Follow the Red Brick Road… Or Not.

Open letter to a good business making a dumb decision… and a Marketing strategy any business can use to win!


Since many of this blog’s subscribers seem to live outside of Michigan, I try not to focus too much on local businesses around me but sometimes I like to call out especially great businesses. I almost never identify businesses that have mis-stepped with their customer promise, though. I understand when dealing with the public, you will never be able to make everyone happy. I’m making an exception, today, though, to call out the first local business I visited when I moved to Grand Rapids and one of my favorites until recently.

Brick Road Pizza’s FaceBook page. offers amazing vegan food (they have non-vegan food, too, making them a great place to visit with a group of finicky eaters) but they have been building an equally amazingly bad reputation for poor customer service. Unbeknownst to them, I have defended them on multiple occasions, but I am swaying the other direction now, particularly when it comes to their terrible use of social media. I chastised them on FaceBook for being unresponsive to questions and comments from current and potential customers. The response was:

I don’t have time check facebook. I may miss a few things. If you really want to speak to someone here the phone number is 616-719-2409. We will be more than happy to address your questions or needs.  

Irked, not so much by the brazen ambivalence and complete miss at winning a customer over but more so by knowing one of my favorite restaurants was probably jeopardizing business from other customers with their lackadaisical attitude, I offered a blunt, but honest (and slightly snarky), rebuttal:

Thanks. I would challenge you to make time for your fans, or let some of your staff admin the page if you struggle with time management, or just turn comments off. Social media is a powerful tool in both directions. Not letting people have a say is less damaging than not responding to fans and potential customers but giving them the ability to interact, and then ignoring them (but thanks for not ignoring my comment). Just “food” for thought…

I must have hit a nerve. A few weeks later, I got this response:

Thanks for the education on social media!

I suppose they might have been serious but I am guessing the response was the polite equivalent of telling me what I could do with my food for thought. I resisted responding for a day but a couple vegan friends were chiming in from the sidelines, mostly praising me for saying something, but also I suppose, enjoying the back and forth. Here is where Brick Road Pizza’s website is missing the ball:

Thank you for the education on customer service.

They had a solid opportunity to win a fan or customer for life but instead alienated several. Of course, when I choose not to eat at Brick Road, neither does Nicole. Neither do her work friends when she picks where they go to lunch. Neither do my vegan friends who are watching them implode on FaceBook. Neither do the friends they share this story with. Neither do the fence-sitters who have already had a bad experience there and were just waiting for further confirmation they were not alone in their experience.

Only five years ago, Brick Road was one of only a handful of vegan options available. While they have been sleeping, though, competition has been sprouting up all around them, especially for a niche crowd like vegans (who talk to each other often). Now, I can choose to eat at The Mitten, Cvlt Pizza, Harmony Brewing, Rezervoir, Nantucket, DiPiazzas… and these are just places that offer vegan pizza, off the top of my head. The list for other vegan restaurants in the area is amazing! I could go out to lunch or dinner once a week for every week through next year and never have to visit the same place twice, and never have to include Brick Road.

When you are no longer the big dog in town, it is in your best interest to take every opportunity to win a customer, especially when it is such low-hanging fruit. It would not have cost Brick Road a penny to have crafted a good response. But it has cost them hundreds of dollars already, from my business alone, to be jerks. When it costs them enough to be painful, it may be too late, and that would be a shame. Their food is really good, even though there was a dead cricket in my salad one time, which I never complained to anyone about until now (the waitress can validate the story, though). That is the kind of mistake I can forgive and forget. Assuming your customers are a waste of your time is not.


Today’s Lesson: Social Media is powerful (and by the way, Brick Road, so is a well-read blog; you never know which customer you think you are taking to task–a better option might be to assume every customer can reach a wide audience quickly–for good or bad). Take the easy opportunities to create, or win back, fans. If you are not good at managing your social media, hire someone who is, or choose not to use it. And remember, in a global, 24/7 economy, waiting 24 hours to craft a thoughtful, compassionate response, is like waiting 24 years… which might be how long a post like this could be around.  



Should Mexicans Be Allowed To Work Here?

Who should be in our country, why should they be here, and what should we do about those trying to sneak in?


There is a lot of talk around immigration now. I won’t pretend to understand all the complications of immigration reform, but I am convinced one of the easiest ways to spot people with wrong ideas and shallow minds is through their willingness to spew racism or slander against fellow men.

Immigration is a challenging problem when it comes to tax law but it is not so tough a problem to resolve when it comes to living humanely. Pitting who we perceive as “our group” against “those other” groups is essentially modern tribal thinking. Of course, “modern tribal” is practically a contradiction in terms. However, in a society that is globally connected through a 24/7 economy thanks to things like the internet and international travel, there is no logic to living as if we belong to separate, ancient, territorial tribes.

The fundamental flaw with tribalism is some people today act as if the world actually works the way a child’s grade school map in an old textbook looks like it works.


It is easy for us to pretend there is a giant thick bold line that divides each country, state, or space between land and water but there is obviously no actual giant bold-faced wall between land masses. If there was no sign telling you, there would be no way to tell exactly where Michigan ends and Indiana begins as you drive out of one and into the other.

Part of my childhood was spent living on the border of Texas and Mexico and from what I remember there is no way to tell where the sand suddenly stops being American and becomes Mexican. I would struggle to identify which grain of dirt or which blade of grass from the border comes from one country and not the other.

What I am saying is, the only borders that exist between countries and the only distinctions between types of people are the ones we choose to pretend are there. Actual, physical borders exist the same way the Tooth Fairy does… in the minds of small people.

Anywhere we look in the universe, we find the absence of delineation. There is no magic line between the light of the sun and the point where it lands on Earth. There is no border sign where Earth’s atmosphere ends and space itself begins. We are unable to even decide when a rock stops being a rock and starts being a planet as evidenced by the debate over Pluto.

Closer to home, an ocean and beach move seamlessly into one another. There is no wall dividing them. One is merely an extension of the other and they do not pretend to be separate. Only humans have a label called “ocean” and a label called “beach”. The water, land, fish, coral, plants, and salt do not care what they are called and do not see themselves as different things–they live in unity.

Sadly, I think racism will be something to debate as long we are willing to acknowledge a thing called “race” (whatever that means to you) that makes one human different from another. The same is true of sexism, theism, and nationalism.

The truth is, there is no one trying to steal your job. You have never met a person from another country out to take your seat at your company. There are people everywhere willing to work and looking for honest opportunity, including you, but they will take what they can get (including you). Holding onto your job and doing it better than others who would be happy to have it is your burden and not something to throw a tantrum about because someone in the media hyped up an imaginary problem for you.

There is no one trying to take over your country (except maybe your government). You probably do not know, and have never met, anyone with a nefarious plan to steal your family, your livelihood, or your flag. Don’t buy into the pretense that there is an immigrant conspiracy coming for you because there is no “other” team here.

Except for Native Americans, we are all here, ultimately, from the families of illegal immigrants. Columbus and other conquerors were not invited to take the land from the indigenous people already here. We all know that; we can stop pretending to hold onto the place we are standing on Earth the way toddlers covet their toys.

In my mind, it is hypocritical to pretend to own something that was never ours. Perhaps more to the point, for those who have forgotten third grade Social Studies class, it was there that I first learned the words inscribed on the Statute of Liberty, both as a salute to the American Dream and as reminder of our country’s roots and founding principles. The inscription says:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


These famous lines are from a poem by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus” and I can not think of a better example to solve the question of pro or anti-immigration debates, than the very words at the most famous border sign of our country. Remember, as with most things, standing with or against your fellow human beings is a choice and your choice reflects upon who you choose to be for yourself, your family, and everyone else.

Hate people or embrace them. Regardless of political rhetoric or media bias, the fundamental choice is the same and will drive your life and the example you set for others.

Choose wisely.



Daylight Savings Time Must Die!

What would the world be like without Daylight Savings Time? Where did it come from and why do we continue the tradition? What if you could run on your own time instead of everybody else’s? (The original version of this post was published on the GoROWE website, where my friends Cali and Jody are changing the way the world works. You should check them out.)

This is a thought experiment.

I need to establish the context of the experiment before we get to the fun part, so here is a brief (but I think fascinating) history lesson about Time…

Rail Time or “-ish” Time?

Prior to 1883, people had a different relationship to Time than we do today. You could walk into a Jeweler’s Shop, for example, and ask the time. The Jeweler might have said, “It’s 2:30.” You could then cross the street to the bank and the Banker may have looked at his watch and said, “It’s 1:45 on the dot.” Then you could go next door, right away, to the Grocer and ask the time. The Grocer may have said, “Just turned 2:00.”

The Jeweler, Banker, and Grocer would all have been correct. Of course, that would seem odd today, but it was normal and not even inconvenient in 1883.

2:30-ish was good enough for most people, but after 1883, everything changed.

What happened that made people finally agree on what time it really was? Why were they so misaligned before 1883?

The Railroad happened.

Before the rail system, towns were not connected in any way that required synchronization. Time was arbitrary because people in Ohio, for example, did not need to be in sync with people from Pennsylvania. Even towns a couple of miles from each other often lived in different time zones. Most people and towns set their watch by the sun’s location in the sky. For example, when the sun was at the highest point in the sky during the day, everyone knew it was “noon”.

Depending how good your eyesight was or how well-made your town’s sun-dial was, “noon” could be anywhere between 12:00pm and 1:00pm. A town 400 miles away would have a different “noon” than your town’s noon. It did not really matter, though, because no one was on so tight a schedule that minutes counted so much as hours.

When railroads began connecting towns, however, time differences became a tremendous source of irritation for engineers. If an engineer was to leave Dayton, Ohio at “noon”, how would he know when to leave? The Jeweler would have showed up a half-hour late, the Banker 15 minutes early, and the Grocer might have just made it. Each passenger in each town was using their own approximate measurement of time.

The rails worked to create a unifying effect. Eventually (but with much resistance) people began setting their watches to “rail time”. In 1883, the railroads adopted five standard time zones to replace the multitude of local times. People reluctantly accepted “railroad time”, even though it meant “noon” was not quite when the sun was at its apex in the sky in many locales.

The Fun Part

That was the context. Here is the thought experiment:

Look forward 20 years and ask, what if work was no longer measured by where you are between the hours of such and such, Monday through Friday, but instead was only a measure of what you accomplish against your goals? Thanks to the internet, smartphones, tablets, and other technology, the world has become smaller. Businesses can reach across borders faster than the eye can blink. Our economy no longer has to be broken into time zones to facilitate stock exchange trading hours because the economy is always running. Society is global, always on, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.

Measuring time is an arbitrary and abstract concept for most of us. Time seems to have a unique ability to expand and contract. Have you experienced an hour “fly by” when you are engaged in something meaningful or fun? Does the day “crawl” by when you are stuck doing grueling, mindless tasks that bore you?

How might our perception of Life transform if our perception of Time transformed? Would we return to a relaxed way of being, where “-ish” Time is good enough? Would we go back to telling our children to “be home before dark” or “when the street lights come on” instead of feeling forced to track them via GPS and bring them home like fugitives?

Consider this an experiment in mindfulness and vision.

How would you meet your friends to catch a movie? Would it matter if they were a half-hour late? Would you care, if you felt like you had “all the Time in the world”? Would it even bother you if the movie started late, if you were not always living on a schedule? How might a leisurely meal be, if each one stretched to two-hours of laughter and conversation?

What would it be like to never feel stuck in rush hour traffic, angry with how much “time” it takes to get home, or to work, because people are coming and going when they want instead of clogging up highways at the same times every day?

In other words, what if, after we throw our traditional, centuries-old concept of “Work” out the window, we also throw our traditional, centuries-old concept of “Time Management” out the window with it? What if we never had to worry about “springing forward” or “falling back” because Daylight Savings Time is unnecessary? Winter days have a little more sun and Summer days don’t make you feel like you are going to bed when the night has just begun…

I think it is an interesting idea.

Why don’t you think about that, and then get back to me about noon-ish?


Today’s Lesson: How Much Should Your iPhone Cost? [141025]

“I can’t believe how expensive these new phones are!”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I could retire now. I am shocked at how quick people are to complain about prices of things they could not have even imagined would exist a decade ago.

What should the value be of a device that replaced your $200 camera (plus the cost of film, flash bulbs, and processing), and your $250 video-camera (plus the cost of bulky VHS tapes and extra battery packs, a tape rewinder, cleaning kit, and a VHS player to play it), plus your $300 Gameboy (and all the individual games and accessories), your $50-$500 watch, your $500-$1,000 big, bulky computer, monitor and desk, your $60 beeper, your entire music collection (and now even your video collection), every encyclopedia, dictionary, and other book you ever owned, your Franklin Planner, stopwatch, alarm clock, home phone, black book, recipe collection, etc… how much should a device that does all that and more cost?

The many thousands of dollars in technology and storage that we all used to clutter our homes and bodies with now literally fits in our pocket at a fraction of the cost and we have the audacity to whine that smartphones are too expensive?

Nothing has ever been as cool or as useful in all of human history as any mid-tier smartphone today. The truth is, we should marvel that we do not have to finance them over 5 years at Tesla-like car prices!

Yeesh. If we slept on king-sized levitating beds covered with gold-infused satin sheets, I think many of us would complain about one corner being too hot.


Today’s lesson is… some people are just committed to never being happy.




Today’s Lesson: Why You Should Pay More For Some Things [141015]

“But that’s DOUBLE the price!” the gentleman in line before me exclaimed.

The tailor was polite and explained, for the third time, that if he wanted his pants hemmed and available by the end of the day, it was going to cost extra for the rush service.

Eventually, he ponied up the cash and left shaking his head. I was next in line and explained to the tailor I needed the same service and would be happy to pay double. She looked at me appreciatively and said, Thanks for understanding. I’ll have it ready by 5:30 for you.”

I said, “Even double is not that bad a price here, and I consider the price fair. If anything, it is my punishment for not planning ahead and asking you for a big favor. I’m glad it is just double.”

By the way, she did a remarkable job, too. The pants look great and they were ready at 5:30 as promised. I never understand people like that first guy. The world does not owe any of us anything in return for our poor planning or general stupidity.


Plan better next time or just pay up and move on.




Today’s Lesson: When Is Honesty Not the Best Policy? [141008]

“Is he going to be fired?” one of my team members asked about a fellow team member. “Just tell me the truth,” she said, “Are you going to fire him for this?”

I knew I was going to terminate the employment of the team member in question. He knowingly broke one of the company’s cardinal rules against harassment.

“No,” I said, “And even if I was, I would not tell you.”

I am well-known for my honesty and integrity, but there are some situations where I actually give leaders a pass on white lies (“White” lies, as I see them, are small non-truthful statements that do no relevant harm or damage to others or protects your best interests without compromising someone else’s any more than necessary). Those moments are few and far between but it is important to note when you do not owe somebody the inalienable truth.

Sometimes one of my employees, for example, will ask a question either they have no business asking (“Are you going to fire Johnny?”) or is inappropriate for them to ask (“Who was it in HR that denied my request for a raise?”).

In such situations, as a leader, you are under no obligation to provide an honest answer. In fact, it is unfair and, frankly, unprofessional for someone to expect an honest answer to a question they probably know they should not be asking.

Of course, this does not only apply to business. Today, a friend asked if I could run an errand for him since I was near a store he wanted to go to, except he was running late for an appointment. I like to help people but this was simply a request to bail him out of the consequences of his own poor planning at the expense of whatever I was doing. I was in the store, but I had my day already planned out and his emergency was not part of it. I told him I had already left the store. I prefer never to lie and will usually dodge a question honestly rather than lie indirectly but when someone exerts unjust pressure to push their agenda on you, I believe you have the right to defend your life and your schedule accordingly.

Somebody else’s inability to manage their lives or agenda does not give them a special right to make their problems your problem. We all have enough to deal with, without burdening others, too.

Today’s lesson is: be honest as much as possible, but understand there are times and places where honesty may not be justified or even in your best interests. The trick is to distinguish between those times and, if you are caught in a white lie, be unapologetic and explain your stance. No one likes to be lied to (but also no one likes to be called out on their bad behavior if they call you out on your white lie).




Today’s Lesson: Let The Music Play [140918]

I gave up listening to music for about 6 months. The following 6 months I listened only to instrumental music. It was a fascinating experiment and I was reminded of it today when a friend shared one of their favorite songs.


The music was great but when I heard the lyrics, I immediately remembered what I learned from my experiment. Popular musicians are crazy.


So many of us find comfort, solace, or worldly wisdom from pop songs. The only problem is pop musicians do not live in the same world as most of us. People like Miley Cyrus, Jay-Z, Prince, or Tim McGraw are so far removed from normal relationships, social and political struggles, or common hardships that they are simply not qualified to have a relevant opinion on these matters. Do you think Prince has ever had any dating/living situation that even remotely resembles any relationship you or I have had? Yet, people flock to these performers in fantasy worlds for guidance. We learn about love from Sting and Van Halen before we ever read a book about it or turn to actual professionals.


If you are getting advice on love, sex, religion, society, or politics from complete nutters like Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Shania Twain, Elton John, Lil’ John, or even John Mayer… just consider the source.


You would be better off taking advice on Quantum Mechanics from your actual car mechanic. I am not a total curmudgeon. I like music. You should enjoy music… I just think you should also remember you are listening to, at best, talented crazy people.



Today’s Lesson: No Rest For The Wicked [140901]

Technology is a two-headed beast. Thanks to things like email and FaceBook, it easier than ever to connect. Interestingly, today is Labor Day in the U.S. (a holiday to celebrate workers by giving them the day off) and I enjoy seeing how friends and family are spending their day on FaceBook, Twitter, and other social media sites. The down side is I also had 13 work emails before 1 o’clock, plus text messages and instant messages.

Before the proliferation of smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other connected devices, a day off was just that. A day “off”. There was no way for your bosses or peers to inundate you with reports, kudos, or questions while you were at the beach with your family or sleeping in to celebrate not being tethered to your alarm clock.

There is no denying the magic, power, and marvel of an always-connected world but it is clear we are still in the infancy of the Technological Revolution. We are figuring out how to use technology to enhance lives but I am not so sure we are very good (yet) at leveraging technology to improve life.

(In case you are wondering, the irony of using technology to complain about abuse of technology is not lost on me… but it is a daily blog about one lesson I learned in life so you were probably expecting it, right?)




Today The Lesson I Learned Is: How Much Should Restaurants Pay For Messing Up Your Order? (140802)

I phoned in a carry-out order from one of my favorite local restaurants. I could tell from the background noise, they were very busy. When I called, I said, “I need your help with this order because your vegan options are not listed on your website. What is on the vegan Chipotle Barbecue pizza?”

She read the items. It sounded great so I ordered it with some bread sticks. When I got home and opened the box, it was immediately obvious the pizza was not vegan. I called them up and asked the girl to read my order back to me to see if she had noted that I said “vegan”. She didn’t but she was very kind and quickly offered to make me another pizza if I wanted to come back or put the manager on the phone about a refund.

I thought about it and said, “No, that’s okay. It was very noisy when I called and I’m sure you were busy when I interrupted with my phone call. Maybe just validate the order back next time.”

She seemed confused. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to the manager?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “You guys have never messed up my order before. There is no sense in asking you to pay for another pizza on top of this one. That’s just throwing good money after bad. I’m all set. I’ll just toss this one out or give it away. Thanks.”

She still seemed baffled but politely let me go.

Today’s lesson is this: no one gets it right 100% of the time. Sure, that pizza cost me $24 but it wasn’t free for the restaurant either. I like the restaurant; I want them to stay in business. I will not punish them for making an honest mistake and I think the culture of entitlement we have around companies providing less than perfection 100% of the time has become absurd. I still enjoyed the bread sticks and grabbed a burrito out of the freezer. Two days from now, I will probably forget the incident ever happened (and you will, too).

So, when a restaurant goofs your order, or your internet goes down for a few hours, or your retail store mislabeled the price on something… consider the full ramifications in time, money, and frustration on both sides. Think about how much actual pain, frustration, or inconvenience it brings to your entire lifetime before you pull your “moral outrage” card because your mashed potatoes were only warm. When you make a mistake, how do you hope people will react? How often do you react the same way?

Or, to put this lesson another way… suck it up; nobody’s perfet.




Today The Lesson I Learned Is: Why American Airlines Sucks And How To Be a Better Lover (140801)

American Airlines seems to actively deter customers from choosing them. I’m not sure why they see customers as an inconvenient obstacle to running their business (my guess is a completely disconnected leadership team) but I am pretty sure they do.

I flew from St Louis to Grand Rapids on a roughly half-empty plane. I was in seat 19A (without a neighbor in the seat next to me) and nearly every other seat all the way to first class was unoccupied. Could I move closer and improve my chances of not missing my connection in Chicago? Sure. For an extra $30. Want to take a second carry on that’s bigger than a purse? No problem. $25. What if I wanted to board a little faster than everyone else and have a shot at securing overhead luggage space? Guess what? $20. Did I forget to add my frequent flyer miles when I booked my flight? Bummer; I’ll have to fill out a complete form but I can’t do it until at least a week after my trip ends. Better set a reminder.

American offers absurdly aggressive customer service. The entire boarding and check-in process is like visiting Facebook for any amount of time more than a few minutes. There are a couple of bits of important information but mostly you will be bombarded with a lot of irrelevant babble and a bunch of advertisements.

By contrast, United (who also would not win any customer care awards, but by comparison…) does a lot better. Their mobile app is not just a clunky link to their website but fully functional and well designed. You can change seats all you want almost up until you board the plane. There are no fees for a second carry-on and the advertisements are unobtrusive. You can change seats, add frequent flyer miles, and even choose which program you want to send the rewards to, all right from the app, which also provides an electronic copy of your boarding pass.

The lesson is this…

Think about where your business gets in the way of potential customers. What is the most frustrating part of buying from you?

You can apply the same principle to the rest of your life, too, like relationships.

Where do you get in the way of people who are trying to communicate with you? What do your loved ones know they can not talk to you about because they will get an earful or a heartache?

What is one thing you can do, now, to smooth the friction for people who want to do business (or pleasure) with you?


P.S. That was the end of the post, and it didn’t really concentrate on the art of making love as the title suggested, but it’s the same principle (well, mostly): reduce friction.

Also, in case you were wondering…

For me, I know the number one frustration for my customers is that they can not get a simple, straight answer with first time resolution when they have issues. Since I work for two companies with different rules, policies, and empowerment practices, this is an ongoing conversation (and frustration) for me. I am always trying to think of ways to make it easier for customers to buy from us.

In personal affairs, I know I can do better at correcting mistakes. It’s frustrating to be told you are wrong and I think I can be more gentle when I am correcting somebody by, for example, asking if they want my opinion before offering it.

Okay, your turn.