Yelping For Help!

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Weather: undecided

OJ and Coffee, double fisting!

Good morning all my online friends. As you might be reading this blog, you probably have other windows open, facebook, your email, maybe your bank account, some other social networking site, and maybe also yelp. It’s highly likely that when looking for a new restaurant to eat at, or a new place to take your car to get fixed, or a new store to buy shoes at, that you don’t look through the ads in your local newspaper, or flip through the yellow pages. More than likely, you just google it. You see what pops up, and then you start feeding names of businesses through your social networking sites, or review sites, like yelp.

This is the time we live in. It’s so different than how it used to be. Especially at Paul’s Hat Works. Even though you can’t see an ounce of updated technology upon entering our retail store front, it has subtly invaded every way we do things. Our returning customers who have seen our shop pass through one generation to the next marvel when we bring out an ipod touch with a square app to run their credit card. The idea of using their finger to sign for a purchase on a small screen doesn’t quite make sense to them. We ask if they want us to text or email their receipt to them, some don’t know what to say. “It saves paper,” we say halfheartedly, as we tuck it away in a draw, not to be readily seen.

It is surprising to me how many of our long lasting customers do have an email address, though frequently it will be one they share with their wives. All of this is fine though, we love our loyal customers, and savor the stories they can tell us of the generation at Paul’s long before our time. The problem that has been created though out of having a primarily older customer base is that they don’t have a strong online presence. We readily acknowledge that the best way to get new customers is through old, satisfied customers. Therefore, we do get a lot of word of mouth customers. However, knowing that our product is something that will last a lifetime, we are trying to get younger people in here to make the investment sooner so as to enjoy our hats longer.

In order to do this, we have created a very image friendly website, we have this blog, we have a facebook business page and a facebook group page, we all have our own twitters and do the best we can, and we keep trying to get young people to write us up in fashion blogs, etc etc etc. All this is very effective and at no cost to us, minus our time, which is crucial when there is no advertising or marketing budget because you instead have decide between buying a new machine to create steam to make your product, or to buy boxes in which to give away with your product.

So, based on this insight, imagine our dismay upon checking up on our yelp page, that we have accumulated quite a few bad reviews. Based on information from, it can take only 1-3 reviews for a potential customer to decide it’s not worth it. However, it is more common for people to take the time to write a review when they are unhappy with something versus when they are happy.

Taking that into consideration, on top of the fact that most of our happy customers quite possibly don’t even use yelp, or know about it, these bad reviews are a problem. Now, a couple of them are reviews about hat work that we have done to fix up some hats. Some of you may not know this, but we were not going to ever accept hats for refurbishment because of this very thing that was warned about by our predecessor Michael Harris. So we didn’t at first. For two weeks we turned people away, people begging us to take in sad hats that needed help. Finally we succumbed, hesitantly. But, as it turned out, we were good at it, and have fixed and refurbished over 825 (!!!!!) hats since we reopened, which is over 400 a year which is more than one every day. For many of the cases, we give a very strict warning, oftentimes refusing to take in a hat because we know something could go wrong. But even after saying to people, “This hat may come out looking worse than it did because of these things…” people still want us to go through with it. And of course, every once and a while, it turns around to bite us.

The handful of bad situations that have arisen out of literally hundreds of successes have been very discouraging, enough so that we have cut down on the amount of hats that we will take in to fix, and maybe so much that we may stop fixing hats eventually, because in many ways it’s not worth it. It usually takes a lot longer to fix a hat than to make one, because you are problem solving, coming up with new methods, working with materials that are inferior than what you are used to. The payoff can be great though when you see the smile of someone who hasn’t seen their hat looking that good in 20 years.

It’s a toss up.

So, after this fairly unexpectedly lengthy discourse, I’m asking those customers out their that we have helped, to take the time to write a sentence or two on yelp, talking honestly about your experience in working with us. For I fear that if we can’t majorly outweigh these few bad reviews, we may be forced to put a stop to our hat refurbishment department, as every case we take in is a potential risk to our longstanding and good reputation.

I for one struggle with the power of technology and how quickly it can make or break someone or something. I feel many ways about it, I see how it can be useful, as with free advertising through social networking, or having a site of good customer feedback, but I can see how it can be harmful and deceiving, not painting an accurate picture of what’s going on. And though our business is one of antiquity, of old manners of appearance, of classic methods of decor, and though I personally have given up having a cellphone, and drive a 1963 car, I recognize this power technology has, and I have to do my best to keep it from taking control of me.

~ Paul