Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tax increase marketing lessons

The City of Fountain’s recent sales tax increase of .75% to pay for certain infrastructure projects, took a lot of people by surprise when it passed. After all, we’re in the midst of a major recession and tax increase proposals generally don’t sell well around here. So how were proponents able to eek out a victory on this one?

I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that Easy Street Designs, the publishers of this paper, did the printing for Moving Fountain Forward, the group that was advocating for the tax increase. However, we were neither advocates for or opponents of the measure.

I believe this was a case where proponents put together an effective marketing strategy early, and opponents simply didn’t believe citizens would vote in favor of a tax increase. First, proponents put together the organization; Moving Fountain Forward. They hired a PR firm; Gain-Stovall. Mayor Jeri Howells submitted an article, which we published, several months ago supporting the measure. A public hearing was held. Signs were posted at intersections and railroad crossings (items on the wish list) and flyers were passed out door to door.

I think more importantly, the campaign didn’t contain the threatening tone of similar proposals by municipalities such as Colorado Springs. There was no implication that police or fire or other public safety spending would be cut if the tax increase did not pass. There was a “wish-list” of intersection and street improvements that the tax increase was specifically requested for. It gave the impression that you were getting something for your extra money, rather than threatening to give you less if you didn’t pay up.

There was also a total lack of organized resistance. Again, I believe opponents just took for granted that most people would vote no. Then Fountain Valley Chamber of Commerce president, Scott Turner, did submit an article, which we published, which didn’t take sides on the issue, but did point out to local business people that this was an issue that will directly effect them and their customers and something they should be aware of and be involved in. We did not receive any submissions opposing the measure.

Some have questioned the fact that TV reports showed the measure failing by 7 votes initially, showing 100% of precincts reporting, but when the final tally was reported the next morning, it had passed. Liz Olson of El Paso County explained that the results reported at closing included all ballots which had been counted by 5pm. Results were updated again at 9:30pm and again at 3:10 am. When the additional 488 mail-in ballots and 9 in-person ballots were added, the measure had passed. Any ballots received within 8 days after the election which were post marked by election day and received no later than 8 days after the election from uniformed services electors serving overseas were also counted. Results were not official until cerified by the canvassing board, in this case, on Monday, 11/16. For more details on the election results, see

Lessons learned? If you’re a ballot initiative proponent, a positive message is more effective than threats. If you’re an opponent, take nothing for granted.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sometimes, the economy isn't the problem

I recently had the opportunity to patronize not one, but two local computer stores. Both owners mentioned to me that times were tough, business was slow and they hoped things would pick up very soon. If my experience with them was typical, they'd be in trouble in any economy.

All I wanted to do is bump up the RAM in my old PC. I could have just bought the chips online, but I wanted to do my little bit to support local businesses. I started with the closest one, about 5 miles away and an occasional customer of mine. I went to his shop, picked up a couple of 1 gig sticks that he assured me would work fine. They didn't. I went back, got some different ones. They didn't work either. Finally I brought the computer in. He decided that it was a speed issue and he ordered some different ones for me. When I got back to my shop I started thinking that I'd already wasted a lot of time on what was supposed to be a 20 minute errand. I called the computer store again and asked him if he needed the complete model number of my motherboard so he could ensure he was getting compatible RAM. "Oh no," he said "I know these ones will be fine." Five days later, the RAM arrived. It didn't work. Finally, I did some research on my own (it took all of about 5 minutes on the web) and discovered that this particular motherboard required single sided RAM and all the ones he had ordered were double sided. Not only did he not have a supplier for the RAM I needed he informed me that there would be a 15% "restocking fee" for the RAM HE HAD INCORRECTLY ORDERED!

I probably sent this genius 6 or 7 customers over the previous 12 months. Rather than make a great big deal over the $12 he wanted to steal from me, I simply told him how I felt about it and that he should make good use of it, because he'll never see me or anyone I can stop from going there again.

Okay, it wasn't an emergency upgrade, so it was a couple of weeks before I called another computer store. I had been introduced to the owner of that store when they first opened. He too was now worried about being able to keep his doors open. I told him I had a small order, but I guess it's better than nothing. This time I handed him a paper with the complete motherboard specs and told him to make absolutely sure that the RAM they got was compatible with it. After not hearing from them for several days, I called to check on my RAM order. The associate who answered was pleased to inform me that they had the RAM in stock. I told him about my previous experience and again asked if he was sure this was the right RAM. "Oh yes" he said "But bring your computer in and, if it's not, you wont have to pay a restocking fee." I pressed him on the issue again, because the time it would take to disconnect my PC and make the 15 mile round trip, through heavy traffic, was not insignificant to me. He was certain he had the right product. Just to be sure, I again got on the web and looked up the specs. This time I found what I was looking for in two minutes. I called the shop back and asked him if the RAM he was ready to have me drive up and install was one sided or two sided. "Two-sided" he said.

I'm pretty sure a computer repair shop has internet access. Further, the "experts" there should already know where to get the information they need to ensure compatibility. Yet, in their mind, it was better to waste an hour of my time, as well as a gallon of gas, than to spend a minute or so of their own time looking up the information they needed to ensure they were selling me the right product.

Ultimately, I ordered my RAM online...again. It was cheaper, it works, and in purchasing it elsewhere, I'm not supporting bad business practices in the local market.