Thursday, March 29, 2018

Six Beautiful Words, Five Years Ago




Five years ago, six words changed my life. It was Good Friday, March 29, 2013, and I was on the phone with Lacey, one of my favorite nurses on my oncology team, anxiously awaiting the results of my post-chemo PET/CT scan. She read the results to me, joyfully proclaiming that the scan showed "complete resolution and response to chemotherapy." And as she said those six beautiful words I felt a giant burden lift off of my shouldersrealizing in that moment that I had officially become a cancer survivor.

Five months before that, I had gone to see my primary care provider for a sore throat and a swollen tonsil. My tonsil was starting to get big, visibly protruding out of the side of my throat; it was super weird. My primary had never seen anything quite like it before, and neither had some of his associates—an instructor and student who were in his office observing that day. They were all curious, and one of the associates exclaimed after looking at my rogue tonsil, "That's quite impressive!"

My primary wondered if perhaps it was a virus or something causing my tonsil to react and swell, so he swabbed and tested everything he could but the results all came back negative. By my follow-up visit eight days later, my tonsil had grown about 25% larger. We thought that clearly there must be an abscess that was causing it to grow so big, so fast, becoming so large by that point that it was blocking a good portion of the left side of my throat and affecting the sound of my voice. It was very concerning, so my primary wasted no time and got me a same-day appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT, or otolaryngologist … for short).

I went directly from my primary's office to the ENT's where I was told very coarsely, "That's not an abscess. It's a growth." Just like that, I learned that I had a tumor. My breath left me, but the doctor didn’t seem to realize that he just told me that I likely had cancer. He just plugged forward, business as usual, scheduled a tonsillectomy for a few weeks out, and ordered X-rays to be done right away.

In a daze, I made my way to my car in the parking lot of the ENT's office and just sat there—wondering, worrying, crying, and trying to catch my breath. Then my primary called. We had joked that morning in our worst Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions that "It's not a tumor." But now we both knew that indeed it was, and we both knew what that meant. He consoled me and reassured me—as a physician and a friend—that we'd get the best people on this right away; that I was strong and able to fight this.

When the X-ray results came back a few days later, the ENT I had first seen was away, so his partner looked at my file and decided that he wanted to do a biopsy of the tonsil instead of a tonsillectomy. So, on Halloween, I found myself back at the ENT's office while the new doctor examined me, prepped me for a biopsy, and accidentally sprayed lidocaine all over my face before getting it down my throat where it was intended—serving as a much-needed mood lightener, even if my face went a bit numb. Then he used a steel tool to take a chunk out of my tonsil. I can still hear the crunching sound that tool made as it clamped down in my throat. That biopsy confirmed that I had cancer.

My first of many PET/CT scans happened next, followed right away by an appointment with the best oncologist in the area, whom my primary made sure I got in with. On my very first visit, my oncologist performed a bone marrow biopsy and I learned that I have some of the strongest bones he’s ever encountered, having to put his entire weight into the tool he used to dig into my rear pelvis, through the bone, and withdraw a piece of marrow to determine if cancer had spread there yet. It hadn't, but I did have other tumors that were starting in other lymph nodes

The type of cancer I had was a very rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so I was sent right away to Boston to consult with one of the top rare lymphoma specialists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That specialist clarified my diagnosis and told me that the type of cancer I had was one of the fastest growing cancers that they know about. He recommended a very intense chemo regimen, feeling I could handle it since at 33 I was still young and strong. But he also told me that if it had been just a few more weeks my chances of survival would have gone down to only 20-30%. Early detection saved me, and I consider it nothing short of a miracle that the first tumor appeared in my tonsil where I could see it and not in a lymph node that might have gone undetected until it was too late. This specialist would consult with my local oncologist and act as a guide, which meant that I could receive treatment in my home city and not have to stay in Boston. That was a relief.

Chemo was indeed intense. I spent the next four months in treatment, mostly inpatient with one- to two-week stays in the hospital during each cycle. I had a port implanted in my chest to make administering intravenous chemo easier. I often had chemo going around the clock, along with constant saline in my IV, which meant that I constantly had to pee. I had to take rescue medication after some of the strongest chemo rotations in order to bring my body back from the brink that those drugs intentionally drove me to. I received multiple intrathecal injections in my spine, fascinated each time while I watched the live X-ray in the operating room guide the surgeon's ridiculously large needle through my vertebrae and into my spinal cord. Of course, the operating room staff also said I was notorious for singing obnoxiously loud along with the radio as I got high on anesthesia while they prepped me for those injections, so I really can’t trust my memory of what happened during those intrathecal sessions 100%.

I lost every single hair on my head and my body. When I threw up, it was painful because my mouth and throat were often coated with sores, as is quite common for chemo patients. I received a slew of blood and platelet transfusions along with countless shots to help my body make more of its own blood cells to replace the ones being killed by chemo. Every bone in my body ached because of those injections as my bone marrow worked overtime to replace missing cells. When my red blood cell count was low, leaving my system without its trusty oxygen carriers, my breath got heavy and fast—my lungs panting as they did all they could to bring more oxygen to my bloodstream. My skin lost color, crawled, itched, flaked, and ached. (Yes, my skin ached.) I lost muscle tone. I sometimes lost my balance. I often lost my patience. And I lost nearly 50 pounds.

My family and friends rallied. My mom took over daily duties at my year-old business. My dad bought me groceries and drove me to and from appointments. I didn't see too many people, often having to keep myself isolated to prevent catching anything while my system was down, but my parents and best friend came to the hospital whenever they could. My sister, who was living in Texas, came home for a month to be with me. On good days, we'd play cards in the hospital, and on bad days she'd just be there if I needed her. I talked her out of shaving her head for me, though must admit I was incredibly touched when a good friend and his son surprised me by shaving theirs. I received so many cards and care packages, each one meaning the world to me. My mom crocheted me a bunch of hats, as did a dear client of mine, and I wore them proudly.


Sometimes I wanted visitors, but often I just wanted space. I worked as much as I could, accessing my business computers remotely from my laptop on the hospital bed, and because sleep is tough in a hospital when you have to pee every hour on the hour and have nurses constantly changing your IV, I slept in small stints and caught up on my Hulu and Netflix queues when sleep was impossible. I kept an online journal so those interested could know some of what was going on, even if the more gruesome details were never shared. I brought my own pillows and blankets with me for my stays, much to the amusement of the hospital staff, and had a different loungewear outfit each day—not about to don a breezy hospital gown if I didn't have to.

On days when I had an appetite and felt like I could keep food down, I'd devour as much lemon meringue pie as the cafeteria would send up. I became known to the cafeteria staff as that persnickety guy on the 5th floor who refused to eat from hospital plates and flatware, instead requesting everything be sent up with disposable dishware because just one whiff of or glance at the not-sure-where-they've-been hospital dishes was an instant nausea trigger. And the sweet older foodservice man that often brought my meals never could get my name right. To him, I was Marian.

The oncology team that worked with me, including the staff on the hospital floor where I spent most of those treatment months, was tremendous. I still get hugs when I visit, exchange Christmas cards, and continue to fail to be able to express my gratitude as much as I owe to them. They saved my life.

That battle is over, but the vigil will continue the rest of my days. Over the last five years of follow-up, I've amassed quite a team of doctors, gaining new specialists each time something looks or feels a little funny. I've had biopsies on everything from my bladder to my kidney and scopes shoved up places I didn't even know scopes could go. Eventually, after it was all said and done, I did have that tonsillectomy. My port finally came out after a year, and the scars it left on my chest and neck are ones I wear proudly. My damaged teeth got restored—whitened and filled or filed and crowned—so I can smile as big as I want to now. And yes, I still get incredibly anxious every time I think I may be getting a sore throat.

Oh, it's been an interesting ride. Someday I’m going to write a book about it. But on this day, March 29th, I will always think back to those six beautiful words Lacey read to me in 2013: "complete resolution and response to chemotherapy." And I'll well up, overwhelmed afresh with thankfulness.


#CancerSurvivor #FiveYearsCancerFree #LymphomaSucks #Grateful #Thankful



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Public Service Announcement:

Everyone's diagnosis and treatment experience is different. Variables like cancer type, sub-type, stage, overall health, treatment plan, healthcare access, doctor knowledge, age, aptitude, attitude, desire, genetics, insurance, and so much more go into determining what a patient will go through, symptoms they will have, and steps they will take. 

I state this to help the public understand that saying things like, "Oh, I know someone who had that!" or "Yes, my friend went through the exact same thing." or "Well, that type of cancer isn't that bad." is inappropriate most likely untrue. Please don't compare. Just show compassion.

#SoapBox #ItsImportantThough

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Busyness of Business


... and how to not let it devour you

My cousin’s son called me last night about 8:30 as I was leaving a meeting. He’s never been to New York City, and for the past few years he and I have been trying to find a weekend to meet there so I can give him the insider tour … and I can’t wait to do it! But we just haven’t been able to find time. Every Thanksgiving we talk about it, always apologizing to each other about how busy we’ve been, and are never quite able to settle on a date. We decided on our call last night that we would make it happen this winter, one way or another.

Everyone is always so busy. Whether your job is in an office, in a classroom, at home, on a plane, in the field, or in the trenches, life and its responsibilities have a way of filling up every last crevice of our time with one pressing need or another. We get so caught up in getting through each day that we often forget to take a beat and see the big picture; we often forget to simply take a breath.

Busyness is our culture. It’s a never ending, overwhelming, spiraling cycle that we’re expected of others and ourselves to follow and that we expect everyone else to be caught up in too. It’s our normal. But, when it gets out of control, it becomes too much.

I had a great question come in this month to Ask Uncle Marty™ from a business owner who had lost her drive. She was exhausted and, rather than plugging through what she needed to do, she instead felt paralyzed by overwhelm. It’s a topic I’ve tacked a few times before in my column, and one that just keeps coming back. It’s defining our generations.

So, what do we do? Do we just give up and throw in the towel? Do we disappear for a month and go on a cruise to the Galápagos? Do we change our name to Leslie and live in leisure in Lima with our pet llama, coincidentally also named Leslie? Or, do we just keep plugging along, getting more and more stressed out, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into sleep debt, and just resolve ourselves to live with the consequences?

Frankly, all those things sound good at times (at least the first three do). But we can’t just quit our lives. We can’t up and leave all of our responsibilities behind; we can’t just give up. However, we surely can take steps to make things more manageable…

- We can ask for help. There comes a point in nearly every successful business where the owner needs assistance. And there comes a point in nearly every successful life where partnerships are necessary. So, get help! Find someone—or a team—who can take some of the load off of your shoulders. Hire an assistant. Outsource some of the stuff that takes up so much of your time to a professional that can do it better and faster. Learn to empower and trust your team.

- We can release our stress in a healthy way. Join a gym, take a kickboxing class, or start a yoga practice. Find a good counselor or therapist and make a point to make regular appointments a priority. Set up a regular date night with your better half, or make an effort to go on more dates if you’re single. Meditate, discover a breathing practice, and clear your head regularly.

We can broaden our horizons in hopes of seeing the big picture more clearly. Read more, listen to podcasts, and feed the part of you that’s hungry for new ideas, new information, and new discoveries. If at all possible, travel to places you’ve never been, or at the very least take an extra day after that next conference in Orlando to spend some time with Goofy and the gang.

- We can smile. I know this sounds entirely too simple, but it’s a studied phenomenon that, just as our mood affects our facial expressions, our facial expressions can also affect our mood. Essentially that means that we can force a smile and, in turn, force a mood change. Turn that frown upside down!

- We can add one more thing. Seriously, add one more thing to your routine. And make it a fun thing. What have you been wanting to do, but just haven’t even considered because you’re “too busy?” What if that thing became more important than something else that you do regularly that would take up the same amount of time? What if that thing moved up the priority ladder so that you actually carve out time for it? Whether that thing is joining a local theatre repertoire company, gospel choir, hockey team, ribbon dancing troupe, or book club, what if finding the time for it was as simple as making it important in your mind? Well, it actually is that simple. Try. You’ll see. And the endorphins that that thing releases will make the rest of your week brighter!

A great and enlightened sage of our age, Dolly Parton, once said, “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” So, friends, take steps to relieve some of the busyness from your daily business. Take a breath, take a beat, and take a break. Then make changes to make things better.


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Originally published in MBC Today Volume 20, Issue 1, on February 5, 2018.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Be Still...

My good buddy Mary passed away today.

The last time I saw her, I walked into her room on the skilled nursing floor of Good Shepherd Village and found her standing by the side of her bed. I could tell by the look on her face that she was trying to either remember or find something.

We sat down and Mary asked me if I could show her a verse that someone had recently printed out for her.

I found it flopped over on the shelf opposite her bed, printed as large as possible to fill up a full size sheet of paper. I propped it up so she could see it, even if her failing eyes couldn't make it out too clearly.

She had been thinking about this verse and knew it well, but since she couldn't see it and, with moments of clarity coming and going, she wasn't able to recall the words quite right that day. So, I read it to her: "Be still and know that I am God."

She kept repeating the word "still." Then she'd forget and ask me again what it was.

I told her, "Be still."

"Still, still," she said over and over. "I guess that means I should just be quiet."

She went on to tell me about all of the commotion she saw around her daily on the floor where she now lived. She said that everyone there was always so busy and the staff was always trying to keep the "inmates" (as she fondly called her fellow residents) entertained. But she thought she must have a purpose in being there … and maybe that purpose was to just be quiet and wait, hoping that if someone needed help she'd be able to say the right thing. She was sincere in that desire.

In December, Mary celebrated her 100th birthday. In her century of life, she had seen and experienced more things than most of us could ever hope to witness. She had lived through eras of history that seem so distant to us now, but to her were just a moment past.

She started her career working as a message carrier, taking memos between top executives at IBM decades before computers were a mainstream thing. She had a true spirit of adventure and traveled the world, visiting dozens of countries, lands, and people on six continents, choosing to sail on freighter ships instead of luxury liners where she and her husband would get to know the crew and experience the world in ways everyday tourists wouldn't think of. She decorated her apartment with countless trinkets from her travelsmasks from Africa, a statue from Burma, a mini kangaroo from Australia, scarabs from Egypt, brass plates from Greece, a miniature Viking from Norway, and a replica Tommy gun that she hung over her computer deskevery surface cluttered with memories, photo books, and journals. And, of course, she had her pilot's license, flying small planes and soaring free ... just for fun; just because she could.

It was my sincere privilege to have known Mary my entire life, and she's known my family since she and my grandmother were friends as teenagers. When my siblings and I were young, Mary would always bring seemingly bottomless tins of cookies for us when we'd travel together on long car trips. Reminiscing tonight, my sister and I remembered our favorites: the big round ones that looked like white and red tires with icing circling raspberry jam filled centers. Oh, they were delicious.

Over 30 years later, Mary still always made sure we were well fed. When she was able, we'd go out on our special dates to her favorite restaurants, and in recent years when she couldn't get out as much we'd sometimes just grab a late Sunday breakfast together in the dining room at her retirement home, inevitably stopping at every other table in the joint to say hello to her friends. She knew everyone, and everyone loved her.

Mary had done everything and been everywhere. She'd lived a long, full, impactful, trailblazing life. And now, after 100 years of adventure, she just wanted to "be still."

As I left her room for the last timenot knowing it was the last timeshe simply said, "I love you."

I love you too, Mary. You were a dear, dear friend. Thank you for everything.

Be still.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Understanding Misunderstanding: Sometimes It's Not Just a Stupid Question

A few years ago, I had a call at my store from a student asking if I did key duplication and how much it cost. Being a shipping and office services center, I indeed did duplicate keys, at the time only charging $2.99 per key. So, I told her, "Absolutely! It's just two ninety nine per key." All seemed well.

She called back a minute or two later and said, "Wait, did you mean two hundred and ninety nine dollars or two dollars and ninety nine cents?" I was dumbfounded by the question. Making a snap judgment that it must be a prank, I gave her a sassy Seth Meyers-style "Really!?" Followed by a "Grow up." And then I rudely hung up on her. I did not handle the call gracefully, especially considering that it was most certainly not a prank...

You see, shortly after that incident I had another student ask me the same questionseeking clarification on whether key duplication was in the one-figure or three-figure range. And since then I've had quite a few more young clients react in a similar way when they find out how much key duplication costs. In fact, just yesterday someone said, "I thought making a key would be at least $40!"

Here's the skinny: most key blanks cost me between 17 and 29 cents each; it takes less than a minute to cut each one. I charge more than $2.99 now, but even at that price it was still a great margin on a very easy service to provide. And, being in a college town with students constantly moving in and out, I do quite a bit of volume in key making; I've even done them in bulk for some local property managers. Key cutting is a great add-on to my business, and the operation takes up less than three square feet of floor space at my shop. I love it! My prices are slightly higher now, but remain very fair and still less than but competitive with other options in my area.

I've thought about it a lot: how could a good portion of this new generation of people sincerely not know if traditional non-chip key duplication costs $2.99 or $299.00? How do they have no concept of a price range? After all, it's just a tiny piece of metal with a few notches cut into it. Well, the answer is simple: they've just never had to do it before.

A good percentage of the local students with whom I work come from privileged backgrounds, so they're not a representative sample of the population at large by any means. Most were born at the end of the 1990s and some in the early 2000s. Many of their homes used code pads or smart entries, not keys. Or, if they did have keys, likely the kids weren't the ones responsible to have them reproduced. Their cars used fobs, not traditional keys, with average fob replacement costs around $200 from a dealer (and up to $500 for luxury models). And I think it's fair to assume that they've likely had little need or reason to walk by the key machine at Home Depot and make mental notes of prices.

It's purely a matter of one's frame of reference. For me, growing up in a similar family business to the one I now own, if I needed a new key for my car, house, locker, or mailbox, I would just make one myself on the old key machine that we kept in the back of one of our shops. And my first car, a 1985 white Chevrolet Impala with a V8 engine, suspension like a dream, a giant maroon vinyl bench seat up front, and a fancy schmancy tape deck with a removable face that I paid way too much to have custom installed when I was a junior in high school, didn't even need a key to start it by the time I was done with it. After 200K+ miles, the key starter bit was so worn out that all I had to do was twist the general area around where the key used to go and my baby would start purring. And, after I locked myself out a few times and had to jimmy the door open with a wire coat hanger, I learned that I could screw a spare door key (door keys and ignition keys were two separate things then) behind the front license plate (but not behind the back plate, because that’s where the gas tank was). Life was simple. And I feel like there was always an occasion to make a duplicate key for something or other.

Those experiences aren't anything most in the new crop of young adults have ever gone through. Most have also never had occasion to write a check or address an envelope, so when they come in for the first time and have to mail a rent check to their #oldschool landlord who doesn't take electronic payment, they are completely lost and bewildered. I guide them through the processas Uncle Marty doesand give them a template I've made to show them exactly where the from address, to address, and stamp go on the envelope. They are fascinated by the process and many of them take a copy of the template with them to share with their friendsa novelty for the group.

When they buy greeting cards, at least half of my student clients don't know that the envelope is included with the card at no additional charge; they don't know that matching envelopes designed specifically for each card are tucked in behind the cards on the rack. When they come to the counter to buy the card without an envelope and I point out that they're welcome to take the envelope that goes with it too, most of the time I get a blank stare in return. So, I walk them to the card rack, show them where the envelopes are, and watch their faces light up with excited revelation: "You mean the envelope is free!?"

Many of the students I work with have never packed a box before. They come in to my shop to buy boxes when they're preparing to move, but when they come back to put those boxes into storage or ship them, I'm constantly amazed at how they've attempted to close them. Flaps are bent, folded, and crammed every which way but the way the box was engineered. They use every kind of tape they can find (including Scotch tape, masking tape, and duct tape, none of which are suitable for shipping) and put tape everywhere on the box except over the seam where it should be. It's really quite intriguing. What I think is common sense because it's what I grew up doing isn't common sense to them. Rather, constructing and taping a box is a brand new challenge that they've never had to think about before. And, to their credit, I can attest that they are seriously creative in their solutions to this challenge!

The study of generations is fascinating. I'm fortunate to be part of a team at AMBC that's doing a lot of research in this area. One team member, Sarah, who's a baby boomer with millennial children, is an expert on the millennial mindset. Other team members, Seema and Fahim, who like myself are Generation X, study the topic hard and, because they have both millennial and Generation Z children, bring a lot of insight on the contrasts in thinking, processing, and frames of reference between millennials and Generation Ztwo groups often mistakenly bundled together, but really quite different. 

We study these generations because their spending habits are so varied, and understanding those habits helps our and our friends' businesses market more appropriately and effectively, meet changing needs and patterns, and grow. I won't get into all of that generational generalization now, but I promise it really is an interesting area of research. (And, yes, I did check with #GrammarGirl to make sure I capitalized generation names correctly, the distinction among which is also quite interesting.) (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/when-to-capitalize-generation-names)

My point with all this is to remind you and me to consider someone's context when they're doing something that might make absolutely no sense to us or when they ask what we might think is an incredibly stupid question, so much so that we may even assume they're playing a prank on us. Someone may be from such a different background, culture, level of exposure, or generation that something we understand as common sense may be a brand new concept to them. Sure, we may chuckle under our breath or roll our eyes at times, but deep down we must understand that where we're coming from isn't where everyone else is. 

I strongly regret my reaction to that student who called about the $299.00 keys. I belittled her and hung up on her, though she was just asking a legitimate question. It's a hard lesson to learn, but I hope I can understand a little bit more moving forward. Sometimes we think we have a lot to teach someoneespecially someone younger with seemingly less life experiencebut the education works both ways. 

What we have yet to learn is far greater than what we think we already know. 

#AMBC4ME #AskUncleMarty #BabyBoomers #Millennials #GenerationX #GenerationZ


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Also published on the AMBC blog on January 19, 2018.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Looking Back to Look Forward

Sometimes we need to take a step back to see how far we've come in order to realize, even just a little, the enormous scope of the future's potential.

I want to share a blog post that I wrote today for my store, in celebration of my sixth anniversary. It's titled "Three Cheers for Six Years." Maybe it'll give you some inspiration that there's always a new solution to find and a new profit center to embrace ... as long as you keep your eyes and ears open and your business model fluid and flexible.

Three Cheers for Six Years


September 1st marked our sixth anniversary in Collegetown.

For the past six years, it has been our pleasure to serve this community. Looking back, we see how much we’ve grown; we see how much we’ve changed. And we love what we’ve become!

When we opened in 2011, we aimed to provide Collegetown with a full service, friendly, fun, and frankly fabulous shipping and business center. And we’ve absolutely done that! But soon after we opened we realized that there were a lot of very unique challenges that our very unique neighborhood was facing, but not many decent solutions for them. So, we started changing and adapting what we sold and the services we provided, morphing into something we never quite imagined … but something we’re extremely proud of. We’ve become the area’s solution center.

We’ve found small solutions…

Greeting Cards: We started with a few lines of unique greeting cards, basically because greeting cards are fun, Marty loves them, and we know how hard it is to find something different than the everyday cheesy stuff you see at every corner drug store. Word spread about our cards and soon we found ourselves traveling to stationery and gift shows all over the place just to source more unique lines to add to our selection. Now, we have a whole wall of cards and change our inventory often to keep them fresh, super classy, and always unique; we’ve become one of the most popular greeting card destinations in our little city!

Moving Boxes: Students are constantly moving and constantly needing boxes. By default, many were going to big chain stores and paying entirely too much for their “moving” boxes, only to find that they’d fall apart after they were filled and implode when anything was stacked on them. So, we expanded our selection of sturdy, durable shipping boxes into sizes that are perfect for moving and storage. We now stock over 50 sizes, all highly rated and very fairly priced. Each year, during our busy May move-out season, we sell way more boxes than we did the previous year. Word is spreading, and our boxes are the best!

And we’ve found monumental solutions…

International Shipping: Ithaca has a very large international and internationally-connected population, but international shipping wasn’t easy for most of Collegetown’s residents and visitors. Before we opened, we got all of our authorizations in order and became the first DHL Authorized Shipping Center (DASC) in town … and have remained the highest volume DASC in the region ever since, offering DHL rates that are less than DHL’s online published rates! We became a FedEx Authorized ShipCenter (FASC) and, through our unbeatable service, soon built up our FedEx volume to the highest available discount tier … and now our FedEx Express International shipping rates are also better than FedEx’s own online published rates. We have state-of-the-art software that compares all shipping options side by side in one screen to help our guests find the best option for their needs and budget. And we always print the labels and customs paperwork for you so all you have to do is sign! We’ve digitized and simplified the very confusing, complex world of international shipping … and do it at the best rates available in our area.

Private Mailboxes: People needed a solution to the inherent headaches that come with changing your address when you change dorms or apartments each semester. So we added private mailbox rental so students can keep the same address for their entire tenure in Ithaca. And now those mailboxes are popular with much more than just students–perfect to meet the needs of home based businesses, non-profits, clubs, and individuals who travel and need mail forwarding … or maybe just need a little bit more privacy.

Storage: Students needed a better storage solution. Most of the options available before we got here were disjointed and confusing. There were seemingly dozens of storage start-ups that would flash and fizzle, often only around for a season. Many of them didn’t have an actual brick and mortar location, but rather just a flashy website and hired hands who would show up in a rented truck, take your boxes, and then leave you with no idea of where your boxes were being held or who was watching over them while you were away. Then per-pound pricing and add-ons would really drive your final storage bill through the roof. So, we turned our year-round Collegetown shipping and business center into a storage facility as well! We offer flat rate, simply priced storage options, personal pickups, and extremely flexible delivery and shipping options on the back end. Our storage has grown exponentially every year, smashing records again in 2017 (and the year’s not nearly over yet!)

And there’s so much more we could talk about … like how our resume, thesis, and dissertation printing prowess has saved the day countless times, how our key duplication service has totally blown up, or how our come-to-you pickup and delivery solutions have brought our services to many folks who could otherwise not access our storefront.

In retrospect, looking back on all that’s happened, how we’ve changed, and milestones we’ve reached, six years seems like a long, long time. But in other ways it seems like we’re just beginning.

Because we indeed are just beginning; we’re in this for the long haul. And we can’t wait to see what the next six years bring!

#HappyAnniversarytoUs #UncleMartysOffice #Collegetown #SixYears #AskUncleMarty

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Also published on the AMBC blog on September 5, 2017.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why We Should All Be More Like Frannie

Do any of you have an insurance agent?

Do you know who they are? Better yet, do they know who you are?

I want to tell you about my friend Frannie.

Probably about five years ago now, I decided I'd switch my business insurance. I didn't really have a good reason for doing so, but the company I was with at the time was just kinda OK; they were nothing special--faceless, out of touch, out of mind, just there in the background somewhere and pretty much blah. Since business insurance is so very important, I really wanted to sit down with a local agent who knew the community, understood what I needed, and, even more importantly, understood what I didn't need. So, I googled.

Frannie ran a State Farm branch here in town and her business's online presence impressed me. She had a clean, professional site, good reviews, and was clearly well favored and involved in the community. That, paired with the fact that I knew exactly where her well-presented office was, prompted me to reach out to her.

I sent her an email and, right away, Frannie got back to me and we made an appointment. She understood that I was running a shop solo--retail hours--and didn't have the availability to meet at her office. So, she came to me.

We sat down and worked out a plan catered to my needs. She recommended coverage I didn’t have before and took away line items that made absolutely no sense in my situation. Insurance confounds and confuses me, but she made it clear; she spoke my language and garnered my trust.

After I signed up with Frannie, she kept in touch. She checked in now and then and often invited me to local business-to-business networking breakfasts. Granted, I never went because, as I've mentioned in my writing in the past, I take serious issue with 7AM meetings. But the gesture was very appreciated!

A year or so into my relationship with State Farm through Frannie, I had a pretty bad flood. A sprinkler pipe in a shared hallway of my building froze and burst and water rushed through my shop, washing us out from the back door to the front. Soon, the store was crawling with firefighters and I was hustling to lift as many of my customers' items and outgoing shipments off of the ground as fast as possible, knowing instinctively that they were the priority. Product can be replaced, but something precious that a client has entrusted to our care cannot.


After the water got shut off, I called Frannie. You know those State Farm commercials where the agent just appears out of nowhere in crisis? Well, that's pretty much what happened. In no time, she was at my store, wearing a winter coat and rubber boots, trudging through the water that was still draining through the open front door on that frigid February day.

She assured me that she'd take care of it; she assured me that I was covered. I needed to hear that. Then she took pictures, preliminarily assessed the loss (which was significant), and we created a plan of attack together. My landlord actually ended up paying my claim directly, but Frannie was on my side and by my side through it to make sure I got a fair deal … and a new carpet.


Frannie has since moved on, contacting me personally to let me know I'd be taken care of by another agent she trusted. She added a pair of twins to her brood and was offered an opportunity for bigger and better things in her field. And I was nothing but grateful for her service and happy for her move; I have serious respect for what she's accomplished!

When I think about it, I honestly don't know how my premiums with Frannie compared to other options. I mean, I shopped around a bit when I signed up with her, and know for sure that her offerings--catered to my needs without extra unnecessary fluff--were far less than what I was paying with my previous, faceless company. But the bottom line is that I didn't and don’t care. I trusted Frannie, knew the price was fair as a result, and knew that service and support that I receive in return was well worth it.

Let's all take some lessons from Frannie and apply them to our own businesses:

  1. First and foremost, she invested in and polished her online first impression: the most important investment a business can make.
  2. She went out of her way to be part of the community, in turn gaining the business and trust of other community-minded people like myself.
  3. She met me where I was, showing me that she wanted my business and was willing to go out of her way to make things as easy as possible for me.
  4. She invited me to participate in networking events outside of our business contract, strengthening our relationship as fellow local business owners.
  5. She kept in touch, checked in periodically, and assured me in good times that she would be on my side in crisis.
  6. She responded immediately when there was an issue, and exceeded my expectations with her professional and expeditious resolution.
  7. She made sure, when her tenure was up, that I would be taken care of as she moved on.

What a business model! Why would we not want that type of relationship with all of our clients? It keeps giving and giving, growing and growing, connecting and reconnecting.

Ask yourself this: Do your customer know who you are?

Better yet, do you know who they are?

#CustomerService #RelationshipBased #Frannietastic #AskUncleMarty



Also published on the AMBC blog on August 15, 2017.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Keep People Coming Back: A Lesson from Gas Station Pizza


I'm from a New York Italian community where pizza is a way of life. I'll take on anyone and debate the merits of crust, sauce, cheese blend, hand tossing, oven styles, fresh or canned mushrooms, anchovies, or any other topic or topping. I know good pizza; I value good pizza.

But I have a dirty little secret: one of my covert indulgences is by no means "good pizza." No, indeed gas station pizza is quite the opposite. You've seen it at nearly every mini mart you've ever been to … heated up behind the counter from a frozen package, with ingredients that are definitely not fresh, with dough that is definitely not hand tossed, kept in a little glass warmer next to the scratch-off dispenser with leftover breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil scattered along side it on the not-washed-in-a-while round metal rotating trays, and usually served by a clerk with a dirty shirt and smoker's breath on a paper plate entirely too small for the slice so it flops over the edges onto the stained, ancient Formica counter. It's really quite disgusting. But it's also really quite delicious!

I eat gas station pizza entirely too often. Though, in my defense, I don’t have many dinner options on my way home from work. I close my shop at 6pm, often have evening pickups or deliveries to do afterward for my clients, and then start on my hour drive home. The roads between Ithaca and Endwell are not exactly bustling with commerce, and despite my best intentions I don't always have healthy snacks packed for the ride to sustain me until I get home. So, when I just can't hold out, my quick on-the-road dining options consist of an old Burger King (which I've vowed never to go back to after the manager felt that the appropriate response to a friendly request for extra sweet and sour sauce was to use obscenities before berating me) or one of half a dozen mini marts along the road for a hot dog, a sausage, or a slice of pizza.

Last night, exhausted and entirely too verklempt to think about cooking, I stopped at my favorite mini mart for a couple of slices. To my delight, one of my favorite clerks was working: a very friendly fella, probably in his mid-20s, in wide legged skater style baggy pants, wearing oversized untucked shirt, inked on every limb, with sagging holes in his ears where enormous gauges once were, and consistently sporting the cheeriest demeanor in that little town.

They had only three pieces of pizza left in the display case: one very crusty slice of three-meat and two less crusty but still way past their prime slices of pepperoni. So I asked for the two pepperoni, and my favorite clerk looked at me with a little side eye and asked me if I was sure. When I told him that I was, he insisted on giving me a side of ranch "to soften them up a little bit." I expressed my gratitude, to which he responded, "That's how you run a good business … keep people coming back!"

He was spot on.

I go to this mini mart over the other ones because their pizza is usually decent. I go there because their clerksthis one in particularare often very friendly. I go there because I feel appreciated as a customer. But last night, the pizza wasn't fresh; it wasn't good. I really kind of had to choke it down, dipping it in ranch, and loathing myself a little bit more with each bite. And the clerk was up front about the substandard pizza before he sold it to me, knowing what I had come to expect there. So he did something above and beyond to help make it better, knowing that that if he couldn't provide his best product he could still provide his best service … and keep me coming back.

#CustomerService #KeepPeopleComingBack #GasStationPizza #DirtyLittleSecret


Also published on the AMBC blog on July 26, 2017.