SCOTT'S BLOG


Some businesses in Issaquah, WA



      We've all got opinions, and venting them not only makes us feel good, but may aid someone else. People here still remember an Issaquah small enough for ordinary gossip to carry the freight on the good and bad deals around town. Now we're a growing bedroom community midway between Microsoft and Seattle, so what's more appropriate than taking it to the internet? Following are extracts from my general blog page, pieces which may be of interest to folks in my adopted hometown. I've been in the region for 25 years, 10 in Issaquah, own a small internet-based business, and shop locally when I can.

I.A.T.C. - Free guided hike every weekend day
Seattle's near eastside is outstanding for the quality and acessability of the nature experience. Developer-created suburban trail systems continually plug in to a network of park trails, user-maintained pathways, utility corridors, old roads and rail grades through mainly wooded land, both public and non-resident private. There are major trailheads with parking and facilities on each of the region's mountains, as well as smaller pullovers and street parking findable with a good map or rubberneck driving. If you are the sort to buy a map and head out, it's a great area to explore. If you prefer hiking in a group, or are looking tor an introduction to an area, try one of the hikes offered by the Issaquah Alps Trails Club. Hikes are free and open to the public. They leave from downtown Issaquah just about every weekend morning - and sometimes midweek or mid-day. They last from one to six hours , are rated for difficulty, and the hike leaders can tell you more about the terrain, the pace, and what to wear. Here's this month's schedule. The apparent gaps are more advanced hikes which are only listed in the Alpiner, which goes to those who have passed the stringent Membership requirements: ask to join, and maybe later send in $15.

Warranty Shakedown at Staples & the Corruption of Our Youth
   I believe I've been shaken down at my local Staples office supply store for the commission on a $5 warranty! The implications for our country are dire indeed.
   I came in to the Issaquah, WA store to exchange a $17 Staples-brand arm lamp which I'd found to be unassembled in the box . I'd actually bought two of them, about two months prior, after opening the box and seeing that they were poorly made. For $17 I wanted a backup, not a lifetime of service. While two employees attempted to complete a job left half done in a Chinese factory, I unshelved another lamp and checked it for problems. Back at the counter, the clerk said her manager would not approve the exchange. Enter young Manager Kevin who explained that the return period for electronics was two weeks. Responding to my shock, he waved airily at the two-foot long receipt, saying that it was all spelled out on the back. He would, however, let the exchange proceed, but I would have to remedy my initial oversight with a $5 extended warranty on the lamp. A five dollar warranty on a seventeen dollar lamp that's bad out of the box? By this point I was angry over the mere fact of a hassle over a bad store-brand product and an unnecessary trip, and began to raise my voice. Customers edged away and sought other checkout lines. Manager Kevin was told that his choices were to approve the exchange, or watch me walk out of the store and dumpster the lamp, never to return again. But a warranty purchase was out of the question. Years ago I took a Staples tech-support agreement on some now-forgotten computer peripheral, then returned both product and service plan when the phone tech admitted all they could do was get things running, not examine any particular function of the product. After warning that he would not let me take advantage of Staples' generosity in the future, Manager Kevin approved the exchange.
   A few days later while setting up my hard-won spare arm lamp, expected lifespan about two months, I finally did check the back of the receipt with its big red, eye-catching EASY RETURNS and copious small print. There was nothing about "electronics" and the Technology and Business Machines category seemed a bit grand for an arm lamp. The statement that . . . "all Staples® brand office supplies." could be returned without time limit seemed relevant.
   Why, I wondered, would an employee of any retail establishment misrepresent a return policy and risk upsetting a customer over a $17 item? This isn't the Big City, it's small-town Washington state, where customer service ranges from cordial to obsequious. Anticipating a lovely few minutes of work-avoidance, I googled "Staples sucks" and entered the angst-filled world of Former Employees with a Grievance. Plenty of posts from irate customers, mostly over failure to honor the terms of rebates, ads, or warranties on computer products, and the employee gripes ranged from sexual harassment and dangerous working conditions to petty bosses, but a recurring theme was extraordinary pressure to sell warranties, support, and service plans. Finding my way to the Office of the President (complaints) 800 number I found no concern over Manager Kevin's actions being out of accord with company norms. Soon after, I returned a calculator to Office Depot that I'd bought more than two months earlier. The clerks not only didn't object, they helped me test out the replacement in the store.
   Computer hardware is a super competitive field now, and apparently the only way storefront retailers can maintain is with deceptive sales practices, overpriced extras and dubious warranties. Young employees, often in their fist job, are pressured by senior management to lie to and manipulate customers, a fine lesson for those with decades of career ahead of them in business, in government, in your life and mine. Most consumers have made their peace with big box retailers and are willing to trade in-pocket savings against nebulous ideals of supporting local merchants. But economics and ethics aside, what does all this say about the character of those attracted to, and educated by, their service in such a workplace? Would you want your son or daughter to marry a Staples Manager?

Husqvarna Vs. Stihl Chainsaws Considering Power-Brushes But Not Lawnmowers.
As a volunteer for the Issaquah Alps Trails Club I have used several brands of chain saw and power-brusher. Every brand of chain saw other than Stihl has been a disappointment. When you hike hours with a heavy chain saw to cut downed trees from a remote trail, you want it to start and not quit. This is why I have been reluctant to try a Husqvarna despite its good reputation among loggers. The Club has used Husqvarna brushers because they were the first introduced. Although the Husqvarna 326LDX is the only unit made with the short hedger attachment most suitable for trail clearing, we have switched to Stihl because the Huskies have been total service hogs. The local franchise stopped carrying them precisely because of this, and due to Husqvarna's poor support of its dealers. Another good reason to stay away from Husqvarna might be lawnmowers. The wait-time for repairs on your chainsaw or brusher at a dealership that services lawnmowers will be way longer. In Issaquah it's two weeks Husqvarna, two days Stihl.

BECU, B.E.C.U., Boeing Employees Credit Union - Heads up their Butts
Apparently a bank without the frills, this organization advertises widely in WA state, offering basic banking services such as checking and loans, but without any actual branches. This stripped-down approach means that information about their products is given, and applications taken, via their website or through outsourced phone-bank operators who have only minimal familiarity with their loan products. In order to talk to an "actual BECU employee" one asks a phone banker to send them an email requesting a callback. During a frustrating two week attempt to find out whether I could get a particular type of mortgage, I experienced long wait times, was given contradictory information several times, and was called back only about 50% of the time. Their online application process stalled at several points, requiring more call-ins. I realize that the mortgage banking industry is characterized by deceit and insensitivity toward the client, but at least with a broker or a bank loan officer you can talk face to face to someone who actually knows a variety of products.

Comcast Cable Internet: Too many outages
Comcast is the franchised provider of cable TV and internet service for much of Issaquah. When it was attbi it was horrible, when it was AT&T it improved, and Comcast is better still. Even so, in Issaquah I used to see an internet slowdown or outage about every two months, lasting from a matter of hours to several days. Finally in 2005, while I was still experiencing a total outage of more than a week and spending most of my waking time chasing repairs, I learned that the annual meeting between Comcast and the City's Telecommunications Committee was taking place, and open to the public. I attended, as did Terry Davis, Director of Franchising & Govt Affairs (253-288-7496, Cell 253-261-1586, Terry_Davis@cable.comcast.com). I burned the ears of all present with a detailed account of my sufferings as a Comcast Residential Customer. Over the next two weeks there were Comcast trucks all over my neighborhood. Many yards of wiring and components were changed out, and I have experienced far fewer outages and slowdowns since. However, other sorts of problems persist, and while TV problems seem to get quick attention, internet service does not. This is a company with poor internal communications. Like some neighbors, you may throw in the towel and go broadband. If not, get to know neighbors who have the service, compare notes, and urge them to call in a report, as Comcast repair is completely driven by the squeaky-wheel principle: the more complaints in an area, the faster they respond to that area. My loss of connectivity was due to a localized, intermittent, line problem called a suckout. This is very difficult to track down because it will affect different users on the same node differently, is caused by changes in the weather, and must be serviced when it is occurring, not "between noon and 5:00PM" the next day, or whenever they have a free tech to look at it. They call it the rule of three: 3 ordinary tech appointments before they will believe it's a more general problem, and 3 complainers on the same problem before the line techs will schedule it. If you can get the phone number of your local technical operations manager, who can actually get a line technician to your house when the problem is visible, you may be able to cut to the chase more quickly than riding herd on your neighbors, who probably do more of their surfing while at work. City government has no clout when it comes to Comcast. The regulatory muscle and level of concern are with the TV service, not the internet. Tim Smith (837-3373) is the city's TV Coordinator, but he has few tricks up his sleeve, and I got the feeling that the relationship between the "regulatory" Telecommunications Committee and Comcast was cozy. Nevertheless, speaking your piece at that annual meeting may be the only effective way to get your problem listened to by the Comcast behemoth.

Comcast Email and Webspace: "We don't support that."
I regularly have problems with webspace and email, and often as not, the tech support is not able to help. Comcast has at least three levels of technical support, but residential customers have access only to the lowest level, the higher levels being reserved for business customers. The level-one techs are trained to solve simple problems, and will deny that higher support levels exist. They will tell you that their only job is to make sure that you have internet access, and while they can often be persuaded to help with other issues, are seldom competent to do so. To get competent support, find out who your local Executive Customer Care Specialist is (or try Agatha Hill, the ECCS in my area: 800-666-3458ext.65510) and ask them to have Denver call you back. This will likely take two working days, and the guy I got acted like he was doing me a big favor, but I have gotten problems fixed this way. And if you're a Mac user, you are doubly screwed, because almost nobody at Comcast knows Macs. In 2005 I began hearing, by letter and via my aol account, from European corespondents who were getting "undeliverable" messages when sending to my @comcast.net address. This remains a problem which Comcast will not take seriously. Read more here. AOL offers a bare-bones $10/month account, and as awful as they are, it is a useful backup to a Comcast account if the telephone system in your area fails less often than the Comcast lines.

Radio Shack: Deceptive Returns Policy
Let's say you go in January 1st and buy something - like a radio. If you ask, they'll tell you you've got 30 days to return it for cash, thereafter store credit. You don't like the radio (I didn't like mine) so you go in January 15th to return it, and see a radio controlled truck that would make a great birthday gift f for just $10 more than the radio. So, you return the radio and have the sales person charge the extra $10 to your card. Turns out your wife already got Junior a fire engine, so that's got to go back, and one thing and another it's February 2 (17 days later) before you get back to the store. Now your only option is store credit, no cash refund. Why? Because instead of RETURNING the radio and making the sales person go to the trouble of processing both a credit to your card for the radio AND a new purchase for the truck, you made an EXCHANGE. That means your 30 days for cash refund dates back to the original purchase, the radio, not to two weeks ago when you bought the truck. Tricky, huh? Apparently this deceptive practice is followed by other large electronics retailers as well. Moral: While 30 days return is standard on electronics products, you may want to favor hardware or general merchandise stores who do not try to cheat their customers with dubious hidden technicalities. If you make a return at Radio Shack, get a refund in hand, walk out the door, and THEN decide if you want to buy something else there. By the way, I never did find a small radio there that would pull in distant stations, nor a sales person who could rate or compare different models for this quality. I discovered the Grundig Mini 300 at Joe's (sometimes at R.E.I. too), and it's perfect. It took calls to a regional manager to get a refund at Radio Shack.

Costco: A good deal all around
By a good margin I spend more at Costco than at any other store, not only for food, clothing, and household items, but work-related goods as well. Generally the quality is adequate to excellent, the prices equal to or better than any other retailers' "specials," the shopping experience is pleasant, and I know I can return anything I don't like without time limit. The food items are not all "jumbo" size; even as a household of one I can buy fresh fish, meat, and prepared meals. I might wish for more variety in features and brands, shorter checkout lines, and better heating in the outdoor food court, but these are minor offsets. As an Executive Member I save more than the modest $100 annual dues on car insurance alone, and get a better rate on credit card merchant service than anyone else offers. This membership level also offers savings on real estate, financial services, long distance telephone, etc., and my local Costco also sells gas a few cents below any competitor. I particularly like the no time limit return policy on all goods, important for computer and electronics items where reasons to dislike a product may crop up only after a period of use. Costco's buyers have been helpful in resolving aftermarket problems with producers and service providers. My main gripe is about the clothing sizes they stock, and this may be peculiar to my local store, which is also the corporate headquarters store: everything is for "tall and fat". Small is just not stocked, and you have to get to a new item very fast to find a medium; usually you will find only L, XL, and XXL. I hadn't noticed that everyone in Issaquah is over 6 Ft tall and 250+ Lbs, but the buyers must have inside information. Suggestions left in the "box" have never drawn a reply or action, but buyers are reachable by phone, and have helped on the few occasions when I have had trouble with a rebate or warranty. Electronics and computer peripherals sold at Costco may differ slightly in features from base models. The MCI phone card they sell is not a good value, and service is impaired partly due to a modification initiated by Costco. There are corporate policies that deserve looking into. That's another matter. As a consumer, I am a Costco booster. The best phone contact number (including Costco.com) is corporate HQ here in Issaquah: 425-313-8100, not the toll-free numbers.

Pizza: Domino's Vs Flying Pie
I know it's not fair to compare a chain outlet with a mom & pop, but these are two pizza places in downtown Issaquah, and the difference is stark. The first Domino's pizza I had was so bad I just couldn't believe it wasn't some kind of fluke, or that I didn't ruin it myself when I put it back in the oven to actually get cooked. So I ordered again, and got another absolutely horrible pizza - but properly cooked. How do these people stay in business? On the other hand, there's the Flying Pie, which has outlets in Issaquah, WA and Portland, OR and apparently has nothing to do with businesses of the same name in Boise, Chico, and elsewhere in the northwest. Best pizza I can recall having, ever. I just wish they served "slices" all day long instead of lunch, and the selection of slices gets pretty thin after 2:00 PM. The pesto pizza is especially good. Flying Pie is my first suggestion when lunching with out of town visitors.

Massage Envy Vs Elements Massage
Welcome to the world of franchised massage! The practitioners are not paid particularly well and the more skilled, experienced ones invariably leave for private practice or better-paying spas. The bright side is the relatively low cost at member rates, and the opportunity to try a number of different masseuses and types of massage. Envy and Elements each have Gilman Blvd. locations for the typical near rich but bargain seeking Issaquoid. I have been a satisfied customer of Elements Massage for nearly two years. I've tried massages at Envy, once in Newcastle and once again at the newer Issaquah location, and have been less impressed. One masseuse was clearly just out of school, and the other gave an experienced, competent, but uninspired massage. Unoccupied masseuses lounged in the hallway and same-day appointments were available. There are also duds at Elements, but walk-ins or same-day appointments are rare, and the good practitioners are often booked weeks ahead. This suggests better demand and efficiency at Elements, but makes impromptu appointments difficult. Member prices are the same, though Elements posts rates online while Envy does not. Envy gives a discount for a second massage per month, but Elements regularly sells discounted gift cards, usable by purchaser, providing greater flexibility at similar savings. The big difference is in contract enforcement and missed appointment charges, and that difference is stark. At Elements there's nothing to sign and you can terminate the contract rates at any time with no obligation; occasional missed appointments are forgiven. Envy's one-year contract (6 months no longer available) is a sort of state secret. It's not online, and they will not even give you a copy to take away. Maybe it's on Wikileaks? Compare Google searches for "Massage Envy" + "contract" or + "complaints" with same for Elements and enough said! Issaquah residents stay home in droves during heavy snowfalls. Expecting numerous cancellations I called Envy for a same-day appointment and was offered several slots, but I would need to give a credit card, which would be charged even if I couldn't get out of my driveway. After one discounted trial massage you do not get member rates without signing the contract, so for me, Envy is a dead end. I was considering them as a backup for short-notice appointments when Elements is booked up, but I 'm not willing to pay public rates to find out through trial and error whether they have any competent practitioners.

RABANCO - Don't send cash
They don't get MY garbage any more, but I believe they still serve neighborhoods in and around Issaquah. As a 40-year mailorder business owner I know cash sent in the mail is actually quite safe from postal employees, especially when folded between carbon paper, cardboard, etc. But NOT when there's a crook on the receiving end. Rather than bother with a check for a small bill, I sent $10 to their collection address in Phoenix, AZ. When they stopped picking up my garbage, I learned that the $10 had never been credited. Of course I do not expect RABANCO to credit $10 on my say-so, but nobody I spoke to had the least interest in following up. I wonder who gets your money if you forget to fill in the Payee line on your check?



sucks, avoid, not recommend, bad negative experience, poor service, lack of quality, deceptive unethical practices, consumer complaints, rip off, ripoff rip-off, suspicious, fraud, fraudulent-->
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