December 30, 2005

Short letters

Dear The Bay,

I went to one of your stores yesterday. Boy, was that a mistake. Your stores have become truly terrible. They are run-down, tastelessly and cheaply decorated, under-inventoried, snarkily staffed, and are losing -- rapidly -- any remaining relevance to the modern shopping world.

Oh, and while your place in history is guaranteed, I'm not sure that's where I would have looked for inspiration for your 2006 Turin Olympics clothing line. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the clothing is really ugly. I'm not sure I would have gone for the old-fashioned-but-not-retro look myself. And you could have been a bit more subtle with the HBC rainbow. You're badly out of touch, and there's no hiding it anymore.

cc. Jerry Zucker

Dear Roots,

Having seen what the Bay came up with, I can't believe you didn't win the latest bid to design Canada's Olympics clothing. Your designs were so good that they were taking the rest of the world by storm, so we promptly chose someone else to do our clothing.

Go figure. Hope to see you again in 2008.

Dear Hartman's,

Thank you for understanding the role you play in your city and community. Thank you for practicing incredible creativity to stay open throughout your extensive renovations. Thank you for moving your surface parking lot underground and for building affordable housing above your grocery store. And thank you for placing a piano and sitting area near your entrance. I'm sure you've noticed how well-used it is.

Dear Rogers,

Please stop telling me I have an affordable wireless plan and then charging me hundreds of dollars a month. Please educate your customer service staff. Please make it possible to look up your wireless plan online and understand exactly what it comprises. Please stop asking me for my phone number three times every time I call you. And, please ... please, please, please ... please get rid of the automated voice prompt system. It never knows what I want, and it doesn't recognize even commonly used swear words.

Dear Air Canada,

You keep saying you have to cut all these services in order to stay competitive in North America, but I recently flew Westjet for the first time, so now I know you're lying. How come they can still offer decent drink and snack service and personal live TV? At some point you're going to figure out that there are limits to what you can cut. The sky's the limit, indeed.

Dear Westjet,

I flew with you recently for the first time. Thank you for the humorous and good-natured flight attendants, the ample drink and snack service, and the personal live satellite TV on which I watched an NHL hockey game and the Daily Show live.

Dear Bank of Nova Scotia,

Wow. I mean, wow. I really don't know what to say. You guys really take the cake. Your persistence is truly gratifying. Ever since I got my ScotiaGold VISA card, you've been trying to get me to join the ScotiaStar preferred network. Ten times the points*, you gushed! Countless e-mails. Little reminders whenever I logged in for online banking. And, of course, a truly heart-warming plethora of pamphlets in all of my VISA statements. It's as though you make so much money that it doesn't matter how much paper you waste!

Your commitment to maximizing my rewards leaves me nearly speechless, but not quite: are you completely out of your minds? I ignored your multi-pronged entreaties for over a year. What on Earth made you think I wanted to hear anything more about it? It was the same freaking pamphlet over and over again! Were you hoping I would wake up one day and suddenly see the light -- "My life is incomplete without membership in the ScotiaStar Network!"

Admittedly, your coup de grace was the letter in one of my recent VISA statements telling me that you had taken the liberty of enrolling me in the ScotiaStar Network on my behalf. That's when I cancelled the points feature on my card. Bravo!

* At selected locations, naturally.

Posted by anatole at 05:06 PM | Comments (3)

December 11, 2005

BYO at 30,000 feet

This is old news, now, but I still can't get over the way that Air Canada has gutted its service for economy passengers.

I ranted about this at great length earlier, but Miriam since brought to my attention a New York Times letter to the editor which echoed some of my thoughts ... and how I do like it when my thoughts are echoed! ;)

Prof. S. Abraham Ravid from Rutgers Business School wrote in on June 9 to complain about the across-the-board deterioration in airline service. Here's the money quote:

"The airlines apparently think that customers are neatly divided into two separate groups: business travelers, who have no budget constraints and will pay a ridiculous price for a flat bed and a glass of wine, and 'leisure travelers,' who will gladly camp on the floor to save 50 cents on the ticket."

In addition to expanding the meal cuts to more flights, Air Canada is now charging $2 for a pillow and blanket ... which you can then keep. This is mind-boggling on many levels. Of course everything has a reason at the new Air Canada. The pillow-and-blanket scheme is more hygenic (and, really, why reuse when you can dispose!), while the new weight restrictions and charges for heavy luggage will help cut fuel costs.

Meanwhile, Air Canada CEO Robert Milton was recently named CEO of the year by Globe and Mail/ROB Magazine. Why?

"In a speech delivered only weeks after Air Canada's CCAA filing, Milton warned that airlines clinging to business models conceived in the 1970s or earlier would become the industry's "walking dead." Air Canada, he vowed, would not be one of them. With the grudging co-operation of workers and bankers, he would reinvent the airline. Yes, by wiping out $8 billion in debt and more than $1 billion in annual labour costs. But just as important, by changing the fundamentals of airline management -- from the way tickets are priced and sold to the renewal of Air Canada's fleet of aircraft and the creation of an entrepreneurial corporate structure that forces each of ACE's units to act as independent, profit-driven entities. "Robert recognized the emerging international market two to three years before it started kicking in," says Brett Ingersoll, managing director of Cerberus Capital Management LP, the New York-based hedge fund that invested $250 million in ACE and owns an 8.5% stake in the company. "He picked the right strategy for 2005, 2006 and 2007 back in 2003. He nailed it."

I always thought Robert Milton was an interesting character. His fascination with planes intrigued me, in that I felt he was part of a slowly dying breed -- the CEO who was seriously obsessed with the product or service his or her company offered. The opposite of the CEO-for-hire, the MBA "general manager" type who would run Kodak one year, RJR Nabisco the next, and The Gap the year after that.

So there you have it. Robert Milton, who must have loved the airplane-spoon-feeding game when he was a baby, is now all grown up and CEO of the year. And you? No peanuts for you.

Posted by anatole at 11:44 PM | Comments (2)