Made in the US?

Wow, the campaigning is just about over. Hopefully everyone voted.

The big topic this year has been the economy and how slow the recovery has been. Unemployment numbers have remained relatively high throughout the summer and hopefully, whoever wins, there are plans to get people back to work.

No big news that jobs being sent overseas has hurt our workers, the GDP, tax collections, etc. Tax breaks for sending jobs abroad has made it attractive to American companies. And it’s somewhat understandable.

Lowering the cost of labor increases profits which increases stock prices which increases individual IRAs and 401Ks. It’s a vicious circle. No one wants their savings plans to lose money but they also want to be able to work so that they can contribute to their plans.

We recently ran a survey with our customers asking if they would be willing to accept a price that reflects the use of products made in the USA.

The results were surprising. A large percentage (67%) responded that they could accept a higher price. That was the good news.

We then wanted to find out if some product names could be substituted with a generic. For example, Kleenex shows up on a number of lists but the schools and teachers use “Kleenex” as a generic term for tissues.

We found that most parents felt that Kleenex, Post-its and Ziploc were brands that could be replaced with a generic product.

But don’t touch my Fiskars, Elmers or Crayola.

Here’s the rub. While Crayola manufactures some items in their Easton, PA plant, most of their products are produced in foreign countries. The same goes with Elmers and Crayola.

So while people want to support American jobs the most popular brands aren’t being made here.

We’re happy to say that, except for these requested brands, most of the items we offer are made in the USA. Maybe it will change someday. One can only hope that companies based here start looking at ways to bring those jobs back to help our economy.

President Obama/Romney, look at the incentives to send jobs overseas and give our unemployed a level playing field.


Binder Problems

Mitt Romney isn’t the only person having to deal with binder issues.

When we first started School-Pak, we made every effort to provide high quality, durable binders. Then came the competition, offering packs with economy binders, much lower in cost.

Naturally, we wanted to keep our customers and attract new ones so we began substituting the durable binders with economy ones. They didn’t hold up very well. They actually fell apart relatively quick, within a few weeks of school.

So off we were to find “the” binder. Our first attempt was with Samsill. Not only did they make a durable binder but they could do different colors for us. As a matter fact, one of our schools sent us their binder and we sent it on to Samsill. They began making binders for us based on the specs from the binder we sent them. Unfortunately they didn’t make the grade either, even though it was their highest quality.

Next up was Cardinal brand. They weren’t able to send us binders by color so we had to buy the assortment and have them de-assorted into colors. Once again there was failure.

Our next stop was Avery. They were able to do a lot for us and also included Boxtops for Education stickers on each binder. We thought things went well until we began getting phone calls from a few schools saying that they were having a problem with them.

We knew that it was the same Avery Binder and our price ($6.82) was lower than what Office Max was charging ($7.29), Target (their site says that the price varies by store. ??? What’s with this? Shouldn’t it be the same regardless of where you shop?), or Walmart ($8.88).

So here we are, ready to go into another school year but unsure of what to do. Why isn’t there a durable binder that holds up?

We finally figured out the problem.

All the binders we used were high quality and durable binders…if they were used in an office setting. None of them can hold up to being carried, dropped, opened, closed, etc., 5 to 10 times a day. They aren’t made for STUDENTS! THEY’RE MADE FOR PEOPLE WHO GO TO THEM ONLY A FEW TIMES A WEEK.

We’ve tried to explain to the manufacturers that “durable” isn’t “durable” in the hands of a student who uses it multiple times a day. They don’t seem to get it.  I’m not sure what they need to make it out of…concrete? I just know that 13 year olds are going to have a different way of using a binder than businesses.

It would be wonderful if teachers were aware of this. Maybe they wouldn’t be asking for something doomed to failure.

As for Mitt, he never said if it was a 1”, 2”, 3”, 4” or 5” binder.  :)


Competition: Fair or Unfair?

Running a business is difficult.

First come up with an idea. Then see if it’s accepted.

Next find suppliers for your product. Realize you’ll be doing almost everything out of your home for awhile but know that, at some time, you’ll need an office and warehouse space.

Secure both and find out you now need to pay utilities, phone service, security service. That’s not too bad except you can’t grow much because the work is too much for two people.

So you start looking for help, paying social security taxes, medicare taxes, unemployment taxes, workman’s compensation insurance plus insurance for all the stock you now have.

Finally you’re ready to go. Except you have to raise your prices to cover the cost of rent and employees. OK, that works and you’re still in the ballpark. Except you need to hire more help and you need to get more sales. So you work out an advertising budget and realize that you won’t be making much of a living on what’s left. But you make it work and find yourself growing.

After 5 years you can finally start taking a salary.

Then: BAM!

You find that the 25¢ ruler you’ve been putting in the kits are on sale at Office Max for a penny. What’s worse? They’ve copied your order blanks (so did Walmart, Target and Office Depot), removed your copyright information, and posted them in their store as a convenience to their customers.

Variations on this theme have happened for the last 15 years. An expensive lawyer could probably help you but you can’t afford it. Not unless you want to go another 5 years without getting paid. So you march into the store, complain to the manager and take all the copies with you. Finally the copying stops. But not the pricing problem.

In Wisconsin, we have an “Unfair Sales Act” or “minimum markup law” that prohibits the retail sale of merchandise at a price that is below the seller’s “cost”. As a rule, everything must be marked up by 6%. It also applies to “loss leader” items, those things that make you come into the store to buy cheap crayons as they know you’ll also buy underwear, socks, etc.

So here’s what I did this year. I contacted the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to file complaints against Target and Shopko. Crayola Markers were being sold by Shopko for 99 cents. The cost is over $1.75. I waited for a response and was finally sent a letter on Sept 17th, stating that Target was not guilty of any infractions since “…we have documentation that shows other businesses at or below the alleged retail price. The “meeting competition defense” is an allowable exception.

Sure glad they don’t check drunk driving. I guess if everyone on the road is drunk the “meeting competition defense” would exempt anyone for a fine. Or, how about the prostitutes that work the streets? If there are two of them would they be exempt since they’re the “meeting competition defense”?

Apparently the date of the infraction is the deal breaker. If no one else is advertising a low price, you break the law. That’s what happened to Shopko who was found in violation of 4 product prices.  Of course there wasn’t any penalty. Just a warning not to do it again. I’m sure that it’s as effective with companies as it is with kids.

Just want it to be fair.


Random thoughts as school approaches

Kept thinking about the following last night while trying to sleep:

Random Thought 1 

 Our local Walgreens is promoting a free back-to-school supply event. You go into Walgreens, purchase the items (of course Walgreens isn't discounting the items) and place them into a bin. Makes Walgreens look good (and profitable) helping out kids. Why don't they just donate the items?

The same goes for Wal-Mart, now having a special give-away. C'mon. Why not just donate the items and not sell them? It's no different than the food stores that ask for donations at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's not really coming out of their pocket. Every year we're asked by non-profits across the country for donations. We do donate to a number of causes but we don't sell them the items.

Random Thought 2

Just had to deal with a school that was asking for a specific sketch book, a Strathmore one. They were for all students in the school from Kindergarten to Grade 8. We were able to supply (our price is just under $9 for the book) to those who bought School-Paks. But what about those parents that didn't order from us. Where do they find it?

We found them at an art store for $19.95 each. Do teachers realize what some of these items cost? Does a Kindergarten child need that quality? Just wondering.

The same goes for specialty compasses, protractors, pens, etc. What happened to common products? Parents are not going to find some of these specialty items without making numerous trips to numerous stores. Of course, that makes us look good. :)

Random Thought 3

Since we're limited by inventory and workers, we close our final ordering date in late July. So how should we answer "Hi, I see that you are out of stock and don't have any more packs. Can we still order?"

Huh? If we're "Out of Stock" it means we're "Out of Stock".

Most schools start taking orders in March giving the parents up to 4½ months to place their order. I'm not sure why they procrastinate for that long.

I wish we could keep enough inventory in stock for the entire year but it's just not possible. 

Random Thought 4

Without a doubt our economy is still struggling. According to the "economic gurus" we need to stimulate the economy again to propel consumer buying. If enough people buy items, we'll need more workers goes the story. So Terri came up with a brilliant idea. We've tried sending it to elected officials but our campaign donations are non-existent so we never get a reply.

Terri is suggesting that the next stimulus be the issuance of debit cards to citizens. The amount doesn't matter (we didn't go that deep into it) but there would be a 180 day expiration date. The cards could only be used for purchases and could not be used to put money in the bank or pay bills.

Just think of a few hundred million citizens with a $300 - $500 debit card purchasing items. The Consumer Spending Index should go through the roof.
Remember, you read it here first!


Summer's half over

Summer keeps speeding by and we're getting a lot of orders. Hard to believe that we're at the half-way point. And we're having a problem with a large supplier, Mead. Apparently the "big" retailers (Wal-Mart, Amazon, etc)have items made specially for them by Mead. So when customers go shopping and find something they like, they ask to put it into a School-Pak. But Mead has restrictions on selling the items to us. They have to get a release from these retailers. That takes us out of the running if a school is asking for the product. We have an agreement with Mead for their products but these don't show up in their catalog as they are specially made. I guess exclusivity is what all of us retailers would like. It's hard enough to stay competitive with multi-million dollar companies. We'd just like a level playing field when it comes to product accessibility. On a side note, teachers are still asking for items that haven't been made for years. We keep getting requests for "Spacemaker" pencil boxes. Sorry. These haven't been around for about 5 years. Teachers may be using "Spacemaker" as a generic term. Unfortunately, parents that go shopping will be looking for it. The same with "Duo-Tang" folders. They're history. The company that bought their manufacturer dropped the name. But back to the good news. The temperature today is a little more comfortable in the warehouse and our workers (college and high school students)are doing an incredible job this summer.


Blown Away

We're starting to price out packs for schools and, once again, it's stunning how the lists have changed.

Back in the day, 1991, when Terri thought of starting School-Pak, the first lists we received from schools had the usual items on it. A box of Crayons, some markers, a couple of folders and notebooks, maybe some colored pencils, a glue stick or two and some looseleaf paper.

We were so apprehensive that the packs cost more than $20.00. Who in their right mind would pay that much just for school supplies? I remember that first year when we went through all the work and sold just 1 pack at one of our 7 schools. We were doomed.

Eventually parents caught onto the idea of convenience and we began to grow. And so did the packs. Soon we were up to 6 glue sticks, 2 packages of paper 6 folders, 6 notebook, compasses, protractors, etc. You get the picture. The price went up yet parents bought because they wanted to be sure to have their kids ready for school.

Our first culture shock came in the late 90's when teachers began asking for tissue! Tissue!!!

What did that have to do with being ready for school?

OK. we added tissue. Of course the next year, teachers wanted 2 boxes of tissue since not everyone brought tissue. Fine, each pack got 2 boxes of tissue.

Oh boy! Sometime in the early 2000's, a new substance was found in schools that changed science and the way we live. They found ... lice!

Now all the headphones had to be wiped down with baby wipes so lice wouldn't spread. Makes sense. But shortly afterward it was noticed that kids had "dirt" on their hands. Here came the hand sanitizers. (Didn't schools have soap and water?)

Oh wait. Next came soft soap for the kids. And it kept growing.

This past year I worked on a quote for a school that was incredible. The teachers were asking for 6 containers (80ct) of baby wipes. A package of paper cups, 24 plastic forks, a roll of paper towels, 24 plastic spoons, 4 (yes 4) boxes of tissue, 3 containers of Clorox wipes and two boxes of ziploc bags (gallon and sandwich).

All told, the pack cost $94.48. When we took out the "grocery" items, the price dropped to $62.62. So the grocery items represented over 50% the cost of the school supplies.

Now with 20 kids in a class (although there are stories of 40 in a class)your looking at 800 sneezes per child or 16,000 to 32,000 sneezes per classroom. No wonder they need all those Clorox Wipes.

Someday maybe we'll go back to the old days. And then we'll lead all the competition by putting sleeves into the packs. They worked well in the past. (Of course, moms probably didn't like it.)


The Hunger Games

We went to see "The Hunger Games" Friday night. Overall, I found most of the film enjoyable. Early in the film there I had a difficult time following the cinematography and editing. The pictures moved a little too fast and switched too frequently. When did it become the "best" way of filming by moving the camera a little. It used to be a steady picture until someone got this great idea to make it look "real". Not a fan.

I did find two things about the experience that I wasn't in favor of. We watched a family go into the theater with their small, age 2-3, son. The movie is pretty violent and loud, probably not appropriate for a little kid. (Boy, am I showing my age!). I'm guessing that mom and dad, not wanting to pay for a baby sitter, nor wanting to give up the movie, just decided that they'd bring the little tyke along. Of course, they'll be hard put to understand why he has nightmares. The move is PG-13 not PG-3!

The whole idea behind the story is that there's a shortage of food in the future. So two children (I guess age 17-18 counts as children) from each of the 8 districts will be selected to fight to the death and become the winner of an annual competition. The kids names are put into a bowl, based on how much food they've eaten. One of the characters, who escapes being picked, has 42 slips of paper with his name on it.

Sitting next to me in the theater was a little girl, about 10 years old, who would have had over 1,000 slips of paper in the bowl. She not only ate constantly during the movie, alternating between popcorn and candy (wrapped in cellophane so it made noise with every plunge of her hand). Not only was in throughout the whole movie, but when she ran out of popcorn, mom emptied her bucket into the girl's bucket.

I could have survived most of it except she had learned how to eat with her mouth open so each popcorn kernel was heard (but not enjoyed) by me.

Mom did show some great concern over her daughter's attempt to get picked in a future hunger game. She made sure she only drank water, not some unhealthy soft drink.


What's a Brand name product?

Recently I had a conversation with one of our schools that had been approached by a competitor who had offered prices much lower than ours. I asked for a copy of their list (without their pricing) to see what was being offered. Here's what I found:

The other company used some familiar brands, like Dixon and Fiskars. However, they didn't identify which Dixon or Fiskars product they would be using. While both of these companies offer lower priced items in their lines, we've always used the Ticonderoga pencils (asked for by many teachers) and have always offered the Fiskars For Kids brand of scissors.

We've also found that a number of companies are calling their company brands as Name Brand products. Sorry. Elmers is the name brand for glue and glues sticks, not "S*****S, or *O***** ****t. (I really don't want to promote them. :) )

So what does it mean in the end? If the teachers and parents are looking for the highest quality products from companies they've become familiar with, that's what we do.

"Just keepin' it real" (Randy Jackson)


Random thoughts

I had a few random topics go through my head lately. None of them seem worth a whole blog, but I thought I'd share them in one.


Apparently what couldn't be done by the Army, Marines, CIA, Secret Service, Special Ops and other military organizations was accomplished by a wife. The word is out that his first wife was a little miffed when she moved into the compound where bin Laden was eventually found and killed. It seems that his newest wife was sharing a room with him on the 1st floor and the first wife got a room on the second floor. Now some are suggesting that she's the one who turned him in. The man should have watched "Big Love" on HBO to see how to keep three wives smiling.


Just received mail from New York LIfe Insurance Company and Mass Mutual asking for my vote for the new Directors to the Board. They have a check box to select "all" the candidates or another box where you can exclude someone from the vote. It looks like I don't have to do anything since they're running unopposed.

I call on CNN to schedule the first of 20 debates for these candidates and add me to the mix. I'm guessing that I might need the Director compensation package (maybe $50,000 a year for 2-4 meetings?) more than these people. Let me know if anyone else is interested in being on the Board.


Found a really good video about school budget cuts. The parents and students at a school in the Los Angeles area have put together a parody of the Rebecca Black video "Friday" that went viral. It's a pretty good production and fun to watch. It doesn't really matter what side of the political spectrum you're on. School budgets are facing cuts and the video promotes contributing to schools. You can catch it here: My School Your School.


Changes Are Always Happening

We're only a few weeks from Daylight Savings Time (Sunday, March 11) followed shortly thereafter with the start of Spring. Which means winter is finally winding down. Although we did get about 5 inches of snow today, the biggest snowfall of the season.

One of the big changes occurring today is how we remember things (not just because we're getting older!). There's a lot of discussion about the "Google Effect" which says that people really don't have to remember things so much as to remember where to find them.

Google (Bing, Yahoo, whatever) has changed education immensely.

When I was in school (yes, they did have electricity back then), we had a set of Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia at home for reference. (Actually, back then, the local A&P sold the next book in the set (99¢) every week with the purchase of something). The set did get outdated fast so I ended up at the library, looking through their books, to do my research.

Today I can go online and search for anything I want. I'm led to different sites (after the ads show up) including Wikipedia for my answers. The problem is that the "best" result may not be the first one that shows up. The "poster" has added so many mega-tags and keywords to be sure they're first. They're information may not be accurate. So I have to dig deeper, all the way to page 135 (of 72 million) to find the information I need.

So students who rely on just the Internet for their research may stop at the first page that shows up and uses that for their research.

The question then becomes "Are we getting smarter using search engines? Are we retaining all the information we can?"

Recently there was a big story about some US soldiers who used "SS" as their insignia on a flag. When they were asked about the significance, they didn't know. History wasn't a part of their education.

Here's a post that goes into more depth. Could Search Engines be Damaaging Learning


Student Workers

Well, it's about that time of year again when we start looking for summer workers.

Since beginning in 1991, we've hired 244 students, some staying with us for a number of years. And it's hard to determine if Terri & I have learned more from them than they learned from us. I'm hoping it was good for all of us.

I remember Rebecca (I'm not going to use last names simply because they may feel a little embarrassed by the attention). She came to us as a 14 year old high school student and stayed with us for 7 years. She started as one of our line workers, became the "line lead" and eventually became our warehouse manager. She was instrumental in laying out our "new warehouse" location when we moved about 10 years ago. Now she's employed at Uline, hopefully using some of the skills she learned at School-Pak.

Kyle came to us as an intern from Marquette University. Working towards a business degree in finance, he helped shape our outlook on how to become more efficient. After graduating, he joined a firm that got involved with working with companies that crashed a few years ago.

We've had workers that became professors, doctors, engineers, teachers, accountants and more. We're really proud of them and would like to feel that their time at School-Pak was a learning experience.

There are more stories to share about our workers but three workers come to mind. Marty, Bob, Jonathan and Lidnsay. Marty brought us a new employee, Natalie, whom he was dating. Today they are happily married and living in Illinois.

Bob was one of our first employees back in the late 90's. He's getting married this coming April in Arizona. And we will be attending.

Finally, one of our best employee stories has to do with Jonathan and Lindsay. Lindsay began working for us 2001. Jonathan began working in 2002. They found each other at School-Pak and they'll be getting married in October. We're also invited to their wedding.

So, over the years, we're thankful for the opportunity to have hired, worked with and respected so many employees and look forward to the new ones coming this year.


School Supply Addiction

Finally (my second surgery for a detached retina was in August of 2011) I was going to get the cataract surgery that would start the return of eyesight to the left eye.

I spent the morning answering emails and in meetings so I was pretty pumped for the 2:30 event.

My doctor had told me that it normally takes about 15-20 minutes for the surgery. Mine lasted about and hour due to all the trauma the eye had gone through with 2 surgeries in August.

What was most interesting was the return visit on Friday. The outpatient clinic is right next door to a Starbucks. Not only was the drive through backed up on the lot but the line of cars actually extended out to the street for another 4-5 cars. Unbelievable.

We went into the clinic and rode the elevator with a woman who was holding a Starbucks cup in her hand. Naturally, the first question I had was, "How long did you wait in line?" She looked at me and said "I won't go to this one. The lines are always too long. I stop every morning at a different one on my way to work."

That got me thinking. People stop, some every morning, for their $4 + cup of coffee and think nothing of it. There's approximately 225+ work days in a year so they end up spending around $900 a year on coffee.

Many times I'll speak to a coordinator about our programs and they'll tell me that they need to go with a different company because "these are hard times. Families are suffering and our parent organization wants to help them with this type of program. So we're going with the lowest price." The difference is price might be $2.00 more for a School-Pak. Realize, of course, that not every coordinator says this and not everyone in the school community would necessarily agree. Some would be willing to pay a little more for the quality.

I believe that providing exceptional service plus quality brand name products like Crayola, Elmers, Fiskars, etc., would make that $2.00 (once a year) a great value.

So here's my question: What can we do to make buying a School-Pak addictive? Send me some ideas and maybe we can get on TLC with "Strange Addictions". Could be a riveting program. :)

Feel free to comment


Changes in companies

Just received new about two major changes in the marketplace.

Acco brands, maker of Wilson Jones binders, Swingline staplers and a host of other business products, announced the purchase of MeadWestvaco, the producer of Mead products including 5 Star notebooks, binders and the Cambridge brand of products.

No big changes are expected at this time.

Also 3M purchased Avery Dennison, known for their binders and Marks-A-Lot markers. It looks like the binder wars might just be getting started.

Our goal when we first started School-Pak was to provide high quality, name brand products for our pre-packaged kits. School coordinators felt that price was the most important part of the kits so we began using economy binders. What a mistake that was. They don't hold up in the hands of a 5th grade student. So we returned to just heavy duty binders. We still have issues with them since manufacturers don't get it.

I think the prevailing thought in these companies is that they aim their product at office use, where the binder might be touched only a few times a week and sit on a shelf. They really haven't addressed the "student" market that well. The binders the students use are possibly carried around all day and frequently opened. They really need to be stronger.

Hopefully Acco and 3M understand this and realize what a huge market school kids are and upgrade their products without upgrading their prices by a lot.

It will be interesting to see what these two companies do with familiar brands like 5 Star. A number of years ago the Newell company purchased Sanford (maker of Sharpie and Expo products) and the Berol company that made Spacemaker pencil boxes. Although Spacemaker was the brand everyone was familiar with, Newell stopped using the name. We still have teachers asking for them.

They then purchased Rubbermaid and changed their name to Newell Rubbermaid. However they don’t make everything available to us. Some things are only available through retail outlets.

The same thing happened with Duo-Tang folders. They were the hallmark of folders with fasteners for years and the most familiar brand to consumers. Esselte purchased Oxford and stopped using the Duo-Tang name but still have a line of Oxford products.

One last thing. Crayola, in a movement to being “green”, introduced a change to black barrels for their markers line in late 2010. I’m guessing the feeling was that they could produce them at a lower cost than the white barrels they had used in the past. Although the caps were in different colors, once they were removed it was difficult to find the correct marker. The barrels did have the color name on them but it made it hard for the kids to match the caps with the right color.

They learned very quickly. They have returned to the traditional white barrels. Makes you remember the “New Coke”.


Is the Modern Family too Modern?

Milwaukee has joined the nation with a teacher being accused of child enticement. Stories are showing up all over the Internet about teachers, coaches, band leaders, scout leaders, just about anyone we've believed we could trust, that are facing charges.

What's going on? Is this a new phenomenon, or are we getting kids to finally step forward and report these incidents?

Having grown sons, we're now faced with worrying about the grand-children. We know that our sons' families are aware of the problem and spend the time vetting those people that are in contact with the grand-kids. With an 8 year old and a 4 year old grandson, my eyes lit up when I read the new issue of TV Guide.

On page 12 there's an article by William Keck about Modern Family. In an upcoming episode, Phil (Ty Burrell) finds out that Haley is not a virgin. According to Keck, Phil "is horrified but it ends up being very heartfelt and meaningful".

Claire (Julie Bowen) has know for some time and apparently had dealt with it without telling Phil. And, although Keck writes "Julie had the most difficult time with the plotline", Bowen's comment at the end of the story is what stunned me.

Asked of she dreads facing this rite of passage with her kids, she jokes, "My kids are boys. So they can have sex at age 6 and that'd be fine."

Would she make her daughter (if she had one) wait until age 7? 8? 9?

Really? Maybe the Modern Family is too modern.


Outsourcing Prices Rise

From Gene:

It's starting to be a struggle to see what's best for consumers.

Crayola recently sent us a letter letting us know that any products they have made outside the US will now rise in price by 7.5% to 10%.

Apparently rising labor rates, raw materials and exchange rates is having a marked effect on their products. It gets to be a lengthy of products.

So first prices were held stable and the company made more profits by having product made in China. Now they have to raise prices since their costs have gone up.

The thought of jobs eventually returning to the US is heart-warming. But are consumers willing to pay more so that those jobs return?


We still have some "clearance" items left in our warehouse. Click on the word "clearance" on our front page to see some great values.

On a lighter note, it's Friday, so it's Fish Fry night. If you're from around the Milwaukee area you know what that means. Every restaurant offers some type of Friday Fish fry with cod, haddock or perch (my favorite). We have a restaurant near our house that offers grilled salmon. Some have whitefish.

Friday Fish Frys are to Milwaukee what gumbo is to New Orleans. Or ribs in Memphis. Something to always look forward to.

I hope my perch aren't outsourced from China.



Back to Bloggin'

From Gene:

Back from of a vacation in La-La Land and settling in for the New Year.

First of all, Terri & I will both be posting blogs in the future. Hence the "From Gene" at the top.

The new year started out great with news that 4 schools that had used us in the past and went to competitors are coming back. We really appreciate their loyalty and look forward to working with them again.

We had to make a change today. Because of the high amount of fraudulent checks, we've stopped taking eChecks. We always thought this would be a great way for customers who don't like using credit cards. Unfortunately, we shipped a lot of product that never got paid for. And guess what? They don't respond to phone calls or emails. Go figure.

I'm getting ready to go back in for eye surgery in early February. I suffered a detached retina back in July of last year. The surgeries went pretty well but I developed a fast "growing" cataract that left me legally blind in the left eye.

Of course I had to get my driver's license renewed this month. They do a short, cursory eye test. "Read the top line" (I closed my left eye and read it perfectly). "Now tell us what side the light is on" (Gee, if I don't see it I'll just say the left side. But I did see it on the right side.) "Fine, you pass".

Let me be clear. I don't have any problems driving, just using the right eye. But you have to wonder who else is out there.

Anyway, the surgery should return my sight to close to normal. Looking forward to getting it done.

Back at work, we've changed our Homework Packs for this year. We're getting rid of all the "generic" products we've used and just went back to our core brand name products like Crayola, Elmers, Fiskars, Ticonderoga. It's been pretty clear that moms want quality for their kids.

Until next time. Gene