Few Opposing Voices

A few times each week, as I’m waiting to turn on to Fordham Boulevard, a giant truck races by. On it’s side, it says Walmart along with it’s yellow stick-drawn sun logo. I don’t think I need to channel Nancy Drew to figure out the truck is heading to or from the new store just over the Orange County line in Chatham.

That truck is not the only vehicle arriving at that store from Chapel Hill. The other vehicles are likely leaving with goods, not delivering them. The drivers of the other vehicles are leaving something behind, though: sales tax dollars that will help Chatham County pay for needed services.

I may not be the only one to have noticed this south-bound traffic. It may have even changed a few minds about the possibility of hosting a competitor. Public Policy Polling Director Tom Jensen recently told Chapelboro.com “There’s always been a lot of controversy over whether Chapel Hill would be open to a big box store, and what we found in this poll is that 56 percent of voters in town would like to have a Target in Southern Orange County,” says Jensen. “Only 15 percent are opposed to that idea.”

The interesting number to me in that poll is the 15% opposed. That’s a very low number against something that’s long been thought taboo in this town.

Did it never really have strong opposition or did the combined economic realities of property taxes and town services change minds? Or did the many shoppers heading to the new store (and those who routinely run to Durham’s New Hope Commons) realize all they were leaving in their own county was car fumes?

I tend to be skeptical of polls in general because of the joy I found in trying to confound all the pre-election pollsters who called my home last year. But our own Public Policy Polling has an awfully good reputation so even if the numbers are off, I think we can safely say big box retail in Chapel Hill does not have majority opposition. 

That surprised me and I bet it surprises current town council members and the ten candidates (including two incumbents) competing for four seats in the next election.

We’ll see long after November’s vote if the council is heeding the majority.


Directions at the Intersection of Change

Monday night was the chance to glimpse the future that may guide the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard and properties along it.  The Town of Chapel Hill released the draft of the new zoning code being proposed for that area.

I sort of explained this in June (to the best of my ability) along with my critique of the less-than-inviting current state of the area.

The pretty drawings you’ll find with the draft code depict new side streets and wide sidewalks that beg for strolling or sitting at a cafe.  Those drawings are a far cry from the wide cracked asphalt in the vista that’s today’s reality.

I live in an adjacent neighborhood and I relish the idea that I could one day enjoy my part of town without being surrounded by sad, somewhat dilapidated suburban sprawl.

The draft code wouldn’t force any existing buildings to change, as I understand it but, over time, as new tenants or refurbishment arrived, this new code would require changes and regulate elements including building heights, windows, setbacks, signs and even lighting. As shown in the draft code, the proposed regulations will make a welcoming difference. The changes would occur piecemeal but the overall look of the area would be already decided, thereby eventually giving a unified look to the area.

What’s different about this proposal from others that have gone before is that this code offers specific zoning regulations for the area before anyone applies to change anything.  This allows property owners to know what’s required before the 11th hour and to plan and budget accordingly.  Some uses would still require special permits, such as gas stations, but most commercial and residential requirements are spelled out for this area before anyone even asks.  This would allow town staff to approve or deny permits based on clearly written rules.  We have some smart folks in the planning department; I feel sure we can count on them to implement this code.  They will probably use a lot less of their (our!) time when the rules are clear and set out, rather than arbitrarily argued as happens now throughout town.

I’ve been following this process and discussion since a small area plan was developed a few years back.  Monday’s presentation included a small surprise, however, with a new section included, off Legion Road, north of Europa Drive of town-owned land potentially available for affordable and/or workforce housing.  The land is currently an unused portion of Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery.  That would be a fortunate by-product of this code change for many, many families and to maintain the diversity of our town.

If adopted, this code will turn the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard into a test case for how this sort of pre-set zoning rules affects an area.  What a perfect test case!  It’s ugly, busy, already commercial and sports no special character. Hey Chapel Hill, the University shouldn’t have a monopoly on innovation!


How to Photograph Tweens

A tween is the stage between middle childhood and adolescence, so from roughly 9 to 12 years of age.  This can be an awkward stage as tweens bodies and minds are changing rapidly in fits and starts. They are not little children and are not yet teenagers. They are busy transitioning in mental, emotional, hormonal and physical ways. My own daughter, Amira, is at this stage. Sometimes she is still my little girl and other times she epitomizes sassiness. I joke that if she continues to roll her eyes at me they might just get stuck that way!

Recently I was asked to photograph a tween named Josh Leffler, who is beginning middle school next year. His parents, Donnabeth and Barry, realized that they had many portraits taken of Josh when he was younger but had slacked off in recent years. Many families fall into this trap! They record every moment of their child’s early years and then don’t photograph them again until they are about to graduate from high school. What about all of those years in between? So, I thought I would write some helpful hints on how to photograph tweens.

Collaborate with the Tween

Before I even came to photograph Josh I asked his mom to consult him about what he wanted to do for his portrait.  I made it clear that this would be best if we all collaborated. He decided that he would like to have his everyday home life and hobbies documented. Even at his young age he realized that this would be an important document that he would look back on as an adult. Before we even began photographing, Josh led me on a tour of his domain. His mom stayed busy at the computer, leaving us alone to talk. The most important work of this portrait involved talking and getting to know Josh, rather than immediately diving into photographing him and ordering him around.  Josh came up with the idea for the photo above. Love it!

Speak to the Tween like They are an Adult

If you have ever met Josh Leffler, you might think he is an adult in a boy’s body. So intelligent and charming! Tweens respond well to adults who speak to them with respect rather than talking down to them. This was not hard to do with Josh as he is so well spoken. We talked about photography, computers and literature. He admires Steve Jobs and loves to read. He even has started an information technology from his Mac. The photos above are an homage to his idol.

Try to Avoid Posing

Even when I was going in for a more traditional portrait I lightly directed Josh to move around. He and I chose a spot with pretty scenery and nice light and I asked him to turn to the side then look at me. Once they stop moving that first frame you quickly snap is crucial! After they are posing for just a second they start to look staged and stiff. I wanted to capture him like he really is, not with a canned smile. So I had him keep moving around. I told him I was trying to figure out which was his best side.

Don’t Forget Mom and Dad

While your tween is busy changing, you are, too. When your child has grown to be an adult they will want to see their loving parents in photographs as well. Don’t worry if it is a bad hair day or if you don’t feel like it, just jump in there. Both Donnabeth and Barry were more than happy to get in a photo with Josh. No arm twisting here. This whole process took less than an hour. A tween’s attention span is longer than a toddler’s but don’t push it! Now get out there and document your lovely tween before you blink your eyes and they are off to college.

Thanks for reading! I am always looking for great photo stories to tell in the Chapelboro area. If you know of someone or something that should be documented please write to me at kophoto@chapelboro.com.


A Business Owner's Return to his Roots

As your Savvy Spender, I plan to report on new businesses sprouting up in our midst and also those that close.  There’s another category of interest also: when an established business changes hands.

I recently sat down to chat with the new owner of one such business.  Though he’s new neither to Chapel Hill nor to the type of business he now owns.    

Kevin McManus is a Chapel Hill native who recently purchased the women’s health club in Ram’s Plaza.  Previously known as Ladies Fitness & Wellness; he has renamed it Women’s Only Workout.  As Kevin admits, this allowed him to use the acronym WOW.

Kevin grew up in Chapel Hill and returned a few years ago to help his ailing mother.  He had owned a women’s gym in Durham years before but had left that business and moved away, saying he’d “never again” own his own business. 

Well, apparently you can go home again because McManus has not only returned to his hometown, but also returned to being a small business owner.  His personal reasons explain the former so I asked him to explain the rest.    He had been working for a multi-state health club company and found he learned a lot about his (in)tolerance of the politics of a big company and that he can “work better for myself than I do for other people”.

Kevin had been back in town a few years, working in Raleigh when he heard the gym in Ram’s Plaza was for sale.  It seemed like a good fit: his hometown, his industry, a niche (women only) that he’d run before.  And so, here he is, back with more experience, more knowledge but facing the new challenge of our soft economy. 

He says he feels somewhat insulated because of the relative health of Chapel Hill’s economy, the fact that the club has been in the same location for 25 years, his experience in clubs both big and small, his gender-based niche. 

Beyond these strong starting points, Kevin has more plans, some already in place:

  • Increasing marketing of various types (including a booth at Hog Day)
  • Engaging new members by offering them a menu of complimentary “tastes” of all the clubs services
  • Adding a small day spa and carrying an exclusive skin care product line
  • Carving out an area specifically for Pilates equipment
  • Launching a dietician-backed weight loss clinic
  • Offering focused programs including a boot camp and martial arts
  • Increasing personal training options and availability

My time with Kevin showed him to be particularly proud of the hiring he’s done, bringing back some favorites from his Durham days and one new hire in particular: 5th degree black belt and former Hollywood stuntwoman Courtney Faison.  Courtney will build the martial arts program and offer personal training.  I talked with her a bit also and she’s awfully pleasant… but I bet she could make even me do an extra hundred sit-ups!  She has hometown ties also, as the daughter of NC State Legislator Bill Faison.

One big change possibly coming for WOW is the much-discussed redevelopment plan that would include Ram’s Plaza and Eastgate shopping centers.  As that moves forward, morphs or fades, I’ll check back with Kevin and his neighboring business owners in a future column.

I wrote about the Buy Local campaign last week and this profile is part of we savvy spenders knowing from whom we are buying.   Nice to meet you, Kevin, and welcome home!

Business owners please email me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com if you have any news to announce.  Customers, if you’ve noticed an opening or closing and haven’t yet seen it here, please send it along.  On that note, does anyone know if the delicious Chocolaterie Stam is gone for good?  


The Heaven & Hell of Making Things Right

There’s been a bit of buzz about Making Things Right at UNC.

Several people wrote to say thanks for the memories.  Some thought it was a bunch of froof and fluff.  I mean after all – what was the big deal about being left out of the program and not getting a diploma on graduation day?!!!  

Others   passed the story to colleagues as a reminder of the importance of paying attention to mistakes from  the customer’s point of view and then responding in a way that shows  undeniable concern and respect  – leaving the customer absolutely delighted.

It even served to launch a story telling session during  at least one Customer Service meeting, one dinner table  and  one cocktail party.   From what I’ve heard, not all the stories had endings that were made in heaven.  In fact some of them were downright hellaceous – with UNC or its counterpart working hard to make themselves right instead of working hard to make things right with and for the customer.

One such story was told by Donnabeth Leffler  at the aforementioned cocktail party.  In her Savvy Spender column last week, she shared an updated version of her encounter with a business owner turned screamer.  I have a feeling we haven’t heard the final scream.

The hellacious highlight of another story telling session came to me by way of  Jim Heavner.  This one shows  where  working hard to be right can lead.  

It’s the story about Mike Carroll, a musician who flew on United Airlines and checked his guitar as baggage because it was too big to qualify as a carryon.  From inside the airplane, he actually saw his guitar being thrown around by the bag staff.  The guitar ended up with a broken neck which  cost $1700 to repair.  Carroll’s initial claim was denied because he didn’t file within the required 24 hour timeframe.  He filed an appeal and after getting the run-around for nine months,   got word that he would get no money for  guitar repair.  But he did get  statistics about the number of bags lost or damaged each year and was assured that it was an insignificant number.

Remember  those old numbers about how a dissatisfied customer will complain to five to ten of their friends?   How many zeros  does social media add to that?

In this case,  hellaceous treatment sparked Carroll’s creativity which spawned a song and video entitled  “United Breaks Guitars”. On launch day, this video was viewed 150,000 times.  At the time of this writing, that number is up to 10,420,396.    


Meanwhile, Carroll has written and produced two follow up videos on the subject.  And at concerts he introduces himself as “an insignificant statistic”.

United had hell to pay for working to make themselves right instead of working to make things right for their customer.

Slowly but surely the heat must have gotten to them because Carroll finally became significant.  United’s director of customer service called to apologize for the mistake;  and explaining that they hoped to make changes as a result of the incident, asked if they could use his video internally for training purposes.    Better late than never. 

Thanks to social media, every other business can use the video as a training tool too.  Nothing even  has to be written or designed.  Everything needed is right here.  Just share the story about UNC with your team.  Share Donnabeth’s story.  Show the video below..  Share your thoughts.  Ask for theirs.   Invite them to share stories of their own.     Re-visit the topic any chance you get.

The reason for doing this is not to keep a video from being produced about your business; but to help everyone in your business understand the distinction between making themselves or your business right and making things right from the customer’s point of view; and  understanding the importance of choosing the latter.  If that is done consistently,  any video featuring your business will most likely be one you hope will be viewed at least 10 million times.

Perhaps the business Donnabeth was talking about will go through this exercise and we’ll soon hear about a less hellaceous or maybe even a heavenly ending to her story.   If not – perhaps she will write a song, produce a video and let me be a back up dancer.   

If that happens, I feel safe in saying that it will be seen first right here at Chapelboro.com.

What about you?  Got any heavenly or hellaceous stories about making things right?

I’d love to hear them.

Share them below or send them to Jan@Chapelboro.com

copyright 2011 – Business Class Inc