"When in doubt, do the obvious,” said my first mentor in business, Franklin Watts.
In 1993, my wife, Peggy, and I bought a Center City Philadelphia fixer-upper row house, which we gutted and turned into our dream pad. However, a number of the designer light fixtures were esoteric—not the kind stocked at the A&P or even The Home Depot.
One day, a bright fluorescent overhead bulb in the kitchen started blinking angrily, and I spent a Saturday driving to lighting stores all over Philly and South Jersey with no luck.
Somehow I found a lighting guy in Ohio and faxed him a picture of the sleeve that the bulb came in and an order for six of them. He phoned to say he could supply that bulb model from a different manufacturer. I gave him a credit card number over the phone, and the bulbs arrived a few days later.
I had a satisfactory fax-’n’-call relationship with the guy for years. But last month the same pesky light in the kitchen blew out. I operate a QWERTY keyboard at 70 words per minute and do not like talking on the phone or bothering with the glacially slow fax machine. So I went on this guy’s Web site and was given two ordering options: (1) call the 800-number; or (2) fill out a lighting support form.
“To correctly identify you (sic) lamp we will need as much of the following information as possible.”
The form had 13 separate pieces of information to fill in: wattage, voltage, base style, lumen or candle power, glass shape, glass color, etc.
Come on, guy. All I wanted to do was type in the bulb number, get a price and give him a credit card number.
“Make it easy to order,” said one of my first mentors in business, Elsworth Howell, founder of Grolier Enterprises and Howell Book House. That five-word dictum has been etched in my memory since 1963, along with many hundreds of others.