It’s been a while…

I haven’t been so good with keeping this blog updated, mostly because I’d rather relax or be outside (without an internet connection) when I actually have free time.

Such a great summer with lots of baseball/softball (playing and watching), a 2 week excursion in Europe (8 cities in 14 days), and an (unforgettable) trip to San Diego for Labor Day. Not to mention record growth for the company in one of the toughest times I’ve experienced in my 13+ years running the business.

I have lots of ideas on how to move out of the recession that I’ll save for another post, but my number 1 would have to be to stop punishing (read: taxing) small businesses! We’re collectively generating more jobs than the large companies with the $$$ to lobby Congress. Specifically to New York State and Gov. Patterson: taxing small businesses to fund mass transit, which can’t balance a budget after a fare increase, surcharge on all NYC taxes, and other taxes, isn’t the way to stimulate a sagging economy.

Personally, I’ve had an interesting summer in my amateur baseball “career”. 6 months of therapy hasn’t healed a nagging elbow injury, and I’m sure continuing to pitch hasn’t helped either. Pitched 6 innings of one-hit ball yesterday which definitely isn’t helping me convince myself I shouldn’t be pitching. I see another MRI in my future. Fingers crossed I don’t have a torn ligament as one doctor suspected earlier in the year. I don’t know if I could survive without full use of my right arm for over a month.

Ii found this interesting: Stephen Strausburg was initially diagnosed with a strained flexor tendon, which is what my therapist thinks I have. That became a torn UCL in his elbow, which I’m hoping mine does not. Will know more October 5.

Check out my random musings on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/klasko if you have nothing better to do with your time.

How did I get on this company’s email list?

I’m going to take a step back and discuss a topic I have quite a bit of experience with – 12 years to be exact – but haven’t focused on in this blog: email marketing. Specifically, opting out/unsubscribing from emails sent by corporations.

Today I received emails from Chevrolet and United Airlines. I had no idea how I ended up on a Chevrolet email list, as I refuse to buy an American car after a horrible experience with my Pontiac Grand Prix several years back. Upon further investigation, Chevy (and parent company General Motors) runs its email programs through Autobytel. So after submitting an auto purchase inquiry to other car makers, Chevrolet bought my information from Autobytel figuring I might also be interested in one of its cars. So, a huge corporation in Chevrolet/General Motors lowered itself to buying email lists of potential buyers and added me without my permission or any welcome email to inform me that I am being added. This is, by the way, illegal or at the very least immoral, depending on your interpretation of the CAN-SPAM Act that governs unsolicited and solicited emails from organizations.

Moving on to United Airlines. I know exactly how I was added to this list. I registered for its Mileage Plus frequent flyer program a while back. Even though I was never specifically asked if I wanted to receive emails about my account and special offers from United (an iffy practice according to CAN-SPAM), at least United used the email communications to update my account status and present sale fares. I found it reasonable to assume I’d be interested in United flights after flying United previously, especially since the sale fares were included in an email that had information on my frequent flyer account. Probably not a best practice, but certainly not completely unsolicited. Technically, if you as a company want to send emails to customers, you’re supposed to specifically ask their permission somewhere – whether on an order form or in a purchase confirmation email.

After getting a few emails from United, I decided I no longer was interested in hearing from them. I found an unsubscribe link in very small text at the bottom of the email. I still have 26 year old eyes, so I clicked the link and was somewhat surprised and very frustrated to receive this message:

—————
You have successfully unsubscribed from United Offers & Announcements
Please allow up to 10 business days for your opt-out request to be processed.

You are currently subscribed to the following emails:
United Offers & Announcements
—————

I’m going to look beyond the very confusing text confirmation that first tells me I’ve been unsubscribed, then informs me that it will take 10 days to actually unsubscribe me, and then tells me I’m actually subscribed to the same list it just confirmed I was unsubscribed from. Instead, let’s discuss how long it takes United to remove me. How/why does a company as large as United need up to 10 days to delete me from its database? When a subscribers opts out of an email from us, my relatively small company has a system that removes them immediately. The only reason it would take up to 10 days is if an actual person needs to do something to remove me. Seems like a waste of money to me, especially when it’s not that hard to automate the opt out process.

Maybe it’s time to revisit corporate email best practices.

Follow me on Twitter!

I’m finally twittering, tweeting, or whatever it’s called… Anyway, I’m updating that more frequently than this blog, so be sure to check it out and follow me: http://twitter.com/klasko

Layoffs and sports

There were 681,000 jobs lost in December ’08, 655,000 in January ’09, and 651,000 last month (February).  That’s nearly 2 million people who have lost their income in the past 3 months alone – a staggering number!!  To put it in perspective, the total number of layoffs for the past 3 months exceeds to populations of the following states:  New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  That is 15 states!!!

How are all of these layoffs combined with salary cuts for many other workers going to affect ticket sales for sports teams?  The NBA and NHL sold most of their high-priced inventory (luxury seats and season tickets) before the recession really hit (October in my view).  MLB will be the first of the four major sports to fully test the murky waters.  I haven’t seen any sales figures yet from baseball, but MLS (a major player now) is reporting that several clubs are seeing very similar season ticket renewal rates as last year at this time.  I treat this more as an anomaly than a trend and don’t feel it will carry over to other sports or, quite frankly, individual game sales for the MLS.

Sports, and specifically baseball, have typically served as an escape during tough times for many Americans, such as during the Great Depression.  However, a day at the ballpark has become so expensive and the game has become so corporate that I’m not sure this will continue.  As Keith Olbermann observes:  “In the thirties, the highest ticket price for a major league game was seven dollars.  Now the high-end ticket at Yankee Stadium costs $2,500.”

The teams that are trying steep discounts usually reserve the ticket price breaks for large group buys.  For individuals and families, pro teams are opting to include more with the ticket purchase (e.g. gas card, food, etc.) rather than cut the actual ticket prices.  I highly doubt a gas card will have too much impact this year as a) gas prices are much lower and not as much of a concern and b) most people attending a game probably don’t factor gas into the total cost of a day at the ballpark.

Good read for friends, colleagues, and aspiring entrepreneurs

I just found this article on the rollercoaster ride of emotions and feelings for entrepreneurs.  I can say from personal experience that this piece is spot on.  There are even certain days where I go through all of these stages in just one day!  Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart…

http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2008/10/03/harnessing-entrepreneurial-manic-depression-making-the-rollercoaster-work-for-you/

By the way, sorry about the lack of updates/posts recently.  I’ll try to change that.

Could UBS be next?

The financial crisis is far from over, and now some are worrying about UBS.  The Swiss bank’s account holders removed $58 billion in the third quarter, and rumors are swirling that S&P may be on the verge of downgrading its credit rating.  Similar series of events have been the downfall for other banks, but UBS is much more globally diversified than Lehman or Bear.  Still, an S&P ratings cut would cause panic among UBS customers and likely result in another huge bank in a liquidity crunch.  But how would the U.S. government react to a Swiss bank (albeit one that conducts quite a bit of business in the U.S.) that is on the fritz?  This whole mess is far from over, folks.

GM Employee Discount

I’ll preface what I’m about to write by saying that this is a pretty random rant.

I keep seeing these GM Employee Discount commercials.  Quite frankly, I don’t believe a word of it.  First off, the people in the commercial are supposed to be GM employees.  But they’re smiling and seem joyous.  They must be actors.  Honestly, can any GM employee be that happy right now?  The company can’t sell a single truck (its cash cow division) and isn’t selling too many cars either.  GM has had quite a few layoffs, and I can’t imagine the environment in Detroit is very jovial, as portrayed on the commercial.

Second, they say: “In celebration of our 100th year anniversary, we’re (the employees) offering you our discount.”  Really?  So the fact that you’re doing deep discounts on cars and trucks you can’t sell at close to full price has nothing to do with the economy and gas prices?  When you offered the employee discount a couple years ago, was that to celebrate GM’s 98th anniversary?

I know this is probably a sensitive topic to GM employees and some others, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone.  But after seeing this commercial for the 2,000th time, I had to bring up my feelings.

OK, I’m done.  Continue with what you were doing.

Wow…

Monday was the single worst day for the U.S. stock markets since the first day of trading after the 9/11 attacks.  Dow lost close to 4%, S&P 500 (better measure of overall market performance) was down nearly 5%.  I found a great explanation (in layman’s terms) of exactly what transpired over the past few days and why the market reacted like it did.  It’s written by Ali Velshi, CNN Senior Business Correspondent, in his blog (http://tips.blogs.cnn.com/2008/09/16/the-sky-is-falling/).  Ali also happened to be the one who interviewed me when I was on CNN a few years ago, great guy!

Here’s what Ali wrote:

The average American might be left asking just one question today: Why? After all, there was no national disaster yesterday, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike didn’t do nearly as much damage as expected. Oil prices dipped under $100 a barrel for the first time in many months.

Shouldn’t we be celebrating?

Unfortunately, while the hurricanes were blowing through the Gulf, a perfect storm was descending on the stock market, fueled by bad bets on America’s now troubled housing market.

The financial titans on Wall Street put all their eggs into a basket of mortgaged-back securities and other complex derivatives that depend on home interest payments for income flows.

It was a good ride, until home values started to plummet across the country, sticking homeowners with expensive subprime loans on properties worth a lot less than their mortgages. That has forced many American homeowners to fall behind on their mortgage payments, or worse, filing for foreclosure on their homes.

Things came to a head last week with the government’s unprecedented takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that unsettled many. But over the weekend, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson refused to help bail out Wall Street’s big banks in trouble over their bets on bad real estate.

Here’s a summary of what has transpired so far:

1. Lehman Brothers has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The 158-year-old investment bank has accumulated debt totaling $613 billion. It failed to secure a takeover by British bank Barclays or Bank of America over the weekend, and had no choice but to throw in the towel. Lehman Brothers says it’s protecting its assets and maximizing its value by declaring bankruptcy.

2. Merrill Lynch has agreed to a merger with Bank of America. Once B-of-A decided to end talks with Lehman Brothers, it turned its attention to Americans’ largest brokerage and quickly struck a deal to acquire it for $50 billion in stock — a deal that effectively ends Merrill’s independence. Merrill had posted losses of over $17 billion this year.

3. The American International Group announced plans to restructure. AIG — one of the world’s largest insurers — said it would sell off part of its business to help recoup losses from the subprime mortgage crisis. In the past 9 months, AIG has lost more than $18 billion. On Monday night, three credit rating agencies downgraded their ratings for the company, making it harder to raise the funds to get it out of the red.

To put things in perspective, there were five major investment banking firms dominating deals on Wall Street at the start of 2008. Now, nine months in only two remain.

Bear Stearns closed shop earlier in the year in a government-assisted takeover by JP Morgan. Now that Lehman is gone and Merrill is swallowed up by a larger commercial bank, only Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are left to arrange the big deals on Wall Street.

Many believe the current turmoil hitting the financial system is the worst since the Great Depression.

Why does this all matter to you?

More than half of Americans are invested in some way or shape in the stock market, through 401(k) plans, Individual Retirement Accounts and mutual funds. Many of these funds are tied to indices that are heavy with financial stocks now in trouble. So, stay tuned ad the turmoil on Wall Street sends ripples out onto Main Street.

Recovering…

I’ve had this miserable cough turned cold back to cough back into cold for the past 2 weeks that I’m really getting fed up with.  It’s caused me to lose my voice (which my roommates think is a good thing), but I’m really trying to stay productive during the day (some days a big challenge with this thing).  Was supposed to fly to Chicago tomorrow but may delay that flight for a day to try to recover a bit more.

On to business…  my task right now is to devise creative ways for a team to move unsold ticket inventory, whether it be on an undesirable day (early in the week usually), against an undesirable opponent, or in an undesirable section.

One of my friends came up with a really cool way to make an undesirable section more desirable…  can’t really go into details yet but think the Dawg Pound in Cleveland or the 700 Level at the old Vet in Philly.

If you have any ideas, shoot me an email – brett (at) phinaz (dot) com.  Hopefully you can decipher that translation.

Time for some Nyquil-assisted sleep.  I’ll try to start posting more often, especially on starting a business as a tween (getting a bunch of requests for some advice).

Slow days

Returning from a vacation is always tricky…  A good vacation refreshes my mind, but I usually face one of two scenarios when I get back:

1) I’m itching to get back to work now that my mind is clear.

2) I really have to push myself to get anything done.

I usually come back with a mindset closer to #1 as I sometimes come up with my best ideas for the company when away from the office (I guess I think more clearly when I get away from everything).

I returned from Cancun earlier this week and had very productive days Monday and Tuesday, but yesterday and today I’ve been struggling — almost like a delayed vacation hangover.  Maybe it’s the long holiday weekend ahead, but I don’t have any real plans, so there isn’t much for me to get excited about (at least to the point that it would be difficult to do work).

I even tried a Starbucks double shot drink yesterday to no avail, which is rare.  Usually a couple shots of espresso and I’m very attentive for hours.

I’m sure I’m hardly alone with my sluggishness ahead of the weekend, but it’s frustrating when I’m trying to brainstorm for a new business venture and my “creative juices” aren’t cooperating.

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