Pelland Blog

From Percolators to Pods

April 14th, 2015

If you are a typical American, you probably started your day with a cup of coffee. According to the most recent National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT) report, published by the National Coffee Association, 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee each day. More casual coffee consumption is practiced by 83% of the public. Of these coffee drinkers, 65% enjoy the beverage with breakfast. In total, consumers in the United States spend $40 billion on coffee each year. Impressive statistics, but what do they mean for you?

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Just as there are all types of coffee products, there are all types of campgrounds. Trends change over time, and demands ebb and flow for various types of coffee and styles of camping. Remember the days of coffee percolators? They were an integral part of a long-running advertising campaign for Maxwell House. Today, half the population could probably not even identify a coffee percolator in a line-up of obsolete kitchen appliances.

Today, there is a market for high-end artisanal brews, as evidenced by the $950 million in annual sales at Starbucks; however, the vast majority of Americans do not have an appreciation for single-origin coffee brewed from freshly-ground beans. Those markets are limited, in a similar manner as the markets are limited for other high-end beverages such as loose teas, cask conditioned ales, single malt Scotch whiskies, or small batch bourbons.

According to the market research firm Euromonitor, only about 8% of the coffee purchased in America is whole bean coffee, meaning that sales of pre-ground coffee outpace whole bean coffees by 12.5 to 1. When it comes to coffee, it seems that most of us prefer convenience over quality. Driving that fact home is the astronomical growth in sales of K-Cups, the ubiquitous pre-portioned coffee pods. Years ago, the coffee kings in America were Folger’s (owned by consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble) and Maxwell House (owned by another giant, Kraft Foods). Today, K-Cups from Keurig Green Mountain account for 20% of the total coffee market, not only more than any other company but more than Folger’s and Maxwell House combined. Again according to Euromonitor, the sales of coffee pods have grown by 138,325% over the past 10 years!

Going back to the National Coffee Association’s NCDT, it is important to note that Hispanic Americans far outpace all other ethnic groups in the consumption of coffee, including gourmet coffees and espresso-based beverages. Also comprising the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, this is a very positive sign for the overall industry.

Henry Ford, in the days of skyrocketing sales of his Model T, commented that he could “sell to the masses and eat with the classes.” In other words, fortunes can be made by providing products or services that appeal to the broadest possible market. In today’s world, most businesses succeed by appealing to mass markets through low prices (the Wal-Mart and Amazon models,) although small businesses usually excel by catering to the niche and local markets that might not be profitable pursuits by mass marketers. Let’s translate this information into concepts that directly relate to your campground.

  1. Keep in step with current trends. Coffee consumption has been on the increase in recent years, in large part thanks to the coffee pods that have made things quick and easy. Are cabins and other rentals the quick and easy way for new people to be introduced to camping? If so, are you making the process as simple as possible, or are you still requiring your guests to bring their own towels and linens?
  2. If you think of your campground as a supermarket, are you still devoting all of your shelf space to Folger’s and Maxwell House? When the world is changing around you, you cannot succeed by becoming stagnant. If your guests want 50-amp electric, pull-thru sites and free wi-fi, it is time to meet their needs.
  3. Starbucks has proven that people will not hesitate to pay the price for premium products and services. If you are running the Starbucks of campgrounds, you can probably raise your rates without fear of losing business.
  4. The Hispanic-American market has outpaced every other ethnic group in the consumption of coffee. Are you surprised? What is your campground doing to reach out to this large and expanding market of consumers … or are you continuing to miss the boat?
  5. Are you capitalizing upon the fact that 65% of coffee drinkers consume the beverage first thing in the morning? A selection of fresh-brewed coffees in your store can draw people in every morning, encouraging the sale of a long list of other merchandise that goes far beyond donuts and the morning newspaper.

In general, it pays to keep an eye on industry trends, only one of which centers around coffee consumption. Put the old percolator in the attic of your logic, and do your best to reach out to both existing and prospective guests in new and innovating ways.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Sky Is (Not) Falling

April 6th, 2015

Chicken Little was well-intentioned when he hysterically warned of impending disaster. The only problem was that his predictions were based upon conjecture rather than facts. Back at the turn of the millennium, modern-day Chicken Littles mongered fear over the impending “Y2K” disaster that, of course, never happened. More recently, there has been more than a bit of press about the implementation of the next round of Google search ranking algorithms that will only begin to be rolled out on April 21, 2015. Without doing any research of their own, many self-proclaimed “experts” are citing a Google blog post, a comment reportedly made by a Google employee, and a speculative article that recently appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine as the bases for their warnings of dire consequences for today’s typical website. Like grade school students spreading rumors in the schoolyard, it is time for some people to take a “time out”.

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Like the news networks that love to exaggerate stories and develop sensationalist headlines like “Stormageddon” and “Blizzard of the Century” (and, of course, the aforementioned “Y2K”), the new buzz word amongst the uninformed is “Mobilegeddon”. People using this type of terminology remind me of those who blindly share urban legends on Facebook, without taking a moment to first check the facts. The stories may generate excitement, but they lack credibility.

The fact is that Google will be rolling out a new set of search algorithms starting on April 21st; however, this does NOT mean that a website that is not deemed mobile-friendly will suddenly drop from the results of Google searches made from mobile devices. That is an outright exaggeration. What the new algorithms mean is that sites that are mobile-friendly will have an edge over sites that are not mobile-friendly, being flagged as “mobile friendly” alongside those search results. This rise in the rankings of mobile-friendly sites will come at the expense of sites that are not deemed mobile-friendly, but it does not mean that those latter sites are suddenly going to be dropped from being indexed.

Chicken Littles have suggested that half of a site’s traffic is suddenly going to disappear effective April 21st, if the site is not mobile-friendly. This is patently untrue. Using historical Google Analytics data that I have drawn from actual campground websites, let’s presume that 35% of the traffic to a website comes from search engines, and that 50% of that traffic comes from Google, and that 50% of THAT traffic comes from users of mobile devices. Do the math. That would mean that, if a website was totally dropped from mobile search results on Google (which is NOT going to happen at this time), that site would lose approximately 9% of its traffic. That is the reality, rather than conjecture and misguided speculation.

There are plenty of valid reasons why every business should be moving to replace a conventional website with a new mobile-friendly site, and to do so sooner rather than later. However, the people who are suggesting panic are doing a tremendous disservice by encouraging the jerking of knees rather than the exercise of a careful plan for execution that includes properly methodical planning and budgeting for the long-term investment in mobile-friendly technology.

In years past, many businesses were advised to buy into expensive mobile apps or separate mobile websites, in an attempt to capture the market for users of mobile devices. In retrospect, those dollars were generally not well spent. Today, the dust has settled and responsive website technology has taken its place as the mobile-friendly solution that Google and the other search engines prefer, with one site presenting full content that is optimized for every device. If your site is not currently mobile-friendly, make plans for the transition – as I have said, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, don’t panic. The sky is not falling, and the world is not about to end on April 21st.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Nobody Likes the Surprise of Hidden Charges

April 2nd, 2015

Last week, on a quick trip to Nebraska, I rented a car at Eppley Airfield in Omaha. I had reserved the car rental online in advance. My basic rental fee with Thrifty Car Rental came to $155.72. Sort of like a base rate for a campsite … or is it?

Transparency in pricing is more important than ever these days. Consumers do not want to feel cheated or like they are being subjected to fraudulent pricing practices. When you dine at a restaurant, you are not charged extra for the use of a table, to have your meal served on plates, using the restrooms, or for the use of flatware and napkins. These are part of the overhead of being in the restaurant business. Yes, we all know that there are so-called “extras”, many of which apply to various types of recreational services. Unless there is special package pricing, if you schedule a round of golf, you expect to pay extra for a golf cart; if you go skiing, you expect to pay extra for ski rentals or lessons; and if you hit the bowling lanes, you will pay to rent bowling shoes if you need them.

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Unfortunately, the rental car industry takes add-ons and hidden charges to a whole new level in the stratosphere. My $155.72 car rental came to $275.56 when I returned the vehicle. Mind you, this increase is despite the fact that I declined all of the added insurance (which is covered by my own auto insurance) and declined the added driver charge for my wife (a fee which is actually illegal in the State of California). The previously undisclosed, added fees included:

  • An “RAF” fee of $4.99 per day (which presumably has something to do with renting a vehicle at an airport, even if you simply take a shuttle from the airport to a nearby rental location in some instances).
  • An “Occupancy Tax” of $8.00 (which I presume is an added fee that helps to pay Thrifty’s rent).
  • An “AP Rec Fee” of 12%. I have no idea what this is.
  • An “SEC Fee” of 2%. I also have no idea what this is.
  • A “Vehicle Tax” of 4.5%. This one is also difficult to explain.

Part of the problem with the rental car industry is the lack of competition. Most of us can rattle off a list of rental car companies; however, according to a report published in the IndependentTraveler.com, the fact is that 94% of the rental car industry in America is controlled by only three companies:

  1. Hertz – which also owns Advantage, Dollar and Thrifty
  2. Avis – which also owns Budget and Zipcar
  3. Enterprise – which also owns Alamo and National

In fact, when we landed in Omaha and went to the car rental counters, the Thrifty Car Rental booth was unoccupied, with a sign directing customers to the adjacent Dollar Car Rental space. A near-monopoly is never in the interest of consumers. As a case in point, let me present one more tidbit from my car rental experience.

I generally use a bank debit card to pay for my travel expenses. When doing so, it is typical for a hold on funds to be applied, exceeding the anticipated cost of the service by $200.00 or $250.00. According the Thrifty, there would be an additional hold of $350.00 (a bit excessive). More outrageously, if you used a debit card, they would first run a credit check (which, in itself, is harmful to one’s credit score) AND charge you a $15.00 fee for the credit report! When I questioned this practice, the clerk pointed toward the other car rental counters and said that they had “all decided to introduce this policy” the previous week. I am not an attorney, but I believe that this is the textbook definition of the term “collusion”. I used a credit card as an alternate form of payment.

Needless to say, I am not happy with my most recent car rental experience, and I will never again rent a vehicle from Thrifty or Dollar. I will probably also file a complaint with either regulatory authorities or the Office of the Attorney General in the State of Nebraska (if not both). If this experience involved camping, I would not be the classic “Happy Camper”.

If you are wondering how this all might relate to camping, ask yourself if your rates are as transparent as possible. Every campground is going to require cancellation fees, guest fees, premium rates (and minimum stays) for holiday weekends, and premium charges for premium sites. The important part of the equation is for those fees to be fully disclosed at the time of reservation, leading to no surprises at the time of arrival or final check-out. If your state or county imposes a lodging tax on your cabin rentals, be sure that your campers are aware of that fee at the time of reservation.

There are other fees that you may want to reconsider because they are difficult for your customers to rationalize. These might include early check-in fees and wi-fi access charges. Then there are other fees that are certain to meet with customer disapproval. These include surcharges for the use of credit cards, along with transaction fees (often referred to as “convenience charges”) that accompany online reservations. These, like the “Occupancy Tax” and “Vehicle Tax” at the airport car rental counter, should be built into your basic pricing.

If you try to see your pricing structure from your customers’ perspective, you will avoid the type of dissatisfaction that will only hurt your business in the long run. In order for your customers to see things clearly requires transparency on your part. Ask yourself if it is time to take another look!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

How Long Do You Make People Wait?

March 6th, 2015

I am writing this article while waiting for road service to be scheduled through a national auto club. It is a beautiful late winter Saturday in New England, with perfect snow conditions and not a cloud in the sky, what skiers refer to as a “bluebird day”. I awakened at 5:00 o’clock this morning, with plans to hit the slopes at one of my favorite Vermont ski destinations. Unfortunately, not far from home, one of my rear tires went flat, and the jack that came with my car is about as useful as a pet rock.

After attempting to change the tire with the “pet rock”, I had no choice but to call for roadside assistance. First, I was serenaded with the most annoying music on hold while waiting for the company to find an available service provider in my area, only to be told that they were having no luck in that search. Three or four phone calls and about an hour later —at least the auto club was giving me status updates— I was told that they had located a service provider that was available and would send a truck within an hour.

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If you are in the business of providing roadside assistance, the fact that people will call with service requests should not catch you off guard. When a member needs emergency service, it is not time to be negotiating arrangements with local service providers. Those contracts should have been arranged long ago. Nor is it time to wonder whether it might be time to invest in additional telephone agents. When somebody’s vehicle is disabled at the side of the road, I can assure you that they do not want to listen to music on hold.

Two and a half hours later, my day is shot, but the spare tire has been mounted and I am off to the tire store to have the flat repaired. Our leisure time is limited these days, the pace of life is fast, and nobody has either the time or the inclination to needlessly wait. How is your campground fitting into the timeline when it comes to making your guests needlessly wait?

  1. Registration – On a Friday afternoon, do you have a line of guests waiting for their turn at your registration desk? How long do they have to wait? The ideal wait time, from a guest’s perspective, is about 1 minute. Take a tip from the Montage Deer Valley Hotel, in Park City, Utah. When guests pull up to their entrance, the guests are immediately greeted by a valet, who gets their names and radios the information to the front desk. Upon entering the lobby, the guests are greeted by name and already have a folder, including room keys, ready to go. They simply sign off a confirmation of services, and the host escorts them to their room, pointing out hotel features and amenities along the way. When guests have advance reservations, their arrival should not be treated as if it is a surprise to your registration staff. Instead of making people anonymously wait in line, this process is speedy and personalized … and would be so easy to adapt to the campground registration process.
  2. Bathroom Cleaning – This is a classic double-edged sword. Your guests expect clean bathroom buildings, but they do not want the entrance blocked by a yellow folding sign upon their arrival. Of course, this task should be scheduled for the lowest demand times possible, but it should also be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is not time for a member of your janitorial staff to be repeatedly running back to your maintenance building to retrieve a forgotten brush or cleaning compound.
  3. Boat Rentals – When a camper wants to rent a boat, what are your typical wait times? If a family wants to get out on your lake, they want to do it right then and there, not an hour from now, while the kids are restlessly waiting. With the exception of popular attractions at major theme parks, people are generally unwilling to wait in line. Even Disney is working to resolve this problem, with a new FastPass+ program that allows guests to reserve their park experiences up to 30 days in advance from home, a mobile app, or park kiosks. Do whatever you can to streamline the process of keeping your guests active and – consequently – happy!
  4. Propane Refills – How long does a camper have to wait to get a propane tank refill at your park? In some instances, campers have no problem leaving behind a propane tank to be refilled and picked up later. On the other hand, the fact that there are over 800 Blue Rhino retail locations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, where empty tanks are quickly swapped for full tanks, suggests that there are quite a few people who would prefer not to wait.
  5. Snack Bar Orders – If your campground has a snack bar, it is probably serving what by definition is known as “fast food”. How long does it take for the average order to be filled? According to a 2013 fast food performance study conducted by Quick Service Restaurant News, the average drive-thru order takes 3 minutes to fill, with an overall correlation between speed and accuracy – both important factors. Is your snack bar being staffed by one or more employees who are working double-duty with other job responsibilities? If necessary from a financial standpoint, limit the hours of your snack bar operation to high demand hours, when it can be adequately and dedicatedly staffed by employees who have been trained to prepare the food properly and efficiently. How many guests are going to return to your snack bar after a disappointing initial experience?
  6. Check-Out – The check-out procedure at your park should be even faster and more efficient than the check-in process, but speediness should not be at the expense of covering the essentials. Ask your guests if they enjoyed their stay, if there was anything that could have been done to make their stay more enjoyable (and take notes, rather than committing this valuable feedback to memory!), and if they would like to book a subsequent stay (even if they were disappointed, because you would like an opportunity to make things right!). If they tell you that they absolutely loved their stay, ask them if they would do you a favor and put their thoughts into words in a review on TripAdvisor or another important travel review site, handing them instructions that they can later reference.

From check-in through check-out – and every moment in between – do you best to ensure that your guests are enjoying every minute of their stay that is within your control. Guests who are enjoying their time at your park will spend more money during their stay, and guests who enjoy their overall stay are guests who will return again and again for years to come.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Do Not Fall Victim to the Tech Support Phone Scam

March 2nd, 2015

One recent instance after another has compelled me to attempt to warn people about some of the scams that are proliferating and making the rounds these days. Although most scams use e-mail to seek new victims, due to the almost nonexistent cost of e-mail compared to the snail mail that was the vehicle of choice in earlier days, telemarketing is still one of the most common points of entry for scammers and cyber-thieves. In this installment I would like to warn readers about the very active Tech Support Phone Scam, offering suggestions on how to avoid becoming the next victim.

Everybody has problems with their computers from time to time. Files may get corrupted, programs crash, and sometimes a software update contains unanticipated bugs. Worse yet, you could inadvertently install malware on your computer, typically when opening an e-mail or an e-mail attachment. One of my clients recently called me, telling me that he was suddenly experiencing a problem synchronizing Microsoft Outlook with his reservation software. Later that day, he called me again with the “good news” that Microsoft was helping him to resolve the problem. Out of total coincidence, he had been the recipient of a telemarketing call from a dubious outfit that calls itself “Tech Zone Windows”. The caller led my client to believe that he was a Microsoft representative, charged his credit card $199.00 (which was a less expensive alternative to his original $599.00 offer), and was using remote access to do who knows what with my client’s computer! Perhaps the company was actually scanning my client’s computer and removing malware, something that anybody could do themselves for free. Far more likely, it was installing spyware and accessing sensitive information.

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Fortunately, the client called me while this was happening, and I instructed him to immediately turn off his computer and found him a legitimate computer technician in his local area. Within seconds, the company’s representative called him, concerned that he had not yet finished the task at hand. My client demanded a refund, but as a result of this experience, has had to take the precaution of replacing his credit card. Hopefully, this represents the end, rather than the beginning, of his problems. Time will tell.

Microsoft has actually warned consumers about this and similar scams, where the callers impersonate help desk engineers from legitimate software companies. According to a Microsoft survey of 1,000 English language computer users back in 2011, 15% said that they had received one or more of these calls, and 22% of those who had gotten a call were tricked by the scam and paid an average of $875.00. If you do the math, you will see how somebody sitting at a desk in some remote part of the globe can rake in well over $2,500.00 simply by making 1,000 random phone calls. That dollar amount is only the haul from the bogus fees that they charge, earnings which could pale in comparison to what they can earn from the malicious software that they will install on your computer or the subsequent sale of your credit card number! The malware that they install is designed to harvest anything of value on your computer – including passwords, sensitive information and access credentials to things like your online banking and tax returns.

Continuing with the Microsoft report, 79% of those who were victimized by one of these scams reported some sort of financial loss, with 17% discovering money withdrawn from their bank accounts, 19% reporting passwords stolen, and 17% becoming victims of identity theft. A majority of victims also incurred significant costs in subsequently having their computers repaired or replaced after the experience.

To prevent this from happening to you, keep the following in mind:

  • Microsoft (or Apple or any other tech company) will NEVER call you to offer assistance. If you need assistance from one of these companies, you probably know how impossible it is to obtain. Rest assured that they will NOT be the ones trying to call you!
  • Never allow anybody to run remote access to your computer, unless you totally trust that individual. Remote access allows a total stranger total access to your computer. There is far too much at risk.
  • Never purchase any type of software service from somebody who approaches you on the phone.
  • Do not trust Caller ID. It is very easy to spoof the phone number that appears on Caller ID, and thieves use this trick to make themselves appear to be legitimate. Although Caller ID spoofing is a violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act and subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation, thieves laugh in the face of the law. (Feel free to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, the regulatory agency that is responsible for enforcement, either online or by calling 1 888 CALL-FCC.)

If you are uncertain about a company, I always suggest performing a quick Google search from the company’s name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. In the case of Tech Zone Windows, a Google search for “Tech Zone Windows Scam” currently produced 2,970,000 search results.

To learn more, read the following Microsoft security bulletin:
http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/avoid-phone-scams.aspx

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Learn a Few Lessons from SkyMall

February 18th, 2015

By now you have heard about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing for SkyMall, the iconic airline shopping catalog. For a quarter century, SkyMall marketed its products to up to 650 million airline passengers each year, according to the company’s own survey statistics, which also claimed that 70% of passengers read through the catalog on every flight. Having negotiated contracts with most of the major air carriers in the United States, 90% of passengers found themselves within inches of the latest SkyMall catalog. The company claimed in 2009 that 60% of its sales came through its website and accounted for $80,500,000 in revenue. From this number, it is easy to deduce that the remaining catalog orders yielded total sales revenues of over $134,000,000.

After the typical passenger had read through the airline magazine, even before memorizing the locations of the nearest emergency exits, the next item of interest in the seat back pocket was usually the latest SkyMall catalog. In it, you could find everything from a robot to clean your roof gutters to a laser helmet that would regrow hair on a bald head to a pepper grinder that looks like a full-sized baseball bat. Ahem, let’s just say that they sold the same kind of non-essential merchandise that is hawked on late-night cable TV.

Anyway, parent company Xhibit Corp complained that the reason for the demise of the SkyMall catalog had less to do with a stagnant concept and a goofy product line than the onslaught of digital devices that are now permitted for use in-flight. Now that weary travelers could access Google, eBay and Amazon, where they could also compare prices and read reviews, why would they want to thumb through a catalog? In fact, Xhibit Corp’s acting CEO, Scott Wiley, actually insinuated that SkyMall was a victim in the process that led to its downfall.

The fact is that SkyMall evolved from its initial concept back in 1989, when it actually relied upon the technology of the time, and was hemorrhaging massive amounts of cash. At that time, it was supposed to stock all of the catalog’s merchandise in a network of warehouses located near airport terminals. Customers were supposed to place orders using the “air phones” that used to be built into the backs of airline seats, after which the items were supposed to be rushed to the airport’s baggage claim for pick-up by the customer. Take note of my emphasis on the word “supposed”. The concept didn’t work, but the company did not throw in the towel.

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The rebranded concept would now feature goofy products that the company did not own or warehouse, with the individual manufacturers of those products paying for the privilege of display advertising space in the SkyMall catalog. The company now made its money from the sale of that advertising space, either through (higher) flat rates (what they called their “Advertising Program”) or lower rates that would be supplemented by a percentage of sales (what they called their “Merchandising Program). In each instance, SkyMall also charged its advertisers a 5-6% “operational fee”. The advertisers would then be responsible for drop-shipping the merchandise to customers. The least expensive advertising space in the quarterly catalog was a quarter-page, where the most recent flat fee amounted to $41,100.00. Clearly, advertisers needed to sell a lot of baseball bat pepper grinders just to recover that advertising cost, let alone turn a profit!

If SkyMall reinvented its business model once, it could have done so again, rather than simply claiming that it was a victim of advances in technology. If airline passengers are picking up their smartphones and tablets instead of a catalog that is admittedly expensive to print, find a way to get your product onto those mobile devices. If you look at the company’s most recent business model (the one that led to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing), you will see that it is based upon advertising sales rather than a regard for the customer, and that concept is a formula for disaster. To succeed today, particularly in what is essentially an e-commerce model, a company must engage its customers and play the game on the customers’ terms, with an emphasis on service rather than sales. A company needs to build long-term customer relationships, not simply generate one-time sales; however, when the business model is primarily based upon advertising sales, there is little incentive to build loyalty with the end consumer. There is actually a disconnection in this regard.

What does this all mean for your campground or other small business? The first question to ask yourself is whether you are operating under a 25 year old business plan. Believe it or not, there are still campgrounds that do not accept credit cards, despite the fact that customers overwhelmingly want to use credit cards. There are also campgrounds that do not process reservations online, requiring customers to call them and inevitably enter into a game of telephone tag. In those instances, the customer is almost always going to be the one to call it quits, finding another campground that will process the reservation online and accept a deposit using the credit card of the customer’s choice.

How about your website? A majority of your customers are surfing the Web using mobile devices. Is your website mobile-friendly, or is it driving those customers away? How about your activity schedule? Are you still doing the same old, same old Christmas in July that you were doing back in 1979? How about your office practices at the time of arrival and registration? When guests are exhausted after a four-hour drive in Friday afternoon traffic, are you making them wait even longer at an inadequately staffed registration desk?

Using the SkyMall experience as a guide, take a close and honest look at your own business, putting aside practices that may have worked 25 years ago but are a bit out of touch with today’s rapidly changing world and customer expectations. Embrace not only the latest technology, but embrace the customers that are your key to continued success!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Mobile Is Not Just a City in Alabama

February 4th, 2015

Nobody needs to be convinced these days that their business needs to have a website. What surprises me is how many people think that the website that was built 4 or 5 years ago, before the commanding surge in the use of mobile devices, could be adequately serving their needs today. Let me simply say that times have changed.

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Statistics compiled by Google, based upon the Google Analytics software that is running on websites around the world (and probably including your own) demonstrate that 50% of all website traffic is now mobile. In fact, this past holiday season, 22.5% of all online sales came through mobile devices (which are defined as either phones or tablets). Those numbers are impressive.

Google is now warning website owners if their sites fall short of being mobile-friendly … what they refer to as “critical mobile usability errors”, with the presumption being that these sites will soon be penalized in search results. Google is reportedly ready to begin downgrading those sites that are not configured for proper display on smartphones. The impact of that upon an older website could be tremendous, since the #1 source of new traffic to most websites is generated through organic searches on Google.

Taking steps in that direction, if you currently perform a Google search from your phone, the search engine results page will now label sites that are deemed to be mobile-friendly. Sites that fail that test typically display text that is too small to read on a phone, links that are too close together for fingers to navigate, or the lack of a mobile viewport (requiring users to pinch and zoom in order to view content). A site that is not mobile-friendly is not only at risk of losing out in its search ranking, it is losing its owner business today.

Let me demonstrate. I just performed a quick check of the Google Analytics on the conventional website of one of our clients, confirming that within the past 30 days, the lion’s share of the site’s traffic came from the users of mobile devices. The breakdown was 47.56% of visitors using smartphones, 14.98% using tablets, and only 37.45% using either a desktop or laptop computer. Keeping in mind that this is not a mobile-optimized site, the smartphone users visiting this site were spending only 60% of the amount of time on the site as the dwindling numbers of users of conventional computers. The bounce rate (the number of visitors who arrive at a site, then leave very quickly) was about 64% higher for smartphone users. Users of tablets, with larger displays, were somewhat more tolerant.

Nobody would have imagined this scenario a few years ago. Considering the fact that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on a website and the likelihood of the user taking the intended course of action (in the instance of a campground, typically this means making a reservation request), these numbers are foreboding.

Before You Panic, Check Your Site

Fortunately, Google has provided a quick online test that will let you know whether or not your site is mobile-friendly. Go to the following link, where you may enter your URL:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

If your site passes the test, congratulations are in order. If it fails the test, it is time to at least think about budgeting for a replacement. The next question involves what type of mobile solution will best suit your needs. For all practical purposes, there are three choices.

  • Responsive Web Design: This is the option that is recommended by Google. A responsive website serves the same site content to all devices, with a fluid page layout that adapts to each device. These sites are easy to maintain, but they may be expensive.
  • Separate Mobile Site: This was the preferred option prior to the onset of responsive design. It involves the construction of separate mobile content. User’s devices are detected and shown content that is specifically built for that device, or they are redirected to a mobile-specific URL. These sites are more difficult to maintain (because content is duplicated among pages) and they do not present consistent content across all devices. For these reasons, this option is falling out of favor.
  • A Mobile App: This is a separate application that is built for mobile users. It must be downloaded and installed by the user, and it is often used in conjunction with a website. An app has a usability advantage for smartphone users, but the costs are both prohibitive and unnecessary for most small businesses, both upfront and when it is time to maintain and update content.

The bottom line is that, if you are concerned about mobile traffic to your site (and you should be concerned!), there are decisions to be made, and you probably do not want to indefinitely delay making those decisions. Your new site should adhere to a specific set of best practices. These include the avoidance of software that it not supported on most mobile devices, particularly Flash. (There are alternate ways of presenting animation, using CSS or JavaScript, that are mobile-friendly.) Your site should also not include text that is unreadable without zooming, content with a screen width that requires horizontal scrolling on small devices, or links that are not far enough apart for fat fingers to navigate.

There are new websites being launched every day that are based upon old methods. Investing in one of those today is roughly equivalent to going out to buy a new car but coming home with a horse and buggy instead.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Future is Always Connected: Netflix Nixes Offline Viewing

January 28th, 2015

As online video- and music-streaming becomes more and more advanced, many service providers and media portals have begun to roll out offline caching for videos and music. From Soundcloud to Spotify to Amazon Prime and Google’s brand-new YouTube Music Key, service after service has started to allow its users to store media locally, allowing for its later consumption. This feature turns out to be especially important for users on slower or bandwidth limited connections, who can locally store media on a WiFi connection to avoid long waits or bandwidth surcharges.

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With just about every service rolling out offline caching in some capacity or another, it seemed only a matter of time before the 800 pound video streaming gorilla in the room jumped on board. We’re talking about Netflix, of course. For a while now, rumors had been swirling that Netflix was planning to launch their own offline caching options.

Now, in the bright light of the New Year, these rumors have been unceremoniously dismissed by Netflix Public Relations Director Cliff Edwards. Techradar reports that Edwards bluntly stated that offline storage was “never going to happen.” Why is this?

Netflix, it turns out, treats the non-ubiquity of bandwidth and connectivity as a short term problem, one for which offline caching is nothing more than a quick band aid. Instead, Edwards predicts that within five years, bandwidth will be so cheap and universal that users won’t even remember that they ever wanted offline caching in the first place, and will regard local storage as an outdated and obsolete concept for technology.

This is a contentious stance for a company to take, since it essentially implies that Netflix is willing to offer an inferior service on the short term to save resources. Netflix seems willing to lose customers to whom offline storage is especially important. Amazon Prime streaming has been quick to affirm its commitment to providing consistent and universal service to its subscribers. Currently, offline viewing is available for Fire tablets, and Amazon has announced plans to extend this functionality to more of its devices in the future.

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Perhaps the case is that Netflix sees itself more and more as a content creator in addition to simple media provider. Like a more traditional TV station, Netflix is devoting more and more of its resources to the creation and curation of original video content, and perhaps sees its future as focusing more on this division of business. Netflix has already announced aims to debut at least 20 more original series in the next five years and is currently heavily promoting its new period drama called Marco Polo, following the adventures of the medieval Italian explorer.

No matter what you make of it, Netflix’s surprising decision about offline streaming belies a confidence that internet infrastructure will continue to be developed. Based on history, this is a safe bet, though it also shows a surprising self-confidence in their place in the market. Netflix seems to believe their position is unassailable. It will be interesting to see if this is the case.

Nick Rojas is a business consultant and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Chicago. He has consulted small and medium-sized enterprises for over twenty years. He has  contributed articles to Visual.ly, Entrepreneur, and TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas, or you can reach him at NickAndrewRojas@gmail.com.

This post was written by Nick Rojas

Do You Prefer This Blue or That Green? The Psychology of Color

January 21st, 2015

My wife and I recently took a drive in the countryside, where we encountered an otherwise beautiful colonial farmhouse. It was in the process of being painted hot pink with purple accents and trim. Our first thoughts were sympathy for the neighbors and a renewed appreciation for the fact that our closest neighbor is a quarter mile away. Afterward, this encounter reminded me of just how critical the selection of color can be when trying to convey the proper impressions regarding a business.

Big Businesses Cannot Afford to Stumble

When it comes to color, no successful business has ever left those decisions to chance. If you go into a Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore paint store, you will not see hot pink among the residential exterior color swatches. Simply put, the color is inappropriate for that type of application. The fashion industry, with billions of dollars on the line and outsourced production requiring months of advance production time, spends an enormous sum of money financing the Pantone Color Institute’s projections of color trends in fashion. The Spring 2015 Fashion Color Report was released during New York’s Fashion Week in September of 2014. Click here for an advance look at the colors that you will be seeing on the best-dressed people this spring.

The Psychology of Color

Color, and the combination of colors, is far from limited to the paint and fashion industries. It is a commanding presence in the world of advertising and corporate branding. If your campground is part of a franchise, your colors will have been painstakingly researched and selected, referencing Pantone color standards that ensure consistency across applications. If your business, like most, is independently owned and unaffiliated, you will need to put a good deal of thought into making sound color choices, hopefully with the assistance of a marketing professional.

There is no question that there is a psychology behind each color that evokes a wide range of either positive or negative emotions. Some of these emotions are universal, and other color emotions vary from one culture to another. For example, the color yellow conveys varying emotions in Western cultures – everything from happiness and joy to cowardice and caution. It is considered sacred in most Eastern cultures, but it is the color of mourning in many Arabic cultures. Clearly, if your marketing is intended for primary consumption in your home country, the cross-cultural challenges are lessened.

Professional design is rarely limited to the primary (red, blue and yellow) and secondary (purple, orange and green) colors that make up the basic color spectrum. Looking at the Pantone Spring 2015 Fashion Color Report, your choice in green might very well be Treetop, Woodbine or Lucite Green, and your choice in blue might be Classic Blue, Dusk Blue, Aquamarine or Scuba Blue. These specific shades of color – and their combinations – will determine the color identity of your business, but the basic color emotions should influence your overall choices. With that in mind, the following is a listing of primary and secondary colors (plus black and grey), along with the highly generalized emotions that are associated with those colors in Western cultures.

  • Red: Energy, excitement, action, and passion. Tempered with anger and danger.
  • Orange: Visibility, refreshment and creativity. Tempered with caution.
  • Yellow: Happiness, joy, and hope. Tempered with caution and cowardice.
  • Green: Nature, environment, regeneration, and luck. Tempered with greed, envy, and inexperience.
  • Blue: Peace, trust, quality, authority, and calm. Tempered with sadness and depression.
  • Purple: Bravery, authority, power, and sophistication. Tempered with mourning.
  • Black: Power and strength. Tempered with death and mourning.
  • Grey: Wisdom and strength. Tempered with grief, boredom and depression.

Even if you have been aware of the psychology of color all along and have been giving it consideration when painting structures, ordering apparel, and designing both your online and print advertising (which, incidentally, use two separate sets of color formulas), you may want to give it even greater consideration from this point forward. Importantly, once you have made some informed decisions, use them consistently and precisely. Avoid settling for a “similar” color that will not serve to advance your identity. Above all else, do everything possible to avoid becoming that pink house that becomes a blight on the neighborhood.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Tech Acronyms & Abbreviations: A Quiz for the New Year

January 4th, 2015

Acronyms and abbreviations surround us and have become a part of our everyday lexicon. You are familiar with acronyms: words that have been formed from the initial letters of a series of words and are then pronounced as words themselves. Abbreviations, on the other hand, are also formed from the initial letters of a series of words but are not pronounced as words themselves. For example, NASA is an acronym for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and KOA is an abbreviation for Kampgrounds of America.

Many acronyms originated with military jargon, including RADAR (which stands for radio detection and ranging), AWOL (absent without leave), and SNAFU (which I will leave undefined). More recently, a whole new generation of acronyms and abbreviations has been generated by the proliferation of technology and the Internet. Many of these terms have become part of our everyday conversations, but how many of us really know the definitions of the words that we use?

It is the start of a new year, and I thought that we could take this opportunity to have some fun with a little quiz that will allow you determine whether you are a true geek or simply a nerd in geek’s clothing. I will throw in a few easy terms, just so nobody feels totally discouraged. I will provide you with the acronym or abbreviation, along with a brief definition. See if you know the words that provide the origins for the terms. Have fun and see how you do, checking for the correct answers at the end of the quiz.

1)    RAM – Usually found in pairs of “sticks” that fit into “slots” in a computer, these allow a computer to perform calculations quickly. Variations include SDRAM and VRAM. Not to be confused with an early solo record by Paul McCartney.

2)    PDF – These are pages of content that can be downloaded online and will always render identically on every display and print consistently on every printer.

3)    DSL – This is a form of high-speed Internet access over telephone lines that replaced the screeching sound and excruciatingly slow speed of dial-up modems. The next breed of this will use fiber optic cable.

4)    CPU – This is to your computer what your brain is to your body. Without it, your computer would be nothing but a case full of components.

5)    BSOD – This is the last thing that a Windows computer user wants to see on his monitor. It is also known as a stop error or bug check, and it displays a memory dump that typically includes thousands of characters of text that are totally undecipherable to the average human being.

6)    CMYK – These represent the colors that comprise four-color process printing, as opposed to the RGB colors of digital displays. Most folks read out the letters in this abbreviation, but other people pronounce it as the acronym “smick”.

7)    Wi-Fi – This is a means of connecting to the Internet without the use of cables. Everybody at your campground wants this available at their particular campsite, and it better be fast and free.

8)    USB – Before this was adopted as a standard, there seemed to be a different type of cable for every device connected to a computer, each with a unique plug and computer jack. Of course, as devices got smaller, there is now mini-USB and micro-USB found on things like smartphones. Thanks to USB, you probably have a box full of old cables that you cannot even give away.

9)    URL – This is the address of your website or any other particular page on the Internet. It is even more precise than a 9-digit zip code.

10) HDMI – This allows a single cable to transfer video and audio between devices such as computer monitors, video projectors, and digital televisions. Thanks to HDMI, almost nobody uses two tin cans and a string anymore.

11) HTML – The websites that you see online work because this allows text files to be “tagged” in a manner that allows them to display specific fonts, colors, graphics, embedded content, and links. Some people think that this is magic, but it is really some form of HTML.

12) JPEG – Probably the most common means of compressing and decompressing digital images. When saving an image, the amount of compression can be selected. Too much compression leads to serious loss of image quality.

13) IMAP – A protocol that allows e-mail to be retrieved from a mail server, it offers added functionality over the POP3 standard, including an improved ability to synchronize your e-mail among multiple devices such as your office computer, laptop computer, tablet and smartphone.

14) FTP – This Internet function allows for the upload and download of files, sometimes using a cloud service, from one computer to another. Many people try to send large files as e-mail attachments because they are unfamiliar with FTP.

15) SQL – If a website runs some sort of structured database, that database will be programmed using some form of SQL.

16) DVD – This storage format replaced the CD due to its greater storage capacity and its ability to play high-resolution audiovisual material. Thanks to the DVD, your VHS tapes are in a box with your old 8-track audio tapes and you no longer see “Be kind. Please rewind.” stickers.

17) GPS – This provides the ability for drivers to get from point A to point B without opening their glove box and unfolding a large, confusing piece of paper.

18) ICANN – When you want to register a domain name, you perform a “whois lookup” at an accredited registrar to see if it is available, but it is this organization that keeps the Internet running by allocating IP addresses and managing the domain name system.

19) GIF – Another means of saving graphic files, dating back to CompuServe and the early days of the Internet, it is pronounced “jiff”, not “giff”. If photos are saved using this format, they will have a blotchy appearance due to the limited number of colors represented. The animated version of this format is responsible for all those annoying little graphics that you don’t use on your website, right?

20) MIDI – Not a skirt length, this term also goes back to the early days of the World Wide Web, when it was commonly used to include songs on websites. Thanks to MIDI files, people quickly learned to turn off the sound on their computers. It was more annoying than Muzak, and copyright enforcement put the final nail in its coffin.

Well, how did you do? Scroll down below for the answers. You are probably happy that I did not include EXIF, FQDN, FLOPS, GUID, PPGA, TWAIN, SOAP and TCP/IP. In all honesty, I cannot identify most of those myself. On the other hand, I try not to think of myself as a geek. Let’s hope you had fun!

 

Stop scrolling here, until you want to see the answers!

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The answers:

1)    RAM = Random Access Memory

2)    PDF = Portable Document Format

3)    DSL = Digital Subscriber Line

4)    CPU = Central Processing Unit

5)    BSOD = Blue Screen of Death

6)    CMYK = Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (or Key)

7)    Wi-Fi = Wireless Fidelity

8)    USB = Universal Serial Bus

9)    URL = Uniform Resource Locator

10) HDMI = High Definition Multimedia Interface

11) HTML = Hyper-Text Markup Language

12) JPEG = Joint Photographic Experts Group

13) IMAP = Internet Message Access Protocol

14) FTP = File Transfer Protocol

15) SQL = Structured Query Language

16) DVD = Digital Versatile Disc

17) GPS = Global Positioning System

18) ICANN = Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

19) GIF = Graphics Interchange Format

MIDI = Musical Instrument Digital Interface

This post was written by Peter Pelland