KitchenAid appliances . . . think twice.

SANFORD, FL (jbeech.com) – how the wheels came off a dream kitchen.

Three years ago we began remodeling our home. It didn’t start out to be a remodel, just a little paint plus a few minor updates until – while we’re at it – took hold. Suddenly we were neck deep into what became a 2-year project.

While some families congregate in a great room, in ours cooking is central to socializing. Our kitchen isn’t just for preparing meals, it’s where we hang out to discuss things, visit with friends, etc.  It’s where we come together. Add to it our home features an open plan. It’s one where the kitchen’s on display for all to see from the minute you walk in the front door.

Moroever, being empty nesters colored our thinking. In effect, this became our last kitchen project. The one, which would see us into our twilight. Suddenly, spending as much for a stove as for a pretty decent used car made sense.

Beauty is only skin deep

Friends and family weren’t surprised in the least how we splurged a bit on our kitchen. After all, it’s central to our lifestyle because we both like to cook. While a 4-burner stove has been fine during 30+ years of marriage, we always dreamed of a bigger stove, one with 6 burners. We also wanted an oven with steam assist. We wanted one with commercial styling. Above all, we wanted quality. We purchased a KitchenAid because of their reputation.

With plenty of BTUs for searing duties, the stove is a dream to cook on. Moreover, the oven’s steam-assist is the cat’s meow for breadmaking. It’s beautiful too, in an industrial way, with stainless components, heavy cast iron racks, and art deco knobs adding a touch of style. Unfortunately, our dream has become a little bit of a nightmare.

The nightmare has been dealing with KitchenAid. In point of fact, we’re really dealing with Whirlpool because they’re the mothership. E.g. the corporate owners of KitchenAid and as it turns out – the 10-year KitchenAid warranty – doesn’t cover the required repairs.

This despite the problem having been reported within months. We’re facing forking over more than $1300 for repairs (on top of a $130 service charge). This comes within spitting distance of $1500 and we feel we shouldn’t be charged this because they misdiagnosed the problem from the beginning.

In hopes this serves as a cautionary tale for folks considering doing business with KitchenAid/Whirlpool, here’s our story. I offer it up because it has the feel of a raw deal . . . but judge for yourself.

To recap, we purchased the stove in July 2008 but soon noticed a problem with the oven door.

How a dream becomes a nightmare

The principal problem is with the oven door. Basically, the door hangs on the locking latches when you open and close it. However, the real issue is when you’re closing it because in hitting the latch itself the procelain began chipping. We called the vendor who in turn refered us to the manufacturer.

They promptly scheduled a techician to came to look the unit over. He said no problem they just needed to replace some parts to effect repairs. Unfortunately, he would have to order them but the flip side is this would all be at no charge.

Frankly, it came as no surprise he didn’t have the parts on hand because with so many different models it’s not practical – nor reasonable – to expect them to have all parts on the truck. The fact the repair would be no charge was as expected (since it was a 2-month old stove with a 10-year warranty). Satisfied, we signed the work order and the tech left.

Sure enough, perhaps a week or two later, we received three brown boxes containing the parts. We’re busy with the remodel project and this has low-ish priority, which means they are promptly forgotten. They remain in the garage, (next to my Ferrari) until this summer, when the oven unit fails.

Tempus fugit

Three years have come and gone during which they’ve not returned to effect repairs on the stove’s oven door. The 3 boxes of parts patiently sit, and for our part, absent one call of inquiry two years ago we haven’t worried about it either. However, when the oven quits working, everything changes because this affects Sunday morning biscuit. We can’t have that!

So again we call for service and this time we’re told we’ll be responsible for a $130 service charge. Fearing the worst, I ask them about the oven door repair but they say no, this isn’t a problem because the work order is still in their system.

Thus, while they don’t know why they didn’t come fix it sooner, they’ll nevertheless effect repairs without any added charges. Frankly, knowing we’d contributed to the delay (though we shouldn’t have had to nag them in the first place), we agree to the $130 service charge and as promised, a few days later their service tech shows up (at the appointed hour – the cable company could take lessons).

The fellow soon diagnosed the dead oven and says it’s a $113 electronic part, which isn’t covered by warranty (by a few months). On the plus side, once the required parts arrive they’ll come repair the oven without our incurring an additional service charge, which seems fair enough. Next he then turns to repairing the oven door, which is indeed covered by this service charge as well.

Stop, $1400 please, do not pass Go

A short while into the oven-door repair the technician explains the door cannot be repaired. Basically, changing the parts wont correct the problem because the frame is bent and thus, the porcelain will soon begin chipping again. Furthermore, he explains, he needs to call Whirlpool. Subsequently, he says a representative will call within a few days.

A few days later the Whirlpool representative calls. The long and the short of it is the stove indeed cannot be repaired. The only solution is complete replacement. However, this isn’t covered by warranty. They offer to replace the stove for $2700.

I protest and ask for a supervisor. I’m placed on hold for a few minutes and when she comes back on the line tells me she’s consulted with her supervisor. She cheerfully continues with how lucky I am because they will, for 30-days only, replace the stove for just 50% of the previous offer, or something over $1300 (plus I’m out the $130 service charge already). Such a deal.

Naturally, I explain this feels unfair because the problem with the door was reported within the warranty period, a mere two months after purchase, and their own technician misdiagnosed the problem. How is this my fault? I feel the stove should have been replaced then then.

None of this matters – not a bit – and they won’t budge and thus, all I get is they’re sorry but this is it. And by the way, the 30-days will be expiring soon; do I want to give them a credit card number?

On feeling like we’re being screwed by a big corporation

Is there mischief afoot? Is the reason they didn’t come repair the door after the three boxes of parts arrived because they knew it really meant product replacement? Is this why my one follow-on call was ignored? It sure makes me wonder.

Finally, here’s something to think on; if you too are planning on building your dream kitchen, and if you believe KitchenAid appliances have a place within it, my advice is think twice. Then think again.

Worth a closer look: SOFO

SANFORD, FL (jbeech.com) – Schools, universally facing budget crunches, are hoping technology rides to the rescue. The sooner the better.

In the news this week; reports of declining tax receipts lead to three additional schools being slated to close next year. Added to what’s turned out to be merely the first, it stirs quiet angst. In other news, we learn in-state tuition is going up. Again. I bet it’s the same in your state.

It spells opportunity. When better teachers are in demand but nobody will pay for them, and in an economy where college graduates are having a time of finding work, and when schools are closing, whomever offers solutions will make some money. A pot full of it.

Since follow the money is always good advice, here’s something you may not be aware of.  Sonic Foundry, NasdaqCM: SOFO. They offer hardware called Mediasite, plus archiving services. This last is important.

What’s it for? It’s a one-box Internet-video webcasting/archiving solution. In a nutshell, it means saving money plus schools. First, examples outside the schools.

Government

It’s the end of the day and a police chief learns an 80-year old Alzheimer’s sufferer has wandered off. “I’ll make the silver alert myself.”, he says wearily.

Within minutes, they fire up a couple of $200 consumer video cameras. These are connected to a black box called Mediasite. The chief steps to the podium and says, “Friends, we’ve got a missing . . .”

This goes online in real time, e.g. it’s broadcast – webcast – live. One minute later (10 minutes if he’s got political ambitions), the ‘webcast’ is also available online; it’s archived. Best of all, it’s easy. No postproduction whatsoever.

This is important because with an elderly person, time may be of the essence. It’s available via a link. e.g. on the home page of local government websites, via feed to local radio and television stations, etc. This can be big with police departments.

Businesses

Alternatively, a public corporation – probably spending more for cameras – but basically the same setup, reports their quarter, or introduces a new product. Again, video goes out live, and is archived for later viewing by shareholders. It’s fast and easy – like Jobs in his prime – but without the hassles. This can be big for businesses too.

Education

However, if every public corporation in America, plus every police system had one, the applicability to schools would dwarf them all. For example, a cash strapped school system buys into the sales pitch as a way to lower costs.

The pitch is easy, build out your e-learning infrastructure, or it’s how distance learners get the same quality education, or perhaps it’s simply because they have homebound students – several kids with mono – needing service.

They purchase a single Mediasite. It’s installed in a classroom along with two cameras (CU and wide angle). There are two mics as well. The lavaliere is for the instructor if he’s the wandering type, otherwise a mic fixed to a podium works. Add to it a handheld wireless microphone to pass around. With this, plus ambient lights they’ve created a studio. It can be done in an afternoon.

All-in it represents $30,000 for consumer-level AV hardware. $60,000 if using pro level cameras and mics. Insiders know consumer/prosumer stuff is plenty good enough for virtually all webcasting. Maybe add in for a computer-whiteboard serving as another video feed to Mediasite (though a cheap camera trained on the blackboard works too). Regardless, it’s chump change in the world of school systems.

One camera and mic can be trained on the instructor. One, or maybe two, cameras aimed at the students, are enough. Getting fancy means instead of the instructor multitasking, because switching feeds with Mediasite’s switcher is easy enough, the class AV-nerd lends a hand.

Subsequently, the math teacher does his lesson plan on solving quadratic  equations. Every hour, on the hour, perhaps with minor orchestration at first, kids shuffle in and out of this one classroom. Before long it’s old hat.

Lessons are webcast and archived. A social studies teacher and the class Q&A about the 4th Amendment, or an English teacher lectures on verb usage. They’re all webcast live and subsequently available via the Internet.

Whether it’s online lecture capture, distance learning, continuing ed, meetings, or cops alerting the public more quickly than a news team can show up, they’re all available instantly. And storage is doing nothing but getting cheaper.

The real money – archiving

Archiving happens on SOFO’s servers. It’s where the real money is for SOFO; the lucrative services revenue-stream. Who’s using it already? They’re big name universities. Foreign governments as well. Our government too, of course. Moreover, after a trial purchases, they buy more. This is a good trend.

Even a cursory look at the list of higher learning institutions, which have made repeat purchases, is compelling. There’s a reason. The technology will certainly make it’s way into local schools where use may be controversial. However, there’s potential for getting world-class instruction online cheaply . . . and saving money.

SOFO is a small issue, there’s certainly no dividend, but it’s early in the game. Do your own homework, e.g. whether there’s a place for it in your portfolio. Now you’ve been briefed on what it is and what it does.

If I were the sales manager responsible for selling this product I’d be arranging dog-and-pony shows at any and every county board that would make 10 minutes for me. I’d hook them for an hour, maybe two . . . and I’d help make SOFO shareholders filthy rich because it’s an easy sale.

Wresting efficiencies from our USPS

SANFORD, FL (jbeech.com) – citizen involvement in divining further efficiencies at the USPS may help reduce debt without hurting service.

Nothing’s quite as American as the special attachment some of us have for our mailboxes. Unsurprisingly, fooling with this aspect of our postal service is something the USPS (and politicians) are discovering is fraught with emotions. Yet the need for greater efficiency means change must come soon.

While complaining about the mail approaches a national pastime, the USPS does a lot of things right. A perfect example is found at the very end of the delivery chain where things work rather efficiently, especially in the form of Community Mailboxes. While the styles vary (with some designs being quite old), individual units serving 8-16 families offer the chief benefit of minimizing stops for the postman.

Could the USPS garner further efficiencies by consolidating underutilized community mailboxes and thus, reduce the number of extra mail stops? Since even little bits of thrift add up, the aggregate savings should be quite welcome by the USPS if it’s accomplished without disrupting things too much. Thirft is always a concern but it’s especially true right now because of mounting concern for meeting pension obligations.

While some would consider these savings small potatoes, in the grand scheme of things if the answer is yes, then the old saw about a million here and a million there adding up to real money becomes quite apropos. During times when the belt is being tightened a notch, greater efficiency is an imperative for the USPS.

Mailboxes

The two principal places most Americans come in contact with our USPS are the individual mailbox and the in town post office. The mailbox is the least efficient terminus for mail because it’s one-on-one service, or Retail Mail. The individual box, usually found mounted by the front door, or on a post out by the road is the single most personal point of interaction with government, which a citizen typically experiences.

The most efficient interaction we experience with the USPS may be referred to as Wholesale Mail. E.g. the many mailboxes, which form walls at the post office. Combined with counter services like selling stamps, plus sending and receiving packages, it results in the post office being another familiar nexus for citizens as well.

The USPS has a never-ending quest for efficiency. It’s because gains, no matter how small, add up. For example, groups of post-top mail boxes exisit because they reduce mail stops. Boxes may be colorfully decorated too. Whether involving a unique look, or bright colors, they’re expressions of American individualism.

More efficient still, and midway between a single community mailbox and the post office are groupings of community mailboxes. In this example, nearly 100 families are served by placing 6 units of 16 together. The resulting close physical proximity makes delivery more efficient for the postman while retaining convenience for citizens. Score this concept as a clear win-win for the USPS and us.

However, examples of underutilized community mailboxes aren’t difficult to find. Perhaps citizen involvement may help the USPS find additional efficiencies. This thesis is a test of this idea.

Seeking greater efficiency

Rooting out and eliminating inefficiencies within the USPS’s generally efficient system will require postmasters keenly interested in saving money. From consulting with postmen, to getting off their duffs to see for themselves, it will take action. For example, this community mailbox located on the corner of Brisson and Pine Way (ZIP-code 32773), is underutilized because it contains several empties.

Located a mere 250 yards further into the route, this community mailbox (on the corner of Pine Way and Hallelujah, and also within 32773) contains empty units too. It represents an extra mail stop in close proximity and thus, considering residents won’t be greatly inconvenienced, consolidation may be something of a no-brainer for the postmaster.

Especially because of an added incentive; the mail truck often gets stuck turning around on this dead-end private dirt-road. It happens so frequently, in fact, the residents took it upon themselves to widen it considerably just to ease the task. Yet it still happens . . . a lot. Since calling for a tow truck isn’t cheap, this really should not be a difficult decision.

Strangely, it is too tough a decision for the postmaster Traci Murray of 32773 because the status quo continues. Add to it resident letters citing concern due to lengthy road blockage, plus fear the mailbox itself may be struck by drivers at night and it’s a rather perplexing situation.

Ignore the fact both of these community mailboxes are underutilized. Ignore the fact ongoing expenses for towing (three or four times in the last few years) will likely continue. Ignore resident’s concern for being blocked in, or delaying an ambulance when a truck is stuck again. Yet how can we ignore when a postmaster knowingly does nothing to plug the holes in the boat and show little interest in doing anything to save money? Simply put, why is this happening?

Conclusion

Ultimately, USPS postmasters need to do get out of the office more often because money saving efficiencies exist right under their noses. When ordinary citizen’s observations of easy savings are ignored, it’s time to wonder this; can America really afford this kind of mid-level USPS management?

While it’s only money, it’s our money. I take it personally. Do you?