Making it Harder to Get to California

Can’t believe that Southwest Airlines is starting to knuckle under. They announced today that they are cutting back on flights. Of course, one of the routes getting the axe is the one I take – the only nonstop from Nashville to Oakland. All the other flights add 2 hours to that trip and it’s long enough as it is. And changing planes always puts you at risk of missing that connection. To be honest, the most I am comfortable on a plane is the 4 hour flight to Las Vegas from here. Anything farther than that and I start feeling cooped up and get really restless sitting on a plane – especially when there are crying babies on board.

On a good note, Southwest is the only airline this year that is still operating in the black. All the others are in the red. That says a lot for Southwest’s excellent management practices and their customer service. They’ve always been good to me and I can’t say that for the other airlines, especially with some of the horrendous experiences I’ve had with American and Northwest. So I’m glad to see the good guys are still winning.

When I fly, I always check Southwest for an available flight first and it has to be an extreme situation for me to fly on a different airline. There are only a few cities that Southwest does not service from here, and most of the time I don’t have to go there, thank goodness. I love their website – its so easy to make reservations and check in online – I can’t believe we used have to make long phones calls and stand in line for everything that now just takes a few clicks.

Gas Prices Across the U. S.

Found a very cool internet tool on Gas Buddy that shows a map of the entire U.S. broken down into counties and color coded to show the current cost of gas in each county. It is amazing to see the huge disparity in the cost of gas, with the highest costs always seeming to be in California and along the west coast, including Washington, Oregon, Nevada and then over to New York on the east coast, and surprisingly, Maine is very high, too.

At the moment the three cheapest states include Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

There is also a map that show the cost of gas across Canada.

Check out the U. S. National Gas Temperature map for yourself – isn’t it cool?

Taste of Chicago

This year’s Taste is the 28th annual – how about that for a long successful run? It has changed a lot from when it started, but it is a great street festival and we are looking forwarding to going again this summer.

The cost is only $8 for a strip of 12 food and drink tickets. All of the vendors are required to offer a taste for just 1 ticket, and then they can offer anything else they want for as many tickets as they want to charge. Last year the average food item cost 4 tickets and we bought 3 extra strips for just two of us to fully enjoy and sample everything we wanted to try.

We really liked several of the different foods and made note of which restaurants had the best food so we could patronize them later in the year. I even tried fried goat cheese for the first time – but I found it rather strong and don’t think I would order that again. I found one vendor selling key lime pie and jumped at the chance to have some, but what they served was absolutely AWFUL and nothing like the real southern key lime pie recipes taste like. But the variety of ethnic tastes was fantastic and one of the things that I love about Chicago – the international influence on everything there, with a solid core of Americana.

Supply Chain

Up until now our warehouse operations have been focused on very little production work, mostly pick and pack for our franchisees. With just one warehouse, the inventory control has been relatively easy to manage.

But now that we are expanding, the warehouse manager and I are considering two primary options to handle the increase workload and just in time inventory methods of so many franchisees that require a quick turnaround and delivery window. the first option is obviously opening one or two more warehouses in other parts of the country. Our warehouse on the west coast has a lot of advantages, but with the price of real estate so high and our hours of operation not matching people on the east coast, we could easily justify a second warehouse located on the east coast. My thought was to put one in the mid Atlantic states, such as southern Virginia, because of the lower cost of real estate and excellent transportation network. Then we can consider a third warehouse somewhere in the midwest, with my preference being the Oklahoma City area.

The warehouse manager has suggested a second option that we are investigating – using a third party fulfillment service. We have been checking out a company called AMS Fulfillment and I like several things about their services. They can handle warehousing, inventory, and shipping for us without the expense of renting our own space and hiring more employees.

It will be simple enough to perform a cost analysis of the two options once I gather a little more information. AMS is a california fulfillment company that handles both business to business operations and also business to consumer operations. So if we want to start offering our products directly to our customers we can use their fulfillment to handle the orders, most likely placed over the internet and possibly using inbound telemarketing. We hope to have both of those in place by the end of the year to increase revenue at the corporate level.

I also like that AMS offers OnGuard Inventory Protection. When you have so much of your product located in one place, your risk of loss due to natural disasters, arson, and other factors is much higher. Of course you never want anything bad like that to happen to your property, but bad things don’t always happen to other people. You have to be prudent in protecting you assets and being prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best.

Van Adventures

Last year we bought a full size Chevy van from a used car dealer that advertised online. We were looking for something to use at the warehouse and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it – just something mechanically sound with no frills.

The one we found was a good price and since we were in a hurry, we agreed to buy it. That meant someone had to fly out to California to pick it up and drive it back, which wasn’t a big deal. The hardest part of the plan was figuring out how to get from the airport to the dealer, which involved a cheap hotel room on the way because of the flight schedules. That all worked out and a few thousand bucks later we had the keys to a van.

I have full coverage insurance on the Tahoe and the Mazda, so I called my insurance agent to let him know that we bought the van and needed to add it to our policy. Since it was the weekend, all I got was his voice mail. Since we made the decision so quickly and had to buy it quickly – good deals never last – we had bought the van and driven 1,200 miles before Monday morning when the insurance agent got my voicemail. I was worried that if something bad happened on the way back we might not be covered by insurance. But thankfully the trip was uneventful in that regard, and as it turns out my full coverage insurance policy covers a new vehicle purchase for the first few days anyways.

The great thing about having that little insurance umbrella is that we were covered for the trip back but when we got back I had the chance to make some calls to get competitive quotes and also go online to find the best price on Van Insurance. We ended up paying a little under $100 per month for the van’s coverage by adding it as an additional vehicle to our other insurance. But it is always worth checking and getting new quotes it’s time for renewal.

This reminds me that I took some great snapshots on that trip back from California. Let me see if I can find a few and post them on the blog to share – it was a great trip. And we’ve got a good work van, now.