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The Philosophies of PowerMax

Most companies have a guiding philosophy that governs how they do business; how they react to customers, what they are trying to sell and why, and even how they view a standard business transaction.

How these philosophies are communicated to customers vary. Some do it with advertising, some do it with an emphasis to their employees, and some don’t do it at all (until you have a problem).

At PowerMax, we decided to take a direct approach and just tell anyone who wants to read them what our guiding philosophies are when it comes to our business. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful when determining whether you want to buy from us, or if you run into a problem you’re asking us to solve. Either way, these philosophies will give both our customers and our employees a framework within which we can find common ground, and hopefully make you a PowerMax friend for life.

This is all actually a little off-the-wall and unconventional. But you know what? That’s one way you could describe PowerMax anyway.

Kevin Anderson
President & CEO

The PowerMax Approach

Much of what makes us who we are has to do with our location in Oregon. You see, Oregonians are a bit of a unique lot. We tend to be a little off the wall, laid back, and delight in marching to our own drummers. There is a lot of tolerance for divergent views in the Northwest, as well as a lot of creativity. As for Oregon's largest metropolis, Portland is either a small city or a large town, depending on how you want to look at it. But one thing's for certain: Portland is also a very good Mac town. We have no specific data, but based on the number of specialty Mac retail outlets vs. the total population alone, we're pretty certain that Portland ranks among the top cities in the country when it comes to the percentage of Mac users.

So, we like to think of ourselves as mavericks in many ways. And that can certainly be said of PowerMax. In an age where the trend is all about faceless website transactions where personal interactions are kept at a minimum, we encourage our people to engage in nice, long conversations with our customers. We want to understand what you do and how you do it, so we can best impart our experience and knowledge into your purchasing equation. We like to get to know you, and have you get to know us.

We also try and do that with a very friendly and humorous attitude. We remind our employees regularly to 1) Not take themselves too seriously in any situation, 2) Don't sweat the small stuff, 3) Care. Care. And keep caring... about all our fellow human beings, 4) Have a sense of humor. 5) Enjoy life. Smell the roses. Make sure you only expend that extra energy on what's really important, like relationships, good communication, and sunsets with a good chardonnay. In Oregon, that probably means sitting in the rain. But we don't mind that at all.

We do like to tell it like it is. We offer a huge variety of choices, because we know that not everyone can afford, or even needs, the most expensive new computer systems out there. When you come to PowerMax, you have choices from sub-$100 systems that still work great for a whole bunch of things, all the way up to complete professional editing systems costing over $10,000. And everything in between. And we offer it all with a smile, hopefully a laugh or two, and just good-old fashioned customer service.

We invite you to experience the PowerMax difference. We hope you like it.

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Everyone has read sayings such as “The customer is always right,” and “Customer Service is our number one priority.” But whether those reflect the day-to-day transactions, even from the companies that tout those phrases, your experience can be another matter, especially if a problem crops up.

One can often judge the quality and commitment to customer service a company has based on how a problem is handled. It’s a given that there will be problems. Every company has them. But how are they solved?

At PowerMax, we refuse to operate based on policy alone. You should never hear the words: “You are right, but it's against our policy” from one of our employees (okay, everyone makes mistakes, but it should rarely happen). We view the word “policy” to be a lazy manager’s way of running things. When there is a complication in resolving a problem, real people hear the facts and make a decision, as opposed to reading a Policy Manual. Sure, we have guidelines and basic rules, but they’re mostly in place to give us a starting point. The good people who work here would like nothing more than to make people happy, but any resolution to a problem has to accommodate both the customer’s and PowerMax’s needs. We remain flexible to make sure that we do our best to balance both of those needs. Everyone has a different situation and problem, and we do everything we can to make things right within that framework.

Our customer interaction structure is much of where that starts. When you talk to a sales consultant at PowerMax, that person becomes your personal consultant whenever you call. (Unless of course you want to talk to someone else: after all, it’s your consultant and you can choose whomever you want to work with.) So rather than turning into a customer number, or making a call into a call center where you talk to someone different every time you call (or worse yet, when you have a problem you’re forced to work through a returns or technical department that couldn’t care less about all the history you have… as a perfect example of this, who hasn’t had the experience of buying something from someone on the phone and then when you call back with a problem, hearing the words “I’ll have to transfer you to another department?”), at PowerMax, you start with your sales consultant, who then facilitates the solution with you, only getting our returns or technical departments involved when it’s necessary to complete the details of the situation.

Does this mean we’ll take back product after it’s allowable return time or opened software, etc.? Probably not. As we stated, we do have rules and guidelines. But frankly, every manufacturer is a bit different as well. So we don’t plop our policies on top of everyone else’s and make you live with that. But mostly, we treat you as a valued customer with respect. And that’s where it all begins.

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Problems & Resolutions

No one, or especially no group of people, is ever perfect. We make mistakes. When we do, our guiding philosophy is to make sure the customer doesn’t suffer for those mistakes. If we ship the wrong thing, and it’s really our fault, we’ll pay to pick it up and replace it. There’s no reason the customer should have to pay extra shipping because we messed up. At the same time, we expect our customers to treat us the same way. We believe that if a group of people (i.e. a company) is honest, then they can expect honesty in return. We don’t believe honesty and truth is a situational prerogative.

Sometimes it’s a problem that is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and we’ll help any way we can to interface with a manufacturer who is too large and/or guided only by policies (or worse yet, dedicates too little resources to customer service) to make it easy for a customer to get them to honor their warranty easily. For the life of me I can’t understand manufacturers who instruct customers to “take their product back to where they bought it” when it’s six months into the warranty and is going to have to go back to the manufacturer one way or another anyway. (And sometimes these same manufacturers then tell us we can’t return that very same product because the owner of the product needs to deal with them. Oy.)

But the bottom line is that if you have a problem, we’ll do everything we can to reasonably solve it based on your personal situation.

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How to seek a resolution to your problem.

If you feel you are the recipient of one of these rare mistakes, and/or we dropped the ball somewhere, simply send an email to your sales rep, or to feedback@powermax.com, with as much information as you feel we need to track down your situation. We will email you back or give you a call as promptly as possible… the same day if we can figure out what's going on and it's not too late in the day to do so.

Being consumers ourselves, we know full well that a lot of companies, if not most, seem to need a mallet upside the head and/or a bunch of screaming, shouting and threats to get their attention. That’s not what’s necessary at PowerMax. Threats that you're going to contact the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General, post messages on FaceBbook and Twitter, or that you're going to run around town with a nastily-worded sandwich board, will actually achieve nothing more than a simple request will, because we take a lot of pride in what we do, and will always do what we can to provide a fair and reasonable solution to any problem.

But if it helps you to get all shouty at us and everything… feel free to do so. Just know it isn't going to change our response in either content or reaction time.

Truth be told, we really like dealing with nice people, because we're very, very nice ourselves. But we won't be bullied or threatened into doing something different than we'd do for the nice folks, because we don't think the nice folks should be punished for being unwilling to be unreasonable or threatening. But dad gummit, we'll still try to be perfect as often as possible.

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Is the customer always right?

To be perfectly honest, the real answer to that is no. Someone invented that trite phrase and it’s probably done more damage to retail/consumer relations than any other individual phrase in the English language. What? Heresy you say? Well here’s why:

First of all, and perhaps especially in the computer business, the customer may not always understand the intricacies of the product and/or the situation. A common joke among technicians is to describe a particular problem with any one of a number of variations of the phrase “There is an interface problem between the computer and the chair.” In other words, it’s not the hardware or software, it’s the user (we don’t allow that phrase at PowerMax, because it’s a bit demeaning, and we strive to appreciate every level of computer awareness, from novice to expert).

So, sometimes the customer has it wrong, and the demanded solution is just not going to make the problem go away. Or maybe the demand just isn’t reasonable, like those who want a merchant to replace a product that’s already covered under a manufacturer’s warranty and the manufacturer dictates a repair strategy only.

Secondly, we live in an age where entitlement and sometimes a lack of personal responsibility create an attitude where a reseller is supposed to relieve a customer of all the responsibilities of owning a product. We won’t go into all the social reasons why some of this has happened, but let’s just say it can bedevil the most well meaning of merchants.

For instance, if you drop your laptop in the bathtub, it’s not really the merchant’s responsibility to replace it. Or if you take a trip to Antarctica for six months and come back to a product that is out of warranty, the fact that you didn’t use it for six months is neither the merchant’s nor the manufacturer’s fault. Believe it or not, we do run into customers who expect something different (or sometimes believe if they’re belligerent enough they’ll get what they want).

We just don’t think it’s right to reward bad behavior while those on good behavior don’t get the same benefits. Now, one might ask, “well can’t you just give the customer a new laptop in the interest of good customer relations?” The answer to that is a bit complicated, because it has a lot to do with the business you’re in.

I’ve always thought that a good restaurant should go above and beyond when they mess up. If they drop a plate of spaghetti in your lap, they should pay for the cleaning bill and give the poor diner a free dinner. Why? Because first of all, it was their fault (and PowerMax will always make sure a customer doesn’t suffer any more than possible if we make a mistake), but also, because restaurants thrive on repeat business especially from groups, and the cost of that dinner is quite a bit less than the selling price. If I’m selling a one-dollar product that costs me a penny, I can afford to give someone 99 more replacements before I lose money on that product. In the electronics industry, the cost of a product is often between 90% and 95% of the selling price. That’s why you don’t see liberal return policies in electronics, or things like cars. There’s just too much of the cost of the product wrapped up in the selling price. Clothing stores and others, who routinely make 100% mark-up, have a lot more leeway when it comes to taking care of customers.

But mostly, if you encounter a problem with a transaction at PowerMax, you’ll find we respond best to reasonability and good humor, and we do that by not needing to be yelled at or threatened to make something happen. If it’s a good thing to do, and reasonable, we’ll do it. If it’s not, we won’t. And those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis with only basic guidelines, so we’re able to help each customer according to their needs.

The bottom line: we understand some companies need to be screamed at and demands made for managers to be brought in before the company will listen. That isn’t the case with PowerMax. All of our people understand they’re here to listen, and do what they can to solve a problem.

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To sum it up rather succinctly: we hate rebates. They’re time-consuming, they create a lot of customer dissatisfaction, and they’re only used as a way to lower the price in everyone’s mind, while really only lowering the price to the percentage of people who actually redeem the rebates (which is never 100%). But you know what? We once tried to promote ourselves as a place of respite from “rebate hell.” We took a stand to be a place people could go and just get an honest up-front price and relieve everyone from the hassle of rebates. But a funny thing happened. Our business dropped. The only reason I can think of for this is that rebates play a trick on the majority of people’s minds where they’re absolutely certain they will redeem the rebate and ultimately get that little-bit-better price, no matter what. You’ll find some of our competitors really capitalizing on this by offering rebates on seemingly everything they sell. Digging through some sites will reveal hundreds upon hundreds of rebates. And customers keep thinking they’re getting a better price, and only a percentage of them do, and the rest actually pay a higher price. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never forgotten to mail in a rebate on time, but it’s never going to happen again, right?

So, we have some rebates. We don’t like to do ‘em, but if the customers will shop more often in places where there are rebates, we have to accommodate that. And of course a lot of manufacturers provide rebates that have nothing to do with us (one camera company has had the same rebate on the same product for several years running. Why don’t they just lower the price? Probably because both sales and revenue would drop). So, bear with us on the small number of rebates we offer. When consumers collectively forswear rebates, and we’d love it if that would ever happen, we’ll be off of them that same day.

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Trying to get something for nothing

We’re including this philosophy to help those who think scamming companies out of anything is somehow a good game to play. Why people think taking advantage of a group of people (i.e. a company) is somehow more okay than taking advantage of an individual is something I don’t completely understand. But it happens all the time. People lie about their age to get a discount into a theatre, for example, when most of them (one would hope) wouldn’t think of lying about something to get a friend to give them an extra five bucks.

But it happens to us all the time. Recent examples include a guy who sent us all sorts of legal-looking documents that demanded the prize from a drawing because we had a headline that said “Enter to Win.” Based on the idea of manipulating language to suit one’s needs, he claimed that by saying “Enter to Win” we were saying all you had to do was enter and you’d win. Never mind that anyone honest and bright enough to understand the English language knows that it’s a common phrase to indicate that you can enter and possibly win something (a web search revealed that this “gentleman” engaged in this practice all over the place. I guess some people have nothing better to do with their time than waste other people’s).

All of us should take a stand against those kinds of tactics, because they cost everyone time and money, and all they’re trying to do is get something for nothing. Another individual filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (simply used as a threat to get us to give him something for nothing) because he claimed the technicality of our language indicated that he didn’t have to buy a computer from us to get the free software we were offering. Never mind that everyone else (including him) understood full well it was a promotion for those who bought a computer from us.

Another tactic is to spot a pricing error and demand the product for that price no matter what. Laws are in place to protect consumers from “bait and switch” tactics, but far more common is when there is simple human error. Seeing a $1.00 price for a $1,000 item and demanding that the merchant has to honor it is not legally viable if there was no intent to deceive. But the “get something for nothings” will scream and shout and threaten just so they can benefit even when the more reasonable among us wouldn’t dream of trying such a thing.

I guess you could say they’re often banking on the idea that the company is big and dumb and will honor something unreasonable just because they are big and dumb. We hope that our customers appreciate that PowerMax isn’t a dumb company, because while you might be able to take advantage of someone dumb, overall your relationship with that company won’t be a very beneficial one, because, well, they’re dumb!

Often individuals will threaten the use of the BBB (sometimes I feel sorry for those poor people) or any other bad publicity they can drum up, or mention relatives that are lawyers (or sometimes worst yet, are lawyers themselves), or venomous blogs or the creation of websites to cry about how bad the company is, just in the hopes that the company will look at the potential lost revenue and kowtow to the lower cost of giving them something for nothing.

At PowerMax, we feel it’s our social responsibility not to allow that to happen. When companies allow that to happen, they open themselves up to what’s becoming an ever more increasing strategy to sue someone, knowing full well the settlement will cost the respondent less than the lawsuit. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are run only by the bottom line, so they look at X cost vs. Y settlement and decide on the Y. We think that’s very bad social policy because it encourages it to happen over and over again. It’s nothing but legal extortion.

We also believe every company does have a social responsibility, just as individuals do, and we act accordingly.

So if you’re thinking of doing any of the above with us, you better plan on a lack of success. We’re very nice and honest people with very strong social consciences and we delight in making customers happy in every way possible, but we don’t absorb the cost of those who try and get something for nothing and pass it along to our honest customers. And we strongly encourage anyone who runs or works within other companies to do the same. If everyone takes a stand against that kind of “legal” thievery, everyone will be better off, so we’ll do all we can in our little corner of the world to make that happen.

Basically all of the above really ticks off the “get somethings for nothings” crowd. But you know what? We don’t care. We’d much rather spend our time making our honest customers happy than waste it on those who think scamming companies is an okay thing to do.

And judging by the constant flow of unsolicited emails that tell us how great we’ve done, we know we’re doing a good job taking care of the good folks. You can read some of them at: Testimonials.

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On Automation vs. Personal Interaction

I'm not sure a lot of people give a lot of thought to the major upheavals happening in commerce today. The underlying technologies that are available on the web are developing and changing at a breakneck pace. What was an unusual or clever approach to selling on the web can become commonplace in a matter of months.

The result is that some consumers begin to expect certain behaviors from a website, even if not everyone is doing the same thing. The whole internet sales experience is just not mature enough for there to be a high level of standardized expectation across the board.

One of those issues is the availability of product. Websites are different animals than retail stores. If you walk into a retail store, and the product is there, you pick it up and buy it. On the web, we're dealing with billions of consumers and thousands of companies and sources of information. Information can change in an instant.

Some companies list inventory levels on their site. That's helpful to give people an idea that it is available, but of course, data being what it is, that's not really always the case. For instance, a simple number doesn't tell you if it's actually just hitting the loading dock door, or perhaps the item has been discontinued (or is going to be) and there are better alternatives, or perhaps it's actually something that isn't the perfect product for your needs and you shouldn't be buying it in the first place.

Automation can't tell you those things. That's why at PowerMax, we've decided to provide a personal touch instead of automated information. We list a lot of items that are shipped directly from manufacturers (some of whom are notoriously difficult to get specific delivery information from, because if it's not available, they want you to keep waiting for their product, not move to someone else's), so rather than post inventory information which doesn't tell the whole story, if you order the product online, we'll immediately do a little research and if there's any problem we'll email you back and let you know what's going on.

As automation increases, we think we'll start to see more and more people frustrated by it all. Because while the transactions for stuff that's in stock and goes right out via a computer and robotic assembly line and works without a hitch is really cool, we all know, especially in the computer business, that it doesn't always work that way. And companies that devote large resources to automation generally have it replace most personal interaction, so the result is, well, something like voice mail trees. We all hate those. But it's what automation has led to in that area. Its why we refuse to implement that ourselves... you'll always get someone answering the phone at PowerMax (during business hours... that's the only downside of our personal touch, people do need to sleep). And that philosophy extends to our web presentation and shipping notifications, etc. We use plenty of automation, but never at the expense of personal interaction.

That's the PowerMax way.

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Why does PowerMax exist?

When it comes to buying stuff over the internet, the companies who sell the merchandise provide jobs to people who then help facilitate those transactions, whether it's to take the order over the phone or to make sure their automated systems operate correctly.

At PowerMax, we like to think we actually provide vocations for our Apple Experts. A vocation is defined as a "strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career." Our people simply love to talk to other people... that's what they do, that's who they are. They'd be just as happy selling hippopotamus diapers if the people calling for those were as prevalent and good natured as people who buy Apple gear.

We understand there are dozens of different places you can buy this technology (although we're pretty sure we have the planet's widest selection of new and used Macs, iPads, iPods and iPhones). We also understand that we're not always going to advertise the most, shout the loudest, or be the very cheapest on every last thing we sell. Although we do like to have a little fun with our messaging sometimes, which is why you might see us offer specials based on failed end-of-the-world predictions or poke fun at Black Friday's transformation into a veritable four-month holiday.

But really, who needs another reseller who just lists products with their prices? Let's have some fun doing what we do!

We also understand -because we hear this constantly from our customers- that there are very few places anymore where conversation is encouraged, where the company has a personality, where you can share information and get opinions about the latest happenings in the Apple world and still get a great deal. A place where real live people man the phones, personally manage their emails, and genuinely enjoy walking through the door every morning because they get to do just that... in many cases for almost two decades.

That's a vocation. That's what PowerMax is all about. That's why we're here.

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