Friday, October 28, 2011

It is the People Along the Way

Q: What could possibly compel a person to awaken at 2:30am, 3:00am, 3:30am, and finally 4:00am on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning?

A: The fear of missing one’s 6:30am flight of course...(you know...the one obviously booked by an insane person).

They say that the biggest fear in a person’s life is either speaking in public or the fear of death (depending on who you are talking to...they may be one in the same). For me, that biggest fear is oversleeping for an early morning flight...followed closely by the fear of leaving my government issued ID at home on the dresser.

After a long hiatus, I finally decided it was time to get back on the road to visit the many OptiFuse distributors and customers. This trip is the first in a long series of trips still ahead where I hope to visit 12 different sections of the US over the next 12 months. It may seem like an ambitious goal to some or simply lollygagging to some true professional "road warriors".

I decided that visiting Chicago, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities was far better thing to do in late October than in early February so I made the northern Midwest my first stop.

Today I’d like to share a few thoughts, comments and observations about traveling to the Midwest...

Air Transportation

The airline I chose to fly had a stopover in Denver where the weather was unseasonably pleasant. The first segment from San Diego was without incidence (or maybe I was still sleeping), but after boarding the plane for the second installment to Chicago, the pilot announced to the cabin that his instruments indicated there was a slight oil leak in one of the engines and that we’d would be delayed about 30-45 minutes while maintenance fixes the problem. 

Personally, I didn’t mind this delay at all as the airline provided its passengers with individual seat-back satellite TV so I could comfortably sit back and watch the early morning NFL football games. My seat mate however seemed to be a bit more upset at the airlines than me. He continually cursed the name of the airline vowing NEVER to fly with them again as though he was doing them a giant favor flying them in the first place.

Now I’m no historian, but it wasn’t all that long ago that people actually had to ride in a covered wagon from Chicago to California...a trek that took some 4-6 months to complete and where approximately 20% of the people perished before arriving at their chosen destination from famine, disease, and arrows from casino-owning-Americans.

This guy was bemoaning the fact that we had to sit in a comfortable satellite TV...and still arrive at our destination within a few hours of sucks for some people.

Myself...I sort of liked the idea that we were on the ground fixing an oil leak rather than trying to get to Chicago on one engine...

Rental Cars

Problem...cities, counties and states are near bankruptcy...

People who rent cars are typically people who don’t live in that particular city or state. Therefore rental car customers are not voters in the local lawmakers’ jurisdiction.

Additionally people who DO actually live in the city, county and/or state do vote and they tend to look unfavorably on lawmakers who raise taxes. the people who can’t vote them out of office. 

I thought I was renting a car in Chicago for $24.50 a day...but in reality, I was renting a car for $24.50 plus $48.78 a day in state and local taxes and governmental fees, bringing my total rental costs to $73.28 per day. 

It’s a sad day when the taxes on a product or service are nearly 2x’s more than that of actual product or service iteself. 

(While I’m on the and items purchased at Chicago Midway is taxed at 12.25% whereas the sales tax in Chigago away from the airport is only 9.25%... hmmm interesting).


Jim’s inverse hotel rule...the more prestigious the hotel name...the more likely additional fees will be added to your bill...

I stayed at a high-end chain in Chicago (due to a great Priceline purchase price) and ended up paying $22/day for parking and $12.99/day for Internet service (I decided to pass on the $4.50 bottled water in my room). I’m just happy that a $10 per day "resort fee" wasn’t added to my bill as well.

Later on the trip, I stayed at a great local hotel (non-chain variety) in Wisconsin and not only had free parking, and high-speed internet service, they provided their guests with a "welcome beer" in their lounge (it is Wisconsin after all) as well as a free buffet breakfast! I’ll definitely be staying there again someday.

By the way...if you travel a lot and you don’t use Priceline to purchase your hotel rooms...then you’re costing yourself a lot of extra money...just one frequent traveler’s opinion.


I’ve been all over the world several times over and I have never encountered nicer or friendlier people than those in the Midwest. I’m sure that there must be some rude and obnoxious people somewhere there...but I sure haven’t met them as of yet...

Midwesterners might tell a salesman to go to hell...but they’ve come to see you off with a sandwich and a pop just in case you get hungry along the way...

I think that we could all learn a thing or two by wearing a big smile on our faces and greeting everyone we see each day with a warm "’s it going?"...

It’s certainly tough to be away from home, but the wonderful people you meet along the way makes it worth the trip...

It’s not the places that make the trip’s the people.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we understand that our customers are people not companies...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Something for Nothing...

Several times each day, OptiFuse receives requests for quotes from people and/or companies who have never done business with us in the past.  Many times the request comes to us by email with very limited information other than "please quote us a price and delivery for....". 

In order to provide the best service to these potential customers, we will ask them a variety of questions to learn more about their particular needs and perform a certain assessment before offering them a price and delivery quote. 
We will ask them about the application.  We will ask them a little more about their company.  We will ask them their current supply chain.  We will ask them about their expected usage, delivery demand, and their expected pricing.

Once we have some basic information, we are then in a position to verify that the part that they requested is actually a good fit for their application.  (At least 1 out of 5 requests end up being for the wrong part!). 
This information is also essential in allowing us to refer the potential customer to the proper sales channel; be it distributor, rep, or direct sales (direct sales at OptiFuse are limited to international customers only).

In general, we always try to help these potential customers, making sure that they have the proper product for the proper application using the best sales channel. 
This procedure also works well to ferret out the scammers, schemers, and fraudsters who attempt each day to defraud businesses and individuals out of money and products. 

Several years ago, I received a phone call on a late Friday afternoon.  It was from a woman who told me she was frantically trying to help her husband find some electrical wiring for a contracting job he was doing that weekend.  I explained to her that wire was not our primary business but she persisted in asking me if there was any way I could help her.
I knew that we had several spools of wire (which we use to produce our inline fuse holders) currently in our warehouse.  Maybe it was the "damsel in distress" syndrome or the "pay it forward" philosophy that I try live my life by, but it made me want to help this woman with her "desperate" situation.  I asked her about the size, type and amount of wire she needed and explained to her that I didn't have all of what she needed but I could help her out with most of her requirement.

Of course, her company didn't have an account with us, but she told me that she would pay us with her company's credit card when she came to pick up the material within the next 30 minutes.  The couple arrived a few minutes later, I ran the card, and help them to load the material on their truck.
It was a few weeks later when the bank called to tell me that the credit card was stolen and was used fraudulently and that I, as the merchant, was responsible for the charges.  I mistakenly had thought that if I received an "OK" authorization from the credit card processor, I was good to go...I was wrong. 

In hindsight, I should have been more careful, but I was thinking about helping someone in need and not thinking about being a victim of a scam.  What it turned out to be was a $2,500 tuition payment to the "university of hard knocks".
Now fast forward to Monday of this past week.  We received an e-mail from one Mr. Roger Ashbury explaining that he was an American businessman who was running a manufacturing business in Australia.  He wanted to purchase a decent quantity of fuses and fuse holders from us for his production.

After asking several preliminary questions, we gave him a price and delivery for the parts he wanted and told him that as a new customer, we would need for him to wire a 50% deposit to our bank before we would start production.  He responded by telling us that bank wires are expensive and would he use a credit card instead.
Our "scam radar" was in full-tilt mode due to several factors:

·         Mr. Ashbury used a Gmail e-mail account instead of a company e-mail account

·         We couldn't find his supposed company listed in Google

·         He didn't try to negotiate any pricing and accepted the first price we gave him

·         He didn't give us a hard copy purchase order but rather told us to use the date and his initials.

·         He didn't give us shipping address but rather he told us that he would arrange for pick-up.
We figured that since we told him that the parts would take 6-8 weeks to build, any fraud would be detected long before the parts would actually ship.

On Wednesday, he gave us his payment information with the instructions that we should charge the card for the 50% prepayment as well as his shipping charges of $3600 (for a package that should cost no more than $400 to send airfreight).  He instructed us to charge the credit card and pay his shipping company the additional $3600 with a money order because his shipping company did not take credit cards or company checks.
Now there was no question that this was a scam.

The card number was indeed good and matched the name and address he gave us.  A quick Google search allowed me to find the real Roger Ashbury who was based in Atlanta, GA. 
 I called the real Mr. Ashbury (as it turns out it was Dr. Ashbury) to tell him that his credit card had been compromised and that he should contact the proper authorities immediately. 

This was a much better way to "pay it forward" and I'm sure that Dr. Ashbury appreciated the effort to find him and let him know that his credit card had been breached.
We have been debating whether or not to have the "shipping company representative" come to our offices to pick up his $3600 money order.  Instead we contacted the authorities.

I'm happy that the tuition payment I made several years ago allowed me to graduate with honors this week...
...and I hope our story helps to educate others.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse but beware of the people looking to get something for nothing...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Striking a Balance

This week, I was scheduled to have lunch with a good friend. We both arrived to the restaurant on time but I could see by her mannerisms, that she was preoccupied with happenings at her office. She was there physically but her mind was still back at her office.

I asked her if she wanted to reschedule our lunch for another day but she said we might as well eat now that we were there. During lunch, she took several phone calls and made several notes to herself on her iPad.

In between her phone calls and note taking we were able to order lunch and briefly talk. 

She explained to me that her company had recently gone through a "re-alignment" and that she was spending her nights and weekends working on several new projects. I asked her if she was making any progress on her projects, but she told me that as soon as she completed a project there were two more waiting for her.

"So how long do you think you can keep this up", I asked.

I don’t know exactly but hopefully it’ll get caught up by the end of the year."

I thought to’s only October...burning the candle at both ends for several months on end is no way to live life... 

She had two young children at home. Her husband had been laid off from his job so he’s now home with the kids, but they still need to spend time with their mom.

Additionally, all of this work has taken a toll on her health. I noticed that had gained several pounds and her skin looked extremely pale from spending too much of her time in the office. I inquired if she was still running (one of her passions) but she exclaimed, "I just don’t have the time anymore."

She quickly ate her lunch and then her phone rang again. When she finally hung up, she apologized but she had to get back to the office because of some new crisis. 

She threw some money on the table and we exchanged a quick hug and she was off and out the door.
As I sat there alone finishing my lunch, I couldn’t help but feel some sort of pity toward my friend. It was obvious to me that she had lost all of the balance in her life but she was so close to the forest that she couldn’t see the tree standing directly before her.

In my own opinion, the one of the three keys to a fulfilled life is creating balance (the other two keys being personal achievement and helping others). The difficult part of living a balanced life is that outside forces conspire to tip the balance on a seemingly daily basis. It is the challenge in front of us to resist those forces and strive to seek balance.

There all several important areas of our lives that we need to balance. The important areas include:
  • Work / School
  • Family
  • Health and personal development
  • Friendships
  • Community service
  • Spirituality
All of the above seven areas are extremely important in one’s life and consume a great deal of time. 
On top of the "important seven", there are other time consumers that aren’t necessarily important but still need to be done. These might include items such as household chores, shopping, commuting, ferrying kids to various activities, getting gas, bill paying and banking. While these types of activities are not extremely important, overall they are indeed essential to our daily lives.

In order to "create" more time (in reality, no one can actually create time), it might be a good idea to try to combine some of the activities. This is the idea behind "multi-tasking". And while the concept is sound, putting the theory of multi-tasking into practice can be more difficult than it sounds.

It is perfectly fine to try and learn a new language listening to instructional CDs while on your daily commute or taking a long brisk walk enjoying the company of a close friend. In this way you can accomplish two things at once. 

However, dragging your kids around town with you as you try and complete errands does not work well as "family time" neither does planning the family vacation while you should be making sales calls at work. This is not really multi-tasking but rather replacing important things with unimportant tasks.

One of the best ways to help strike a balance is to first be cognizant of how you actually spend your time. A good exercise is to carefully track where you spend your time over the course of one week. You may be surprised to learn how much time is actually spent on non-essential things such as watching TV, going to sporting events, driving around town, surfing the Internet, playing computer games, following your fantasy football team, completing the daily Sudoku puzzle, shopping, and/or cleaning your house.

All of these things do have a certain importance, but if these activities dominate our time, then perhaps we need to re-think our priorities. These activities should not take precedence over the truly important areas of our lives.

Additionally, there should be an attempt to balance those important areas of our lives as well. A person who spends all of her time working while neglecting her family, friends and health is not truly living a fulfilled life even though their time is being spent in an area of importnance.

A funny thing usually happens when certain important parts of one’s life are neglected...they end up making up for the lost time in other ways. 

For example...if we continue to neglect our health or family in lieu of day we may develop heart disease or diabetes, our relationship with our family sours and our friends no longer want anything to do with us... all of a sudden work isn’t so important.

Yes...striking a balance can be difficult but the rewards far outweigh the effort. Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we challange you to be the best person you can be...

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Ride of Your Life...

Faster and faster...until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death... - Hunter S. Thompson

Maybe I'm just getting older, but to me the world seems to be moving at breakneck speed and I'm having a real hard time just keeping up.  I get this uneasy feeling that life is becoming like a fast-moving amusement park ride where people hold on for dear life as they get tossed and turned in multiple directions, bracing themselves for the next jolt or sudden movement.  
The real scary part of it all (for me at least) is that there doesn't appear to be any planned course or direction as to which this ride is heading.  We are continuing down a random dark track as the next sudden turn awaits us.

As we anticipate a move in one direction, the track hurls us into another.  Predictions as to where we are going are near impossible as the ride is moving so quickly. 
Many of the beliefs and conventions that we have come to know are now turning out to be false assumptions in this new economy...

Real estate will always be a safe investment
While this was true for much of the 20th century, the 21st century has not been so kind to real estate.  Real estate speculation, fueled by easy credit, high leverage, and low interest rates, created a great economic bubble over a 30-year span.  The bubble finally burst in 2008 and with it, people lost their homes and much of their life's savings. 

The outlook for a strong recovery in the real estate sector, at least in the near future, looks to be highly restrained due to the large excess inventory of homes in the market combined with very restrictive lending rules (although interest rates are at historic lows).
A college education will always pay for itself

At one time, college diplomas were relatively rare.  University graduates were seemingly always able to find higher paying employment in the marketplace regardless of the degree program they chose to follow.   
Because of this belief, more and more high school graduates chose to attend a university rather than enter the workforce after high school.  Colleges and universities became impacted with new students and needed to raise tuition rates to cover the rising costs.

Due to the increased demand, college tuition has continued to rise at a rate more than double that of inflation over the past 25 years.  An incoming freshman at a public university in 2011 will be expected to pay over $100,000 (and over $200,000 for a private institution) for their four-year degree, including room, board and books, and will be indebted to the tune of $40,000 upon graduation.  For those children being born today, the cost of a college degree is expected to be over $350,000, 18 years from today.
The high paying jobs, that were once plentiful for new college graduates, have become rare, perhaps with the lone exceptions of those in highly specialized technical fields. 

Significantly higher costs combined with no viable method to repay the debt has forced new graduates to move back home with their parents while working at menial jobs to earn enough money to repay their college loans or suffer the wrath of collection agencies in perpetuity (college loans are not dismissible via bankruptcy).  
Technical advances will make our lives easier

At one time, our economy was based on agriculture.  Life was simple but hard.
Then technology helps us to transform our agrarian society into an industrial society.  Mechanized farm equipment and new irrigation methods helped to increase efficiency of farms allowing for greater agricultural yields using far less labor.    

As the farms disposed of workers, these people moved into the cities where new technologies helped to automate factories and produce goods at lower costs and higher quality.
People were needed to run these manufacturing plants and provide essential support services.  Goods and services, once reserved only for the wealthy, were now being produced for the masses. 

Technology also helped to transform and improve transportation and communication bringing us trains, cars, airplanes, radios, televisions and phones; all at affordable costs.  Household white goods such as vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers, microwave ovens, refrigerators and freezers helped us to save time and money and allowed society to create more leisure time. 
A large middle-class was created through technological advances by lowering costs and raising availability.

As we moved into the computer and information age, steno and typing pools were replaced with word processors and laser printers.  Entire accounting departments were replaced with a single desktop computer and spreadsheet program.  Switchboard operators were replaced with digital switches.  Gas stations, banks, and grocery stores now have self-service options.  People moved from industrial manufacturing to service sector jobs.
Today, the Internet, portable computing (smart phones), and low-cost international delivery services have now decimated the barriers of geographical and national boundaries.  Market efficiencies of capitalism are now exploited by multi-national corporations finding places around the world to produce goods and services at the lowest delivered costs.

These market efficiencies have decimated the manufacturing base of the United States and Europe and moved manufacturing jobs to countries with far less labor costs and regulation. 
New technology transformed the western world from a strict agrarian society to an industrial society to an information based society.  The information age allowed for much higher efficiencies but at a cost of manufacturing and service sector jobs and ultimately the loss of a middle-class.

The solution is a change in our system of beliefs
In order to survive (and thrive) in this new world, we need to find a way to adapt to it rather than resist it.  We can never go back to the past but instead we need to look into the future.

Real estate should not be an investment, it should be a place where people come to gather, a place to shelter us from the cold, and place to rest and nourish our tired and hungry bodies.  We should think smaller rather than bigger.  We should build, maintain and beautify our houses as though we will live our lives in it forever rather than trying to "flip" it in a few months.  We should think of a house as a home, not as real estate or other investment instrument.
An education is a combination of knowledge and experience.  It is not a piece of paper from a highly sought-after university.  Perhaps a better way to spend the $100K is to start a small business in which to gather knowledge and experience (even better is to band together with other "students" to partner and share in the development of a business).  In the end, a successful student will have their education along with perhaps a thriving business to generate income in the years to come. 

Perhaps the time (and money) might be better spent in an "apprentice" program with another successful business.  The "student" might not be paid but instead will be taught valuable business knowledge and given priceless experience by the company.  A four-year apprenticeship would turn companies into places of learning rather than strictly that of production.  
As it turns out some of the richest people in the world never completed college (the college drop-out list includes billionaires Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Ralph Lauren, and Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace), just to name a few)...these people didn't need a piece of paper to become financially successful.  They had great ideas, tireless work ethics, and passion to drive them to success.  They achieved their great success by inovating and doing rather than trying to read about success in a book.

We are never returning to the places of the past (regardless of how many people long for this to happen).  Proposed protectionist government policies will surely fail as geographical, transportation, and communication boundaries continue to crumble around the world.     
The world is flat and getting flatter with each passing day.  The road to success will be built by those embracing these changes rather than resisting them.  While some are spending their time protesting and complaining (or simply giving up), the success stories of tomorrow are being written today.  The visionaries are searching for new ways to seize the multitude of opportunities before them today rather than bemoaning the current state of affairs.

Yes...the world is scary...but for some, it's the ride of a lifetime.
Thank you very much for supporting OptiFuse where we hope to join you on your ride to success...