Monday, August 31, 2009

Customer Service

Customer Service can sometimes be an oxymoron, like "Petite Size 14" or "found missing" or "plastic glass." I've had some trying times wth customer service, as we all have. But, I have a nice story to share.

A bit of background. I tend to take on projects myself, and rarely ask for help. I guess that could be a whole 'nother blog..."Therapy 101: Learning to Ask For Help!"


Outdoor space in NYC is a rarity and I am lucky to live along a row of houses 5 minutes out of midown Manhattan, that have "postage stamp backyards" measuring about 15' x 40'. Suburbanites might gasp, but this is actually enough room for a grill, some outdoor furniture, in my case a huge weeping cherry tree, an herb garden and a hunk of lawn. I have quite the microcosm out back--mourning doves, dragonflies, slugs (no bare feet after dark!!), lady bugs, seagulls, yellow jackets, bumblebees, (I divorced the wasp...)

My garden tools were taking over my boiler room/tool closet so I looked into buying a storage shed. Even the smallest ones at Home Depot and Lowe's were too big, and they were made of plastic, thin metal or faux wood that looked "Barney Rubble-ish." I found the perfect natural cedar shed online at Smith & Hawken. It had a slim silhouette, plenty of storage and I could tuck it away under the cherry tree.

The shed arrived in about 6 heavy boxes and the delivery guy could only do "sidewalk delivery." A fast $20 was not going to sway him. I muttered to myself, "Whatever, I can do it on my own." It's not the first time I've dragged heavy stuff through the house, down a flight of stairs, out into the yard.

I spread out six 40 lb bags of soil (that I carried through the house, down the stairs and out to the yard), leveled the area and put down large square garden pavers to keep the shed off the dirt. I took a quick break for Advil and Tiger Balm. I soon realized that I could not hold up the walls myself and simultaneously do the I called in for re-inforcements. Most of my friends are married, with kids, and the single ones are also uber busy. Michelle was home, and readily agreed to come over from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to help...even though she was very newly pregnant. I felt really guilty asking her, but she assured me she was fine and definitely wanted to help. Well, we sweated our way through, and got the shed all put together in about 4 hours. When the bubble in the level was dead center, we had the best high five!!! Level & Plumb---whooo hooo! Girl Pow-a!!

After some lunch and cool drinks, Michelle left and I loaded up the shed with my rake, shovels, the weed whacker that doubles as my lawn mower, citronella candles, birdseed, etc...and sat back very satisfied. There were 2 rainstorms that week and I went out to revel in the scent of new cedar when I saw the roof had buckled!! "NOW WHAAAAT???"

It didn't "go back" to normal after either storm when the sun came out, so I sent Smith & Hawken an e-mail and some pix. Customer Service called me all chirpy and said "Whoa, this is the first time we've ever seen this." (That alarming line is usually reserved for my doctors!)  "If you pack it up, we can send a new shed!" PACK IT UP?? Unscrew 4 hours worth of work, lug it all back upstairs and through the house? And put it into what? I had thrown out the boxes, triumphantly.

I said sweetly, but with the vein in my forhead beating, "Well, unless you're going to ship me a MAN to put it back together...I think I just need 2 new roof panels!" They don't really have 'replacement parts' but after some calm conversation (I am in Sales, after all), she agreed to send a new roof. When it arrived, I could see that the roof slats were just stapled to the frame. Shoddy workmanship, in comparison to the rest of the shed! I hammered 100 nails around the frame (I'm sure my neighbors were thrilled) and I used silicone seam sealer around the perimeter. I felt so competent. I screwed the new roof into place and I gotta say, it ain't goin nowhere.

Now, if the sides fall out, I'm giving up. One year later, the shed looks great, it's weathering nicely and it holds all my tools and outdoor entertaining stuff.

I hear that Smith & Hawken is going out of business. Coincidence? I don't know, but I hope that nice lady gets another job in Customer Service.

She was great.

Its Always Something

Do you ever feel that you're getting things accomplished, but then the setbacks begin? One step forward, two steps back?

I complete projects, whether on my own, or with professional help, and in some cases problems surface and I never get to check them off the list permanently. It's frustrating!

My old brick rowhouse is definitely a living, breathing thing... and it needs constant care. On one salary. Hence the DIY, when and where I can do it myself!

I grew tired of the flimsy aluminum framed windows.  One by one the inner workings snapped or malfuctioned and I was propping the windows open with sticks. So bad for curb appeal, not to mention unsafe.

I called a widely advertised replacement window company and the salesperson (a woman) kept asking to speak with the "man of the house." I was flummoxed. I was transferred to a "supervisor" and I told him that I was the sole owner, that I would be the one to sign the contract and to pay for the job, and he still insisted that he speak with my husband. I finally implored (yelled, actually...) "Do you want me to RENT one?" before I hung up on them.

I did some more research and I got a recommendation from 3 friends for a well known company, CertainTeed. I was happy that the contractor listed on their site was vetted and local. The estimate was do-able, the sample window looked good and on the day of the job, the installers were very careful and clean. I got double paned windows, Low-E with argon gas in between for energy savings. I was feelin' all green. I love the look of 6 over 6 panes. And they tilt in for cleaning! That matters, as I am the cleaning woman.

Last year, a few months before the 5 year warranty was up, I noticed that no matter how well I cleaned, there's a very distinct wavy rainbow look on the glass on 3 of the 8 windows.

I made some calls, and they finally agreed my issue warranted sending a technician over from "the home office." He HAD to agree that he could see the rainbows. Now the blame game begins. Seems the contractor installed windows without some kind of indentifying sticker in the sides so they can't trace the origin, and the technician deduced that the gas-filled glass was not sealed properly by the fabricator. The manufacturer, CertainTeed, only covers the WINDOWS, and it seems the GLASS is not included as a PART. Can you believe that? So I guess if I needed a 25 cent latch, they'd fix me right up. The phone and fax for the local contractor are disconnected. Of course they are.

I am not one to give up or give in easily, but I conceded defeat. No amount of reasoning was going to have CertainTeed replace the defective glass. He suggested I find a glazier to replace the glass onsite at my home. As if they would have argon gas handy? I think it would make the problem worse.


I've decided to try to look on the bright side. Even though it's the bright side that has a glaring defect. I will live with it and view it philosophically. How bad can it be to look out the window and see a rainbow, here in Queens, in any kind of weather?  I'm still trying to convince myself...
...and then today I saw this 3" long cricket checking it out, at two stories high. Eek, I'm glad the screens are holding up!

Friday, August 28, 2009

How This Blog Came To Be

Last Saturday I travelled in to Manhattan from Long Island City to have brunch with 5 wonderful friends. All 5 have turned a crossroads, a challenge or adversity into a business, driven by true passion. Among the 5 businesses are a life coaching consultancy, 2 health-related non profits and one jewelry/apparel company that even it its nascent stages, donates a portion of revenue to a featured charity every month. Our little group is a microcosm. We're all in our 40's. Some are married, some have kids, one is single, and some are divorced (amicably and not so amicably.)

As I wonder what lies beyond the corporate cubicle for me (my "one day" dream) I was encouraged to start this blog to share some of my self-directed skills and foibles, and the weird and silly things that happen as I make my way. I'm divorced with no children, and I am by turns daunted by unknowns and damn proud of my successes and the path I've carved out for myself.

So, here we are...I'm writing, you're reading, and I look forward to your comments!

After brunch, I took a hot and humid walk to Bed Bath & Beyond at 59th St in Manhattan. I reasoned that I was sweating off the molten chocolate cake. I had a boring and short list of things I needed: a butane refill for the creme brulee torch that my mom gave me for my birthday, a kitchen drawer organizer, a pyrex loaf pan and vacuum 'space bags' to shrink extra pillows and bedding down to nothing, for storage.

Ahhhh---the air conditioning was heavenly!! Bright lights! Tempting products on every wall, spilling out over tables and bins. Beckoning. I swore I'd stick to my list, but somehow I was drawn to the big shopping cart, rather than the small basket.


I passed on the ShamWow (are they really made in GERMANY? are the street fair knock offs any good?), the fabric shavers for sweater pills (hello...pick them off, or use scissors), Kinoki Cleansing Detox Foot Pads ( stuff coming out of your feet ???), and the 2 foot tall "Really Big Universal Remote" that is touted as "Great for TV!"  I kinda like that one, actually. I wonder if it works.

I got the things I needed and when I passed by the wall of basic hardware, I was reminded that one of my brunch buddies had asked her husband what tools she'd need to keep, once he moves out. Clearly, she's the one who's amicably divorcing.


Since we are all past the stage of filling picture hook holes with toothpaste (we are, aren't we?) is my list for a good array of tools. Set aside space on some shelves or dedicate a closet so everything is where it should be when you need it.

If you are lucky enough to have a garage (!) then the possibilities become endless...but let's assume that this starter kit is for general household jobs, and will all fit in a small space.

1. Buy a tool box (good for an apartment)or a tool chest (if you have the room and more fixes to face.) Either one should have a removeable tray.

2. If you're like me and like things to match as well as to work can go with certain manufacturers like Ryobi (blue), Stanley (yellow and black), Milwaukee (red), Black & Decker (black and orange), etc...and keep it all in one family.

Note: Don't be tempted to buy cheep tools at the Dollar Store--invest a bit in the name brands at a reputable store and you're less likely to snap a screwdriver in half, or break a paint roller handle in the middle of a job.

3. As you shop, think about each room and what you might need to fix or adjust.

Some people get along just fine with a hammer and a use this list as a general guide, and get some, none or all if you want to have the right tools at hand, when the needs arise.
  • Claw Hammer -- to put in and remove nails
  • Pliers --"Slip Joint" and "Long" or "Needle Nose"
  • Box Cutter or Exacto Knife
  • Tape Measure
  • Safety Goggles
  • Screwdrivers--Philips Head and Flat Head (so you don't break your silverware...)
  • Screw starter (it has a threaded pointy head, and starts the hole for you as you turn it)
  • Nail Set (this handy tool countersinks nails, so you don't dent wood with your hammer)
  • Tin Snips (better for cutting wire and tin than your Wustof kitchen scissors!)
  • Flashlight
  • Plumber's Putty (a good, temporary, fast-drying fix)
  • Duct Tape
  • Masking Tape
  • Packing Tape
  • Blue Painter's Tape
  • Some Rags
  • Suede or Canvas Gloves--sized for a woman, so you keep your grip!
  • Picture Hanging Kit
  • A Small Hand Saw--one for wood and one for metal
  • Hardware---a starter box with various sizes of screws, nails and plastic wall anchors
  • Straight Edge Razor Blades
  • Batteries (9v for smoke detectors, and the range of AAA, AA, C, D, etc...)
  • Rechargeable Drill (6 volts are 'ok' but 12 volts are better!)
  • Caulk (white/paintable for molding/walls, or silicone for bathroom. Clear silicone for use around faucets on a stainless steel sink or a dark vanity.) You do not have to get a large tube and a caulking gun!! For smaller jobs I recommend "Dap Alex Plus Easy Caulk." It comes in a can with a bendable nozzle (like the old Cheez Whiz can) and it's very easy to work with! Don't cut too big a piece off the nozzle, or you'll have a globby job on your hands, literally!
  • Sandpaper (get a variety pack and that'll hold you)
  • Quick Drying Spackle, 1 pint
  • Putty Knife (one wide and one narrow)
  • Wood filler
  • Wood Glue, White Glue and Gorilla Glue
  • Extension Cords
  • 1 pint of paint in whatever colors could need touching up + extra stirrers, and a paint tray
  • Paint roller handle (one regular, and one small, with spare rollers)
  • Paintbrushes (a variety pack is fine, but make sure the bristles don't come out when you pull on them!)
  • Paint thinner in case you have used oil based paint. Otherwise, water based latex cleans up with water
  • Sharpie pens
  • Drop cloth--plastic is fine and can be saved or tossed, no need to get a canvas one
Of course there is a home improvement stores-worth of other tools and gadgets that you can buy. I think this list will get you started, and will cover all the basic jobs and fixes that come up.

I will be blogging for a while, so in later posts we can talk about grout floats and hammer drills...Yeah, baby!

DIY for the Single Life

Some comments below from early followers, after my first post. Your comments and questions are so welcome. Don't stop ;-)