Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chapter 11: Prince George: The Ghetto of Canada

The drive to Prince George was pretty uneventful. It was very pretty, since we were driving through B.C., but nothing amazing happened. Except that we stopped at a gas station that was advertising "fresh" fruit and I thought that was funny. Oh and there a bee flew in our car and I was scared it would sting Rachel and she would die. Such are the fears of a new mother.

We got to Prince George and found the fanciest hotel there was. We tried to stay in Best Westerns everywhere we went, because the one in Bonnyville was so fantastic. So we pulled in to the Prince George Best Western and let me tell you, it was definitely NOT the Best western. But it was alright.

I had been calling customers trying to set up appointments while we were still in Kelowna, but there were still a few I hadn't gotten a hold of. Oh wait, I need to back up.

When we were still living in Calgary before the whole camping thing, Burt went to Europe for a few weeks. He hired out Jay to be his replacement while he was gone, so Jay was with the Vancouver/Kelowna office. This office ended up moving again, this time to Prince George. They went there because Graham had heard that Gabe was planning to go there next. Which makes sense, because Prince George is closer to Grande Prairie than it is to Kelowna. But I digress. So. The office ended up moving to Prince George the week Jay was there. There was an unfortunate misunderstanding between a rep, a tech, and a customer in their short stint in the city. Here's what happened. A tech was installing a system that one of Graham's guys sold (please see description below of how pushy these reps are). The tech was trying his hardest to get everything to work, but sometimes you just run into sticky problems that don't seem to have a solution. He had called Jay a number of times trying to get help with it, but Jay was unavailable and eventually the tech just gave up. He told the customer he would be back in the morning to get everything figured out. This doesn't happen 100% of the time, but frequently it gets so late that the tech just schedules a time to come back and finish the system another day. It's not unheard of, is what I'm trying to get at. Aaaaanyway the customer freaked out. She called the police and told them a bogus security company had come into her home, disabled her alarm, and left, and now she was scared they would come in the middle of the night to take all her stuff. Here is the news article that was run following this event:

Security Scam Underway in P.G.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 15:06
RCMP are looking for a pair of men behind a scam that's being run in the city. Police says the two pose as officials with a security company by the name of Vigilon. They're telling elderly residents in the Central Fort George area that their current security provider is going bankrupt and are offering to provide security at a cheaper rate. Once they're in the house, they claim to install a new security panel. However they're only cutting the old lines. They're also asking for void cheques. If you spot the men, you should call police immediately. The first man is described as Caucasian with brown hair and freckles while the second man is darker skinned and could be Asian. They're driving a convertible with Alberta license plates.

Two things. First, RCMP is the mounted police, aka Mounties. The guys who ride around on horses. How cool is that? Second, Vigilon is the name of Graham's branch of Pinnacle. If I haven't mentioned before, Pinnacle gave Graham everything. He came from Apex and didn't want his guys being demotivated that they were now working for their former competition, so Pinnacle gave him one of their old names. Vigilon is from about 8 years ago.

Alright so how cool is that? They ended up selling in Prince George for less than 3 days before they had to move out because of this police issue. Apparently there are a couple other security companies up there who didn't like their business being stolen, and they went around setting up our customers of 2 days with their business instead. One was Chubb, the other was A-Tech. I don't remember exactly what happened, but I think the Chubb guy was really rude about it and spread a lot of nasty stories about us. Bottom line, the entire city hated anyone associated with Vigilon. On his way out of town, Jay drove around trying to fix some things that had been left unfinished or broken while the techs were there. The customers weren't to happy to let him in, since he drove a convertible hahahahaha. He was, needless to say, quite happy to move on to greener pastures after that.

The office moved to Hinton, where Graham had them camping. This is his 3rd camping office. Jay would have none of it. For those of you who don't know, Jay is allergic to cold. And we were in Canada, so that just wasn't going to happen. Josh, the idiot regional tech, made sure Jay had a hotel room, which was more than he did for the guys in Calgary. I feel like I'm leaving out a lot of the emotional issues that came from Graham's camping decision. Richard was on the phone with Josh or someone at corporate nearly every day after Graham "fired" him, trying to make sure his techs were taken care of. At one point he offered his entire backend check to go towards getting the techs hotel rooms. One of his techs was ready to pack up and go home because he just couldn't handle the stress and yuckiness of living in a campsite while doing a heavily labor-intensive job such as this, so Josh had gotten him a hotel room for a couple nights. Josh told Richard he could get one room and the guys could share it for the week: half could sleep on the beds and the other half on the floor, and anyone who wanted to could come in and use the shower. Um, WHAT??? That's the best he could do. Richard was disgusted. Eventually Josh just told Richard he needed to stay out of it, which is when Richard pulled all the family he could grab and we all went to Gabe's office, where EVERYONE gets a hotel room, because that's the HUMANE way to treat your employees. Sheesh.

Ok so back to Prince George and our current predicament.

Like I said, I'd been trying to get a hold of some more customers to have Richard come pull their systems. I don't think there were more than a handful of people in Prince George who kept the system Graham's guys sold them, so we had A LOT to pull. One person I called told me that their new company had taken our equipment back to their warehouse, and if we wanted it we needed to go pick it up there. Well that's a HUGE industry no-no that Pinnacle's been sued for before, but that's water under the bridge. It was really easy to call A-Tech and get their address and find out which systems were there that we needed to pick up, so we didn't make a big fuss about it. Richard went over and got the five I sent him for, and also got 9 others they had that we didn't know about! Talk about an extra $200 for the day, that was a nice surprise.

Turns out that was the only nice part of the day. I had made Richard an appointment with one lady who specifically requested he call her when he was on his way over. I always tried to make sure Richard called the people who requested it, because I've been a customer service person longer than I've been a tech, but he never does :D So he showed up and this lady didn't want to let him in her house because he hadn't called on his way. She told him to wait outside for a few minutes, and she went in and called the cops. That's why she had wanted him to call first, so she could have the cops there waiting to arrest him for trying to steal her alarm system and rape her children and whatnot. She was probably hoping to nail him on immigration issues as well, since we'd had several deportations since many of the reps and techs crossed the border illegally. Luckily Richard is Canadian. Not only is he Canadian, but he was born an hour away from Prince George. So they let him off pretty easily. The lady was retarded.

I may have to edit that story later, because I feel like I'm missing some really good details.

Anyway Richard came home in a really bad mood. He had completed 19 service calls in one day, which I think was a company high, but he was sick of this town. Everyone hated him, everyone wanted to call the cops, everyone had a problem with his Utah license plates. It just sucked. Later in the day, or maybe the next day, the cops were waiting at another of his appointments with an immigration official. He was just sick of it.

At the end of our appointments in Prince George we had a decision to make. We could now go back to Calgary, or we could go on to complete a very large loop around Alberta and hit as many cities as we could, picking up equipment on the way. We checked one more time to see how the Calgary office was doing; see if they'd started working or not. Danny had decided to go install in a different office because there was a lot of work in Saskatoon, so they had already packed up and gone. Jay was getting ready to head back to Utah anyway, so he was okay just chillin' and eating all our food we had bought the day before we decided to go to Kelowna. Tons of fresh veggies, I was so mad we had to leave it all. So The work had not picked up. We decided to go ahead and make the loop. This would be so exciting! We planned to hit about 20 cities in the next two weeks. This did present a problem, however. The car was so full it wouldn't even fit Rachel and me. We found a UPS store, and Richard spent the morning before we checked out carefully packing everything in the car so we could all fit until we got there. We shipped everything off, stopped by a few more service calls, and headed for Vanderhoof. Well, actually, we stopped and did some shopping first. Richard bought me some books :D

Vanderhoof, remember, is the city where Richard was born. It's tiny, and everyone is Mormon. Vanderhoof is the geographical center of B.C., which means it's waaaay north lol. We drove to his Aunt Lily's house on Saturday, which was quite handy since they were having a family reunion that weekend. All of Richard's cousins were there, and many of them had babies. It was fun to meet everyone, but also kind of awkward that we were interrupting their reunion. No one seemed to mind, though. We stayed at a sort of aunt-in-law's house, and it was fabulous. It's a beautiful log cabin, and they'd used the upstairs loft area as a guest room/office area. There was a log bed, beautiful furniture, and even a crib for Rachel to sleep in. In the morning she made us tons of pancakes and eggs and bacon. We'd had to borrow Sunday clothes from some of Richard's cousins, since we'd been planning to be back by Sunday so we didn't bring any. The skirt I borrowed was a little shorter than I'm used to. But church was nice. I spent most of the time in the mother's lounge with all Richard's cousins who have babies haha. We left shortly after church, needing to get on the road towards our next destination: Dawson Creek. Ezra, Richard's cousin, informed us we'd have to pass through a "town" called Windy Point. We HAD to stop there and get a Wimpy Burger. Which we did...Windy Point is one building that acts as a gift shop, gas station, and diner. Richard got the Wimpy Burger, which was bigger than his head, and I had a $7 caeser salad with shrimp on it that would have fed my entire family. And then it was on to Dawson Creek. I was so happy for the books we'd bought...Rachel fell asleep while I read aloud to Richard, and Richard actually finished reading the book (Eggs, by Jerry Spinelli) before I did. I've converted him!

To be Dawson Creek.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chapter 10: Calgary and the Next Stage - Kelowna

Ah...Calgary. How we missed you.

The reps took about a week to settle in before they were going to start selling hard again. Then they took another week to settle in some more. We were having fun playing together and having some time to relax in an apartment instead of a hotel, but we still needed to work. So Richard made a decision. We had been watching the service report pretty closely, wondering if corporate was ever going to send someone to clean up the messes Graham was leaving behind. I should probably explain.

Graham's reps are probably some of the dirtiest around. Here is how a normal sales pitch usually goes:

Rep talks to customer about "advertising" for Pinnacle by putting a sign in their yard and paying monthly monitoring for a "free" system.
During the talk, rep checks customer's credit to see if they "qualify" for a "free" system.
Customer completes welcome call with corporate, and fully understands what they're getting themselves into.
Tech shows up and installs system. Customer completes QA call just to make sure one more time that they know what they signed up for.

Here's how Graham's operation works:

Rep talks to customer about getting a "free" security system with Vigilon. He asks for some information, and calls to see if the customer "qualifies" without telling the customer that's what he's doing.
Rep somehow gets the customer to go through the welcome call, or he does the welcome call for the customer.
Rep calls for the tech using words like "Hey Jill, can I give you an address?", playing that call off as part of the qualification process. The customer has no idea a tech is on the way.
Tech shows up (within 20 minutes or Graham throws a fit) and starts installing system. Rep stays and chills with the customer and keeps them calm and makes sure they're somewhat okay with what's going on.
Customer completes QA call, coached by the rep.

Most of Graham's reps offer not a 3 day, not a 10 day, but a 30 day trial period. Whatever they scribble onto the contract stands at corporate, so that's what they get. After 30 days most of these customers realize what's going on, now that money has started coming out of their accounts that they didn't think was going to happen, and they cancel.

When a customer cancels, the lead tech is supposed to go out and pick up the system. That's most of the service work Richard was doing in Calgary. I would make his appointments so he would have 2 or 3 days a week pretty much booked with pulls and other fixes. I would then box up all the pulled equipment to be reused. Let me tell you, there were A LOT of pulls in Calgary.

Since Graham had decided to waltz all over Canada and never go back to the cities he'd sold in, there was a problem with getting the old equipment. The Vancouver office was now in Manitoba somewhere, and they had hit up about 6 cities on the way there that none of the other offices were within 20 hours of. So Richard was watching the numbers in one of their cities, Kelowna, and wondering if maybe we should take a road trip out there to pick up a bunch of systems and then come back. He would make $40 for every one he pulled, and he might be able to get paid for gas. We eventually decided it would be a fun roadtrip either way, since we could be in the same car for once, so we packed up and left.

I spent the week prior to our leaving calling all the pulls in Kelowna and the two surrounding cities, Vernon and Penticton, to see what kind of a schedule I could make for Richard. I ended up being able to schedule just about every pull, so we were excited. We left on a Sunday afternoon. It was about a 7 hour drive to Kelowna, which was hard for Rachel, but since there were two of us in the car it was a little easier since one of us could be back there playing with her. We had to pack extremely light, since the car needed to be able to hold all the pulled equipment. We brought one suitcase, one diaper bag, and ourselves. No church clothes, since we were planning to be back the following Sunday.

The drive was really fun. We got to drive through Jasper again, and we got some better pictures this time. Kelowna is a pretty town, but I didn't end up seeing it until a few days after we got there. We stopped in Vernon, which is 30 mins north, since all the hotels were full for the holidays. They have a huge holiday every month in Canada, just an extra long weekend for everyone, and I think there was something big going on in Kelowna for it. Anyway all the hotels were full so we stayed at a Super 8 in Vernon. It was one of the crappiest hotels I'd seen, but it wasn't terribly expensive. All three of us slept in the same bed, and that was not comfortable. But Rachel got to try bananas for the first time, and she sure liked that.

Richard spent the next day doing all the work down in Kelowna, then came and packed us up to move down there for the next night. The following day was scheduled for Penticton and Vernon, so we kind of did things backwards. But it all worked out. We got to eat at some nice restaurants (the hotels gave us coupons) and I had fun being a mommy in a hotel room again :D The second hotel we stayed at was actually run by one of the customers Richard did service for the night before. He brought us a playpen for Rachel, so we didn't all have to share a bed, which was really nice. We also bought a backpack carrier for Rachel so I could take her on walks a little easier.

As we did work in Kelowna, we kept in touch with everyone back in Calgary and found out that the reps were still not selling well. They had sold about 5 since we'd been in Calgary, which is nothing near what we needed for our 6 or so techs. So. We decided to keep going on our little trek. I started making calls up in Prince George, about 8 hours north, and got a few days' worth of appointments lined up for Richard there. This would be fun, because Prince George is an hour away from where Richard was born, and we would be able to go visit his cousins who still lived there.

So off we went :D

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chapter 9: Jasper, B.C.

I feel the need to give a little geography lesson before explaining this trip much further. For those of you living in Utah, Calgary is pretty much straight north. From there, Lloydminster is 5 hours northeast, right on the border of Alberta and Seskatchewan (sp?). Like driving from Provo to Rexburg. From Lloydminster, Bonnyville is about 2 hours northwest. Then from Bonnyville to Slave lake is about 7 hours west. From Logan to Las Vegas. From Slave Lake we drove to Grande Prairie, which is another 5 hours west. From there to Calgary is 8 hours if you take the direct route, so back to Logan from Las Vegas with a pit stop :D If you wanted to go the more adventurous route, it took closer to 11 hours. BUT you had the chance to drive through one of the prettiest national parks in Canada. Jasper is right on the border of Alberta and B.C., which puts it just below Grande Prairie and just west of Calgary. We decided to make a road trip of our journey back home, so we drove through Jasper instead of desolate western Alberta.

We left around 1 p.m. on Sunday in a mini caravan with Richard's sister's family. We had 3 walkie-talkies, and that made it a lot more fun. We told jokes, sang goofy songs, and played "name that movie from the quote" the whole way home. It also made deciding where to stop for dinner a lot easier. We got to Hinton, which is where Burt's office was the week that Jay was covering for him, and stopped at a Boston Pizza. Boston Pizza is a fancy Pizza Hut that wants to be Chili's. Pretty good pizza, but way too expensive. We stayed there for like two hours, which was a nice break for the kids and Rachel before we got back in the car.

Rachel liked being out of the car far too much to go back to sleep when we got going. She screamed for about 45 minutes before I couldn't take it anymore. I pulled off the road and everyone else went a little further to a turnoff where they said there was a sign for a waterfall. I drove to catch up after feeding Rachel and we went on a little hike. It was so cool! The waterfall was amazing, but I was shocked at how little fencing there was. You could walk around whatever flimsy chain link they put up, and there were some other groups of people that were clear out right next to the water where it dropped down into a gorge. I was about to be sick it was so crazy. But it was beautiful, and we got some great pictures. It was a nice break to keep the babies awake just before bedtime, and the rest of the trip went really well.

Driving through the park was amazing. I really regretted driving, since it didn't allow for many great pictures. I was holding my camera the whole time and trying to snap random good shots without really looking. I managed to get some good views of the mountains and rivers and even some of the wildlife, but you really just had to be there. Every few seconds one of us would say "Woah! Look at that! Hey, look to the left! That's amazing!" It was just such an incredibly beautiful place, and I'm so glad for the circumstances that let us see it, however retarded they were :D

After the waterfall we drove through the glacial area of the park. Wow. I just can't even describe. Entire mountains that were formed by ice, and were still covered. You could see from the shape of the mountains where the huge glaciers had slipped off to form the river below. At one point we just had to stop and turn around. There was a beautiful lake that we could drive almost all the way around to get close to an amazing glacial formation on the other side. Rachel was asleep by now, and luckily she slept the rest of the way home.

As we neared Alberta we drove through a huge construction zone, which added another hour onto our trip. But all was well when we got home to our bed in Calgary. It was so weird and so great to be back. We were all really excited to see how well the reps would end up selling in the area that Graham's guys couldn't sell in.