Selling Stuff On Reverb

Retirement.

Coming up soon now. Just a tad over three months.

Lorraine and I did a lot of downsizing when we sold our house. And part of the downsizing required me to thin the herd. The herd of guitar and recording gear.

I have sold a lot of equipment since we downsized. And I have more to sell.

The process has been interesting to say the least. Being a bit of an avid photographer, I took the time and effort to create some wonderful shots of the instruments I was selling, like the red Strat pictured above.

Here is what one of the shots looked like from my listing on Reverb:

Too good a shot it seems. I had potential buyers ask me if this was a stock photo. No. It is a photo of the actual guitar. Using some white paper and a few well placed studio lights can create a very cool product photo.

Reverb has been wonderful for the most part. With an increase in selling activity comes a slew of issues though. I’ve had at least a dozen or so “interesting” encounters. I’ll share a few of them over the next several days.

Let’s start with the disappearing studio monitors shall we?

The initial offer came in with a request to pick up the monitors. My preference is to use Reverb end-to-end including shipping. That way both the buyer and the seller are protected. I’m also a little wary of strangers coming from several hours away to pick up a product. Are they really serious or just kicking the tires? Would they do something a bit odd or try to renegotiate the deal?

Not worth the hassle. So I offered to waive the shipping charges as part of the deal.

Offer accepted.

Above a certain price point I ship gear with a signature required to ensure proof of delivery.

You just never know when that might come in handy.

Here were the messages from that particular transaction:

You bet I contacted Reverb support at this point in the exchange.

Perhaps it was possible that a courier, taking two very large boxes containing a set of expensive studio monitors, went to the address in question and left it with someone that did not live there. Maybe someone was just walking near the address and was being kind. “I’ll take those two large packages that weigh about 100 pounds. No, I don’t live at that address but I know the guy really, really well. Honest. And, sure thing, I’ll sign for them. No problem.”

What likely happened? The courier went to the door, rang the bell, the door opened, and someone signed for the speakers. They were delivered to the address.

I passed the entire exchange over to the Reverb team. I never heard back from the buyer so I don’t know whether he ever got the speakers that someone at his address signed for that day.

What I do know is that Reverb affords a lot of protection when selling something online. And, if it is expensive enough, I spend the extra money to get proof of delivery.

You never know when someone might try to take advantage.

Of course, it could all have been just a case of mistaken delivery.

The Secret to Career Success

A bit of an unlikely source for career advice although no question that John Berardi, co-founder of Precision Nutrition, has been exceptionally successful with his chosen path.

If there is a formula for the kind of success most people want, even if they don’t know what that looks like yet, it might be something like this:

Strong personal mission
+
High competency
+
System for execution
=
Personal and career satisfaction

Have a look around.

You’ll find there’s almost nothing more powerful than someone with a deeply held motivation to do their work plus high level of skill plus a blueprint or system for executing every day.

Dirty Money

A friend of mine suggested watching a Netflix series called Dirty Money.

The Atlantic describes the series this way:

Dirty Money, a fascinating and frequently enraging new documentary series on Netflix that tackles capitalism run amok—portraits of people and companies whose greed was so extreme and so untroubled by ethical boundaries that they engaged in truly historic acts of grift. The series explores how HSBC laundered money for drug cartels, how a race car driver was engaged in an illegal payday loan business that involved millions of Americans, and how Volkswagen cheated and lied to consumers globally about how dirty its diesel engines were.

Corporate conduct can be shocking.

And sometimes poor corporate conduct can be held in high esteem.

Consider the World’s Most Admired Companies, a list compiled by Fortune with research from Korn Ferry.

This year, several key traits were cited in the survey. To thrive in this most disruptive of times, surveyed executives said, organizations need to have its people incentivized properly, and a sense of purpose that everyone agrees with. And then there is ability to adapt. What executives at the world’s most admired companies say is most important is the agility to transform itself on an ongoing basis.

Let’s take a look at a few of those most admired companies.

Amazon.

On Monday mornings, fresh recruits line up for an orientation intended to catapult them into Amazon’s singular way of working.

They are told to forget the “poor habits” they learned at previous jobs, one employee recalled. When they “hit the wall” from the unrelenting pace, there is only one solution: “Climb the wall,” others reported. To be the best Amazonians they can be, they should be guided by the leadership principles, 14 rules inscribed on handy laminated cards. When quizzed days later, those with perfect scores earn a virtual award proclaiming, “I’m Peculiar” — the company’s proud phrase for overturning workplace conventions.

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

JP Morgan Chase.

Between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, we’ve heard a lot about the corruption on Wall Street. But if you want to understand exactly what happened and why, read JPMadoff: The Unholy Alliance Between America’s Biggest Bank and America’s Biggest Crook.

Written by trial lawyers Helen Davis Chaitman and Lance Gotthoffer this heavily-researched, meticulously documented book lays out for the world to see the absolute corruption of JPMorgan Chase – America’s biggest bank. And the authors explain how Obama has furthered Wall Street crime by refusing to enforce America’s criminal laws against America’s biggest criminals – not Madoff, but JPMorgan Chase.

Facebook.

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out against the company’s current business practices, arguing that they directly enable electoral interference.

Dipayan Ghosh, once a privacy and public policy advisor for the social network, argues now that disinformation of the sort used to interfere in the US election and the EU referendum is strongly linked to the nature of Facebook as an advertising platform.

“Political disinformation succeeds because it follows the structural logic, benefits from the products and perfects the strategies of the broader digital advertising market,” Ghosh and his co-author Ben Scott wrote in a report, Digital Deceit, published by the New America foundation.

Ghosh left Facebook in 2017, shortly after the US general election raised troubling questions for him about the relationship between the company and disinformation. In the new report, he and Scott argue that attempts to put a lid on the practice with tweaks to the platform are doomed to failure while the basic business model of a social network is advertising-driven, algorithmically-run and attention-focused.

Intel.

Two U.S. lawmakers are calling for an investigation into whether Intel’s chief executive, Brian Krzanich, improperly sold company stock after learning of a serious security flaw in the tech giants’ microchips before it was publicly disclosed.

Intel sent the technology industry scrambling earlier this month when it announced that the microchips powering nearly every computer and smartphone have for years carried fundamental flaws that can be exploited by hackers. The flaws, dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, flow from designs that allowed computers to operate more quickly and efficiently.

“Security is job number one for Intel and our industry,” Krzanich said during the CES tech industry trade show earlier this week.

Now some lawmakers are questioning a large stock sale by the company’s chief executive late last year that was made before the news was made public, sending the company’s stock price down.

“This is exactly the type of report of suspicious trading that the SEC routinely investigates as well as the DOJ,” said Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Future U.S. Equity Returns

Philosophical Economics has this to say about the best-case upper limit for U.S. equity returns in the future:

In what follows, I’m going to explain why I believe long-term future U.S. equity returns are almost guaranteed to fall substantially short of the 7.5% pension fund target. Unlike other naysayers, however, I’m going to be careful not to overstate my case. I’m going to acknowledge the uncertainty inherent in equity return forecasting, and manage that uncertainty by being maximally conservative in my premises, granting every optimistic assumption that a bullish investor could reasonably request. Even if every such assumption is granted, an expected 7.5% return will still be out of reach.

25% of my investment portfolio is in U.S. Equities. And they have done really well for me. Since 2008, the S&P 500 benchmark has delivered a 13.04% rate of return. My overall portfolio for the same duration? 12.34%. I am very happy with the performance even though I forecast much lower rates in my spreadsheets. Probably a good idea to remain conservative in my planning assumptions.

This extended bull run in the markets, since 2008, can create a sense of complacency in terms of future returns. After all, if a benchmark is delivering such an impressive rate of return, why pursue any particular investment style? Buy and hold the S&P 500 index.

My expectation in retirement is that the stocks I hold will produce sufficient dividend income and I won’t be focused on share price appreciation. In other words, I don’t need capital gain in retirement. It’s nice to see the total number grow but it is the passive income that is far more important to me.

Philosophical Economics. Always insightful even if the posts are too infrequent.

Unsolicited Vendor Emails

On my about page, I make the following statement:

The site is not connected with my employment. In fact, I go out of my way to limit any direct references to my career. Absolutely nothing that I have written should be taken as an expression on my employer’s behalf.

The rant that follows is just my rant. And it is all about unsolicited vendor emails and telephone calls.

On a quiet day, I’ll receive 40 or more unsolicited vendor emails — this is apart from the 300-400 emails that usually come in every day. Fewer calls, perhaps only 3 or 4. If I had to read, reflect and thoughtfully respond to each one, I would be spending anywhere between 2-3 hours a day on those emails. Imagine how much time would be taken if I agreed to meet with even half of the vendors that call me to request time on my calendar.

In a word, cold calling has become totally out of control.

I often wonder whether the companies that force people to do the cold calls see any kind of effective response rate. I used to reply personally when the volumes were more like 10 or so a day. When the volumes started to increase, I began to use a canned email response:

Thank you for your note and for your interest in our company.

Due to the very high volume of unsolicited requests for meetings and telephone calls, I can only make time available where we have a specific need or interest.

We do not have a specific need or interest in this area therefore a meeting or call is not required.

Kind regards,
Richard

I even toyed with the idea of automating the canned response by creating a rule or macro to run whenever certain keywords showed up in an email coming from an outside domain. Life, however is too short.

A friend shared me with this top ten things not to do to successfully sell to the CIO.

  • Spell my name right. Did I really need to tell you that? Apparently for many of you I really must.
  • Know what my company does. Please don’t try to sell restaurant point of sale software to me. I am not the CIO for an Iron Chef.
  • Spend 5 minutes to review what you send. Do not just import the address you got from the mailing list directly into mail / email merge program. Letters that are addressed to “Dear Mr. Smith, L J “ really lose that personal connection you are trying so hard to make
  • Don’t request a “read receipt” from me. Instant delete! It is bad enough that the NSA, Facebook and Google are already tracking me.
  • Don’t send me offers for gift cards to meet you. First of all, it is just plain wrong to bribe people into meeting with you. Secondly, it probably violates most company policies, and maybe even some laws, to accept gifts from vendors. Finally, it is really insulting to me that you think I am sorry or desperate enough to forgo my ethics for a Starbucks gift Card.
  • Don’t send your assistant to ask me to a meeting. Any email that starts out “my Director, Mr. X, is in your area on Tuesday April 22 at 9:15 and would like to meet with you” gets deleted. Wait; better yet I’ll have my assistant delete it.
  • Resist the impulse to send an email the instant after you leave a voicemail. If I had the time or inclination to answer the phone, I would have.
  • Learn when to give up. Persistence may be a valuable, but there is a limit. When you receive no reply after say, 3 attempts, don’t continue to fill the inbox (voice and email) with additional messages. It stands to reason that if I am not interested the first 5 times, I am not interested in the 6th.
  • Don’t send me a list of the 10 dates and times that we can meet in the next 2 months. If anything will convince me to meet you it is a reasoned outline of the product you sell and why it benefits my company, not the fact that you happen to be free.
  • Don’t solicit me if my company is already a customer. If we already buy your good or service, we probably won’t buy it twice.

At this point, I have given up responding to unsolicited emails and calls. Most of the unsolicited vendor email is coming into spam anyway which is where the vast majority belong. There are some rare emails that look to be of potential interest. I do give unsolicited emails the benefit of a doubt. I’ll spend maybe 10-seconds on an email to see if it deserves any kind of follow-up.

Most of them are so poorly done, that I can usually delete them within the first 5-seconds.

Work Life Balance

An interesting take on work-life balance:

Consequently, we’ve been conceiving of the topic of work-life balance all wrong. And I’d posit a new way in which to explore the issue by fundamentally redefining the terms. Starting with the end in mind, the goal most of us are striving for is fulfillment and human flourishing—both others’ and ours. This might be something like the old Aristotelian concept of eudaemonia. It is not just a happy or balanced life—though it may be happy—but a good life, one lived for worthy purposes and, in a way, uplifting to others.

John Coleman uses the framework pictured above to describe the various attributes of work and life.

Misery, drudgery and superficiality are hardly the building blocks of a flourishing, fulfilled life. Although I do read about the trends with far more joyless than joyful people in corporate environments. And I am not sure that it all has to do with reframing the narrative with the individual employee. Consider the recent New York Times article on Amazon:

At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas in meetings, toil long and late (emails arrive past midnight, followed by text messages asking why they were not answered), and held to standards that the company boasts are “unreasonably high.” The internal phone directory instructs colleagues on how to send secret feedback to one another’s bosses. Employees say it is frequently used to sabotage others. (The tool offers sample texts, including this: “I felt concerned about his inflexibility and openly complaining about minor tasks.”)

… Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.

Seems as though some corporate leaders are just fine with a harsher and less forgiving “modern” office. I think it would be hard for any person to flourish in those types of environments and I wouldn’t willingly choose to serve in such an environment.

Life is too short to be spending most of the day in misery, drudgery and superficiality.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is about sweeping change. It changes everything about how products are designed, manufactured, sold, delivered, and serviced—and it forces CEOs to rethink how companies execute, with new business processes, management practices, and information systems, as well as everything about the nature of customer relationships. I’m seeing leaders who get this. They’re all over it: they want to launch five transformation initiatives right now; they’re talking to me and every digital leader they know about where the technology threats are coming from; and they’re hiring the best people to advise them. Yet I’m shocked by—even fearful for—the many CEOs I know who seem to be asleep at the switch. They just don’t see the massive disruption headed their way from digital threats, seen or unseen, and they don’t seem to understand it will happen very quickly.

McKinsey will often post thoughtful articles on leadership and change. This one, on digital transformation, makes the case that the CEO has to take on the dynamics of technology leadership.

From the World Economic Forum:

When assessing the implications, consider the fact that that new digital business models are the principal reason why just over half of the names of companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000. And yet, we are only at the beginning of what the World Economic Forum calls the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” characterized not only by mass adoption of digital technologies but by innovations in everything from energy to biosciences.

Looks as though many CEOs are literally making life or death decisions for the longer term health of the companies they lead.

The odds are roughly 50/50.

Guitar Center Is Going Down

Not only is Guitar Center the world’s largest musical instrument retailer with roughly 270 locations across the United States, it also holds an impressive amount of debt.

From Moody’s latest report on Guitar Center:

Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) today downgraded Guitar Center Inc.’s (GCI) ratings. The downgrade and negative outlook reflect Moody’s continued concern regarding GCI’s significant and relatively near-term debt maturities. Excluding the company’s $375 million asset-backed loan facility, approximately 65% of the company’s long-term debt matures in April 2019.

GCI’s Corporate Family Rating was downgraded to Caa1 from B3, and its Probability of Default Rating was downgraded to Caa1-PD from B3-PD. At the same time, GCI’s senior secured first lien notes were downgraded to Caa1 from B3 while its unsecured notes were downgraded to Caa3 from Caa2. The rating outlook is negative. This concludes the review for downgrade that was initiated on Sep. 28, 2017.

“The downgrade considers that despite Moody’s expectation that GCI will generate relatively stable earnings and positive free cash flow, a significant majority of the company’s debt matures in less than 18 months,” stated Keith Foley, a Senior Vice President at Moody’s. “GCI’s cash flow on its own will not be enough to materially reduce debt and improve leverage within the time frame the company has to address its debt maturities,” added Foley.

The Caa ratings reflect very high credit risk and are the highest risk junk bonds you can acquire. With a negative outlook, Moody’s expect the company is nearing default.

The following was from a filing dating back to December of 2012. Looks as though the management of Guitar Center has had a bit of an addiction for debt over a long period of time.

Risks Related to Our Indebtedness

Our level of indebtedness could adversely affect our ability to raise additional capital to fund our operations, limit our ability to react to changes in the economy or our industry and prevent us from meeting our obligations under our debt agreements.

We are highly leveraged. As of December 31, 2012, Holdings’ total consolidated indebtedness was $1.581 billion, which includes Guitar Center’s debt of $1.017 billion. This level of indebtedness could have important consequences to our business, including the following:

· it will limit our ability to borrow money or sell stock to fund our working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions and debt service requirements and other financing needs;

· our interest expense would increase if interest rates in general increase because a substantial portion of our indebtedness, including all of our indebtedness under our senior secured credit facilities, bears interest at floating rates;

· it may limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and future business opportunities;

· we are more highly leveraged than some of our competitors, which may place us at a competitive disadvantage;

· it may make us more vulnerable to a downturn in our business, our industry or the economy in general;

· a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations will be dedicated to the repayment of our and Holdings’ indebtedness, including indebtedness we may incur in the future, and will not be available for other purposes; and

· there would be a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition if we were unable to service our (or Holdings’) indebtedness or obtain additional financing as needed.

When all of their debt matures in Aprils of 2019, Guitar Center might have to go Chapter 11. Difficult times for retailers generally. Especially difficult times for retailers with such high leverage.