How Staples Lost A Loyal Customer In 15 Minutes

Staples Parking Sign
Staples Signs

I like to think of myself as a positive person who is thankful and appreciative.  Spending a good bulk of my time researching and writing about new consumer packaged goods and services, I find good customer service hard to find. When I have a good customer experience I write a letter or make a phone call to the company to commend a person or business for doing something well.  More often than not, people are more apt to criticize and complain. However, I recently had an infuriating, bad customer experience with Staples in the Bronx that I feel compelled to share.  It only took Staples less than 15 minutes to lose me as a loyal customer.

Staples receipt 1

I own a small consulting business and I have been a loyal Staples customer for the last 10 years at the Staples, 5680 Broadway and West 234th Street, Bronx, NY 10463 location.  On Tuesday, June 4, 2015, I parked in the Staples parking lot located on West 234 and Broadway.  I went into Staples and made a purchase at 11:24 am.  I put my Staples purchase in my car trunk and then crossed the street to pick up a few groceries.  At 11:37 am (13 minutes later) I left the grocery store to find my car on a J&S Tow truck about to be towed.  Flabbergasted I approached the tow truck operator and a person I later found out to be a Staples parking lot “spotter.”  I asked what was wrong and why were they towing my car. I explained I had just made an earlier purchase at Staples.   The spotter told me to read the signs and explained that this private parking lot will tow the cars of Staples’ customers at their own expense if individuals leave their car parked after making a purchase. Unsure if this was legal, I called the police. Unfortunately, the police explained they could do nothing because it is a private parking lot and legal in New York. I had to go to the bank to get $136.00 in cash to pay J&S Towing to release my car.  Please note, having this practice of parking lot “spotters” in other states is illegal.

Staples parking lot sign - Read the fine print
Staples parking lot sign – Read the fine print

After paying for the release of my car, I went back to the Staples store and spoke with the Staples manager, asking to be reimbursed for my $136.00 I paid in cash to get my car off the tow. Unable to help me, she gave me the Staples Corporate phone number for the Office of the President, 800-338-0252.

I was infuriated to learn that Staples has a contract with J&S Towing Inc. who pays the “spotter” to watch people leave the Staples parking lot without their cars and to immediately contact J&S Towing (who are  nearby) to tow their cars. I had noticed the spotter in the parking lot wearing a bright yellow safety vest and we made eye contact as I left the Staples parking lot.  Instead of informing me of the parking lot rules and letting me know I would be towed, he watched me leave and then had my car intentionally towed. This practice is deceitful, totally unjust, and completely appalling.  To purposely report cars of honest customers who are unaware of this policy is unethical and a bad business practice. Staples should be ashamed. As I left the parking lot I saw another Staples victim car on the tow truck.

When I called the Office of the President at the Staples Corporate headquarters on June 4, 2015, I explained my situation and dissatisfaction and asked to be reimbursed $136.00.  I was heard, but the blanket response was “Staples is not responsible for the towing of my car and I would not be reimbursed.”  I probed more to find out that Staples leases the space in the Bronx location from a private landlord. The Office of the President continued to explain that the parking lot watcher and the J&S Towing Inc. are not employees of Staples, but of the private landlord. I discovered that Metropolitan Realty Associates is the private landlord who owns the Riverdale Crossing and its parking lot.  I explained that the parking lot is shared by multiple businesses.  The signs clearly read “Staples” and regardless of whether the spotter or towing company is employed by Staples or the landlord, this is unethical and a bad business practice associated with Staples.  By not taking responsibility or stopping this money making practice, Staples supports and encourages this scam. Not satisfied with the response I received, I reported Staples to the Better Business Bureau as well as NY Department of Consumer Affairs.  As you can see from my BBB correspondence with Staples, not only does Staples not take responsibility for the company’s bad business practice, they then have the nerve to suggest I “direct my concerns” to J&S Towing.

BBB response from Staples 6-8-15
Staples Corporate Response to my BBB complaint

 

Staples takes no responsibilty & suggests  J&S Towing
Staples Corporate 2nd Response; suggests reaching J&S Towing

Upon research, I found that Riverdale Press cited this practice has been going on since 2008 or before in “Towed from a Lot Law May be On Your Side” 11/6/08 article.  I also discovered the Riverdale Press “Staples: No more towing from this infamous lot” 8/27/09 article, which interestingly showed that a “Staples” spokesperson stated the company had stopped this practice.  It’s odd and conflicting that a Staples spokesperson is quoted if Staples is not responsible for the parking lot rules.  Timing is everything and on June 18, 2015 the Riverdale Press “Predatory towing pervades Broadway” article prominently featured Staples on Broadway was up to it again and the company has not changed their poor business practice.

I am sure I am not the first or last unhappy customer to report this. Staples lost a loyal customer in less than 15 minutes.  All it takes is one bad customer experience.  The fact that Staples takes no responsibility, puts the onus on J&S Towing and then doesn’t even try to correct the situation that the company is fully aware of is inexcusable.  I will not shop at Staples on Broadway again or any other Staples locations in the future.

If you have been a victim or know someone who has been a victim of Staples’ parking lot scam, I’d like to hear from you.

Visit 4 Latin Countries Without Leaving NYC

You’ve got to love NYC because it’s truly a melting pot.  According to the latest 2012 Census figures, the Hispanic population in the US grew to 53 million and is expected to more than double to 128.8 million by 2060.

With this is mind, if you’d like to visit Mexico, Spain, Brazil, or Chile and you don’t have a passport or a plane ticket, you can visit 5 specialty shops* without leaving NYC.

Las Palomas Mexican Grocery Store & Deli (by Sonny D. Foursquare)
Las Palomas Mexican Grocery Store & Deli (photo by Sonny D., Foursquare)

 

Las Palomas Mexican Grocery Store & Deli is a tiny grocery that features a variety of Mexican goods such as espazote, dried chilies, spices and fresh-made tamales on weekends.

219 West 100th Street (Amsterdam & Broadway)
New York, NY 10025
(212) 729-3469

Zaragoza Mexican Deli & Grocery (photo by Nicole Franzen)
Zaragoza Mexican Deli & Grocery (photo by Nicole Franzen)

 

Zaragoza Mexican Deli & Grocery is a bodega stocked with authentic Mexican ingredients and a Mexican restaurant, which serves tacos along side a wide selection of imported beer.

215 Avenue A (13th & 14th Street)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 780-9204

 

Despaña SoHo (photo courtesy of Despaña)
Despaña SoHo (photo by Despaña)

 

 

Despaña SoHo is part market and part tapas café with an endless array of Spanish specialty items including Iberico and Serrano ham and 50+ specialty cheeses.

408 Broome Street (Centre & Lafayette)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 219-5050

 

 

Buzios Boutique (photo courtesy of Buzios)
Buzios Boutique (photo by Buzios)

 

Buzios Boutique sells an eclectic range of Brazilian products from groceries and drinks to souvenirs and beauty products.

20 West 46th Street (Fifth & Sixth Avenue)
New York, NY 10036
(212) 869-6552

 

Puro Chile (photo by Puro Chile)
Puro Chile (photo by Puro Chile)

 

Puro Chile features a variety of Chilean products including handicrafts, jewelry and gourmet products with a sister wine store next door.

221 Centre Street (near Grand)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-7871

 

 

So what are you waiting for? Go on, take a trip to Latin America by way of NYC. Know of any other Hispanic specialty shops? Please share.

*Trendincite LLC has no affiliation with any of these shops.

Sensory Gems in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

A Day in Williamsburg Scent by Takasago
A Day in Williamsburg Scent by Takasago (photo by Dan D’Errico)

As a board member of Women in Flavor & Fragrance Commerce (WFFC), I recently organized our sixth annual sensory trend excursion with my colleague Jeanine Pedersen of Takasago. We chose Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In my industry career, this by far was the most challenging tour to design. The biggest obstacle was finding local retailers to participate. For more details, read my recent Fuhgeddaboudit! post.

However, the five retailers that did participate are gems! Without a doubt, add them to your must do list when visiting Williamsburg.

Fabiane's Homemade Yucca Cake & Iced Tea (photo by Dan D'Errico)
Fabiane’s Homemade Yucca Cake & Iced Tea (photo by Dan D’Errico)

For our first stop, 29 attendees gathered outside Fabiane’s Cafe & Pastry. Fabiane greeted us as we delighted in an iced coffee or tea and homemade Yucca cake, a gluten free pastry made with Yucca, coconut milk, milk, sugar, eggs, and coconut flakes. Fabiane addressed each guest and discussed her Brazilian background with her French culinary training and gave a little background about her cafe. Additionally she surprised us with a bag of granola as a parting gift, which took her 10 years to perfect the recipe.

Juice Press Samples - Almond Butter Cup Smoothie, Watermelon Super Cleanser, and Mother Earth (photo by Dan D'Errico)
Juice Press Samples – Almond Butter Cup Smoothie, Watermelon Super Cleanser, and Mother Earth (photo by Dan D’Errico)

We mosied on over to Juice Press, a growing chain of cold-pressed juice bars; this location was brand spanking new, it opened in May. Liz shared the company’s history and explained the cold-pressed process. Then we sampled the Watermelon Super Cleanser, Mother Earth, Dr. Green, and Almond Butter Cup Smoothie, all which only contain “organic calories.” The Watermelon was the group’s darling and my personal favorite. It tasted just like you placed a straw in a fresh watermelon. The Almond Butter Cup Smoothie was tasty with a creamy, nutty banana flavor and hint of cinnamon, but some couldn’t get past the gritty texture. The two green drinks were more of an acquired taste, a bit bitter and astringent, but nonetheless fresh, flavorful and healthful.

Exploring Woodley & Bunny (photo by Dan D'Errico)
Exploring Woodley & Bunny (photo by Dan D’Errico)

Moving to the fragrance side, our third destination was Woodley & Bunny. If you like niche, hard to find beauty products, look no further. Devon, Zeek, and Summer graciously hosted us as we explored, smelled and tried a variety of fragrances, skin care, bath and body care, and hair care products as well as candles. An aside, I often read and write about indie brands, but because of limited distribution I don’t always get to experience them. I’ve never seen so many products that I’ve read about or written about in one place. It was like a curated, indie beauty emporium.

WFFCAllswell Menu
WFFC Allswell Menu (photo by Dan D’Errico)
Flatbread with kale fried egg
House-made Sourdough Flatbread with Ricotta, Kale & Fried Egg (photo by Dan D’Errico)

By now our group had worked up an appetite, so we headed to Allswell restaurant. Based on the farm to table concept, the menu changes daily and is dependent on what’s in season and locally available. If you’re looking for a quaint, comfortable and warm restaurant with fresh food you’ve come to the right place. We started with a Ginless Wonder mocktail crafted with fresh squeezed lime, honey syrup, ginger syrup, club soda, cucumber, fresh strawberries and Oro Blanco. I learned that Oro Blanco (white gold) is a type of grapefruit. Let’s see if this becomes a trend. For a starter, we feasted on homemade olive bread with house-made Ricotta cheese and a crisp, hearty beet salad. For lunch I had their signature crispy chicken sandwich. Others enjoyed their proprietary burger made with Vermont Quality Meat or their homemade sourdough flatbread with Ricotta, kale, and fried egg. As if we weren’t full enough, we concluded our meal with a strawberry rhubarb slab pie with fresh whipped cream. Delicious!

Mast Brothers Chocolate (photo by Dan D'Errico)
Mast Brothers Chocolate (photo by Dan D’Errico)

The perfect finish to our sensory excursion was a final stop at Mast Brothers Chocolate. The overwhelming, raw smell of chocolate wafts through your nostrils as you approach and enter the artisan shop. Meghan explained that the shop only uses two ingredients – cocoa and cane sugar; hence the wide array of dark chocolates. We sampled the limited edition Vanilla Smoke and Maple Cream bars as well as other flavors such as Olive & Sinclair Sea Salt, Stumptown Coffee and Chile Pepper. I’m a sweet, cheap chocolate fan (Oh Henry candy bars are my favorite) and my palette is not sophisticated enough to get past the bitterness of the dark chocolate to taste and appreciate the subtle sweetness nor the smoke of the vanilla and maple flavors. My personal favorite was the sea salt. That combination worked for me because the salt alleviated some of the bitter flavor. Regardless of my preferences, for chocolate fans, this shop is a no-brainer.

Our WFFC guests experienced a truly unique sensory trend excursion in North Williamsburg where their senses were engaged and tickled as they left full and satiated.

A very big thank you to all of the retailers who participated! I look forward to returning; I know I’ll be back and I’m pretty sure others will too.

Fuhgeddaboudit!

Fuhgeddaboudit
Brooklyn

I am organizing a sensory trend excursion in Williamsburg for a large group of people and I recently called a few independent coffee roasters with retail shops and bakeries to arrange a store visit.  I wanted to purchase an iced drink and a pastry for 25 people and have the owner speak about the history of the shop and what makes it unique.  One would think this is a great business opportunity; a shop owner could introduce interesting products to potential new customers.

To my surprise, apparently I was wrong. Not 1 but 7, independent retailers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn turned me down. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief that they walked away from guaranteed business.Their reasons were:

  • “We can’t accommodate you since we cater to our local customers and it would be disruptive to our shop.”
  • “We can’t accommodate you; it just doesn’t work.  Our local customers get upset if we reserve tables.”
  • “We can’t accommodate you. It will interfere with our business flow and we are not staffed for that many customers, but you can come in and order independently.”
  • “We are too small and we can’t fit you.”
  • “We always keep the focus on our loyal clients and maintaining their shopping experience and don’t want to detract them.”
  • “We work very hard to accommodate and please our neighbors and it is not in our capacity to be able to please the market.”

I thought for sure in this economy and competitive business environment, finding an independent retail store to accommodate us would be an easy task.  I’m not sure what the store owners’ long term business growth strategies are, but from a business perspective, I think these store owners are shortsighted for multiple reasons:

  • I am guaranteeing the shop business for 25 people without the business owner having to chase business or market their company; I came to them.
  • The shop has a captive audience of 25 people for twenty to thirty minutes.  The business owner has the opportunity to talk about their business and show their products.
  • Their business is being exposed to people who have no idea their business exists.
  • Business 101 – we all know word of mouth travels, good and bad.
  • Although it may inconvenience the store’s local customers and be a little more disruptive than normal for thirty minutes, it’s a short finite period of time during a week day. In the big picture it’s thirty minutes out of a full day and will not negatively impact their business.
  • Additionally, one would think that local customers would be happy and supportive to see the store is doing well and attracting business.
  • If locals pass the shop and see a large group of people, their curiosity might be piqued and they might want to stop by to see what’s going on. Bonus, more customers.
  • I understand these indie shops aren’t designed to fit a large group of people at one time, but work with me.  I suggested taking shifts and having half the group go in and the other half wait outside and then switch.

I believe these stores have missed an opportunity and are thinking small.  Think small and be small. Although I am intrigued by their store concepts and executions, I’m disappointed in their customer service.  I’m not inclined to rush back to support their local businesses nor recommend them. I think I’ll fuhgeddaboudit!

Playtime or Naptime @ Yogibo

Yogibo, The Westchester

I needed to pick up a kid’s birthday gift this weekend, so we took a quick family visit to the Westchester Mall in White Plains. As you may know, I am not fond of shopping and unless I need something, I don’t spend a lot of time browsing or window shopping.  However, we went to the food court for lunch and stumbled upon Yogibo. I was not familiar with the brand or the store.

For starters, it is a wide open, inviting space with bright, cheerful colored bean bag furniture.  Adults and teens are lounging on these bean bag like chairs while kids are running, jumping and playing throughout the store.  A friendly employee encouraged us to come in and try the products.

As I entered, I felt like a cross between a kid in a candy shop and something from Woody Allen’s Sleeper movie.  This oblong chartreuse Yogi Maxbean bag chair was upright and as my daughter describes it “you karate chop it” where you would like to sit or lay.  Then one proceeds to place their body in the newly created crease.  I was a bit hesitant, but to my surprise it was very comfortable and held its position. The company’s tagline “The only furniture that loves you back!” suits the products.

My husband, who was comfortably lounging across the store, looked like he was on the verge of a nap. The kids on the other hand, had no hesitation and literally karate chopped each and every Yogibo on display. At times they would lay back, almost fall into the oversized bean bag pillows and make them a lounger, bed like creation.  You know I’m getting old when I tried to get up and was not only off balance, but couldn’t figure out how to gracefully maneuver my body or the chair.

These products reminded me of Mogu, a Japanese design brand that made similar bean bag like chairs, pillows and dolls.  Nine years ago they opened a store in Nolita, but closed in 2006. I even still have a Mogu Joy doll that was the big fad in 2004.

My daughter wanted to purchase a small pillow as a token of her visit.  Although tempting, we walked away empty handed. However, my husband and kids are ready for a house, which I will never be ready for, but we agreed that if one had a finished basement or a den, these would make great furniture.  I have a feeling, that if this store is still in business by the time we purchase a house, we will be owners of Yogibo furniture.

Black is still black

When you ask my kids, “What’s mommy’s favorite color?” without hesitation they will answer “black.” Perhaps growing up in NYC is where I learned to love black.  My entire wardrobe is black. However, when I was growing up as a child, they didn’t make black clothes for babies or children.  It was considered taboo. Today my daugther’s wardrobe consists of a variety of fashionable black clothes from head to toe.  Sadly but fittingly, when my father passed away a year and a half ago, my daughter wore a silky black blouse, black skirt, black tights and black patent leather shoes to the funeral. When asked by a guest, did I buy this outfit specifically for the occasion, I replied “no, fortunately we had it.”

While on the subject of fashion…the LBD never goes out of style and is constantly being reinvented through new materials and designs. Tonight I had dinner with my family in Ridge Hill (new shopping center in Yonkers) and I happened to pass a White House / Black Market shop. I hate shopping, but was familiar with the store (my close friend raves about it), so I went in. I have to admit the “black” attracted me to the store.  To my surprise, they had some very nice clothes.  The materials, textures, and designs were classic yet contemporary and well tailored.  The concept was simple, the clothes were merchandised well and the staff was friendly. The store offers black and white clothes and each season they focus on an accent color such as red, wine, and now metallic gold / silver for the holidays. I walked away with a new black and white patterned dress and the store gained a new customer.  I think I’ll be back.

Moving to packaging…when I was in art school at Washington University in St. Louis (many years ago) we had an advertising project to design a new dog food package for Purina.  Purina invited us to present our concepts.  At the time, I designed a sleek black package. This was unheard of – food wasn’t ever packaged in black, not even dog food. Flash forward.  Here are just a few examples of current black dog food packages …Walmart Pure Balance, Merrick Grain Free and ProBiotic Live.

Black is now a standard packaging color in beauty care products.  About seven years ago I remember when black was the “it” package color and naming convention in men’s fine fragrance with the likes of Polo Black and Double Black, Kenneth Cole Black and Vintage Black, and Kiton Black.

Black continues to be a popular naming convention used in fine fragrance, but now the emphasis is on an ingredient.  Recent introductions include Byredo Black Saffron, Demeter Black Bamboo and Black Ginger, and Comme de Garcons Black Play. However, the most exciting new black product out is Lady Gaga’s Fame fragrance. It’s touted as the first of its kind because the juice is black and once airborne it applies transparent on skin.

The English word black isn’t good enough and the newest buzzword is “Noir” (black in French).  A few new honorable mentions are Chanel Coco Noir, which the company describes as “nocturnal Baroque – a celebration of Gabrielle Chanel’s use of black and Venice’s influence on her designs and her life,” Tom Ford Noir and Agent Provocateur Pétale Noir.

We are even seeing black packaging in household products such as Downy Unstopables “an in wash scent booster” and Method Home Dish+Hand soap in a new eco-friendly package made from ocean plastic.

I look forward to seeing the continued use of the color black in design across industries and finding new places it hasn’t been used yet. Have you seen black used in new markets or new ways?

P.S.  My idea of mixing my wardrobe up is wearing black and white patterns (new for me), venturing into grey and if I’m feeling really crazy, adding a dash of red.

My closet ( it’s all black with a sprinkle of white and grey)