quality that we all refer to when we talk about what it means to be a Rapoport. It’s that likeability and sense of humor that we possess that makes us different from any others. He also instilled that natural work ethic and sales ability that so many of us received.

So I cry tears of pride and respect today but I try not to cry tears of sadness.

When I think about the fact that Grandpa was married to the same woman for over 50 years, raised 3 successful sons and had 9 grandchildren. After Grandma left us, he was lucky enough to spend over 15 years with his wonderful young love Arnel (she is 93 years young). When I consider that he was always committed to his relationships and supported his family, when I realize that for most of his life, he was healthy and happy and able to participate; when I remember him, I remember him as a funny but shrewd man, with a voice of wisdom;

I cry tears of admiration and I try not to cry tears of sadness,
because tears of sadness aren't befitting of the memory of my Grandfather.

Just as his life wasn't sad, his death isn’t a tragedy. He can finally be at peace because I know that his young mind made it hard for him to endure the last years of his life. It’s rare a man lives a full enough life so that even others can look back upon his legacy and beam with positivity and smiles.

Join me today, not in tears of sadness, but in tears of celebration of a life well lived.

Grandpa we’ll miss and love you and will never forget the great memories we have.

My Father, A Man Of Great Strength

Eulogy for My Father

Julius Rapoport

Born 3/14/1916 - Died 5/19/2007

Once again, I stand before my mothers grave now to have her beloved husband, my father, join her in these hallowed grounds.

Not being a religious family, we were however one that cherished many of the Jewish traditions. Although dad was never given a formal hebrew education, nor did many of us, I am sure we often wonder if there really is a life after death.

I want to share a story with you that some of you have heard before. When mom was buried here 8 years ago, I was driving dad back to the Airport. We were on the Garden State Parkway (I remember the exact spot) and we were very distressed and crying in the car talking about mom. I explained to dad that I knew that mom was indeed watching over us and that we should take comfort in knowing that. At that very moment a car swerved in front of us and I noticed the license plate on the car began with the letters FAY [my mother's name].

I was in disbelief and showed dad the car and exclaimed that this was surely a sign that mom was in fact looking at us now and would take care of us. Now for a family that never practiced or even believed in organized religion, this was a sign that there are some things we just can’t understand or explain and just maybe their is another world we all go to when we transition from this one.

In 1931 when dad was 17 years old he made mom’s sweet sixteen party. Mom was his first and only love while they were married and he was truly devoted to her and our family. Of course he was a hard man at times, but we understood this and probably learned much from his strength. After all his child hood was not an easy one. He lost his older brother Freddie when he was very young due to a horse and carriage accident. He watched his father who owned a successful millinery business go out of business and struggle to support his family during the great depression. The Rapoport’s didn’t have much and Ruby [my father's older brother] and dad shared a bed each night while aunt Rose [his younger sister] had her own in the little bungalow they lived in in Coney Island in the 30’s and 40’s. They didn’t have enough food for the table and they used to tell me that bubby Mollie would say to them in Yiddish (when they would grab for some meat on the table) to “Eat Bread, Don’t Stuff Yourself On The Meat”.

Our generation can’t imagine how hard it was for a family to survive, but this is what the Rapoport’s had to endure growing up. So we wonder why they were tough when they had to be. They were all hard workers with a strong family bond and love and ones that never took a dollar for granted. Some may say, dad was a penny pincher, or a man that never liked to spend money and I would agree, he was. Unfortunately this condition was out of his control and was a result of a hard child hood. He knew the value of earning an honest living and even sold confetti during the Coney Island parades each summer to feed his family. Later he would pack up his car, taking out the rear seat to have more space for merchandise and drive two hours to the Farmers Markets in Long Island. He would set up a few tables with his own hand painted signs and sell women’s and children’s clothing that he got from Kiev and Rose’s dry goods store. Alan [my older brother who passed away at age 60] and I ended up going with him on many of those trips and we sold comic books we got from his uncle Lou’s candy store. I will always remember when we arrived home very late at night and my father would throw a big bundle of bills on the table and mom would count how much he made that day. This was exciting times for us and I will never forget them.

Although as a young man he worked as a salesman for a paper distributor selling the local bakeries and stores their wrapping paper or other paper needs, he still gave us a rich child hood. Living in Coney Island, walking to the beach in the summers and enjoying all the rides at Steeplechase Amusement Park was indeed a child’s dream. We never had to go away to summer camp, our lives in Coney Island were better then any camp could ever be and we all ended up working on the Boardwalk each summer. I worked at Shatzkin’s Knishes and Alan worked at the nearby Skee Ball arcade. Alan always gave me free games and extra tickets for prizes they had in their showcase.

Dad was a shy man, a man that didn’t like to go out much and socialize. Mom would be the one to force him out and encourage him to enjoy others. My fathers best friends were his family. His brother Ruby and his wife Yetta and his baby sister Rose and her husband Kieve and all the children in our families. It was all about family in the early days when we were kids growing up in Coney Island. We spent the weekends with our cousins and family. We slept over each others houses, we stayed home and enjoyed the beach and boardwalk in Coney Island or we went away for the summer to the bungalow colonies in the Catskills or to Lake George to spend a few weeks on a real farm. Our family was one extended family and we did everything together.

Dad loved to entertain and invite company to our home. He would take great joy in preparing platters of food and we always had company in our home. We certainly weren’t rich, but dad was a good provider, we had what we needed. When we were old enough to get a work permit, we worked on the board walk in Coney Island and the money we earned was ours to use for our own own needs.

I remember when mom’s, mother, Grandma Dora took illl and couldn’t live alone in Coney Island, my father offered to take her into our home on Avenue P. He was a good father, husband and son-in-law. He would even bail out my uncle Mike who had a tendency to always gamble and get into trouble with the shylocks [illegal money lenders]. I remember my father on the phone with him late at night offering him the cash he needed to stay out of trouble.

We enjoyed a wonderful adult life with mom and dad too. We spent so many happy days in their small home on Ave. P and then when they decided to move to Florida, we spent many cold winters at their home in Tamarac. Dad was a devoted and loyal husband. When mom got sick and her Alzheimer’s became so bad that she was a danger to herself and dad, he finally agreed it was time to send her to a home. I am sure this was the most difficult decision in his life. It was the realization that he would now lose his wife and best friend of over 70 years and it was heartbreaking for him. He did not give up on mom and made sure to visit her every day and bring her something to eat. He often told me that it was important to come each day not only for mom, who at that time didn’t even recognize him, but to let the care givers in those homes know that she did have family that cared about her and would be there each day to check on her.

He would point to all the other listless souls in the room and say to me, these are the forgotten ones, who’s family is up north and don’t come to visit. You now understand why I am here every day. He befriended all the staff and they took care of mom as if she was family. He taught me the importance of being a care giver for a loved one and it was his example that I followed all these years in taking care of dad.

He also met his second great love, Arnell at mom’s nursing home. Arnell was the activities director and would help mom in her exercise classes and keep her mind working as long as she could. She would share stories about mom with me and Arnell soon became the closest of friends and a member of our family. It was this 16 year friendship that I am sure, helped dad live as long as he has. Arnell became his most important contact with the outside world. She became dad’s care giver too and took him to the doctor’s when he had an appointment and offered him the love and companionship that gave him a reason to live.

When mom died after suffering for 8 years with Alzheimer’s it still tore him apart even though he had expected it. Then Alan died shortly after mom and this was the moment that he began to decline in his mental and physical health. Although he was shy, he was a man with great dignity and independence. It killed him to have to depend on anyone to help him do the simple tasks like zipping up his jacket or putting on a seat belt in the car, he wanted to do it himself. “I can do it, I am not a child” he would yell at me. Each time I would ask him how he was doing he would tell me he was O.K. I would ask if he thought he needed to go to assisted living and he said he would tell me when he did. He never did...the same when he was failing and couldn't lift himself out of a chair or bed when I asked if I could move him to a long term care facility and he once again told me...I will let you know when I am ready. He wanted his independence, his dignity and his strength, but these things could no longer be his.

If we were asked to define his life, it would be simply a loving father, a loyal husband and a good friend. He was a man that thought about his family right to the end. He told me many times that he didn’t want to ever be a burden to me. Imagine, he felt guilty about me visiting him or taking him to the doctors. He used to tell me not to visit him so often and that he understood I had a life too. I always told him I didn’t think it was a burden and I did it because I loved him. He kept telling me it was hard getting old and that he would never have imagined living this long. He was tired with the stuggle of these past few years, fighting his heart failure and other medical and physical issues, but never once wanted to be a burden and told me over and over how he loved me and didn’t know what he would have done without me. This is what kept me going when I thought I didn’t have any strength left to give him.

He gave me more then I gave him with his love, support and sage advice. I always felt better after discussing my problems with dad, he knew how to cheer me up and get me back on track. I could talk to him about anything and he listened with concern. He never stopped being my father, right to the end, when he reminded me I was getting too fat. He loved Gladys too and always told me how lucky I was to have her. He thought she was so beautiful and told her this each time he saw her when we went to visit him. He loved his grand children and some years ago told me not to wait to give the children a gift on his death. He said they might need it now and instructed me to send a check to each one of them, no matter how well they were doing financially, this was going to be a gift from their grand father.

He was a charmer to be sure and all the nurses in all the homes he lived in these past few years always told me that “Your father is such a nice man, a true gentleman”. Even at the very end, we saw him blow kisses to the aides and nurses at the nursing home and told me how kind they were to him. He looked at photos of him and mom when they were younger and kept telling me what a beautiful and wonderful woman she was. In his last days, the hardest days for him and us, even in a semiconscious state he still kept his sense of humor.

When Arnell arrived, he was slumped over in his chair and she called to him, Julie, Julie, wake up, I am here. With eyes still shut, he took his weak and discolored hand, put his thumb between his two fingers and wiggled it at her. You know, the gesture he used to do when he said, I got your nose. On one of his last remaining days, he suddenly awoke to see Arnell standing over him and he grabbed her and kissed her. He knew we were there for him even if he seemed to be unconscious.

I only wish this gentle man will now be able to join mom, Alan and all of our other friends and family and enjoy a new life, one without pain and suffering.

Dad please watch over us all and protect us as you did during your life, Rest in Peace Dad, I love you.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Restaurants Some Good and Some Bad!

I am sure we all have our favorite restaurants. They may offer great food, terrific value, friendly staff and atmosphere and of course convenience. Living in New Jersey, just 35 miles to the Big Apple has given me an opportunity to check out some of the best the East Coast has to offer. Add to this the fact that I am a photojournalist and my wife owns a travel agency and you can add many other opportunities to the list of establishments I have eaten in.

So you may ask, why am I writing this blog...well, over the past few months two of these restaurants stand out in my mind as the complete opposites and I wanted to share my opinions with my readers.

One of the best local restaurants I go to is called Houlihan's of Leawood, Kansas and has been in operation since 1972. They are one of 81 around the country and this particular store located in Holmdel, New Jersey is part of the A.C.E. Restaurant Group one of Houlihan's New Jersey franchise owner companies. Arnold Runestad president of ACE now has 13 locations in operation in our state with 10 more on the way and is now looking to expand into other geographic areas.

You can read more about Houlihan's by clicking here.

Now Houlihan's is one of the best casual dining restaurants we have dined in and we love to go back to our Holmdel, NJ location often. There menu is full of wonderful choices and I tend to be a picky eater, so this down home restaurant has many dishes I love. Some of my favorites include their Lettuce Wraps, Spinach Dip with Cheesy Lavosh, or their Blackened Chicken and Caramelized Onion Quesadilla for starters, and a hot bowl of their wonderful Baked Potato Soup which I order every time I go there. I like a soup that is thick and filled with goodies and I can tell you this soup will never disappoint you.

As far as their main dishes go, once again I love their Chicken Asian Chop Chop salad and usually order one and share it with my wife (they are huge) and then order either their Grilled Rosemary Chicken, Down Home Pot Roast, Blackened Chicken in a Spicy Cream Sauce over Pasta and a special dinner combo we order from time to time that comes on a huge platter with their Baby Back Ribs, Rosemary Chicken and their wonderful fried Shrimp (all this under $20). Since we often share this dish, we ask them to split it

Their entrees and a salad or appetizer should be shared , because they offer great food and true value to their customers. I won't go into their desserts, but let me tell you that if you do share dishes you can order one and once again, one is enough for two.

Now, why do we love Houlihan's? Well not only is the food my kind of food, the atmosphere is warm and friendly, their staff is exceptional and their manager Mr. Alfredo Rivera is one of the best we have seen anywhere. On occasion things may not go as planned. We might end up with poor service (it can happen anywhere), but rest assured if Mr. Rivera is there , he will come to your aide. He knows just the right things to say, will offer you a complimentary item to make up for your problem and make sure you are satisfied with the resolution and want to come back again and again.

My personal thanks to Alfredo Rivera for always showing us his special kind of hospitality. How can you tell who he is at the restaurant. Simply look for the hardest working man there. He might be showing you to a table or even serving you at a table, when his wait staff is short or in trouble. I have seen him clean off dishes from tables as well. Yes, boys and girls, he is a manager and a hard working one too.

Houlihan's is our top neighborhood pick and the best of the lot (Chili's, TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, Charlie Brown's). Now if all of the above makes you want to visit your local Houlihan's, I have one other Bonus suggestion. Complete the service questionnaire that they put on each table. Make sure to include your birthday, anniversary and your email address. On your special day, you will get an email mail with a gift of a free entree or a free dessert and their are no strings attached.

We tend to order their huge entree with the ribs, chicken and shrimp, share it and the total bill comes to $ heard me, if you don't order anything else, there is no charge. No restaurant I have ever gone to will give you a free anything if you don't buy something else. Of course we order a soup, some drinks so our last bill on my wife's birthday came to around $5 and change with the tax. By the way, no sharing charges ever, and if you tell them you are going to share a dish, they will break it up in the kitchen, make sure you both have plenty of potato's on each dish and serve it to you. These shared dishes are usually bigger then most restaurants serve as a single order.

Note: Read a full review with photos of Houlihan's at our International Press web site.

So now that we know about Houlihan's and their good food, value priced menu and excellent service, lets look at one of the worst I had the displeasure to visit.

The Okeechobee Steak House in West Palm Beach, Florida is a restaurant that I had the misfortune to go to because of a recommendation from another couple that now live in Florida. Here is something I found on the net that gives you a bit of their history:

Open since 1947, Curtis and Jeannie Lewis have earned the right to call their restaurant a "classic American steakhouse." They cut and dry age all USDA prime and certified Angus beef on the premises. Come for the beef, not the sides, some of which could use updating...

So let me tell you what I hated about this restaurant...everything...

The place was so old and crummy that it looked like an old bar with very old wooden benched booths and old decor, tables and chairs. They were smart enough to keep the lights low or you would have walked out when you saw their menu and prices. I gasped when I saw most entrees ran from $25-$40 or more and they came with virtually nothing other then the main dish. Not being a big steak eater, I knew I was in the wrong place, but with any good steak house like Ruth's Chris, Morton's, Smith and Wollensky or others, you might pay these prices, but they are clean, modern, beautiful restaurants with exceptional service and food. I can tell you that the Okeechobee Steak House is not in this class at all, yet their prices are.

After looking at their prices and their lack of selection, I decided to just write off this one and ordered a $14 hamburger, thinking that at least it would be the best burger on the block for $14. They proved me wrong here too. I asked what came with the burger and was told I could have a potato or vegetable so I opted for a baked potato. I asked if they could put some onions on the grill for me so I could put it on the friend pointed out they charge $4 for fried onions. I asked if they could just put a slice on the grill for the burger and I didn't want a side dish. The waitress said she would ask.

My wife ended up ordering a fish dish and shared it and the pork chops that my friends wife ordered. I believe the two chops were $28, nothing special here and way overpriced considering none of these dishes included a trip to their shameful and sparse salad bar. Most salad bars are an exciting excursion and usually contain tons of fresh vegetables and some have fruit and nuts (Charlie Brown has a great salad bar), but not this one. Ice Berg Lettuce and a few other items and that was I believe $4.99 extra...can you believe their nerve.

So we passed on the salads, not worth $1.99, got the 1/4 pound dried out hamburger with a crummy small baked potato, nothing else on the dish except some lettuce, tomato and onion on the burger. Now remember, I asked the waitress to have them simply put the onion on the grill, right...well they wouldn't do it. The hamburger bun was nothing special and worse then a McDonald's bun. I think my wife had a glass of wine, the other couple had two drinks too. The check came to around $150 for the 4 of us and I ended up paying $57 including my tip for me and my wife. She had one pork chop, small piece of fish, I had a terrible burger, no ambiance at all, uncomfortable chairs and to top it off, I had to have them valet my car, because their lot was too small to park my own, so of course I had to tip just to get my car.

Now don't get me wrong. If I go to a nice restaurant, I expect to pay for their overhead, their decor, their exclusive location, their exceptional service and great food, but how in the world can this joint get away with this, I wondered. I figured they have to be living off the old customers, that for some reason, have remained loyal. I just can't imagine anyone in their right minds going there and enjoying their dining experience. After all how many people can sit down and eat a 38 ounce steak today, unless they were from the old world and didn't have to worry about eating this much poison in one sitting or paying $50+ by the end of the meal.

I give the Okeechobee Steak House my "Hall of Shame" rating for poor decor and atmosphere, inferior salad bar, overpriced menu, poor sides, and very poor value for the food they serve.

Oh, I forgot to mention, they wanted a $7.50 sharing charge if you wanted to share that huge is that for Chutzpah!

You know, I now realize why many of the independent restaurants have been unable to compete with the national chains...they just can't compete any longer when it comes for consistency in their menu, value, decor, professional staff and learning the proper way to treat their customers ... No Grilled onion, plate share charge, over priced salad bar and not included in their expensive entrees...Forget visiting this "Landmark Restaurant", their time has come and gone and they should sell out to the next developer that offers them a few bucks for their location.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Safeguard Self Storage 180º Turnaround from Bad To Great

Please read my updated comments now...Ben Martin is the current facility manager and is a prince among men. This man couldn't be nicer and as a result we are still with Safeguard and have expanded our space to a full 20X20 foot location. The turn around is 180 degrees for this facility and I would gladly recommend it now for your storage needs....8/22/2007.

We have also been informed of the passing of Rob. He was a very young man and unfortunately passed away. I was told that his death might have been caused by medication he had been taking which created the wild mood swings he exhibited. I want to express my deepest sympathies to his family and friends for their loss of this very young man, who went before his time...12/28/2007

I am leaving this story on my blog to illustrate how companies handle their customers and how you might want to handle issues you have with companies. I hope this doesn't show my lack of respect for Rob's family, but I believe it is important to understand how some medication can in fact cause individuals to act irrationally and as in this case even cause death.

I have spent the better portion of my life in people oriented positions which included being the owner of an executive search firm a sales and marketing manager in the women's clothing industry, and the owner of a licensed movie apparel company working with leading film studios. I also spent 7 years as a marketing and corporate communications consultant to one of the largest east coast parking companies in the country and many years as a consultant and writer. Currently I am busy running a 400 member organization which I founded called International Press Association. IPA is a web based organization made up of members of the media, photographers and journalist and has become a well respected international organization.

The reason for the brief bio is to let you know that all of my career positions were based on my people skills and understanding of how to motivate individuals to either do their jobs better or to convince people or companies to purchase my companies goods or services. I have been very successful in all of these career and personal choices and one only has to read the articles on my IPA web site or this blog to see I have a keen understanding of how a company and their employees should treat their customers.

A couple of years ago I had to rent some space in a local storage facility Safeguard Self Storage in Holmdel, NJ. At that time I had an incident where the local site manager accidentally closed the bay doors as I was backing in and by the time the doors sensor realized it hit the roof of my car and began to go up, damage was done to the roof rack of my SUV and to the top of my car.

I had to shame this company to pay for the damage done to the car and finally, after numerous attempts, settled for a small allowance against my monthly rent. I didn't want to get the manager in trouble so, I didn't make a big deal out of this and moved on. I left Safeguard when my needs for space ceased and later found out the manager, I was trying to protect, allegedly entered customers rented spaces and helped himself to some of their belongings. This came to my attention when reading an article in our local paper. I was surprised to see this, since he seemed to be a nice guy.

This year my son moved back to New York from Florida and needed a storage facility while he looked for an apartment in New York City. I shopped around for him and called Safeguard again thinking they were a nice, clean place and would offer us a competitive price for the space. They offered me a decent deal on a 20'X20' space and I ended up taking one in the middle of August with a move in date of September 1, 2006.

My son arrived in New Jersey and began to move his belongings into Safeguard and soon found out he needed more space. It was necessary to now take another 10'X10' space to supplement the first one. Of course the cost of the smaller space was much more expensive
per square foot, then the larger space, but we felt it wouldn't matter since it was only a temporary situation. After all with the first month free it wouldn't be that bad.

We thought we would keep the 20X20 when my son moved into his apartment and give up the 10X10, but as it turned out, we were able to get his remaining items, after his move to New York, into the 10X10 space. Of course we were paying approximately 50% per square foot more for this small space, over what we paid for the larger space, but it was still going to be less each month then keeping the 20X20. We really had no choice now so we stayed with Safeguard. There goes the competitive pricing we got only 2 months before on the larger space.

The manager of Safeguard Holmdel is a young man named Rob. Rob is one of those guys that likes to play bully, you know the type, the Alpha Male. I understand from Rob, that he once managed a health club and had a number of other jobs in his young career, which is not really something I would be bragging about. Now he sits in a storage facility all day...from his list of jobs, it didn't seem like a lot of great career choices to me, but who am I to pass judgement. The only reason I mention this is to show his arrogance, which you will understand, as you finish reading this article.

Let me give you a little profile of Rob and his lack of people skills. One day my son forgot the key to his facility and asked if he could borrow the snips to cut it off. Rob informed him he couldn't let him use it and there was a $10 fee to cut the lock off. Now I understand this may be a company policy, but don't you think that either Rob or Safeguard should try to accommodate their customers especially on something so trivial? Rob was extremely rude and made what could have been a very simple thing into an adversarial situation. My son called me, I drove down with my snips and cut if off myself in 5 seconds.

At the same time my son needed to use their rest room and Rob refused to let him use it and told him it was out of order, again this could have been the case, but in both situations that day, Rob was not pleasant and was quite rude to my son. When I arrived at Safeguard to cut the lock, I thought Rob was just having a bad day, so I went to introduce myself to Rob. I decided to give Rob a nice Lenox China Christmas Salt and Pepper shaker set, as a gift (retail value $22). I was going to store these in my son's space, because I had bought a number of Lenox Holiday items at the Lenox outlet store that I was going to sell on eBay for Christmas. I thought by extending my hand of friendship and my token of good will, I would at least warm Rob up and just maybe, he would begin to treat my son a bit nicer then he had. I soon found out that was my mistake.

Now remember, that rate we first got on the 20X20 space, which now became a higher rate on the smaller space, became even more expensive. We received a notification that we would now have to pay a new 7% state tax which was being imposed on rent at these facilities. OK, we understand this happens when state government passes new laws, but how about the additional increase of another $10.70 each month, that Safeguard now added to this account as of January 1st, because their costs increased. I suppose on a month to month lease, the consumer has few rights to object to these increase and our rent increased another 15% or more between the tax and the Safeguard increase.

Once you have loaded all your items into a storage unit, it is very hard to move. That is why these places offer a free month, they know that most customers who believe they will only need storage for a couple of months actually stay a year or longer. Unless you want to pay for a truck rental and spend a day moving from one place to another, you stay where you are and they know it. Now remember, all these increases happened to us, in just about a 4 month period.

When we signed the lease and I paid the first month with my credit card and possibly the second month too, not sure, we asked Safeguard to bill my son's credit card for the rent each of the following months. For some reason December's charge didn't go through and we discovered the reason was that Rob at Safeguard forgot to include the 3 or 4 digit security code when entering the information. Of course Rob sent us a letter that the card was rejected and we had 3 days to call them and make the payment or we would incur a $10 late fee. I thought this was a bit harsh, but my son called, discovered the problem and while I was there with him, gave them the security code and information they needed for future charges. We thought there would not be any further issues.

Once again this month I received a notice from Rob at Safeguard dated 1/2/07. The notice explained that the credit card company declined the charge again and if they didn't receive payment by the close of 1/6 a late fee of $10 would be added to our account. The letter arrived in my home on January 4th. Since Safeguard is located near my home in New Jersey and my son is now in NYC, I called him to let him know there was a problem again. He told me he would call and was sure that once again, they forgot to include the security code when applying the charge to his account.

Today, I received another letter from Rob at Safeguard dated 1/4 (only 2 days after the first notice) that they have now charged my son's account the $10 late fee because the payment was not received. How could they charge a late fee when the first letter clearly stated that the fee would not be imposed before 1/6? It further stated that if payment was sent for the original amount that we should add the $10 late fee to next months payment. Now as you read this I am sure you can understand my outrage at these dunning letters. They didn't wait until 1/6 to impose the fee, they sent the notice with the late fee on 1/4 only two days after the first notice. Most companies would either mail you a polite notice, or call you and give you some time to contact them or make the payment, Rob at Safeguard did not.

Some companies have a policy to charge your card on file a week before the payment is actually due or will mail a rent notice out a couple of weeks in advance, so if there were any problems you still had time to correct them. I have never seen any company or any individual, in all the years I have been in business, or in my personal dealings, charge a late fee after two days after notification of a problem. Personally I have never paid any bills late, have an A+++ credit rating and don't owe anything to anyone, my credit rating is around 780 out of a high possible score of 850, Rob bragged he had a credit score of 800, see what I mean about being an Alpha Male. By the way their web site claims they have easy payment options and automatic credit card you can see their payment option is not so easy.

I assumed my son already called and got this matter cleared up but because of the second letter I decided to call Rob myself and find out why he had issued a second collection letter only 2 days after the first letter and only 4 days into the beginning of the month. He once again was short with me, told me that my son had called yesterday with another credit card and the matter was now resolved. When I asked why he sent out the second letter only two days after the first, he told me that he sends out the second letter 5 days after the first one...but as you can see from the scanned letter above, the first one was dated 1/2/07 and the second one went out on 1/4/07 that is 2 days by my count.

As I discussed their procedure and how it was a bit harsh and wouldn't build customer loyalty, he seemed to care less. I further explained that this was simply a credit card issue and not a case of a dead beat, he replied that this was the second time it had happened as if to say "We are Dead-Beats". I was a bit in shock but still kept my cool and tried to reason with Rob. Now remember the first time they forgot to put in the security code, the card was good, it was their error, not ours that the card was declined. We even came in to the facility in person to correct the problem and make sure that had what they needed to charge the rent each month. When I asked Rob why their was a problem, he said it never happens on other cards, but on their system it some how didn't save the security code on his card and it was rejected...I really think they might have just written the wrong code down in their records because the card is fine when used anywhere else.

I asked him why he just didn't call us to ask for a new card or for payment and he told me he doesn't have the time because he sends out 500 invoices each month. I seriously doubted this is really a problem because he also told me he as at least 8 problems like this a month. I had suggested it might be better to simply make the calls or even send out an email to those customers it would take less time then mailing the notices and would be a more efficient and friendly want to deal with any credit card problems. He once again seemed annoyed by my comments and suggestions on the proper procedure to deal with his customers. He told me he didn't have Internet access so he couldn't send out email notifications, another one of my suggestions. He explained that Safeguard would shut off the access to their facilities except when they had to do some company business. He also said he personally felt insulted because he is a manager and should have the access all the time. He further explained that he likes to receive his Sirius Radio over the net because he can't get decent reception because of all the steel in the facility. He told me how he wanted to listen to Howard Stern on Sirius Radio and couldn't...I could have guessed this has to be a Howard Stern fan...remember he is the typical Alpha Male.

I once again tried to explain that I have spent years as a consultant to Kinney Parking Systems in New York and this was a similar business to his. We had to rent space each month in our facilities as they did in theirs. I told him that at Kinney, I would go out of my way to satisfy a customer and even had a company newsletter that I wrote and produced that was distributed to our customers. The newsletter was geared to offer customers benefits and savings and always had my direct phone number so customers could call me directly with their concerns. It was the only way I could tell what was broken and what I needed to fix at Kinney. That input was valuable and I encouraged our customers to contact me.

Rob the AM, continued to be rude. He basically told me that he too had years of great business experience (remember he managed a health club) and thanked me sarcastically for telling him how to do his job, yes he really said that, I couldn't believe it, but it is true. I had previously told him I was a journalist, gave him the URL of my web site and told him I write many different articles including some about companies that just don't treat customers correctly. He told me that he hoped I wouldn't write about him, well Rob, you earned this article.

I tried very hard to be pleasant and professional and continued to explain how these letters and his actions would only cause his company to truly piss customers off, he basically told me to mind my own business. At that point I decided it was a losing battle and said good-bye.

I will send a letter to Safeguard corporate or a link to this blog and see how they respond. I have a feeling from my past experience with Safeguard that companies that hire people like Rob or the last guy who was convicted of stealing customers property, often are not aware of these problems. One of my friends told me years ago that "when you see a company with poor customer service or management, you can be sure that the Head of the Fish Stinks" this meant, that when the head of a company is bad, it filters down, or stinks, from the head of that fish down to the tail or the lowest employee. Of course I can be wrong, after all Safeguard states on the web that "
We guarantee your complete satisfaction every single day." so we will see if they actually can live up to their companies tag line.

When I think of companies that go the extra mile with exceptional customer service, I think of, Costco, Ben & Jerry's, Nordstroms, HearX to name a few. I am sure you can add to this list, there are so many companies that just know how to treat and appreciate their customers.

Rob, you are the tail of the Safeguard fish and Rob you stink. I only hope that the head of your company is simply unaware of your actions and would never condone them if he knew how you bully their customers and are bitter because you can't listen to Stern on the radio. Stay tuned to this blog and I will report their response to my letter.



Update on letter sent to Ken Finlay, President Safeguard Self Storage - 3350 Peachtree St. - Atlanta, GA 30326

On January 12th, I sent a cover letter to Mr. Finlay to explain my background and the reason for writing a letter directly to him regarding this situation. I enclosed copies of the invoices and notices I received from the Holmdel facility and a copy of this blog posting.

To date, I have not received a reply, either by phone or in the mail from Mr. Finlay's office. I can only conclude Mr. Finlay did not want to comment on my concerns and condones the actions of his Holmdel manager. So once again we find that the saying "The fish usually stinks from the head down" might be a true statement in this particular case.

It would seem strange to me that Mr. Finlay wouldn't want to address this matter since bad publicity can cost them new customers, especially if one is on the net and does a google search of "Safeguard Self Storage - Holmdel, NJ". Do it and see what comes up. The first match is their listing for the facility with contact information and the second listing is this blog. I would think, based on this alone, they might want to correct the problem or at least have the decency to answer my letter.

This appears to be another company that doesn't deliver what they promise.


Letter of Appreciation 32 Years Later...

My father is nearing his 93rd birthday and I had to clean out some of his old papers and personal items when I moved him to a new assisted living facility. He has a small stack of papers with a rubber band around them and I began to look through them. Some were old legal papers, birth certificate and other assorted papers that no longer were needed, but in the stack there were two sheets that caught my attention.

The first was a Letter sent to one of my fathers companies dated January 30, 1974 from a customer who was looking for a new Condo in Florida and happened to meet my father the sales manager at that time of "Lime Bay" a new condo development.

I have scanned this letter so you can read it here.

Although it might be a bit hard to read here, the letter deals with how pleasant and professional my father was to this customer. Now remember this letter was one of two I found in my fathers only personal papers and he kept this one for 32 years.

The other paper I mentioned was one he received from one of the companies he worked for and acknowledged him as being the first salesman to reach the million dollar mark selling mutual funds. This too was dated or or around the mid 1960's.

So the next time you meet someone that does their job well or goes out of their way to help you, take the time to write a letter to their employer and let them know about their exceptional staff.

You letter can also end up being the one they save and cherish as my father did his.

A Simple Compliment To An Employee Can Make A Difference

Many of us go through our lives doing what we do each day and the only recognition for a job well done is a pay check. I used to have a boss that would never give you a pat on your back for a good job. He used to say "the pat on the back is that you still have this job and you get paid each week".

This type of boss, doesn't know how important that little thank you or recognition can be to an employee. When people discuss a good boss, you will always hear things like, he is understanding, supportive, appreciates what I do and "I would do anything for this man/ woman, he is such a good boss".

So if you are an employer, learn this important lesson, people need to be acknowledged when they do a good job. It doesn't mean you have to begin to hang the "Employee of the Month" plague on the wall, but it does mean that a simple, "Job Well Done" or "Thanks, you did a great job and I really appreciate it" can go a long way in building a strong relationship between you and your employees. Treat them fairly and acknowledge them and you will find the rewards are far more then offering them a few dollar raise.

Today there is so much pressure on all of us that these simple acts of kindness and appreciation can make the difference in a persons life. Don't think about it, do it, you will be surprised how this Good Karma will come back to you many times over.

Product Cloud