Goodbye 44!

No, I’m not looking into the future and the 2012 presidential election.  I turned 45 the other day and, quite frankly, I’m hoping for a better year.  At 45, how many good years are there going to be?

There was a great deal of promise when I turned 44 last November.  I was having a very tough time seeing and surgery was scheduled for early December for a full cornea transplant or a partial cornea transplant (where only the endothelia is swapped out.)  The hope was for the endothelial transplant, but that was to be determined during surgery.  The surgeon was pretty optimistic that my vision would get to 20/100 or a tad bit better.

The result was the easier surgery, replacing only the endothelia, but vision that peaked at 20/200 in spring and then started going the wrong way by July.  I can now see 20/400 in my good eye and none of my ophthalmologists can tell me what the problem is now.  So the hopes and dreams from last Thanksgiving have been replaced by frustration and concern this year.

Then there is the business.  When I turned 44, I had absolutely no idea what was going to become of our business, Salon Supplies + Interiors (see the two previous paragraphs.)  Our lease at 1010 MacDade with the ganif (I am being too kind) was set to expire on 5 February.  Once my doctor informed me that the surgery was “a success,” we tried to negotiate a one year lease at a lower rent.  We were paying $3750 in rent, $1200 in taxes, and about $1100 for utilities on average per month.  (Utilities varied from $800 to $2000 and were billed by the ganif, not Peco.)

Now the question was to move or close.  I really wanted to launch ForYourSalon.com, which was suffering from massive delays (uh, yeah, my sight issues.)  Thankfully, Ken came on-board full time and got it moving again.  We looked at properties from the end of December to the third week in January, when we found our current location.  It was perfect!  It had a drive-in bay, a loading dock bay, and nearly 8,000 square feet.  This place could accommodate our cabinet shop, used equipment department, new equipment showroom, and beauty supplies department.  And the price was right too: $2,500 per month rent, no CAM charges, no taxes, and a utility bill that averages about $575 per month (highest was about $675 and lowest was about $350.)

We boxed all the supplies and moved everything in about five days.  We had everything setup in the new place in about three weeks, though we only closed for three days during the move (the last day at the old location and the first two days at the new location.)  The first few days at the new place were somewhat painful for me since we had so many different workers (moving temps, electricians, etc.)  While my staff knew to keep things off the floor and away from traffic areas, the others did not.  I walked into metal piping that was hanging out of the electricians truck by about three feet (the truck was parked in the warehouse.)  It literally brought me to my knees.

So our predicament is very similar this year.  Different building, different issues, with a move imminent.  This year there is greater worry.  The conditions of our “perfect” space began to worsen with every drop of rain that fell at the end of June.  As water poured in every day or two over the summer, the mold and fungus began thriving.  Samples taken by a mold remediation company in early November showed levels much higher than they should be.  We will be out of the space within weeks (hopefully two weeks.)

Besides my sight, my general health hasn’t been good over the past year.  I’ve had sinusitis multiple times since early summer.  Hmmm, I wonder if it has to do with the mold…  I am looking forward to evacuating that building and seeing if my health (and Eliz’s too) rebounds.

The immortal words of a great philosopher are always in the back of my mind, “It’s always something.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another…”  That said, I’m looking forward to a better year.  I’ll let you know right after I turn 46.

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Everything Looks Fine…

I’ve been waiting for this appointment with my cornea specialist for weeks.  I have been having problems with my left eye since the middle of summer and both my local ophthalmologist and my glaucoma specialist noticed “folds” in my cornea.  Both thought that was the reason for my visual acuity dropping from 20/200 to 20/400 in my “good” eye.  My right eye has bothered me for the last day or two, so I wanted to have Dr. Ayers take a look there too.

I get called back and the “nurse” (she is more than a helper, but I doubt she is a nurse — please correct me if I’m wrong) puts up the eye chart.  I see the big E (20/400,) but not the SL (20/200.)  She drops the pinhole thingy over my eye and after some searching for the perfect pinhole, I see the SL line.  The OPLB line looks like some black blobs and I can’t make any of the letters out.  The “nurse” says, “Oh, that’s not so bad.  It’s only one line less.”  Really?  So if you are driving down the street, you don’t think seeing a sign with letters about 12 inches tall would be much easier to see than the sign with letters about six inches tall?  I’ve wasted a ton of money on signage then if it’s not that different.

After waiting an unusually long time to see Dr. Ayers (a total of about an hour fifteen minutes,) he finally came into the room.  We exchanged pleasantries and then discussed my eyes.  I told him about my left eye and not seeing as good as I had been and I am now having greater difficulty reading on the computer.  As I put my head into the applanation tonometer (the machine with the blue light on it,) I mention that my right eye is bothering me.  He took a look at the right eye and mentioned things like corneal edema, bullae, and some other things to the “nurse” who was writing everything in my chart.  I kind of knew that I had some bullae (small, fluid-filled blisters ,) because I’ve had sinusitis and been on antibiotics for the past two weeks.  (This is the third time I’ve had sinusitis in the last four months, could it be the mold at the store?)  The problem with the bullae now though is that when they pop, the pain isn’t going away and any kind of light brings additional pain.  I thought I might have an infection in the eye.  Doc said no and to use this stuff called Muro 128, which is basically a kicked up saline solution.  It also comes in a gel that I usually use.  I suppose I could also go to the kitchen and throw some salt in my eye…

As he checked out my left eye, he noticed the “folds” straight away.  He then said the “folds” are Haab Striae and I’ve had them for a long time.  He then (tried to) show me the sketches he’s done of my eye at every visit.  He realized I couldn’t see it and told me each one has them (the striae) there.  He said my eye looks good.  My IOP was eight in the left, 16 in the right.  Wow, so everything is good!  I am so relieved.  But wait, I can’t see as well.  There’s got to be something going on.  I do have a cataract in there, but the doc says he doesn’t think it is time to remove it.  Besides, by taking that out, it may wreck the endothelia that was transplanted in December.  Dr. Ayers says, “But we could just do another one.”  He said I might be able to 20/70 or 20/80!  Of course he said I’d get to 20/100 by doing the endothelial transplant.  I guess I’ve got to wait more than 42 weeks after the surgery to get there.  He doesn’t think the cataract is the problem though.  Dr. Ayers then adds, “Whatever it is, it’s not an easy fix.”  House!  HOUSE!  Where the hell is that guy…  Oh, he’s not real?  I thought that show was one of those reality shows.

Speaking to my dad about the appointment last night, he said, “What are they gonna tell you?  They can’t fix it, it is the way it is.”  I should have listened to him.  I’d have saved a few hours and the copay.  Not too bad for a guy that only spent two weeks in high school.

I’d like to thank Ken for transporting me to my appointment.  Since Ginny and Scott aren’t with us at the store, we don’t have coverage for Eliz and I both to leave store.  Between the mold, the economy, and my vision, it might be time to get into something else.

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Crime Pays

We launched ForYourSalon.com on 15 June 2009, about nine months after I had hoped to launch it.  If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you know why it took so long to get it up and running.  If you don’t know, the short answer is my vision deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t do much with the site (because of my sight.)  Once we launched, it took a week or two before we had a sale.  Then another week before the next one.  Now, we are up to a few sales per week.  Some big (24 shampoo bowls to a customer in Texas,) some small (a pint of developer to a customer in North Dakota – shipping was over four times more than the price of the product.)

On 24 August, a customer ordered four flat irons (BABNT2091 if you must know.)  We shipped them out the next day to an address in Doral, FL.  PayPal processes our transactions and everything looked good from their standpoint; even the CSC (card security code) matched.  That is important, because only the card has that on it.  On 1 September, the customer ordered four more.  It is not unusual for something like this to happen.  A couple of stylists get a new tool, the others try it out and want one for themselves.  Everything is good with PayPal.  The CSC matches, etc.  We had a problem on our end as we only had three of the four the customer wanted.  It was late in the day, so I phoned the customer to see if we could substitute a pink model that is otherwise identical.  The customer wanted the blue and asked if he could have a larger size.  We had the BABNT2094 in stock, which is a 1 3/4″ from the same line of Nano Titanium irons.  Same price, so the customer was happy.  We shipped them out that day.  Over Labor Day weekend, the customer ordered four more and added a note that said we could substitute the BABNT2094 for the BABNT2091 if the 2091’s were out of stock.  When we went to the biz on Tuesday, 8 September, I checked the PayPal info and again saw that all was good.  We shipped out the order that day.

You know what is coming…  On 13 September, I get three emails from PayPal stating that the customer is disputing the charges.  We had a chargeback of about $1235.  Ouch.  I started to look into further.  The shipping address and billing address are different, but that is not unusual for us.  We have a couple of current clients locally that have a billing address that is not local (one has a salon in Wilmington, DE, but the billing address is in North or South Carolina.)  The billing address for my online customer was in Utica, NY, while the shipping address is in Doral (Miami-Dade,) FL.  I googled the customer’s name in Miami and got nothing.  I googled him in Utica and found that he is a well-respected professional, with about twice the education I had.  Now I’m feeling even dumber…

Ken and I spoke on the phone about a few policy changes.  The biggest, of course, has to do with different billing and shipping addresses.  The security I had with PayPal and the CSC number matching pretty much meant nothing.  I am disappointed to be out over $1200, but still believe we can sell on the internet and make a living.  I fill out the information about the transactions and submit it along with the tracking numbers for the three shipments.  At about 1:00pm, I get another email from PayPal.  This email tells me of limitations place on our account.  The biggest limitation is that they will not process our transactions, essentially shutting down our site to anyone looking to make a purchase online.  They asked for a multitude of proof to back up who I am, where I live, and invoices from my vendors to show that we are, indeed, a legitimate business.  The email was curt and made me wonder who’s side they were on.  I felt like we were being victimized again.

The only human contact I have with PayPal is our “Territory” Manager, Rick Lancaster (he’s got a Nebraska phone number and Colorado fax number, and we’re in southeastern Pennsylvania – now that’s a large territory.)  I phone Rick and ask him what to do and why are they not processing our transactions.  He feels bad for me, but it isn’t really his thing, this fraud stuff.  He tells me he’ll make some calls and see what he can find out.  An hour later he calls and tells me the chargeback percentage is way too high, that is why they stopped processing for us.  He told me to get them as much info as I can and they’ll see about lifting the limitations.  I spend the next few hours looking for and scanning documents to submit to them.  By the way, no PDF files, they only take .jpg, .gif, and .png.  Now I’ve got to take time converting the PDFs into .jpgs.  UGH.

I submitted about three or four things on their checklist before leaving for the day.  By the time I get home and fire up the computer, I’ve received an email from PayPal saying that the tracking numbers for the last five transactions I’ve submitted have not all arrived at their final destination.  Really?  No kidding!  Two of our last five transactions were heading out west to Texas and Montana.  Lindsey, from PayPal, must have had trouble with geography in school.  Texas and Montana are not close to southeastern Pennsylvania.  I’m serious, they’re not.  Since they shipped on Thursday (10 Sep) and it is only Monday (14 Sep,) and they going ground (lets not forget that UPS only does special deliveries on Saturdays – while these may have been special to the customers that ordered them, they were shipped plain, old ground,) they couldn’t possibly be at the customers salon’s yet.

First thing on Tuesday (15 Sep,) I reply to Lindsey and cc Rick.  The reply to Lindsey bounces back.  There’s a shocker.  Ken and I try to figure how we could still sell stuff on the site.  Ken created an info “box” at the top of each page explaining that we have technical issues with our payment system.  Fortunately, we could keep the site up so our SEO (search engine optimization) doesn’t get hurt.  There was no further communications from PayPal.  I filled out and submitted additional info to them.

Today (16 Sep,) I filled out even more info and submitted it.  I transferred funds to cover the chargeback even though they hadn’t asked for it.  I thought it might help get us back making sales online.  Ken updates the message on the site to include a pitch for calling your order in to us.  He does the same on twitter and Facebook.  At noon, we make a phone sale (a 403 vacuum breaker from Belvedere) to a plumbing supply company in West Palm Beach, FL.  A short time later, I phone Rick at PayPal to see if he can get us up and running.  He makes some calls and gets back to me within an hour and a half.  One of the limitations has been lifted!  We can now sell online again.  We don’t have access to our money, mind you, but we can resume selling on the site.  Once the chargeback is “cleared up,” we will have full access to our account.  I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see the $1235, but if they want me to believe they are trying to help me, fine.

So what do you think happens within two hours of us being able to sell online again?  C’mon, this is an easy one!  Yes!  The same jackass placed an order for one 2091 in one transaction and six in another transaction using a different billing address (in Denver, CO) and a slightly different shipping address (same zip code, but about eight blocks away.)  How do I know it’s the same perp?  He phoned our toll-free number, which then gets forwarded to either my or Eliz’s mobile.  I was busy, so I put it through to voicemail, but, as in the past, he doesn’t leave a message.  I can’t see the display on Eliz’s mobile, so she reads me the number.  It is the same number he gave me before.  I check “his” new account.  The number is from Harris County, TX.  Did he make a mistake by calling on the same mobile as previously (which has a Fort Myers, FL number, by the way?)  I don’t know, but I want this guy caught.  I’m sure we’re not the only business he is ripping off.  And, yes, businesses are the only losers in credit card fraud.  The card holder doesn’t lose.  The issuing bank doesn’t lose.  The business’s credit card processor doesn’t lose.  Just the business comes out on the short end of the stick.

I quickly shoot an email to Rick at PayPal (who has put up with a bunch from me.)  He calls back and suggests I call the PayPal fraud department.  I do.  The call is first handled by a woman who’s native tongue is something other than english.  When I tell her the story, she immediately elevates the call.  I’m getting excited.  I’m thinking they are going to catch this guy.  Amanda takes my call.  I tell her the story.  She notes it on my account.  I ask her if I should call the police (and if so, which police,) the FBI, who?  She then tells me that while I may pursue this matter outside of PayPal, PayPal cannot offer any advice on what to do.  I ask her a few more questions and thank her.  She was pretty helpful and understanding.

So who do I call?  First, I call the Folcroft police.  Call back after 4:00pm, the detective will be in then.  Then I try the FBI.  I figure they could set up a sting.  I could UPS about eight pounds of nothing and they could stakeout the address for the UPS truck and bust the guy once he signs for the package.  Evidently, I’ve seen too many movies.  They didn’t seem too interested.  I was given a different number to call.  There was a recorded message that told me I had to go to a website and fill out a claim there.  Next, I speak to Ken.  He suggests that I call Miami police.  They could nail him.  So, I call Miami police.  I tell the lady that answers the phone after about eight rings a brief synopsis of the fraud and she says I’ll transfer you.  Click.  She disconnects me.  I find another number for Miami police.  I call it and get someone with a New York attitude.  She asks for the shipping addresses.  I give her the first.  “That’s Miami-Dade police.”  I give her the second and get the same answer.  She then gives me the number to the Miami-Dade PD.  I call there.  “Hi, this is officer so and so, can I help you?”  Finally, this lady seems like she is really going to help me.  Finally!  I explain what is and has happened.  She mumbles a bit and asks me to hold.  When she get back on, she informs me that the office I need has closed for the day.  At 4:40pm?  She then tells me they’ll be back at 8:00am.  I will phone them once I return from the glaucoma study at Wills Eye in the morning.

So, as it turns out, we are all suckers.  We abide by the laws and rules of the land and it gets us nowhere.  Our good name and our word means nothing.  In this day and age, the good guy will never win.  Thoughts?

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