Be great or go home.


I just fired my physician.

No, I didn't fire him Donald Trump style, but basically, he justified my lack of confidence in his ability to both diagnose symptoms and treat them for the last time.

So, he is gone.

Frankly, the guy is a menace. Several years ago, I came in with what I thought might be a fractured rib. (Rainy day + slick railroad tracks + bicycle racing = bad combination.) Dr. Donothing checked me out for ten minutes and told me I probably had a bruised rib and started to send me home.

I insisted that I didn't think it was just a bruised rib. This felt worse. (And as an athlete, I ought to know.) I wanted an X-Ray to know for a fact whether or not I had a fracture. Why? First, because I wanted to know. Second, because a fracture means 6 weeks of recovery instead of just 2 weeks, and my racing schedule woud be affected. Third, because I wanted to have an accurate record of the injury to go into my medical file. Call me anal, but I like to be accurate whenever possible.

Anyway, Dr. Donothing resisted, assuring me that I did not in fact have a broken rib, but he finally caved in, either to prove me wrong or to shut me up or just to get me out of his office.

The verdict: Not one, but two fractured ribs.

Way to go, Doc.

This was not the first such incident. Sadly, it wasn't the last either.

Two weks ago, I came down with a fever that knocked me out for three days. On the third day, I went to his office, and he misdiagnosed me again. I wanted a throat culture done to rule out Strep throat. He told me it was unnecessary. He prescribed a POS antibiotic that wouldn't clear a sinus infection, much less an aggressive strain of strep. At the time, I didn't know any better, so I believed him.

Well, a week later, the fever was gone but I was still not 100%. A few more days later, the bug started attacking my skin. Nasty stuff. At about the same time, my daughter came down with strep herself. Her pediatrician laughed when he heard that my doctor had prescribed the POS antibiotic medication. Upon finding this out, I asked several of my physician friends what they thought about my prescription, and their reactions were all the same: That prescription isn't likely to do much against strep... or anything, for that matter.

The other question they asked was this: Why didn't Dr. Donothing do a strep culture in the first place?

Indeed. Why not rule out the possibility of strep? Why not spend the thirty seconds it would have taken to be thorough?

Who knows.

Long story short, I got one of his colleagues to prescribe me something that will take care of the problem, but not before having to threaten their practice with a little nastiness.


Less that 24 hours after getting on the new antibiotic, my condition took a turn for the best, and I seem to now be backto my good old self. Finally.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because my ex-doctor's lackluster mindset can exist in the world of business and marketing as well. So instead of writing a ten page essay on the subject, let me condense what I want to say in this short list of things I learned from this little experience:

1. Make sure the people you work with or hire to do a job are good at what they do. Degrees from the best universities, diplomas on the walls, business licenses and all of the "years in business" in the world don't mean jack. Make sure they're actually good at what they do. Interview them. Test them. Make sure they are right for the job.

2. Never trust someone who opts to ASSUME when they could just as easily FIND OUT. Being lazy (intellectually or otherwise) has no place in the business world. It doesn't matter if you're a physician, a Marketing VP, or a copywriter. Period.

3. Never trust someone whose assumptions or gut feelings are ALWAYS wrong. It means they suck at their job. I don't know how else to say it. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone is wrong sometimes, but when someone is ALWAYS wrong (even about simple things), and they still refuse to take extra steps to make absolutely sure they have all of their bases covered, they're just dumb. And dangerous.

4. Don't assign projects to people you know will drop the ball. Not unless you like throwing your money down the drain and enjoy hurting your brand in the process. (This may seem like basic common sense, but I still see it happen on a regular basis.)

5. This may be just a paraphrase of #2, but it is worth repeating: When someone in any position, job or industry - whether that person is a lawyer, doctor, military officer, businesss trategist, financial advisor, design engineer or marketing manager - doesn't take the time to be thorough, ask the right questions, and make sure all of his/her ducks are in a row, that person is a liability. Pure and simple.

The impact that someone like this can have on the life or well-being of a person, community or company they have been hired to "serve" can be... well, dire.

Catastrophic, even.

The thing about all of this is that being thorough doesn't require talent. It just requires a certain frame of mind. It requires a commitment to always making sure that all angles are covered. That no stone is left unturned. That no question is left unanswered. That even when everything goes wrong, some sort of plan is in place to respond to the emergency.

It isn't rocket science.

My experience has always been this: Every successful project is 80% preparation and 20% execution.

Adequate preparation before anything - a product launch, a race, a presentation, an interview, a photo shoot, a surgery, a project kickoff or a military operation - can make the difference between suffering a cripling disaster and achieving complete success.

It may not seem like it sometimes, but getting it right the first time is a heck of a lot cheaper than cutting corners upfront, and trying to fix things later.

Not everyone operates this way, however, and that's the rub.

So my advice today is this: When hiring a lawyer, doctor, project manager, salesperson or marketing exec., make sure to ask them about their process. Throw hypotheticals at them. Ask them how they start a project. Ask them how they set goals. Ask them how they manage their time. Ask them how they respond to unexpected problems.

Find out if they have the work ethic to be thorough... or if they don't.

Find out upfront rather than... later.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.


Hear ye, hear ye...

F360 is completely, utterly, desperately booked solid for the next few months. New clients, new projects, insane deadlines... There's only so much we can handle after all.

It's a great thing, but it also means that we will not be taking on any new clients or projects until at least July. We could, but the outcome would be either a) total creative burnout or b) a notable drop in the quality of our work. Or some combination of both.

And we're just not ready to make these types of compromises.

Dry your tears, grasshopper. It's only a few months, and we'll let everyone know when we open the books again. ;)

Thanks to everyone for what is truly shaping up to be an incredible year for F360.

And a crazy one at that.



Sticky Fingers - The Conclusion.


Recap: 2 weeks ago, Sticky Fingers dropped the ball while I was in one of their restaurants. A few days later, I blogged about it. Several days after that, I was contacted by Sticky Fingers' local supervisor and he promised to make things right.

And by "making things right," he didn't mean give me 20% off my next visit or refund my meal. Nope, making things right meant earn my business again.

And did he ever.

He and his restaurant offered to cater lunch for 10 people anytime, anywhere. I took him up on it, and several days later, the Sticky Fingers folks delivered our lunch.

It was as gargantuan as it was delicious. Food for ten people? More like 30. Delicious ribs, pulled pork, BBQ chicken, slaw, beans, tea, lemonade... the whole works. The manager of the store that had dropped the ball delivered it personally and made sure I knew that the food I was eating was from his restaurant.

Rather than having SF deliver the meal at an office or at my house, I opted to have them deliver it at a client's retail store in downtown Greenville, to give them a chance to not only win back my business, but also score some points with dozens of people. (Customers marveled at how good the food looked and smelled.)

The store shared some of the food with its customers, and gave away most of the coupons left behind by the Sticky Fingers team.

Leftovers were fought over the next day. Both the area supervisor and the restaurant manager contacted me several hours after the delivery to make sure I was happy.

The verdict: These guys scored big with the way they handled the situation. Here's how:

1. They didn't blow it off.
2. They didn't make excuses.
3. They immediately offered to make it right.
4. They didn't just settle for a token gesture. They REALLY offered to make it up to me.
5. They so completely overdelivered. The lunch they brought over was a feast. Everyone was impressed.
6. Rather than give me money back and send me on my way, they opted instead to fight tooth and nail to earn back my trust and my business.
7. By offering to cater an abundance of food, they invited at least a dozen people to the table... and that's nothing short of brilliant. Why spend so much time and effort turning one guy into a happy customer again... when they could use this event to turn ten or twenty people into excited, happy customers as well?

Everyone who had some of their food heard the story. No one dwelled on the fact that something negative happened at one of their restaurants. What people focused on were a) how incredible the food was, and b) how unbelievably cool it was that Sticky Fingers would take such good care of its customers.

Every single person who came into contact with this free catering event walked away with a terrific story to tell about Sticky Fingers, a new appreciation for their brand, and a rekindled taste for their delicious food. (I expect at least half will be having a meal there inside of the next two weeks, myself included.)

These guys did everything right. Heck, they went so far beyond making things right that they set a whole new standard of customer service for everyone in their industry.

Or any industry, for that matter.

If I had to sum it all up in one word, it would be this: Bravo.

1000 thanks to Sticky Fingers. You guys rock.

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The comebacks of the century?


Two companies have pulled themselves out of a pretty narrow corner this past year and I have to give them a big hand: They are Blockbuster Video and AT&T.

A year ago, I really wondered if Blockbuster would even be around for another 12 months. Back then, the accessibility, ease of use and shrinking pricepoints of cable's on-demand programs, online downloads and the growing popularity of Netflix seemed to be shredding the video rental giant to bits. The stores were starting to look dingy. The parking lots were empty on the weekends. The windows were getting taped over by really cheap looking promotional posters. No one I know even bothered to rent movies there anymore. The end seemed near. Very near.

But Blockbuster bounced back. They took a moment to take a look at the situation. They realized what they were up against. They adapted to the new landscape. They changed their ways and fought back for our business. And while the verdict isn't out yet on whether or not Blockbuster will make it in the end (or perhaps even come out on top), the way in which they executed their comeback campaign was worthy of a standing ovation.

The ads are fun, engaging, and most imporantly SIMPLE. By simple, I mean clear. They tell a story that even a four year old would get. (Simplicity was one of the elements they absolutely needed to hit a bullseye with, and they did.)

Basically, Blockbuster decided to become more like Netflix... but by keeping the stores, ended uppoviding a "best of both worlds" type of service: You want to do everything by mail? Cool. We can do that. You want to be able to return your movies at a store to speed up the process? No problem. We can do that too.

Rocket science it isn't, but it didn't need to be. Blockbuster didn't need to reinvent the wheel. It just needed to understand it, grab hold of it and take it over, which it did. So far so good. I haven't had a chance to look at any numbers yet, but I would be willing to bet that Blockbuster is a lot better off today than it was this time last year, and for a company we had all but given up on, that's a hell of a comeback.

The other company is AT&T. The telecom giant that owned the 80's seemed to have kind of fallen behind over the last few years. With wireless companies like Verizon, Cingular and even youth-friendly T-Mobile hitting home runs left and right, terms like "relevance" came to mind whenever AT&T's name was brought up... which wasn't often, but... that's my point. To make matters worse, the growth of free web based aps like Skype weren't helping either. (My parents live in France, my brother on an island in the Indian ocean, and my sister in Brazil. Do you really think we waste money on long distance phone calls when we can video-conference for free?)

What I am trying to say is that despite its size, history, infrastructure and resources, AT&T appeared to be a bit like a dinosaur compared to the hip, fast moving companies that obviously "got it."

I kept asking myself... how are these guys connecting the world again?

Then AT&T did something strange. They changed their logo. They changed their name from AT&T to at&t... and I have to admit that at the time, this type of exercise seemed to me like a complete waste of time. There was AT&T, seemingly a sinking ship (albeit a slowly sinking ship, but yeah, the writing was on the wall), spending money on a fresh coat of paint. At the time, it didn't really make sense.

Rebranding for the sake of rebranding was completely worthless without something substantial... like real change.

But then AT&T bought the popular wireless provider Cingular. Yeah, the one with the fun little orange logo and the fresh, youthful image...

... and the exclusive contract with iPhone.

At the time, I hoped that this was just a ploy. That since AT&T couldn't make it work, they had decided to buy a popular wireless brand, and just give it a big infusion of cash and resources to make investors happy... but then I found out that Cingular was going to actually BECOME at&t.

What?! Had at&t just spent all of this money acquiring a relevant brand only to... kill it and turn it into... at&t? No way. At the time, it didn't make sense.

Words like "ego" came to mind.

In the first few weeks, the whole affair threatened to leave a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. What in the world was at&t doing?!

That is, until the TV adds started coming out. You know, the ones in which the Cingular logo spins around the glob and morphs into the at&t logo? Yeah. Those. Like Blockbuster, these ads are simple, clear, to the point... and yeah, effective.

These simple little ads single-handedly turned things around by telling the story of what at&t was trying to accomplish. They turned at&t from a seemingly bloated, irrelevant, purchase-happy mega corporation into a smart, forward-thinking, fresh company again, and that, my friends, is no small feat.

And a big hurray for succesful Marketing Communications.


at&t didn't need a dancing chicken for this one. They didn't need talking monkeys. (Not yet anyway.) They needed a campaign that revitalized their brand and made all of the strategic moves they made in the last two years make sense. Hell, the campaign needed to make these changes exciting, and it succeeded in doing that as well.

Brilliantly executed.

A lot of people in this business think that ads exist to sell products. To some extent, that's true... But the true purpose of advertising is to a) create an awareness (for a product or brand), b) establish a relationship (between a consumer and that product or brand) , and c) trigger a reaction in that consumer. In the best cases, that reaction could be desire, it could be excitement, it could be a sense of kinship or a dozen other reactions that will help that consumer adopt the advertised product or brand as one of his/her brands of choice.

Everyone hopes that advertising sells products, but... advertising is only part of the purchasing decision process. A small part.

Unless you're pushing $0.99 Whoppers or something.

Where at&t and Blockbuster score here is that they used advertising as more than just a selling tool. They used it as an effective marketing communications tool. With their ads, they reached vasts amounts of people and started telling them their story again. One ad at a time. One spot at a time. One little jingle at a time.

In the light of the changes taking place with their companies, they opted to use mass media to clarify their plans and rejuvenate their brands.

A year ago, both of these once great brands seemed to be circling the drain of obsolescence. Today, they seem to both be making unbelievable comebacks.

I don't know about you, but from where I'm standing, it's pretty damn impressive.
There are two marketing/branding/communications team sout there somewhere doing a hell of a good job for these folks, and everyone associated with these projects is going to have something to be VERY proud of for the rest of their lives.

Well done, folks. I hope that business schools and marketing communications programs the world over allow their students to study what you've accomplished here. It's nothing short of perfect. :)

Have a great weekend, everyone.

photo by kamirkriza.


How brands get back up and brush themselves off.


A few days ago, I posted a piece about how brands fall down (poor customer experiences) that was based mostly on three distinct negative experiences I had with usually fantastic brands. The three failures I cited were examples of how even the very best brands can screw up sometimes, and why.

Well, I was contacted by Sticky Fingers' area supervisor yesterday, and he offered to make things right. This is an exerpt of the email he sent me:

(...) "I am the Area Supervisor for the Greenville market. I recently read your blog and wanted to take a moment to respond.

I am not going to try and make excuses for what happened other than to say we blew it. I can however, assure you that this is not the norm at our restaurants. We strive for legendary service as well as food. We are not your typical chain restaurant, and we like to think of ourselves of going above and beyond for our guest.

I was truly disappointed to read your blog, and I accept full responsibility for your experience, as well as the other guest that day.

I also wanted to thank you for taking the time to write the blog. It is only through customers such as yourself that we can continue to improve our operations."

He then explained how he would make it right, and you know what? The guy just scored some major points with me. It couldn't have been easy to write that email, and while most managers at most companies wouldn't have bothered, not only did he take the time to respond, but he did it in the best possible way. And I like the fact that he mentioned that Sticky Fingers does not consider itself to be a typical chain. He used the term "legendary". I like that a lot.

Well played sir. Well played.

I will be taking him up on his offer to win back our business, and yes, as long as the food is back to its usual scrumptiousness and the Sunday buffet doesn't break down again, I will definitely be recommending Sticky Fingers to everyone I know once more.

Some companies would have contacted a lawyer to threaten me into removing the post. (Yes, it has happened.) Others would have simply ignored the post. Many would have never cared enough to even read it in the first place. Sticky Fingers chose a loftier path, and there's a lot to be said for that.

Ultimately, not screwing up in the first place is a lot cheaper than making ammends, but there's a lot to be said for a person in a leadership position trying to make things right by a customer whose experience wasn't up to par with a brand's promise.

And there is definitely something to be said for a person in a leadership position who doesn't hide behind excuses, and takes full responsibility for even the slightest failure.

Matt, thanks for the email. Sticky Fingers is back in my good graces, and yes, I will definitely give you another chance. You certainly deserve it. ;)

Well done, Sir.

photo by hulahulagirl @


How routine kills brands.


"The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow."

- William Pollard.

That's worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Thanks to Tom Asacker for digging that one up for us, and for his fantastic post on the very topic I wanted to explore today: What traps should exciting new companies be on the lookout for? As you can imagine, this post was going to be long. (Or at least long-ish.) Thanks to Tom's impeccable timing, you won't have to suffer through another endless essay. (See? Your good deeds are already starting to pay off.)

Check this out (again, from Tom's post):

"Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization's flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences."
- Donald Sull
(Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

So... your new mission every day is to keep it fresh. That's it. Whether you're in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don't ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you've never picked up.

Keep it fresh. Shake things up. Kill the routine before it starts killing you.

Ad go read Tom's full post. It's very good.

Have a great Monday, everyone. :)

photo by F360: Pita posing for the camera.

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The Delusion Bug


Here's a sobering little bit of reality:

"A study by Bain & Company found that 80 percent of companies surveyed believed that they delivered a "superior experience" to their customers. But, when customers were asked to indicate their perceptions of the experiences they have in dealing with companies, they rated only 8 percent of companies as truly delivering a superior experience (James Allen, Frederick F. Reichheld and Barney Hamilton, The Three "Ds" of Customer Experience, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, accessed Nov. 7, 2005). Do you sense just a little bit of disconnect?"
(Thanks to John Winsor, who caught this on Seth Godin's blog, who himself had wisely nipped it from Jim Barnes.)

8% vs. 80%.


So... seriously. What group are you in? Maybe it's time you really found out.


When brands fall down.


Although I am training for some upcoming races and watching what I eat a little more carefully than at other times of the year, I thought it would be fun to take the family to Sticky Fingers' sunday brunch buffet yesterday. The promise of all-you-can-eat pulled pork sandwiches, SF's signature au-gratin mac & cheese and delicious chicken wings was enticing enough to take a break from the Spartan nutrition program for just one meal.

Except that Sticky Fingers let us down.

#1: Our waitress wasn't all that friendly... or good at being a waitress for that matter. Not a good way to start things off.

#2: Sticky Fingers' usually scrumptious Mac & Cheese had been replaced by some cheap, bland, pasty, 10-minute product not worthy of cafeteria food, much less Sticky Fingers. Way to cut corners. Bleh. Even the kids said it sucked.

#3: The chicken wings were bland. I could probably boil chicken and get more flavor out of it. WTF?! Not at all what I would expect from Sticky Fingers.

#4: I mentioned the waitress, right? Okay. Just making sure.

#5: The kitchen didn't start baking desserts until both cobblers were already gone. The result: A line fifteen people deep that lasted twenty minutes... when everyone finally gave up and went on their way. I'm glad I paid full price for four people to have two thirds of the items taste lousy and the third run out in the middle of their brunch rush.

So let's see... Poor service, average food, and no dessert. Guess how many of the people who were there Sunday will return to Sticky Fingers anytime soon. Probably none.

Guess how many will recommend Sticky Fingers to their peers anytime soon. Zero.

Way to go.

The string of bad luck with customer service started Friday with a visit to a usually fantastic local retailer I won't name (they're a client). Even they dropped the ball, which is almost unheard of. Why? Two part time employees who were too busy talking with their friends to actually take care of customers. The customers started putting back the products they had come in to buy, and several walked out. Not good. Not good at all.

Even the almighty Whole Foods Market fell short of their brand promise this weekend, showing that no one is immune to the occasional broken window:

I watched a cashier question a customer over a pint-sized container of $1.99/lb peanut butter. She had forgotten to weigh and label the container , and the cashier couldn't find the item code on her peanut butter page. She insisted that the peanut butter had to be $3.99/lb. The customer insisted that it was $1.99/lb. (I know she isn't lying because I buy the same one.) The cashier spent a good minute arguing with the customer over her honesty. "It isn't in my book. It must have been mislabeled."

Um... no.

She called a supervisor over. The supervisor was obviously having a bad day... or didn't really want to be there, because she already had an attitude when she walked up. Never making eye contact with anyone, she sighed and puffed and rolled her eyes at having to void out the transaction to let the cashier start over.

And then she yelled at someone three or four cash registers down "I'LL BE RIGHT WITH YOU SIR!!!"


I'm sure I enjoyed having my eardrum shattered almost as much as having her hot pastrami breath punch me in the face.

With the supervisor gone, the argument between the lady in front of me and the cashier resumed. "You know, there's a scale back there with the peanut butter. What you really should do from now on is weigh your container and stick the label on it back there."

The lady in front of me, already annoyed, retorted "What I should probably do from now on is go buy my peanut butter somewhere else."

That pretty much put an end to that unfortunate dialogue.

I sent my son to go run down the item code on her peanut butter, and he returned twenty seconds later to save the day. (The cashier was still struggling with the absence of $1.99/lb peanut butter in her price book.) Armed with an item code and confirmation from the register that the customer was indeed right, the transaction ended and the lady left without a word.


Trust me, people don't shop at Whole Foods to be treated as if they were at Wal-Mart or Bi-Lo. They pay a premium not only for the organic food, but also for the upscale experience of shopping there. They want to feel special. They want smiles and hellos and thank-yous. They want things to go smoothly. They want to leave the store feeling happy.

What they don't want is a cashier giving them grief over a two dollars-worth of peanut butter!

What they don't want is to leave the store angry.

What these three retail establishments needed is the same: Better management.

Period. Here's where all three companies dropped the ball:

1) They hired bodies to fill slots instead of investing in quality employees. The waitress. The guy in charge of starting the next batch of food. The two kids. The cashier. The supervisor. None should have been hired to begin with.

I hear some of you already: "But Olivier, be realistic here. Sometimes, you just can't find quality employees and you just have to make do with what you can get. Especially in the foodservice and retail industries."

Bull. You just aren't looking hard enough. (It takes more than going through a stack of applications. You might have to actually get out there and recruit people from other businesses.)

But for the sake of argument, okay. Let's say you're stuck with lousy employees. Well, I guess someone is going to have to turn them into decent employees, and yes, that too takes work, mostly in the form of training... which brings us to item #2:

2) They didn't train them properly. As long as they are willing to learn and professional enough to want to do a good job, anyone can be trained to become an expert at their job. The cashier and supervisor should have simply sent someone to look up the item code on the peanut butter. Or entered the price manually.

I think of Starbucks giving me coupons for free coffee drinks if I have to wait in the drivethru line too long, and I wonder... why couldn't the Whole Foods cashier be trained to do whatever it takes to make her customers happy, starting by NOT arguing with a customer? By not questioning her honesty? By not creating a problem for her?

3) There was a management void at the time of the incidents. At Sticky Fingers, no one was checking on the kitchen. No one was making sure that the quality of the food was adequate. No one was making sure that our waitress wasn't turning off customers with her attitude. There was just no one there to mentor and monitor the situation. At the super top secret retailer, no one was there to tell those kids to pay attention to customers and stop screwing around. At Whole Foods, no one was there to send that cashier on break, ask the supervisor to wait for them in their office, and take care of the peanut butter lady personally.

Poor leadership (or the absence of leadership) causes broken windows to happen.

I don't blame the lousy cashiers and waitresses for screwing up. Most of the time, they aren't being paid enough to care all on their own, or to know any better. Most need someone there to give them pointers. To help them when they get overloaded. To make sure that everyone is able to do their work. Even to give them a boost of self confidence or positive attitude with a compliment, a bit of encouragement, a joke or a reward.

Believe it or not, a good leader isn't there to crack the whip and sit in an office all day not wanting to be disturbed. A good leader is there to make sure that everyone has the tools they need to get their job done. That means clear instructions, adequate training, assistance, and motivation.

A good leader spends a lot of time on the floor.

When brands fall down, it is more often than not because of a leadership failure somewhere along the way. It could have something to do with a senior level decision to replace a large percentage of your specialized workforce with cheap, inexperienced labor.

It could have something to do with a decision to cut corners on design or production.

It could be because someone decided not to invest in a new technology.

It could be because employees were hired too quickly, or not trained adequately, or left unattended too long.

Brands fall down because somewhere along the way, someone decided to cut a corner here and there and figured that nobody would notice.


We notice.

Have a great Monday, everyone. :)


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