Apple Seed

I take full responsibility for the fact that my kids are late adopters of technology.  And while I’d like to say this is because I’d rather them play real sports than wave wands in front of a television screen, the truth is it’s because I’m cheap.

I’ve always been tight with a dollar but when I quit my corporate job the household budget came under new scrutiny and my frugal tendencies kicked into full bloom.  I became the electricity police, trailing behind family members unplugging devices and turning off lights.  I began to consider whether expiry dates might be a suggestion rather than a rule.  And I made every effort to ensure that my kids knew the full cost of things.

“Why can’t we have a pool?” they asked.

“We could have a pool, but Mommy would have to go back to work in order to pay for it.”

Today, Jack and Taylor stroll home after school with their friends, enjoy a homemade snack and plop down in front of the television.  Comparing this to the alternative of a YMCA after school program where chaotic groups of ill-behaved kids amuse themselves until their work-weary parents arrive to pick them up, my point was crystal clear.  A pool wasn’t worth the price.

To drive home the point that life’s extras need to be earned, Craig and I insist that Jack and Taylor save their allowance to purchase their own big ticket items.  Jack eventually saved enough to buy an iPod, and thanks to an infusion of cash a couple of Christmases ago, Taylor was able to purchase her first Lululemon sweater.  But something as expensive as an iPad was out of reach.

That is, until one day a leaflet fluttered out of our community newspaper advertising jobs for carriers in our area.

For a whole year, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Taylor lugged bundles of newspaper and flyers from the base of our driveway into the house, where she assembled them.  Inky fingerprints dotted our foyer walls and elastics found their way everywhere.  Through all sorts of weather she dutifully delivered papers to 51 houses in our neighbourhood, encountering yappy dogs, terror-inducing bees and a cranky old man who declared, “This rag isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on!”

But when the iPad3 was released this spring, she was finally ready to purchase.  It was a proud day for all of us.  In short order, Taylor accumulated a stunning library of music, photos and unflattering video clips of her family and friends, and mastered a plethora of apps.  She was rarely without her iPad by her side.  It came to Jack’s hockey games.  It went on sleepovers.  And on a family camping trip this summer, she even took it to the beach.

But it’s risky to take a fragile device everywhere you go.  A couple of weeks ago, in a split second of carelessness, Taylor leaned on her precious iPad and sent a spiderweb of cracks across the screen.  She was furious with herself.  Horrified.  And grief stricken.

The web is full of tales of woe from iPad owners who have experienced similar mishaps, and Taylor and I were pleased to discover that many had received remarkable service and sympathy at their local Apple store.  Some even claimed that Apple had replaced their device for free.  Well, what could be more sympathetic than a 12 year old girl who saved for a year to purchase her own iPad, only to have it meet this untimely demise?

So off we went to our nearest Apple store, conveniently located 35km away, to plead our case.

The store’s sleek design dazzled us, as did the table groups of Apple devotees raptly absorbing information from user tutorials.  Employees strode purposefully past us, and Taylor and I paused for a moment in the midst of all this activity wondering what we should do.   Was there some sort of secret signal we were supposed to make to indicate that we needed service?

We cautiously approached a rectangular table at the back of the store where a number of employees were talking to each other.  After some time, I found a break in their conversation and interjected.

“I’m wondering if someone can help me.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“What?”

It had never crossed my mind that I’d need an appointment to ask a question in a retail store.

“I really just wanted to speak to someone about my daughter’s iPad.  She cracked the screen the other day.”

“You need to see someone at the Genius Bar about that.  We don’t have any appointments today but I could fit you in tomorrow afternoon.”

Genius Bar?  Really?  I mean, I know Steve Jobs was really full of himself but isn’t it a bit of a stretch to start calling the guys who work here geniuses?  What do they make; maybe $15 an hour?  I began to wonder if I might be on some kind of candid camera show.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I’d need an appointment… and we’ve traveled a bit of a distance to get here.  We can’t come back tomorrow afternoon; my daughter will be in school.”

“You could try the Burlington store.”

“I guess I don’t understand why someone who is here right now can’t answer our question.”

With a heavy sigh, he turned to one of three employees next to him, who were leaning idly against the table.  “Can you deal with these people?”

In the end, I suppose we got the information we needed.  No free replacement.  No interest in hearing our tale of woe.  No sympathy for the little girl who saved for a year, only to see the fruits of her labour damaged in a split second of poor judgement.

The cost of repair was close to the cost of a new iPad, and came with a stern warning that we really should purchase AppleCare to protect us from such mishaps, and a ‘tut tut’ that we didn’t do so the first time around.  The sad fact was that Taylor didn’t have enough money in her bank account to pay for the repair that Apple offered, never mind the extra cost of AppleCare.

The whole experience left us feeling somewhat sour.

A non-Apple repair shop is a less expensive option that Taylor has enough money for today, but with a bit of time to think it over she’s not sure it’s worth it.  Right now she’s thinking she’ll keep her money in the bank and work around the cracked screen.

My tree.  My little apple.

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Big Bad Corporate Philanthropy

Our family eats together; dinner always, breakfast during the week, and lunch on weekends.  Meals are served once and eaten by the four of us at our increasingly cramped dinette table.  From a practical perspective, it keeps everyone from walking around the house with plates of food slopping over the sides and onto the carpet and furniture.  It also means that we only have to co-ordinate one ‘sitting’ which means only one mess to clean up in the kitchen.

I’ve read that eating together is a key component to healthy family bonding but I have to admit that we often struggle for conversation.

“How was school?”

“Fine.”

“Did anything interesting happen at work?”

“Nope.”

We have resorted to reading the labels of condiments on the table for entertainment.

“Guess what the first ingredient is in mustard.”

“Water?”

“Mustard seed?”

“Nope.  Vinegar!”

In comparison, vinegar is third on the list of ingredients in ketchup.  Fascinating.

The other night we had nachos.  Craig had done the shopping and so instead of the often-on-sale Tostitos brand of salsa, the (I’m sure) premium priced Newman’s Own Original Salsa sat on our table.  The label proclaimed that the product was All Natural, So Good It Oughta Be Outlawed! and featured an illustration of a grey-haired, handlebar moustachioed Paul Newman wearing a sombrerro.  But on the back of the label, in tiny type, I found this:

“Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation donate all profits and royalties after taxes to educational and charitable purposes.”

Well I’ll be darned!  Just two weeks ago I published a momversusmarketer post about mixing business and charity, and here is a company for which charity kind of is their business.  I’d heard of Newman’s Own years ago in the context of a salad dressing my Mother bought.  She was of the generation that thought Paul Newman was dreamy, but the dressing was actually really good and sombrarro-Paul’s salsa was too.  Unlike those crappy chocolate covered almonds I bought at the gas station, I’m thinking that the main reason people buy Newman’s Own is because they actually like the products.

Today I did a little research on Paul Newman and learned that he and a friend started the company in 1982 with the mission to ‘shamelessly exploit his celebrity for the common good’, and that as of July 2011 the company had donated over $300 million to thousands of charities.  Every year, they literally give away all of the company’s profit and then start over again.

But that’s not all Paul Newman did.  In his spare time, sometime between playing Dodge Blake in Message in a Bottle and John Rooney in Road to Perdition, he started
the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP).  Founded in 1999, CECP is a membership organization of corporate CEO’s committed to raise the level and quality of global corporate philanthropy.

Just for fun, I downloaded the 2011/2012 Membership Roster and I think I managed to count 153 companies in total.  I wasn’t surprised to see excellent representation from insurance companies, major food companies, retail chains and big pharma.  However, I was surprised to also see the National Basketball Association, advertising company Ogilvy & Mather, and a bunch of toy companies (Mattel, Hasbro and Toys R Us) included on the list.

My most cynical imagination pictures these CEO’s getting together to brag about how much money they’re giving away; maybe a number of them even get into a bit of a charitable donation pissing match in an effort to win the annual CECP Excellence Award in Corporate Philanthropy!  But it would be the most productive of pissing matches wouldn’t it?

Conspicuous by their absence were P&G, Unilever and Apple Inc.  Oh dear!  The Williams family loves their iMac and our iPods.  In a desperate attempt to gather evidence that Apple, a company with such great products and super-hip marketing, does good in the realm of social responsibility, I searched the web but unfortunately came up pretty empty.  I stumbled upon a blogger like myself ( www.charlestlee.com/humanitarian/how-philanthropic-and-generous-is-apple/)  who asked people to write in with examples of Apple’s philanthropy and he hasn’t had much luck either.

Paul Newman died in 2008 at the age of 83 but both Newman’s Own and CECP live on.  It seems that some idols are worthy of our praise, while others … not so much.

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Check out the Newman’s Own website.  Full of personality that makes you love the products even more!  www.newmansown.com

RIM Shot

Lately I’ve been thinking about RIM.  Once a proudly home grown Canadian phenomenon, it is now sullied by unsavoury future profit growth forecasts.  In the Toronto Star business section last weekend I read that RIM’s plan was to “cut an unspecified number of jobs as it works to roll out a new generation of products to stay competitive.”

I can’t help thinking that RIM’s problem isn’t just the technology of its products; it’s the IMAGE of those products.  While the BlackBerry was once a symbol of success it is now more often viewed both by those who have one, and those who don’t, as an albatross.  Having a BlackBerry constantly stuck to the side of your head no longer means that you are a person of importance, it means that you are a person held hostage at the beck and call of others.

No one has a BlackBerry for fun.  A Blackberry means business.  And these days, for most people, business is not fun.  Gone are the days of Gordon Gekko as an image of success and luxury in the exciting world of high finance.  Now there was a guy who loved his job!  Today, success and luxury is having a job that pays you enough money to live comfortably on, AND leaves you time to do the things you love, like playing in the park with your kids or having a barbeque with friends.  And if you happen to love that job, all the better!

If you’re looking for a device for work and play, you are much more likely to choose the Apple iPhone.  All those apps and free games?  All those iTunes?  Now that’s fun!

Let’s see… a tart fruit full of molar-busting seeds versus a wide variety of crisp, juicy apples?  I’ll take the apple any day.

Even the new BlackBerry PlayBook is unfortunately branded.  Isn’t a playbook a strategy document for sports teams?  Don’t coaches and players have to study the playbook?  Smells like work to me.

I think that RIM is right to be conservative in their future growth forecasts, because I see increasing numbers of people of all ages looking for more out of life than business success.  One of the reasons I left my lucrative career was because it was squeezing time out of the parts of my life I treasured most.  And I’m not alone.  Networking has connected me to a whole other world of entrepreneurs looking to build a better, more balanced life for themselves.  A life that is less work… more play.

I can’t help but root for RIM because I am a fiercely patriotic Canadian.  So I sure hope that the ‘unspecified number of jobs’ they’re cutting aren’t their brand strategists!

Follow me on Twitter to see what other thoughts are popping into my head on a regular basis and let me know what you’d like to see in future momversusmarketer blogs: @whiterockdw