Economics, Environment, Government, Science

There’s No Hot Water


Shower time: the best moment of the day.

Thankfully, the EPA is taking a closer look at us in the shower.

It turns out that the Environmental Protection Agency has made the important decision to fund the University of Tulsa, which will study the showering practices of America’s hotel guests from sea to shining sea.

Boarding house lineup

“There’s an alarm clock in the sink. Hit it when you’re out.”

Their goal is to develop an app which will monitor our shower usage when we are nipping out to the local hotel for a relaxing sojourn in the tub.

According to U of T, hotel guests are using in excess of 17 gallons of water for a shower. Their proposal: we should limit the wash to 15.5 gallons.

Basically, cut a minute off the most important moment of the day.

"You're kidding me.  I just got here!"

“Already? And you want a tip?”

They report this is easily accomplished by turning off the shower while we are lathering.

Tulsa engineers suggest we can further reduce wasted water by taking “navy showers”, i.e.. freezing buck naked in the stall waiting for warm water.


“You know, this could run into money!”

Apparently, the U of T engineers are working on an app that will monitor shower water usage by room, and transmit the data, real time, to the hotel’s accounting department.  The proposed objective here is to modify guests’ shower behavior.

May we also suggest more group showers?   It used to be that Mrs. Jones’ boarding house filled the tub once, and from there, we all lined up for a dunk like kids.

"Not a chance.  I just got here."

“Not a chance. I just got here.”

Wisely, the U of T engineers have not proposed twosomes to save water, as the likelihood of less shower time is imaginatively remote.

There is a logical extension in the offing, and that is to enlist the services of outside peer-scoring agencies like the renowned OPower company which has quite successfully modified electrical and natural gas usage.

"With all due respect, your numbers suck, big time."

OPower: “We suggest you skip the conditioner.”

Using meter readings from over 60 million households nationwide OPower has delivered energy savings pushing 5% and more, while simultaneously improving utility company satisfaction ratings.

OPower’s reports provide comparative peer group scores, and also offer energy saving tips to the consumer.

Cowbiy Tub

“Time’s up Jarrod. Ranch boys are lined up waiting’ on ya.”

We can see this as a no-brainer in the hospitality industry, where consumers can receive regular reports on their shower usage at the local hotel, or the inn down the road in the next town.

After a few report rotations it would be no surprise if shower usage shrank considerably.

No doubt, the hotel’s satisfaction ratings will skyrocket too.

direct mail, Economics, Marketing

USPS: The Report Nobody Sees

The USPS has published its quarterly Revenues, Pieces and Weights report (RPW) and some trends for both optimists and pessimists will start you thinking.  First off, understand that the post office doesn’t observe the normal calendar year, so the numbers shown here are normalized to January-December.

Revenues for the year, up 3.3% Slide1
First Class Mail, which includes all the bank statements and financial releases, plus personal letters and cards saw a 2.7% increase in revenues.   Pretty good, considering that the class took a 5% increase in price.

Standard Mail which is entirely promotional and non profit mail boomed 5.5%.   If nothing else, this is an indicator that the market was ready to invest in Direct Mail.

Periodicals revenues were flat, indicating the continued effect of online access to reading material.   Parcels were down as a result of a drop in media and library mail.

Pieces down, virtually flat -0.7% Slide3

The big win for the USPS was its ability to bag an increase in pricing without a significant drop in pieces.   In 2014 the post office delivered 152 billion pieces of mail, magazines and parcels, down a billion… but what’s a billion?   Fundamentally, piece count is the physical evidence: choosing to mail hard copy versus an alternative, such as email.

Drilling in to the numbers, Standard Mail grew a billion pieces, or 1.7%.   As can be expected, First Class dipped 1.5 billion.   Interesting, in Q4, which includes Christmas, volumes were up in all FCM categories except for single cards and letters.   Despite our best hopes, the Christmas season didn’t materialize on the kitchen tables of America as stacks of holiday greetings mail.

The most worrisome segment of the pieces category is Periodicals, which illustrate the rapid decline of magazine mail, the real victim of web communications today.  Periodicals dropped 4.7%.

Tonnage down 3.2%

Slide4While pieces are down slightly, the total weight hauled took a big dip: 500 million pounds or 250,000 tons.  For the record, the USS H.W. Bush Super Carrier weighs 100,000 tons.  Can you imagine losing 2-1/2 aircraft carriers in the mail?

But to the point, while mailers only backed off mailing pieces by 0.7%, they were much more careful to lower the weight of each package.   So the USPS still walked as many routes as last year, but their trucks didn’t use as much gas.

Slide5The drill down shows that Standard Mailers lowered their kit weights by 4.4% to 1.59 ounces on average.   Given that the postage is the same for up to 3-plus ounces, it is likely that printing costs drove down the weights.   That, and fewer Flat-sized kits.

Periodicals dropped 1%, which translates to fewer page counts, and less advertising.  Parcels and packages were down to 2-1/4 pounds.

Only First Class mailers upped their weights.

The Cost of A Stamp Up 4.1%

Slide6First Class postage took a real price increase of 5%, and watched its volumes decline 2.2%.

Standard Mailers took a 4.2% increase and grew their volumes 1.2%.   This is a clear indication that Direct Mail is enjoying the effect of its financial results in the market place.

Only Packages saw a price decrease, which spelled a slight increase in volume.

What’s Next?

We’ll see how the postage increase affects volumes and revenues after April, 2015.   Mean time, it’s a safe bet that Direct Mail is headed in the right direction, and may ultimately be the driving force in USPS revenue stability going forward.

Kudos to the USPS navigating its way through these changing times.   If you would like to see the RPWs they are available here…

If you have a question, comment or observation about this report, let me know!



direct mail, Economics, Marketing, Thank You

Ten Reasons You Should Thank The USPS

Teddy StampWe are all cheesed that the USPS is looking for a 1.97% increase in postal rates.  But before we run to our social media to complain, let’s open the envelope.  What are we getting?

1.   Door-to-door, pick-up and delivery.   Not only does a real person come to your home to deliver mail, but they are charged to pick it up, too.   Beats driving downtown.   And they do this 6 days a week.

2.   Equal representation.   The USPS is probably the only government institution which situates an office based on population density, rather than political handouts.  For sure, it’s the only federal presence in your community that isn’t there to administer laws and levy taxes.

3.   Legal authority.   A USPS postmark is an official seal, and when your letter is in the system, it’s a completed act.

4.   Jobs.   The USPS employs over 600,000 people.   It’s also the network that directly supports another 1.3 million people who use the mail to make a living, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

5.   The Grid.   There are 142,000,000 delivery addresses in the United States which are visited daily by the mail person.   The USPS grid is like a vast capillary system that beats nationwide, touching the most distant extremity.

6.   Innovation.  Maybe hard to believe, in the face of digital networks, but the USPS has refined and streamlined delivery to the point that it is cheaper to mail a letter today than it was 10 years ago.

7.   Protection.   Your mail is protected by federal law.   The space inside your mailbox is federal property.  The blue boxes situated across your community are safety deposit boxes, in effect.   Drop your mail, and it’s secure in the system.

8.   Culture.   What other government body continually picks new designs to celebrate on the face of a stamp?   Rock stars, writers, artists, scientists, athletes, discoverers… and they are BIG stamps too!

9.   Resilience. Despite a whirlwind of communications technology advances, the USPS still has cache, delivering nearly 500 million pieces a day.   When was the last time you saw a public phone booth?

10.   Fiscal control.   Yes, it has a $5 billion budget deficit.   Works out to $8,333 per employee.   The federal government has a $483 billion budget deficit.   $112,013 per federal employee.   In the bigger scheme of things, go figure.

Nobody likes price increases, but it is a sure thing that the USPS has done leagues more work to control costs than any of its government cousins.  In light of its value, can you really complain?

By the way, the price of a first class stamp remains at 49-cents after the hike.   Good anywhere in the nation.  Buy a bunch, they’ll last forever.

direct mail, Economics, Marketing

How You Make Personalization Pay Off


A 24-page color calendar, replete with country roads, cabins, barns, flowers and birds…lots of birds.

Personalizing a mail piece comes with expense. You are about to see the motherlode.

Gracing the letter with the reader’s name is one thing, but it’s quite another to match that to the envelope. For the fully committed direct marketer, there are personalization payoffs, and Father Flanagan’s Boystown shows us how.

Boystown Envelope

An outer envelope promising lots, and delivering, too.

BoystownBooklet Bird Jan

January.. from the 36-pager booklet, with more birds…growing in numbers.

Just before Christmas we received a 9 x 12 envelope from Boystown announcing their 2015 appeal. The donor acquisition kit weighs about a third of a pound, which is huge. The outer envelope calls out, by name, that FREE Special Edition Gifts are enclosed.

“Free Gifts” is right. They send three calendars: a 24-page hanger for the wall, a 36-page purse calendar booklet, and an 8-1/4 x 10-3/4 calendar card.

Boystown    color labels

The color label sheet. High quality and keepable.

The whole collection is covered in Sam Timm nostalgia art: winter ponds, chimneyed log cabins, old trucks, old boats, old canoes and birds…. enough birds to awaken Alfred Hitchcock one last time.

Boystown    028VGF Calendar

Another calendar, this one with a stylized street sign.

But the overwhelming effect comes from the personalization. Father Flanagan has managed to personalize 8 pieces in this whopper kit: the envelope, the letter, the reply form, the reply envelope, two sets of very nice address labels, a certificate and a calendar card.

Boystown  Certificate

It’s only an acknowledgement, but hey, it’s framable.

Over the top maybe?

Boystown Johnson Box

A Johnson Box, personalized and tinted, captures the gist.

Not really. Remember, good direct mail is designed to be indispensable.   It is extremely difficult to throw out a kit when your name is woven into its making so admirably.   The proof: this is a control package, or very similar to past controls. So it is working.

What’s the math that supports this?

The kit itself probably cost around $1.80. Postage for a 6-ounce Flat at non profit rates is actually a bargain, add another 30-cents. Total cost in the mail, probably $2.25 after adding list and processing.  This is a guess, only, having not spoken directly with Boystown.

Boystown Gift Certificate

Individualized gift certificates, one of three.

Now, the hard part: getting paid. Assume the average gift is $15. To break even, we need a 15.0% response. ($2.25 divided by $15.00 = 15.0%)

And the really hard part: they probably won’t get 15.0% response.   More likely, they might achieve 8-10%.   Let’s say 10%.  So given that, every response came at a cost of $22.50 ($2.25 divided by 10% = $22.50).

Boystown Donor Closeup

A strategic gift choice, Goldilocks-style. Let’s go for $15.00!

Is a new donor worth $22.50?   The answer is, “yes”!

By Father Flanagan’s 2012 financial report, they derived nearly $5 for every dollar spent in fundraising.  A very acceptable payback according to industry standards.  By the numbers above, the new donor will continue to give over time, well in excess of $113.00.

Boystown B&W Close Up revised

A set of stylish B&W labels in case I don’t want to give away the birds.

BoystownBangtail Reply

Personalized donor form and reply envelope. Note the QR code for tracking!

Again, this analysis is my perspective only, but a donor will continue to give to a worthy cause, especially one as well branded as Boystown.   And not only will they give today, but some will most assuredly make bequests after passing to keep the institution providing its valuable service.

So personalization plays a big part in winning support, and the savvy marketers at Boystown have done their jobs well in making it pay for their cause.

Thanks for hanging in to read all those numbers!   FYI, Boystown provided nearly $192 million in services in 2012, and in 2013, served 122,000 children and families across America.

direct mail, Economics, Marketing

AAA Goes Flat Out

AAA 2014-12-02 803

The door opener!

Want to know what stops just about anyone when they open their mailbox?

No, not a boxing glove. Instead, it’s a flat.   No, not a flat tire.   A flat-sized mailing piece.

AAA 2014-12-02 800

The 10 x 12 Flat. Size counts in direct mail.

So it is that I opened our mailbox to be confronted by a certificate-sized 10″ x 12″ envelope. Front and center, in portrait orientation, is an open window. As I peak through I see my name, in bold, printed below a 40-point, gothic type proclamation: Proof of Eligibility.  The State of Illinois is symbolically positioned above.

This manifest is shielded behind a thin sheet of parchment. My reaction? Better open this now.

I am not that naiive, I know this is a solicitation. But still, eligible for what?   Nomination? Higher taxes?  Bronzing?

AAA 2014-12-02 Label copy

A beautiful label… applied on a slant, with raised shading, is actually printed, not real.

As it turns out, it is the AAA Life Insurance Company, who has decided to give me a second chance to insure my remaining days.  Or until the age of 80, when all bets are off.

These are the same folks who sent along a policy kit a few months back.    That one was a flat too: a “fulfillment package”.   Presuming I am ready to sign up, it is essentially a welcome kit.   Regrettably, and unknown to AAA, I am disqualified from obtaining coverage due to a shady past.   So I deferred.

AAA 2014-12-02 eagle copy

The official seal of eligibility.

The reason I highlight the new kit is to point out the allure and attraction of the envelope.  “Proof of Eligibility” is vague.   But when it is presented so elegantly, it works.   How many of your incoming direct mail summons use parchment?   40-point Gothic?   Not much I am guessing, since the Sheriff of Nottingham died.

The design strategy of this AAA kit is to get opened.   My bet is that better than 90% of the recipients do open it.   It is irresistible.

From there, the internals have to carry the freight.

The big question you should be asking is why spend the extra postage– probably 15 cents– to send an over-sized envelope?

AAA 2014-12-02 802

The letter under the parchment, complete with filigree.

Do the math.   In a standard #10 envelope, the kit, list and assembly would cost about $250/m.   Postage, another $200/m.   Total, $450/m.

Now lay the papers flat, and place them in a big envelope instead.   Let’s say the production is cost neutral, but adding $150/m flat postage has just increased overall cost by 33%.

The bottom line in direct mail: raise your production cost 33%, you must increase response 33% too.

So if the small envelope garnered a 1% response, the flat needs 1.33% to stay in the game.

From personal experience, I know this is achievable, and judging from AAA’s use of flats before, it’s probably not unusual for them either.

AAA 2014-12-02 Eligible copyBy the way, what was I eligible for?  Discounted premiums as an AAA member.


Thanks for reading!   Never pass up the opportunity to go “big” in a mailing piece.   The cost may frighten you, but usually higher response will cover it.

direct mail, Economics, Media, Politics

Found: The Hidden Miracle in the USPS

Spoiler Alert: This Is A Good Story About Numbers
Every year the media touts the headline that the United States Postal Service lost another few billion dollars. Politicians get huffy. The digerati are quick to call the funeral home.

But in fact, the USPS has accomplished an amazing business coup in its mail delivery management.

First, look at the current “bad news” available in the latest Revenue, Pieces and Weights report* for USPS full year 2014.   Figure 1 gives some highlights.

Fig.1.  2014 revenues were up 0.66% while volume fell 2.06%

Fig.1. 2014 mail revenues were up 0.66% to $49.53B while mail volume fell 2.06% to 151.9B.

Mail volumes decreased from 2013 to 2014. A 2.06% decrease to 151.9 Billion pieces. “Pieces” include letters, parcels, magazines and flats. The shrinkage may be attributed, if you wish, to a blended increase in price (postage) from 32 cents to 33 cents per piece. A 2.77% increase. But it probably has more to do with society’s use of email.   We would just as soon email Gran a singing birthday gift card as send her a parcel.

Dig deeper and we find that First Class volume shrank 3.25% while actual revenues increased 0.49%.

Postage per piece went up 2 cents, or 3.87%

What we know about mailing economics is that there is no elasticity. When postage goes up, volume goes down.

This is the fundamental truth of direct mailers. They maximize performance through testing list, offer, format and copy. The best performance becomes the economics benchmark. So when Standard Postage goes up 3.65%, we expect some mail to drop out, which it did: 0.62% less.

Amidst The Bad News, A Twinkling of Brilliance

November 14, the USPS presented its preliminary financial results to the Board of Governors. It declared a $5.5 billion loss in income. That made headlines. What was not picked up however, was its mail operations performance. You see, its operations income was $1.4Billion profit.

What that means is that the USPS moved nearly 152 billion pieces across the country to over 140 million addresses, six days a week, and did better than break even. What was the all-in price per piece to the mailer? 33 cents.

2004 Eye Opener

Now lets look at the real miracle of the USPS by comparing 2014 with 2004.

Ten years ago, it delivered 206 billion pieces for $65.87 billion.

Cost back then? 32 cents each.

Not bad! A one-cent increase in 10 years. Despite a 26% decrease in economies of scale, its performance eroded only by a penny.

Surviving The Ravages of Inflation and Restructuring

This does not begin to recognize the efficiencies the USPS has managed to achieve in the last ten years however. It disregards the massive cutbacks in volume, and the inexorable devaluation of the dollar. Look at the 2004 figures when they are expressed in 2014 dollars.  See Figure 2.

Using 2014 dollars it cost 40 cents to a mail apiece in 2004, versus 33 cents today.

Fig.2  Using 2014 dollars it cost 40 cents to a mail a piece in 2004, versus 33 cents today.

According to the US Bureau of Labor, we have experienced a 26% increase in prices. In other words, it takes $1.26 today to purchase what $1.00 would buy in 2004.

Applying the CPI to USPS figures then, we find that in 2004, it cost 40 cents to mail a piece, versus 33 cents today.

Standard Mailers would pay 24 cents in 2004 versus 22 cents today. First Class mailers would pay 47 cents, versus 46 cents today.

Magazines: 30 cents then, 27 cents now.

USPS: Economic Movement of Value

This government agency may have its critics.   The oracles may claim that mail is antiquated.   But they can hardly explain how well the post office has learned to distribute real property coast to coast at ridiculously low cost to the consumer.   Email and Internet may be instantaneous, but they both lack the credibility of hard copy delivered under government seal.

It can be said that mail is slow, but it maintains its cache because it is trusted.   We need to acknowledge the effort that the USPS has expended to bring us that service.


*The Revenue Pieces and Weights Report:


What’s Coming Next

String Ball

Life time savings.

There is a major, seismic shift in assets occurring while you read this.  You are thinking of the $12 Trillion which is pouring into the pockets of Baby Boomers as their hardworking, scrimping and saving parents pass into the great beyond.  But you are off.

In truth, the money is peanuts.  It moves from one bank account to the next, and nobody lifts a finger.

So, it’s not about their money.  It’s really about their stuff.


This may not fit in with the kids’ Ikea.

There are two legacies which those post-wartime parents are sending along.  They promise profound effect upon us, and to generations still coming.

The first is a treasure of property which they struggled to build and acquire through thick and thin.   Too vast to itemize, but most Boomers will recognize the impact of their parents’ fully executed Last Will.

They are manifested in crowded basements, overflowing garages, leases on storage space, impenetrable walk-in closets, jammed kitchen drawers, and cabinets crammed with silver and china.


A perfectly good pull cord, with some help.

The second legacy, even more profound, is a culture of saving.   The Baby Boomer was raised in a household characterized by frugal economy.   Nothing half-used ever got thrown out.   A broken item was in queue for repair, some day.

Again, the inventory of leftovers is virtually infinite.  Its aura a phenomenon.

Christmas Lights

Half of these work very reliably.

And you know it when you see it in the eyes of a Boomer.  That wince of remorse as a half-good string of Christmas lights hits the garbage bin.   Or the guilt attached to an old set of dull drill bits, that holds its place on the workshop bench, right beside a brand new set.

The reality is, while the Boomer is swamped in their folks’ stuff, they still can’t throw it out.   What’s worse, they are adding to it.

For example, a few days ago while driving down Milwaukee Avenue, I spied four baseballs resting in the gutter.   To me, it was like driving by a bank vault with the door wide open.


“No, we are keeping the dumpster too.”

As kids, we could only envy the one on our street who had a baseball.   In fact, most of our youth was focused on scavenging for baseballs knocked out of the park, hockey pucks stuffed in snowbanks, broken hockey sticks, errant golf balls found on the road.

In our garage is a 5-gallon bucket full to overflowing with tennis balls, golf balls, lacrosse balls, wiffle balls, softballs…all items I have brought home like trophies from a jog around the park.

So I collect these play things like gold nuggets, feeding an appetite that was spawned a couple of generations ago when people just didn’t have much money.

Back to Milwaukee Avenue.   I pulled over, parked, and scurried across the street and retrieved the balls.   I could not believe my find.   These were in excellent condition, leather covers, no scuffs, and laces still waxed and shiny.   Bonanza!   The motherlode.


Cornucopia of finds on the jogging trail.

They are now on the shelf beside the bucket, which is full.

The significance of this perpetual foraging will become apparent to the next generation, those GenX-ers and Y-ers, and wet-eared Millennials who will finally have to deal with The Stuff.


One day, this may be a chicken coop.

You may want to give The Stuff to them, but you can’t.   They are still living with their parents.

My suggestion: this is the time to invest and build.   Look closely at your business prospects in:

1.   Storage space

2.   Trailer rentals

3.   Thrift stores

4.   Auctioneering

5.   Waste management

Golf Tees

Saving for the next round.

Regrettably we haven’t yet found a way to load it all onto a freighter, and sail it to a Third World depot, but that would be the next best opportunity.

Thanks for reading this far. It’s a puzzle I really can’t solve.  

I have to get back to repairing our Monopoly board.



Economics, Environment

Gassed: How Our Utility Co Turns Down The Heat

Odds are, if you get a gas bill, you are also getting a report card in the mail too.



Our gas company mailed us a Home Energy Report for last month, telling us how we stacked up against our uproariously wasteful and spendthrift neighbors.

Turns out: WE are worse than them.

It is a sad reality that I respond to competitive taunts, and right now, our gas company is yanking my chain.

You see, they previously sent us a report for last winter.   It had a little smiley face–which really is smirking–that says “GOOD”.

But I know what it’s thinking: “LOSER!”

"Good maybe, but not great."

“Good maybe, but not great.”

Beside Mr. Smiley is a bar chart that highlights our “Efficient Neighbors” in green. These are the raucous ones last New Years Eve that roasted a quarter steer on the gas grill while they played Marco Polo in a mammoth hot tub.  They have 9 kids, two washing machines and a greenhouse.

"With all due respect, your numbers suck, big time."

“With all due respect Mr. Brown, your numbers suck, big time.”

Then the report shows a longer blue bar — which is bad–that is entitled “YOU”.  In bold.

So I am now energized (hah hah) to understand how our humble little household can possibly respond to this blatant miscall.

I wonder if the gas company is playing with me.

There was once a TV movie in which a dad and his son fill up the neighbor’s gas tank every night to listen to him brag about his car’s great mileage.    Then after a few weeks, they siphon gas out every night to hear him complain about the guzzler he is driving.

Is there a prankster somewhere in the seventh floor of an office building in Chicago who is twiddling with my score, just to see how I react?


                                               “Just check that thermostat again.”

Worse yet, maybe they are not playing tricks at all.   Maybe our modest ranch is actually a gas-guzzling super nova.  A galactic black hole sucking energy into a cosmic chimney.

That might account for the drafts.

I am going to give the gas company the benefit of the doubt for the moment.   When I investigated the source of these reports, I learned that they come from a company called Opower.

There is a lab-coated millennial there who is modifying my “demand response behavior” while flipping through Hunger Games.

Essentially, Opower has placed my house on a giant leader board with about 50 million other households, and lo and behold, we are not on the top of the list.

Dinner at our neighbors.

Dinner at our neighbors.

I’d like to see the hermit who is.  Probably dressed in yak skins and eating his fish raw.

To their credit, however, they have shamed enough people in the last few years to reduce natural gas consumption nearly 2%.

And what is more confounding, improved consumer satisfaction ratings for the gas company by 5 points!

Talk about a world upside down.   Running against the natural order of things.

Our new HVAC guy, en repose.

Our new HVAC guy, en repose.

I am not beaten though.   I will climb that list.   I will lay down a 2-foot-thick blanket of moss in our attic.   Line the windowpanes with hay bales.   Wrap the basement in a giant Snuggie and remove the furnace.

Better yet, I will hang out with our neighbors.

Thanks for reading!  If you get these reports too, I feel for you.   But they are actually a pretty useful tool.   Unless you live in the woods.


11 Ways To Avoid Paying Your Bills — A Reminiscence

Shell GameIn a previous corporate life, I worked for one of America’s most well known and longstanding brands in the financial sector.

We once used the following pamphlet as an advertising specialty for the company’s pre-eminent and trusted commercial collection division.    This one-pager was a distillation of the numerous, incredibly brazen dodges companies would use to avoid paying a bill.

I lack the original direct mail piece, and would love to have it, and to credit the creator. It’s brilliant.

Instead, I am sharing my memory of it with you, for a chuckle:

11 Ways To Avoid Paying Your Bills

1. Always wait for the third past due notice, and then write and ask why you never received an invoice.
2. Next, ask for an itemized account. When it arrives, write back and say that’s not what you wanted at all.
3. Don’t ignore sales taxes. These give you unlimited scope for delay. For instance, if they charge sales tax, advise them your purchase order said you were tax exempt. Never mind that there was no purchase order. And if they don’t charge tax, why not?
4. Always ask for the invoice to be broken into two installments for accounting purposes. Then get somebody else in accounting to start the process all over by asking why there are two bills?  And then only pay one.
5. Send a check with figures not matching words. When they call, ask them to return the check. Send a new one, but don’t sign it.
6. Mail back a copy of the invoice, and staple the torn corner of a check to it. They will turn their department upside down looking for your check. When they call back, tell them you will check with your bank.
7. Tell them you will need two signatures, and the co-signer is on a world cruise with someone in their company for two months.  Discretion suggests keeping this quiet.
8. Send a check for the exact amount, but made out to a fictitious company. When they call you back, tell them you will check with the other company.
9. Ask for a breakdown of labor and materials. When you get it, insist that the numbers are reversed.
10. Tell them that all of their invoices have been seized by the Department of Commerce, as part of a nation-wide investigation.
11. Finally, insist that you already sent them a check, and fax a copy of a previous cancelled check. When they track that down, they will ask for new check. Mail them the fax.

There you have it! As I said at the outset, this is from my written notes, copied from the original, author unknown. If you can track that person down, please let me know, and I will credit them.

And of course, this is my reminiscence of a tongue-in-cheek direct mail piece, by no means a recommendation or endorsement.

Mean time, pay your bills.

direct mail, Economics, Environment

Zapped: How Your Utility Saves Energy

ComEd 2014 -06 273 doubleCommonwealth Edison is craftier than you might think, compared to the traditional image of the big, dumb, power company.

We are used to receiving their monthly ransom note.   It is comprehensive in detail, reducing our extravagant lifestyle to bar charts that rise and fall with every change in the weather.  But beyond the normal appeal for money, we now receive a separate Home Energy Report.

The statement has no billing or stern demands.   Instead, it reports how your household is doing compared to the neighbors.   ComEd 2014 -06 barsThat’s right, compared to the igloo on your left whose roof is sooted with burnt whale oil.  Or to the right, your very private neighbor who has lights blazing in the basement, around the clock.

ComEd 2014 -06 270 SmileyOur report gave us a couple of smiley faces.    In the energy world, happiness is about abstinence, and we have aced, barely on the grid at all.

The report said in essence: “Compared to 100 close-by neighbors you are living the life of Scrooge in the dark; you must be cold at night, and survive on canned food and powdered eggs, since you don’t have a fridge, let alone AC.   P.S. Have a nice day.”

Careful review of this colorful, and highly personalized report reveals that the news comes from a company called Opower.

Not to be mistaken for, or associated with a day-time talk show queen, Opower serves some 93 utility companies across the U.S., Canada and globally.   It ingests and assembles all energy usage information to create report cards for over 32 million households.

ComEd 2014 -06 270LinesAt first, this looks like an unnecessary expense, adding to our monthly bill.  It turns out however, that peer pressure is a powerful motivator.   Opower’s reporting service has reduced electrical energy usage by 4 billion kilowatt-hours since inception.     That is roughly one-third of your average nuclear power plant’s yearly production.

So why does Com Ed benefit from cutting output?   ComEd 2014 -06 SavingsAnd why spend extra money generating reports to reduce utility billings?  Because building new plants to meet energy demand is very, very expensive, and guess who is paying for them– us.   It further turns out that Com Ed’s customer satisfaction rates have bumped up since the reports started.   Consumers are educated and empowered (haha).

The darker side of the energy reports is the growing suspicion about our 100 neighbors.   I think they are having more fun.


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