Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Ironing Board Cover Lady Has Moved To A New Site

Greetings from rural Australia.

The Ironing Board Cover Lady has moved to my new site, Simple Solutions For Difficult Problems.

It’s all there, my complete story about How I Became The Ironing Board Cover Lady.

You can also read about my alluring, sometimes challenging and always interesting life in rural Australia in Guerrilla From The Bush.

Both stories are now all in the one place on my new site Simple Solutions For Difficult Problems. Just look in the title tabs at the top of my new site.

Follow this link to follow the The Ironing Board Cover Lady. She misses you, so please click here now.

See you there!

Take care,

CAROL

Friday, February 08, 2008

Chapter 12 Botox For Ironing Board Covers


Life is full of surprising information. Some of it is good for your soul.

Victor’s mother, Rita, who is the inspiration for The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, always gives me magazines to read that were passed on to her by friends and probably passed on to them by friends. As I’m at least 3rd in line to read them, I often feel like I’m reading history.

In an edition of New Idea, there was an article titled ‘Kooky Cures’. The story about Botox really made me sit up and read it from beginning to end.

Today, Botox is a treatment for wrinkles. Considered a trivial and vain condition by a number of people. But as with many drugs, their original purpose is lost in history.

For instance, when you come out of anaesthesia and your stomach feels like its creeping up to your throat, the injection the nurse reaches for was originally intended as an anti-nausea treatment for pregnant women.

LSD was a therapeutic drug for psychiatric disorders. But its hallucinogenic effects were quickly recognised, and appreciated, by the hippie movement of the 1970’s. This led to it being banned altogether for both medicinal and recreational use. It’s still considered by the medical profession to be a drug of merit and research continues today to study its medicinal benefits.

Botox was originally used to treat people who had uncontrollable blinking or crossed eyes. It works by interrupting messages sent from the nerves to a target area in the body. It relaxes the muscles responsible for the problem.

The cosmetic industry was quick to recognise it also relaxes the muscles in your face that causes wrinkles.

But it’s not all fluff. It’s now a major treatment for cerebral palsy. Botox is injected into the muscles that spasm, which loosens them enough for a sufferer to walk more freely, albeit with a walking frame or other assistance, and gives them a chance to benefit from a better quality of life.

Because it’s a remarkably safe treatment, the medical profession is finding more and more uses for it, such as for Perthes disease, which causes the hip muscles to tighten and the ball and socket joint in the hip to break down. And is being considered as a possible treatment for people with a serious stuttering problem.

Thinking about how Botox stops spasms, - and wrinkles - it occurred to me that that’s a common complaint made about ironing board covers. They wrinkle, jump about, never stay on the board and generally ruin your quality of life while ironing.

It then dawned on me that the crisscross tension cord is the secret ingredient and simple solution that keeps The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover drum tight and wrinkle free on your board.

It really is Botox for ironing board covers.

Although we are an accidental business, there are now more than 90,000 Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers in use around the world. All thanks to our very supportive customers.

And growing daily.

Since 1994 our covers have been made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. They love what they do and it shows in the quality of our product. They’re our heroes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that your purchase gives back to these men and women a strong sense of self worth.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at www.interfaceaustralia.com/flag.htm.

To read what our customers say about us, visit www.interfaceaustralia.com/finerpoints.htm.

And there are more stories to come!

‘From A Throw Away Comment An Event Is Born’
‘Should I or Shouldn’t I?’

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories and comments with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn

A comment about LinkedIn. If you’re not a member of LinkedIn, when you click View Full Profile, you’ll be asked to join. It’s free and the option is yours. There are benefits to joining. Once you’re a member, you can key in the name of any person you do business with. If they’ve taken the trouble to complete a Profile, you’ll be able to assess their background, their capabilities and the calibre of person they are. You might be, as I am, often pleasantly surprised. So go have a look.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Chapter 11 It’s 4am And America Is Calling


In the late 1990's, before we were connected to the Internet and email, the sound of the fax purring at 4am was a semi-regular occurrence. The operative word here is WAS. I prefer IS, but some things are not meant to be.

My first ever international enquiry was from New York City. Anna Barton. She was a take charge woman from the beginning.

“How quickly can you despatch a cover to upper Manhattan?” she faxed.

I was so startled by her request, I read it and reread it several times before it sank in that she actually wanted to buy!! From us!!!

“Today!” I faxed back.

That was brave of me. Up until then, I had never sent a parcel overseas, other than presents to my family in southern Virginia, USA.

24 hours later, at 4am, another fax. “How much?” she asks.

Wanting to know how much is serious, I say to myself.

A phone call to the post office tells me how much postage will be in incremental weights of 250 grams. So I sit down, and with my Excel Spreadsheet open, work out how much each item weighs and how much it will cost, in postage, if she chooses item A only, A+B, A+B+C, B+D. Tedious, but necessary to work out.

I really can’t afford to make a mistake, so it takes a few hours before I can fax a reply with all her options.

Seriously, how long can it take to calculate a few items? Not long.

But this was a big deal to me at the time and I think I went over each calculation at least a thousand times. That’s what lack of experience does to you, as well as being rattled at the thought of losing my first international order.

24 hours later, at 4am, she faxes me an order for one Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover and Superior Felt Underlay. Including her credit card details.

It’s in the post that day, before she can change her mind. I fax back her confirmation of posting. And ask her how she found out about us.

From her mother. In Perth, Western Australia. She was given a cover as a present. And this order is for a co-worker.

Where does she work? She’s a senior executive at NBC. I was star struck!

Shortly after her parcel arrived, so did another fax. At 4am. Another order. For another co-worker.

Then faxes at 4am for people in her apartment building.

Then faxes at 4am for orders for a little boutique shop in Soho that she frequents.

For about 6 months, the purr of the fax machine at 4am was both soothing and exciting. Suddenly, we were exporters. Just like BHP.

Then nothing.

Dead silence.

Not wanting to be pushy, but wanting to know why the orders stopped, I send a friendly fax asking how she is.

Only to hear a recording saying, “Sorry, this number could not be connected. Please check your number and try again”.

Maybe she's changing fax numbers, I thought. Optimistically.

A few weeks pass and still no 4am faxes. As I had her home telephone number, I decide to ring. This is a really big decision for me, because in the 1990’s, overseas calls from rural Australia were $1 A MINUTE.

Only to hear a recording saying, “Sorry, this number could not be connected. Please check your number and try again”.

Anna disappeared.

Never to be heard from again. Just like those ‘Life’s Little Mysteries’ you read about in Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The little boutique shop in Soho? Lost as well. We had no contact details for it. Everything was done through Anna.

We grieved over our lost opportunity.

We were no longer exporters.

Until Februry 2001, when we were finally connected to the internet and could establish a website.

Although we are an accidental business, there are now more than 90,000 Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers in use around the world. All thanks to our very supportive customers.

And growing daily.

Since 1994, our covers have been made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. They love what they do and it shows in the quality of our product. They’re our heroes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that your purchase gives back to these men and women a strong sense of self worth.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at www.interfaceaustralia.com/flag.htm.

To read what our customers say about us, visit www.interfaceaustralia.com/finerpoints.htm.

And there are more stories to come!

'From A Throw Away Comment An Event Is Born'
'Should I or Shouldn’t I?'

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories and comments with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chapter 10 This Service Definitely Doesn’t Live Up To Its Slogan



My background is marketing and I read voraciously about the subject. Slogans intrigue me, especially when there’s a fantastic promise in the slogan. And when the service lets the slogan down, there’s nothing the company can do to rectify its image in my mind.

This is a story about FedEx.

Their slogan ‘When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight’ is revered in the marketing world as a slogan that built a company to greatness. It’s a fantastic promise and one of the reasons people use FedEx.

Unfortunately, that slogan doesn’t apply to regional Australia.

My customer, Poppy, lives in Tucson Arizona. She asks if we can send her Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover parcel by FedEx, lodged on her account.

This is what happens.

I ring FedEx Sydney. They give me the name of their agent in Bathurst, Mid-State Freight. So I email Poppy to say, “Not a problem. There’s an agent in Bathurst’.

On Tuesday, 20th November 2007, Victor and I have a reason to be in Bathurst, an hour’s drive from our property in Ilford, NSW, which is the base for our business. We go to Mid-State Freight and are told by their receptionist they haven’t been a FedEx agent for 18 months. They ring FedEx on a regular basis to tell them that because they get daily visits from people like me wanting to lodge parcels.

Their receptionist graciously gives me the name, address and telephone number of FedEx’s current agent, which is Mid-Western Regional Express.

At 2:30pm, we pull into their premises only to find the door locked and no notice on the door as to business hours. I ring the number given me by Mid-State Freight. Michelle answers the phone. I ask her their address. She confirms I’m in the right place. I tell her the door’s locked. She tells me yes, it is. Brad only accepts parcels between 5pm and 6pm. The rest of the time they’re out making deliveries.

I’m infuriated! Especially as we have another appointment in Orange, 45 minutes away, and we’re now late for that.

As we’re pulling out, a Mid-Western Regional Express van pulls in. Victor gets out and tells the driver he has a parcel to lodge for FedEx. The driver refuses to accept it. Victor bullies him into accepting it and the driver reluctantly opens the office, fills out a docket, and gives it to Victor. Victor asks if there’s anything to be filled out for customs. “ Nope, mate, nothing”. He then puts the parcel in an Australian Air Express bag. Victor queries this and is told the bag will be picked up by FedEx that night.

It’s now 1:30 pm, Friday 23rd November 2007. Three days after we lodge the parcel in Bathurst. David rings from Australian Air Express in Sydney. There’s no customs information with the parcel and we need to lodge a commercial invoice before the parcel can leave Australia.

In dismay, I ask why Australian Air Express is ringing and not FedEx. In complete surprise, David tells me there’s nothing on the bag to indicate it’s a parcel for FedEx. David then tells me to ring FedEx and complain. He quickly washes his hands completely of the transaction and it’s left to me to sort it out.

I ring FedEx. Voice mail answers the phone. I choose service feedback as my option.

Kit is on the other end of the telephone and he’s a very professional man. He listens to my complaint and begins to take down the details of my experience. He asks me the postcode of Bathurst and keys in 2795. And sure enough, Mid-State Freight is listed as their agent.

He then assures me he’ll fix everything and make sure this parcel is treated with the utmost urgency.

And that’s what happens. He emails me a commercial invoice to fill out and fax back. Then tells me that someone will ring me within the next 24 hours to give me a consignment number and date of despatch.

9am Saturday morning, 24th November 2007, Jenny rings. She gives me my consignment note number and tells me the parcel will be processed today, put on a plane tomorrow and will be in Tucson Arizona on Monday morning.

Then she ruins everything by telling me Mid-Western Regional Express has a right to establish their own business hours and they can choose to accept parcels at whatever time they find CONVENIENT FOR THEM!

I point out to Jenny that until yesterday, FedEx didn’t even know who their Bathurst agent was. And if their agent has restricted trading hours, they’re obligated to tell the customer (me) when I make an enquiry.

This goes right over Jenny’s head. She devotes even more time to telling me that their agent can choose whatever hours they like to be open.

I’m an ex-New Yorker and I don’t take kindly to being pushed around by someone when I’m the customer.

I abruptly tell Jenny she is irritating me with her defence of the inability of FedEx to know who represents them in regional Australia and to expect me to arrange my schedule to accommodate an agent. I then tell her I’m hanging up because I can’t listen to any more defence of a shoddy service. And do just that. Hang up. In a huff! Smoke pouring out of my ears!!

Victor and I have had this business since 1994. We’ve driven an hour one way to Bathurst at 10pm at night to help an elderly customer put their Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover on their board. And get home at 1am. We arrange to deliver parcels to customers that are out of our way. We accept orders and postpone debiting the customer’s credit card until a nominated day so the customer won’t be over their credit limit. Overseas customers ring at 2am to place an order. Customers who are early risers ring at 5am to place an order. Night owls ring at 11pm to place an order.

We think this is part of giving your customer the service they want and expect. We run our business for the convenience of you, the customer. And I guess, in our naivety, we expect the same from others.

How true is this saying? When you have a bad experience you tell 10 people. When you have a good experience, you may tell 3 people. Why? Because in business, we expect a good experience. And we’re so inconvenienced when we don’t receive it, we tell anyone who will listen. And sometimes it just feels good to be able to get even for the irritation and annoyance caused by their lack of care.

Hundreds of people around the world read my blog on a weekly basis. Remember this. Slogans are to be lived up to, or face the consequences. Make sure you take a close look at your slogan to see if you’re living up to its promise. If you're not, you're most certainly disappointing your customer.

‘When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight’ isn’t worth two cents in my neck of the woods. FedEx allows itself to be run like a business in a third world country. Open only for 1 hour a day, at a time when other businesses have closed for the day and when most people go home to spend time with their families.

Poppy will receive her parcel a week after I lodged it. It’s taken more than 4 hours of my time to drive from one agent to another plus the telephone time to make my complaint and sort out the problem.

Australia Post gets an Air Mail parcel to the West Coast of America in about 5 days. It takes me 5 minutes to lodge it over the counter on my account. I will never again accept a request to use FedEx.

Being in business is like looking after a small child. It always needs attention and if you take your eyes off the business, it can fall over and hurt itself, just like a small child.

Postscript 6th December 2007 3:30pm

I live by my own golden rule. To treat others as I wish to be treated isn’t always good enough. I also have another rule. If I publish a criticism on the internet for all to see, it’s crucial that I check back to see if that criticism still stands. That’s only fair, isn’t it?

A happy ending with Poppy’s parcel arriving on Monday, 26th November 2007, in Tucson Arizona. As promised by FedEx. And she was delighted to receive it.

And sometimes business gets in the way of good deeds. Our Christmas rush stopped me from checking with FedEx to see if Mid-Western Regional Express was still their agent in Bathurst. But the call I made today to FedEx at 13 2610 certainly did surprise me.

I enquired who the agent(s) are for my region of the Central West. I gave the postcodes for Mudgee (2850), Orange (2800), Bathurst (2795) and Lithgow (2790). Melissa graciously told me Australian Air Express was their agent for Mudgee, Orange and Lithgow. But we came to a stumbling block at Bathurst. After extensive checking, Melissa informed me, in a regretful tone, that there doesn’t appear to be any agent listed for Bathurst.

Now I’m in a real dilemma. Should I be smug that Mid-Western Regional Express was relieved of their status of inflicting inconvenience on the unsuspecting? Or should I feel contrite that they’ve lost a part of their business that perhaps helped to pay the mortgage on the roof over their heads? Woe is me, I’ve never been remotely successful at gloating over the misfortune of others.

And what do I make of FedEx? I accused them of not caring. Now look at them! Do they care after all? Is this a case of David, or in my case – Davila! - making Goliath sit up and take notice?

Or should I keep my remorse in check by reminding myself that no one from FedEx has come within snapping distance since my tirade on Saturday morning, federal election day, 24th November 2007? That I had to ring them to discover a change was made.

Gosh, life can be so complicated at times!

Although we are an accidental business, there are now more than 90,000 Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers in use around the world. All thanks to our very supportive customers.

And growing daily.

Since 1994 our covers have been made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. They love what they do and it shows in the quality of our product. And I can assure you that your purchase gives back to them a strong sense of self-worth.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at www.interfaceaustralia.com/flag.htm.

To read what our customers say about us, visit www.interfaceaustralia.com/finerpoints.htm.

And there are more stories to come!

‘It’s 4AM And America Is Calling’
‘From A Throw Away Comment An Event Is Born’

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories and comments with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Chapter 9 Wow! It IS A Small World!!



Clip clop. Clip clop. The sounds of the footsteps hitting the footpath are brisk and definitely feminine. Short, light steps. Almost musical in their cadence.

It’s a balmy, early November morning. We’re at our monthly event in Mosman NSW, which is on the North Shore of Sydney Australia.

The morning sun is gently kissing our skin and we’re enjoying its warmth and promise of a beautiful spring day. The surrounding trees are already in early leaf and fragrant spring blossoms perfume the air.

It’s a blissful morning and you feel ecstatic at being alive!

The footsteps are getting closer. But still brisk and snappy. This woman has a purpose and knows where she’s going. And we aren’t her destination.

I see her round the corner of our marquee and come to a sudden halt. Almost like a car quickly braking to avoid hitting something. She stops so abruptly, she almost loses her balance.

She looks at our signage, looks at our products on display, reads the sign again, and then looks at Victor, my partner.

“You’re an architect”, she says. “Yes I am”, he answers. “And you designed this ironing board cover, didn’t you”, she asks. “Yes, I did”, he answers.

Victor’s not a morning person. Early AM he’s a quiet man of few words. But seems able to participate in this conversation. Just answer yes or no. It’s simple and doesn’t stretch his conversation skills at this time of day.

She moves around to the front of the marquee and engages Victor in the most fantastic story.

Her name is Jennifer. She lives on the North Shore, not far from Mosman. She’s an architect too.

She has a friend, Olivia, who lives in the United Kingdom.

She’s just come back from a six-week visit with Olivia. While there, she irons every day on Olivia’s Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover. Jennifer loves this cover.

Olivia’s cover is a gift from her sister Catherine, who also lives on the North Shore of Sydney, a suburb away from Mosman.

And Jennifer is determined to find out where to buy this cover now that she’s back in Australia.

Victor, warming to her story, asks her about her architectural background. They discover they both worked for the same architectural practice, albeit at different times. And also discover that early in his career, Victor also worked with her husband, who’s also an architect.

Life is full of surprises. And six degrees of separation.

What Jennifer doesn’t expect, is to discover The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover so quickly. She’s been home only one day. Which is why she comes to a screeching halt when she sees our signage. She’s also delighted to discover how much she has in common with the designer of this product.

Victor, the man of few words in the morning, suddenly becomes absorbed in his new customer’s background and the architectural experiences they share in common.

He packs her order, chats a while longer, then she’s off. With a big wave and a smile.

A very happy lady who sprinkles even more sparkle and brilliance into our now perfect spring morning.

Her parting comment? “I have to travel to the other side of the world to discover some of the best products are made in my own backyard!!”

It IS a small world.

Although we are an accidental business, there are now more than 80,000 Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers in use around the world. All thanks to our very supportive customers.

And growing daily.

Since 1994 our covers have been made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. They love what they do and it shows in the quality of our product.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at www.interfaceaustralia.com/flag.htm.

To read what our customers say about us, visit www.interfaceaustralia.com/finerpoints.htm.

And there are more stories to come!

'It's 4AM And America Is Calling'
'From A Throw Away Comment An Event Is Born'

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories and comments with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Chapter 8 Look At This Family Tree Grow!


Every time someone places an order for The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, I scour my database to see if they’ve ordered before. Since 1994, I’ve looked at names of customers on a daily basis. Sometimes I think I know them by heart.

And what do I find?

Family trees. Both personal, geographical and corporate.

Because I give an undertaking to keep personal details confidential, I’m not able to reveal the full personal names in our family tree. But when I get emails telling me this order is going to the 3rd and 4th generation of a particular family, I can tell you I get a buzz.

A recent order goes like this. Robin is ordering for her daughter. “Can you believe you now have 3 generations of my family using your cover?” Robin’s mother purchased one for herself and then gave one to Robin as a gift.

I have quite a few unusual last names on my database. Some time ago I decided to ring to find the source of their orders. Yes, it was a brother, sister, mother or father who placed the original order. Sometimes an auntie, sometimes a grandparent.

Then we have extended families of friends. Lyn’s referred 4 friends to us who purchased the cover. How did Lyn find out about us? From her sister-in-law, Jane.

Teo’s referred at least 5 friends who have purchased. Three of her friends have gone on to order covers as gifts for their friends.

Margaret’s lost track of how many of her friends have The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover because of her.

Trish has given the cover to all her children, packed a suitcase full of them for a trip to the UK and her son gave one as a thank you present to a family he stayed with.

Then there are street addresses only a few numbers apart. Neighbour telling neighbour.

Who are the best at referring? Men! Men recognise a good product when they use it and are the first to tell their friends. Stan is a champ. We’ve got many men on the North Shore of Sydney ironing on their Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers because of Stan. And Harry isn’t slow either.

But the most revealing are the corporate addresses we mail to. Because we send all parcels Receipted Delivery, they must be signed for. So busy executives want their cover mailed to their place of work for ease of delivery. No last minute rush home to rescue the parcel from their local Australia Post post office.

And our customers come from a wide spectrum of the corporate world. The following companies have had more than one parcel delivered to their address. So it’s co-worker telling co-worker. During a coffee break or those odd moments when they can indulge in some personal time rather than corporate time.

These companies are listed below to show you how a small business like ours grows. With the help of our customers. Perhaps you recognise some of the corporate names, perhaps you work for one of these companies, but let me assure you these co-workers who tell each other about our product are vital to the future of our business!

ABC
ADI Limited
AMCHAM
AMP Workspace
Amrad Corporation Pty Ltd
Astra Pharmaceuticals
Attache Software
Australia Post Marketing Dept
Australian Bridal Service
Australian Business
Australian Securities & Investment Commission
Bayer Healthcare
Bowring Macaulay & Barrett
Canon Office Systems
Cheney & Wilson
Choice Personnel Services Pty Ltd
Cisco Systems
Clayton Utz Solicitors
CMRI
Communications Direct
Connect East
Coober Pedy Hospital
Corporate Public Affairs, Australia Post
Count Wealth Accountants
Cowley Hearne
DCB Advertising and Communications
Dome Books
Dominic Taranto
EGO Group
Ernst & Young
Fanatik
Federation Press
Fins Restaurant
FOXTEL Management
GHD
Gilbert & Tobin Lawyers
Grant Samuel
Hunts Leather
Illy Caffe
Inside Out Interior Decorating
Integral Event Management
Intentia Australia
Int'l College of Tourism & Hotel Management
IPEC
James Hardie Industries
JL Lennard
John Heine & Son Pty Ltd
John Holland
Limon Financial Services
Liverpool Local Court
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
McCoy, Grove & Atkinson
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Moneypenny Business & Tax
Musica Viva
National Bank
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Nine Network Australia
North Shore Private Hospital
NSW Dept Of Agriculture
Office Of The Governor
Ord Minnett
Osman Insurance Brokers
P&O Ports
Peter Hill Media Sales
Peter Shipway Real Estate
Phillips Fox
Pioneer Studios
Premier Cork & Timber
Prime Television
Rabo Bank
Radio 2CR
Royal Adelaide Hospital
RPR Consulting Pty Ltd
Rural Press Limited
Spencer Stuart
Spring Search & Selection
Standard & Poors MMS
Stewarts
Sydney Ports Corporation
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Tanner Menzies Pty Ltd
Ten Capital
The Logo Works Pty Ltd
The Marketing Store
The Peninsula Group
University Of Tasmania
UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building: Fashion Design Section
University Of Tasmania, School of Fashion Design
Village Roadshow Ltd
Vision Super
Weekly Times Advertising
Westpac Banking Corporation
Willoughby City Council
WIN Television

We’re very proud of our customers and are always in awe of the help and encouragement they give us. They allow us to develop personal relationships with them and tell us their stories. We wouldn’t have this rich tapestry of family history if we sold only to retail stores. This is our reward for staying small, friendly and personal. Nothing beats this!

Although we are an accidental business, there are now more than 75,000 covers in use around the world thanks to our very supportive customers. And growing daily.

Since 1994 our covers have been made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. They love what they do and it shows in the quality of our product.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at www.interfaceaustralia.com.

And there are more stories to come!

It’s 4AM and America is calling.
Wow! It’s a small world!

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories and comments with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn

Chapter 7 Why Retailers Turn A Deaf Ear


Our dedicated customers always ask us why we don’t have The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover in every retail store in Australia. It’s almost like a failing on our part.

I used to want to hang my head in shame, but no more. Our quality is far too superior to appeal to most retailers. That’s not bragging, it’s unfortunately a fact of life. Major retailers think everyone wants to buy cheap. I call it the Wal-Mart/Big W/K Mart syndrome.

Sometimes we want cheap. But many times, we want quality. And we often yearn for something different. Don’t we?

When you shop in large Australian stores, do you ever wonder why there’s a sameness in product from store to store? It doesn’t matter what store you visit, everything looks the same. There’s little difference between David Jones, Myer, Coles, Woolworths, Big W, K Mart and Target.

Just about everyone complains that it’s very difficult to find something unusual. Do you?

I always wondered about this sameness. Until we ventured into the retail environment.

Major stores don’t buy product with their customers’ satisfaction in mind.

They buy product to make the most amount of money they can in the shortest time span. If enough of us don’t buy something within a proscribed period, they delete it and replace it with something else. No matter how good it might be.

Their buying criteria is very strict.

Let’s start with David Jones. A store I personally like and have made a number of large white goods purchases because they stand by their customer if you have a problem. I’ve been a cardholder there since 1970 and have never been let down by their customer service.

In the mid 90’s, our customers kept asking us why The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover wasn’t in David Jones. They associate the quality of our cover with the quality sold by David Jones.

So I rang DJ’s. On the plus side, their buyer politely took my phone call. And explained to me that she knows who we are. Also knows people come to their stores asking for The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover.

But they won’t stock it because we don’t go through a distributor. They have a policy of never buying one product only from a supplier.

Why? It’s an accounting issue. The Accounts Department doesn’t want to have too many invoices to pay at the end of the month. They prefer buying many items from one distributor. Even though this adds to the cost of any product. After all, the distributor wants their share as well.

We don’t have enough profit margin in our cover to add the distributor, David Jones and us into the profit share. You’d pay close to $75 for the cover if we did. Would you? I don’t think so.

So a door is closed.

And many small, innovative businesses that make superlative products within Australia find themselves cut off from the major stores for the same reason.

Stores like Peters of Kensington, Lincraft, Myer, all the chain stores, share a common policy. They don’t pay ‘freight’. They expect the manufacturer (us) to absorb the cost of getting their product to the stores. Many also pay their suppliers’ invoices in 60 days, a period most small businesses with limited or no overdraft, find difficult to manage.

It wasn’t so long ago that retailers paid cash for their goods before, or on, delivery. Before the behemoth stores like Woolworths and Coles began to dominate the retail industry and insisted all purchases be on account. It was a time when a manufacturer could make a decent profit and keep their manufacturing within Australia.

How long ago? Would you believe up until about 15 years ago?

When the Roth family owned Lincraft, the up market fabric and haberdashery chain, we had our cover in 30 of their 60 stores. It was a huge seller in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Perth. When Philip Roth visited the stores, he expected to see The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover on the shelves. He loved the cover because it was innovative and Australian made. And the family paid their suppliers religiously every 30 days.

When the Roth family sold their stores, the new buyer had a different perspective. Lincraft moved from a family owned, know your supplier and customer philosophy, to a discount store philosophy.

We received a letter curtly telling us the name of the new owner and his terms of trade. They were:- no price increases, no freight to be charged, and payment of our invoices every 90 days. The letter lacked empathy and interest in who we were and what we made.

We asked ourselves if this is how they’ll also treat customers. And decided, yes it was. So we withdrew our product immediately. And over time, Lincraft has become a shadow of its former self.

There’s a saying that if you swim with sharks, expect to be eaten. And large retailers are eating up Australian suppliers at a dangerous rate. If suppliers were animals, they’d now be on the endangered species list.

Many suppliers are told to compete with prices from third world countries, or be deleted from the retailers’ list. Which is why Made In Any Third World Country is the label most commonly seen on the bottom of, or sewn into, the goods you buy.

With this philosophy also comes a lack of customer care, customer service and knowledge about what they sell.

We have no department stores in my nearest regional centre, Bathurst NSW. All we have is K Mart and Big W. Plus a specialist appliance store, RetraVision, which has an enviable, helpful approach towards customer service and product knowledge. They are simply the best in product knowledge and customer care.

When my food processor did its last spin in the bowl, I went looking for a new one. Unfortunately, RetraVision doesn’t sell food processors. Big W and K Mart both do, albeit a limited range.

Big W has the largest range. When I managed to track down a shop assistant (an achievement in itself) for advice, I was stunned by her answer. "We receive no training and know nothing about any of these appliances. All we do is sell them. You’re supposed to know what you’re buying".

It’s this remote, no care and no responsibility, attitude that prompted our decision to stay out of the retail network.

And another.

As our customer, we’d be offended to discover a retailer told you they know nothing about our cover. To direct you to the packaging to find out whatever you might need to know that will help you make a decision, isn’t how we want you to be treated.

And yet another. We’re not prepared to be ordered to run our business to please anyone other than you.

Oh, and one more. We won’t cut corners to provide an ever-cheaper price and an ever-diminishing product quality.

Yes, there’s one more. We love helping you.

Let’s see. That makes us unacceptable to all large retailers!

Which is good. Because if we don’t swim with sharks, we can’t be eaten!

Developing a market and a customer following away from the retail sector is a hard road to travel. It requires constant energy and almost Sherlock Holmes type investigation to find you.

There’s no market segment called ‘ironer’ that we can tap into easily. Our customers are mums and dads, celebrities, professional men and women and hobbyist quilters and sewers dedicated to their craft. Plus schools, laundries, dressmakers, fashion and bridal gown designers. You come from all walks of life and all over the world.

You’re sometimes as hard to find as a needle in a haystack.

So why do we choose this path?

This is so old fashioned, but it’s true. Because we think pleasing you, one on one, is so much more rewarding.

We like the warm, fuzzy relationship we have with you. We really like seeing the family tree grow with your referrals and your word of mouth. We like your positive emails, your phone calls, your suggestions for new products and your friendship. Most of all, we just really like you!

Establishing our business like this is similar to travelling down the yellow brick road with Dorothy and her friends to find the Wizard Of Oz. Always interesting, often delightful, full of obstacles and the eternal hope for the happy ending where you love your Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover!

We have 75,000 covers in use around the world, and growing daily. All made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability.

This is our reward. We have 75,000 customers who no longer buy their ironing board covers from major retailers.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at www.interfaceaustralia.com.

And there are more stories to come!

It’s 4AM and America is calling.
Wow! This is a small world!!

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories and comments with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chapter 6 The Sydney Morning Herald Blows Up Our Fax Machine



“In the future, everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame”.

Andy Warhol’s 1968 throwaway line becomes the inspiration and aspiration of everyone in business.

Including us!

Ever since we launched The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover in 1994, we’ve earmarked publicity as important.

The cover meets all the criteria for a successful publicity campaign. Breakthrough invention. Made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. Architect solves a difficult problem with a simple solution.

But it has one overwhelming handicap. Ironing is a dull and boring subject!

And another handicap. An ironing board cover isn’t high tech. It’s low tech, or worse, no tech.

Just one big yawn for journalists.

Until 2002.

The first break is in July 2002 with ABC Radio National. Julie McCrossin’s Life Matters program is doing a special series on Innovative Businesses In The Bush. After listening to three programs, Victor prods me into ringing them with our story.

A call to Julie’s producer, Kathy Gollan, is met with the response the series is finished. In dismay, I blurt out to Kathy it can’t be. She hasn’t heard our story yet! Then I start telling her about our accidental business and don’t stop until I run out of breath. When I can no longer breathe, I have to stop talking!

Kathy, grabbing the opportunity to get a word in, gives me a reply that stuns and delights me. She’ll extend the series by one week, but only if I’m available for a live on-air interview the following week. It's a once only offer, take it or leave it.

I think I’ve died and gone to heaven!

The rules for the interview are simple. Absolutely no sales hype. And to keep talking.

Stop talking as soon as Julie asks a question and then keep talking until Julie asks another question. Then keep talking until the next question. This is no problem for me as I can talk under water with marbles in my mouth!

I am allowed one piece of sales hype.

I can tell the listeners that The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover is sold by telephone marketing by the charity The Guide Dog Associations in NSW/ACT, SA, and WA to raise funds to train their guide dogs and pets as therapy dogs.

But I'm not allowed to give any details about how to contact our company. And Julie is very adept at adhering to this!

Not expecting much to happen, I don’t tell The Guide Dogs’ in any of the three states about the upcoming interview.

Remember the Scout motto of ‘always be prepared’? It's a good motto to follow. Guess who wasn’t?

10 seconds after the interview ends, the public jams the incoming lines of Guide Dogs NSW with queries and orders, to the extent that no one in their offices can make any outgoing calls for the rest of the day! It takes three people in NSW to staff the switch. WA, 3 hours behind, is forewarned by NSW, so is ready!

The Guide Dogs NSW email me. It's just one question. Who’s your PR agent?!

Flushed with a new sense of confidence, we venture forth into renewed activity to generate publicity. And are met with the familiar lack of interest.

Until Victor approaches Guy Allenby of the Sydney Morning Herald. He’s full of interest because he irons!

A journalist who irons is as valuable as a Japanese princess who produces a boy child!

But he’s also full of pessimism because he’s never had, or heard of, or seen a cover that doesn’t move on his board.

To prove it, we send him one to test drive.

The test drive is a success!

The deal is done. He’ll run a story about the cover and us in a Thursday edition of Domain magazine. In October or November 2002.

October and November 2002 come, go, and no story appears. So we forget about it. Chalk it up as another case of lack of interest by the publisher.

December 12, 2002 is a beautiful, balmy pre-Christmas day in Ilford. My early morning walk with the dogs down to the creek and back is pure bliss. The rising sun of early summer warms the heart and cheers the soul.

And the day just gets better.

The first call comes at 7:30AM. A young lady from Clayton Utz Solicitors wants to order a cover. “How did you find out about us”, I ask. “In the Sydney Morning Herald”, she replies. “A full-page story about you is in Domain magazine”.

Victor is just leaving for a meeting. As he goes out the door, I manage to tell him the article finally appears.

That’s the last minute I have to myself. Because the phone rings, and rings, and rings until 8:30PM!

In 2002, our website doesn’t have online ordering yet. But we do have a downloadable order form that can be faxed to us. And the faxes come non-stop until our geriatric fax machine runs out of puff at 3PM.

Victor arrives back at 4PM to be greeted by a mad woman. Me!

I race out of my office, the cordless phone permanently attached to my left ear. I frantically wave and point to the fax machine and in between phone calls try to tell him the fax has blown up and he has to fix it.

He has no idea how busy I’ve been with phone calls all day and doesn’t understand why I can’t speak in a complete sentence. Nor does he fully comprehend the language of frantic waving and pointing.

It’s as if he’s come back to unfamiliar surroundings!

But he quickly gets the gist of the waving and pointing. He’s also an excellent Mr-Fix-It and inspects the internal workings of the fax. “That’s it”, he says. “It’s sent and received its last fax”. The circuit board suffered meltdown from the heat of the non-stop faxes!

In the meantime, the fax telephone keeps ringing because people are still trying to send faxes. To keep our sanity, we take it off the hook.

At just before 5PM, we urgently ring Pencraft in Mudgee to organise a new fax.

Malcolm has one ready for us at 7AM the next morning. Victor is back by 8:30AM with an assurance that all we need to do is plug it in. And at the flick of the ON switch, we receive our first fax order of the day!

The phone calls continue until the 22nd of December, 2002. To our dismay, each day is as intense as the first day. We send out so many parcels, our local post office in Kandos NSW isn’t big enough to contain the daily deliveries. The overflow goes out the back door.

We even deplete their supply of parcel post bags.

As every company winds down for the Christmas break, we also deplete our sewing company’s ability to supply product. Their Christmas break starts on the 17th of December and they get out all they can by then. And ditto again for our supplier of felt underlay. They have nothing left to send us by the 22nd of December, their last day of business.

This isn’t just 15 minutes of fame. This is a gala performance worthy of bringing the house down.

And no one knows why.

Guy Allenby of the Sydney Morning Herald is truly surprised at the response. Other articles that appeared that day in Domain generated no response, so he’s at a loss as to why this is so remarkable.

But remarkable it is. The calls continue well into March of 2003.

And people still remember the story. Our latest sale from that article is 2nd September 2006 at Mosman Arts & Craft Market in Sydney. Dorothy remembers it when she sees our cover on display. And takes one home with her.

There’s a conundrum in business.

If I tell you we have the most trouble free, time saving ironing board cover in the world, you don’t believe me.

But if Guy Allenby of the Sydney Morning Herald writes that this is the greatest cover he’s ever used, the whole world believes him.

Third party endorsement is that powerful. Which is why publicity is so valuable and highly sought after.

And why we wish ironing wasn’t such a dull and boring subject!

In spite of this, there are now more than 75,000 covers in use around the world. And growing daily. All made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability.

To learn more about The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, visit our website at http://www.interfaceaustralia.com

And there are more stories to come!

It’s 4AM and America is calling.
The retail world has a deaf ear.
Wow! This is a small world!!

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. Share your stories with me.

Take care,

CAROL

View CAROL JONES's profile on LinkedIn