I don't know if Alan or Ben ever used some of my indicators to gauge the economy. Here are a few signals that I have observed which lead me to believe all is not well in the business world. If you're looking for deep-rooted intellectual thoughts here, then just know I can't deliver that caliber of economics. My stuff is in-your-face observations from the chores conducted by a small business owner. That means I'm not talking about my consulting practice.• Every telemarketer is coming out of the woodwork to try in desperation to sell something, and they haven't done any homework or screening. Here's an example: "Do you guys have a store front?" I didn't hang on to that call to find out why, but I suspect he's selling signs.
• It's as if my business has gone global all of a sudden. The accents are so thick, I can't even decipher two words. Here's an example: "We have good price on muddah boahds."
• Some things never change. We had a guy at the bank whose first stop on Fridays was the florist. He'd buy a couple of flower arrangements and drive around town looking for "Grand Opening" signs. This morning I got a call from a guy at Wachovia who was in his car, his cell phone was breaking up, and I believe he wanted to know how I manage my banking. I told him to pull over before he had a wreck, but either "pull over" didn't translate in his native language, or he hit a dead zone. I wasn't familiar with this kind of mobile banking - auto-mobile banking, that is. I hope it doesn't catch on. Road rage is causing enough trouble as it is.
• I'm not picking on Wachovia. Every major bank in Dallas is calling me these days. Dallas has 11 from the list of top 35. Their techniques are different, but their messages are all the same. Comerica wants to impress me by using a woman to set up a visit for Mr. Bigshot. I pass just because of the method they use. Wells Fargo knows something about my business because they process my publishing business's credit card transactions. I like their sales approach the best. Their junk mail and the credit card report are easy to separate. My slam-dunks to the trash bucket are getting better. Capital One uses a padded oversized package for nothing more than paper. But they fooled me. I was expecting a free gift. The trick worked only once. Northern Trust doesn't know me, and that's because they have a binary screening system. It goes something like this: Is this guy a billionaire? Chase doesn't call. They send mail every week. Citi sends me e-mails, which by now should be regarded equivalent to an e-mail from al-quaeda. Even the word "bank" gets any e-mail chucked to the spamfolder.
• Bank of America has all my business - 14 accounts to be exact. They never approach me, not once in eleven years. That's smart. What else can they sell? De novos have been popping up on every corner of close-in Dallas. It seems to me they would have the perfect pitch - "We're local." I've never heard from them, not even the one where some former EDSers work (own).
• Is there an opportunity here for marketing consultants who specialize in banking? Were risk management consultants advising banks about the danger of subprime mortgages a couple of years ago? It's been said a million times, and I'll paraphrase - lemons can be converted to sweet lemonade. But most bank marketers don't have the sugar.
• It's not just Macy's that's dumping employees. A lot of service companies are cutting back. A large Kinkos center that serves mostly commercial customers has only three employees at the counter. One of them is wearing a tie. He's the manager and he knows the shop is understaffed. As soon as a customer gets through the door he says, "We'll be with you in a second." That's a euphemism for, "I hope you have nothing better to do today because you're gonna be here a while."
• My fax machine now operates exclusively for the benefit of unsolicited offers. Because the offers are narrowly defined, I suspect a dumb marketing system has profiled me as a guy who needs health and life insurance, has tons of money to buy penny stocks, and goes to Orlando a lot. All wrong, but, hey, that's what they're selling. The price of everything is either $99 or 99 cents. I'm sorry I didn't price my report on bank technology at $999.99.
• Even telemarketers are feeling the pinch and have gone from offshore to recorded messages at 9:00 PM. Some of them hit at prime time, but they start out with the perfect reason to hang up. "This is not a joke" or "Don't hang up." One guy calls me once a month because he has a client who wants to buy my business. He calls at night and his client must be the most patient guy looking to buy a business because this has been going on for several months. I recognize the voice as if I had the benefit of the FBI's voice detection systems.
• The offers are now up to a half million dollar line of credit for a tiny company like mine. It's not real, but I wonder how many subprime mortgage holders fell for that trap as they now walk away from their homes.
On a 60 Minutes segment recently I heard Andrea Mitchell say she couldn't get a straight answer from Alan Greenspan when she asked him what he wanted for breakfast. Instead she got his usual convoluted reply so often presented to Congress. So that's how I see it, folks. It's definitely a weak economy, and one should think carefully about offers that can be refused. At the same time, there's room for doing the right things during bad times. Get a grip, use your head, and wait it out.On a 60 Minutes segment recently I heard Andrea Mitchell say she couldn't get a straight answer from Alan Greenspan when she asked him what he wanted for breakfast. Instead she got his usual convoluted reply so often presented to Congress.