After I wrote last week's letter to the owner of Personal Threads Boutique and got it all packed up and ready to go, I posted it here, then popped on over to Ravelry to link to the post on the local group. I did so with the thought that the letter deserved dissemination in those circles having the greatest interest in that store and how it is run. My aim in posting the letter in the first place was twofold:
- I wanted to save some hypothetical future customer the pain of walking into a store where she might be treated, however subtly, like a less worthwhile customer.
- I wanted to provide a means by which the owner could be held accountable to whatever changes - of attitude or behavior - he decided to make.
That second reason is important. I have many interactions with businesses large and small, local to international, every day. Some of these are overwhelmingly positive; I make sure that those involved know this is the case, because everybody needs to know when they're doing well. Others are confoundingly negative, and I don't post about all of them. Often a bad experience is indicative only of poor employee training, or a single middle manager with a rotten attitude. I call the 1-800 number. I let the people above know what's going on below. It's how resolution is acheived when you have someone with oversight to implement change.
In the case of Personal Threads, my objection was to the attitude and behavior of the owner. That changes things quite a bit. Yes, there are exceptions, but in general, the owner is the top. The only entity to which the store owner is answerable is the public. I didn't at the time advocate that anyone else stop shopping at Personal Threads - my decision to do so was my own. I wanted to relate what prompted that decision, however - for the two reasons I listed above.
Reception to the post on Ravelry was largely unfriendly; it varied from mildly uncomfortable with my having posted the letter before the owner had a chance to receive it and respond to plainly rude, defensive, and accusatory. That's life; I don't feel hurt by the response. The most constructive of the response suggested that I remove the group posting linking to my blog until the owner had a chance to respond to me. I agreed to do so, and said I would update the thread when I received a response or, if I received none, after one month. The owner made an appearance on the thread as well:
Someone was nice enough to bring to my attention that someone felt that something I did or said was inappropriate. I haven't had the opportunity to read what was written in the original post and I don't know what my infraction was.
First, if I did offend someone, and obviously I did, I sincerely apologize. I truly do regret this incident, whatever it was. Being the older brother to five sisters I've always tried to be considerate of womens feelings and sensitivities.
Second, I find the support given to me and my store a treasure that I didn't know I had. Thank you all so very, very much!
Third, I haven't received the letter yet, but when it comes I will give it my full attention. As far as posts go, I have never quite understood posting something to the world before you say something to the person who offended you. My request to all my wonderful customers is that if anything happens in my store, either by me or my employees or my dog, please say something to me right away or it will become more of an issue. Letting things go just causes it to fester.
I believe the tone of this was intended to evoke the image of a sympathetic, customer-oriented man who would in fact make a real effort to reach out and make the necessary changes for me to be comfortable shopping in his store again - an outcome I very much wanted.
Wednesday, two days later than I intended to send my letter off, I finally put it in the mail. (I have to admit: I don't use postal mail for much, and it's really not in any workflow I have.) Off it went, however. I also received mail Wednesday - a certified mail receipt, as well as a plain letter in my mailbox. Both were from Place Law Office. (I initially mistook the certified mail receipt as a receipt for the letter in my mailbox, causing some confusion - I missed the box that was checked saying my item was being held at the post office. I didn't figure that out until after post office hours Saturday, and so I wasn't able to retrieve the certified mail until today.) The letter in my mailbox and the one I picked up from the post office were identical, and posted in entirety below (with my mailing address obfuscated). The transcript does not include the Cc block or stationery items from the top of the letter.
RE: The Personal Touch, Inc., Personal Threads Boutique & Mr. Joe Lewis
Dear Ms. Tesla:
Please be advised that this office represents The Personal Touch Inc., Personal Threads Boutique and Mr. Joe Lewis.
I have carefully read and reviewed with Mr. Joe Lewis your letter of February 6, 2010. In addition, I have reviewed the publication of your letter on your internet "Blog" Sperari.com.
Your February 6, 2010 letter is libelous. It is clear that the letter was intended to defame, to shame, to disgrace and to injure the reputation (personal, professional, and business) and character of my client(s) The Personal Touch, Inc., Personal Threads Boutique, and Mr. Joe Lewis.
Demand is hereby made of you to immediately withdraw and "take down" your letter of February 6, 2010 from your controlled internet "Blog".
You are hereby on Notice to CEASE AND DESIST from any activity, of any nature, which would or could jeopardize the business interest(s) of my client(s) in any manner.
I trust that, in light of the foregoing, you will comply with the demands described herein, as well as your legal obligations.
You should be advised that these matters are regarded as harmful to my client(s), and I have been instructed to vigorously pursue all avenues of relief to protect and insure their rights.
I trust you will govern yourself accordingly.
Very truly yours,
James R. Place
Before he had even received the physical letter, he got with his lawyer to draft a cease & desist letter. I have received no other correspondence from the store owner. There was an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge the interaction that left me so cold; to apologize; to promise improvement; and to conduct his business accordingly in the public eye. That bar is high, but it is the bar that I set for those with whom I do business. It is also apparently too high for the owner of Personal Threads. Instead, he has accused me of publishing a letter that is libelous; this accusation has no merit, as what I related in my previous post is true, however uncomfortable it might be for the store and its owner.
On Cease & Desist Letters
I feel very strongly about civil liberties. This should be no mystery to those who know me, and likely not to those who've read anything I've written pretty much anywhere. I believe that unfettered public discourse, to include dissent, is a healthy part of a free society. More than that, I believe it is fundamental to a free society.
Cease and desist letters are a funny thing - not quite a legal action in and of themselves, they send the implicit threat of legal action, often to stifle dissenting or unfavorable reportage and opinion. To a consumer, often just an "air of law" is enough to make them believe that they have done something wrong and must comply. To those who know better, the implicit threat is that regardless of the veracity of the accusation, a company will have more resources to invest in a legal process that can be both lengthy and costly. The image of a schoolyard bully is only too appropriate: intimidated by the looming shadow of someone bigger than them, most kids don't know what to do but hand over the lunch money.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that the genuine impulses that led me to publicly post the letter I sent to Personal Threads would have inspired such a technique. Nor, had I been warned, would I have believed that a local yarn store - long celebrated as a warm, welcoming place for community, friendship, and shared knowledge - would be the type of entity to engage in such a tactic.
My belief is that nobody is so well-equipped to damage a business as those running it - by means of the ways in which they choose to conduct business. Face-to-face interaction is a particularly visible area of insight for customers. The way in which a business handles customer conflict is similarly open. I believe that Personal Threads has failed in these, what I consider to be two of the most important indicators of the quality of a business, and has done so in such an objectionable manner as to be personally unresolvable.
Due to the response that I have received, I have changed my recommendation. I am no longer shopping at Personal Threads, and I further recommend that others follow suit. I will not do business with a company that conducts itself in the manner descibed above, and that holds both its customers and the truth in such contempt.