Oct 182010

One of my most admired business models is that of Coffee Cake and Kink in London;

Coffee Cake and Kink online

Partly for the great coffee, partly for the great cake but mostly for their warm greetings, tolerant non-judgemental advice, great customer service, superior product lines, adult art and for creating in London a space where all of the above can be enjoyed by anyone of any gender, mix of gender or sexual persuasion.

Whilst I was still living in London there was nothing better than spending a sunny afternoon, drinking coffee, sat at one of their outside tables, watching the world go by or chatting to other customers about everything from Eastenders on TV the previous night to the best way to bind the breasts of a willing female slave and what rope to use.

If money were no object and I could open a business in Cornwall tomorrow I’d be phoning Alana and asking if I could either franchise or borrow their name and business model to open a similar shop to CCK down here in Cornwall. In fact, had my studio not closed it would have hopefully evolved into something very similar to CCK.

That would have, could have been the social enterprise aspect of my business; to promote safe and healthy sex and tolerance of all sexuality in Cornwall. (You have to remember that Cornwall often seems to lag a little behind the rest of the country and that Truro only held it’s second Gay Pride this year).

Cornwall, at least as far as the Cornwall I have seen, isn’t too big on sexual tolerance. Hence this post.

On the 11th of October this year, St Austell town councillors met to discuss the councils position should it receive an application for a sex shop, cinema or sexual entertainment venue. The result, pending approval by Cornwall Council was that a ‘zero tolerance’ policy should be implemented.

Apparently 90 streets were ‘blacklisted’ (those that contained any thoroughfare for children and stores that children or their parents may use, other entertainment venues or religious meeting places). Councillor John Stocker thought even more streets should have been included on the list.

The deputy Mayor Sandra Heyward (who was responsible for the groundwork prior to the meeting) insisted that the plan for zero tolerance was not decided on a ‘moral basis’.

During the meeting, examples were given citing why a zero tolerance plan was best, including; an Ann Summers store in Cardiff, six doors away from a Disney store, a sex shop in Truro having been granted a license next door to school uniform shop and the fact that a sex shop that opened in St Austell several years ago was forced to close after only six weeks because “concerned parents protested and it became a ‘bit of an embarrassing’ place to go”.

The above was taken from an article by Dominic Howell in the Cornish Guardian dated the 13th October 2010.

Zero tolerance huh? Well, it looks like my plans are scuppered! I wonder how old the councillors are, what businesses they personally represent and what the demographic of the shopping public of St Austell is?

I can (sort of) see the councillors point of view if they were objecting to the sort of sex shop that existed in the 1970’s that only appealed to the ‘dirty Mac’ brigade. But, since the internet that kind of shop has largely vanished. Firms that synonymised that kind of sex shop like ‘Private’ have moved online and there is no longer a need for blacked out windows and screens between the shop door and shop proper. Sex shops by today’s definition are often stores for women who want to experiment with their sexuality actually run by women.

Jacqueline Gold’s clever re-branding of the Ann Summers chain paved the way for this and brought sex to the high street although when they tried to open a shop in Tunbridge Wells they were accused of ‘degrading’ marriage. Perhaps it is fashionable to move to St Austell for retirement from Tunbridge Wells?

Firms like Sh! Harmony, Coco de Mar and Organic Pleasures took Ann Summer’s ball and ran with it, proving that women actually liked sex and that the problem with sex was (probably) the male’s perception of ‘sex’. This was largely typified by shops with blacked out windows, rows and rows of magazines and films featuring big breasted, vacant eyed never-to-be starlets on the covers and blow-up dolls in boxes with a lurid red, gaping hole where the mouth should be and legs akimbo held apart by hard plastic seams that grazed your skin. (Allegedly).

In an area like St Austell that has problems with it’s youth, with drug use and teenage pregnancy is zero tolerance the best policy?

I know for a fact that when I opened my studio for it’s short lived stint in St Austell that people in the LGBT community, the transgender community and the BDSM community were crying out for somewhere they could shop, drink coffee amongst their own and have somewhere to meet on a day-to-day basis.

I know of a schoolgirl lesbian that was bullied into leaving her school when she ‘came out’ even though it is fashionable to be bi-sexual in the same school.

A middle aged lesbian complained that nowhere in Cornwall was there anywhere she could turn to for advice on lesbian pornography or sex toys without being part of the ‘LGBT’ culture, something she felt she didn’t ever want to belong to. Her sexuality she explained, was her own private business and not a statement. She lived alone she told me.

I know that people in both the Transgender and BDSM communities in St Austell didn’t always want to have to travel to Truro for a monthly structured meeting (munch) or have to go to Truro’s ‘gay bar’ for a drink.

On Facebook, there are Ann Summers ‘groups’ (with plenty of members) based in all the major Cornish towns. Ann Summers parties are therefore big business locally which by association would imply that there was a need for sex toys and sexy lingerie. As my own modelling groups on Facebook and these Ann Summers groups often shared the same ‘friends’ I can safely say that the demographic for both was in the age range of 14 years old to around 22.

Councillors and parents in Cornwall. Wise-up! Your children are having sex! Your constituents and shoppers are having sex. Your children and constituents may be gay or not adverse to wearing a little latex while strapped to a St Andrews cross being flogged enthusiastically about the buttocks with a leather riding crop or bamboo cane.

One could argue that given the propensity of ‘online’ shopping there is no need for physical sex shops?

I would say that since the days of the ‘ivory white’, ribbed, nine inch plastic vibrator (sorry; massager) are (mostly) dead and that since sex toys now cost often into the region of hundreds of pounds that physical shopping and sensible, adult advice are completely warranted.

In my opinion a store running with a business model like Coffee Cake and Kink is almost a necessity in all major towns. Cornwall could benefit with a similar shop in Penzance, Truro and St Austell with Plymouth (pun intended) bring up the rear.

Where better for the coffee drinking, cake eating, youth and the sexually diverse to get sensible, non-judgemental advice? Are they going to get advice on safe experimentation in sex education lessons? The family planning clinic? The doctors or from a teenage mum that to supplement her minimum wage income is running Ann Summers parties for her mates? I think not.

Zero tolerance? I think that the councillors of St Austell need to re-think their policies or at the very least have someone on board to play devils advocate and help bring Cornwall (kicking and screaming probably) into the 21st Century.

Sep 272010

<UPDATE> As suggested I went back into the Vodafone store and spoke to the manager at Truro where I was originally sold the idea of an N900. (They didn’t have it in stock so I had to get it from the Penzance store). The manager at Truro basically spent the whole conversation with a smug smile on her face explaining that I was stupid and if the phone was not fit for purpose I should have known in the first twenty-eight days. Regardless of me hoping for an update to Ovi-Maps that was never to come. The twenty-eight day return period had expired and there was nothing she could or would do to help me.

Two days ago (2nd November) I went into the Vodafone store in Penzance as I was already in the area. I held out absolutely no hope of help and I really didn’t feel like explaining everything again only to be fobbed off and sent packing. To my utter surprise, the manager, a guy named Paul Rich bent over backwards to help me and promised that if I returned on the 3rd with my original paperwork he’d replace the phone; I am now the owner of a spangly new N8 that seems to be everything the N900 promised to be and more. I now have Sat Nav and a 12MP camera phone.

Thank you Paul… You have redeemed Vodafone! </UPDATE>

I have had an account with Vodafone for the past five years. Seven months ago I upgraded my Nokia N95 8GB to a Nokia N900 but had to take out a 24 month contract at £35 per month for xx many minutes, texts and data usage. It didn’t come cheap. I have been offered the same minutes and texts etc by Orange for the half the price.

A month or so back I was contacted by Vodafone’s customer satisfaction team to see how the phone and service were. I replied that I was less than happy with the 3G coverage in Cornwall, the battery life of the phone as it continually searched for 3G and that although the phone was sold with Sat Nav at no point was I told that the Sat Nav had no turn by turn voice option. The guy from the customer satisfaction team told me there was nothing he could do and to either contact Vodafone’s retention team or go back in-store and complain.

A few days later I went into the local Vodafone store to try to explain my problems and was told within the first few minutes that the guy serving me wouldn’t recommend the N900 to anyone.

I decided that the retentions team would be a better bet as surely they wanted to keep my business.

I explained my problems to voice on the phone #1 who gave the following solutions. To conserve your battery life turn off the 2G/3G search option and live with 2G only; “Yes, I realise that will slow your phone down considerably but you can always re-enable the 3G option when you are in a 3G area” he said.

I wondered how I’d actually know I was in a 3G enabled area: Was the sky bluer? Did I receive a call from Vodafone congratulating me on being in such an area or were there signs pinned to trees?

I argued that in this day and age, when you buy a smart phone, is it not unreasonable to assume that one can unplug it from the charger each morning without having to think about switching options on and off all day depending on where you are to conserve battery life? Voice #1 replied that when you use a laptop you set the energy saving options to suit your usage.

I agreed and explained that the energy settings I have set on my laptop have never been changed since I first set them up on day one and that they suit my purpose fully, wherever I am. I don’t have to use different settings in a cafe in London to the settings I use on the beach at Lands End.

Voice #1 understood what I was saying but told me I’d either have to live with the inconvenience of changing the options or live with short battery life. There was no compromise and that Vodafone state in their T&C that they do not guarantee any kind of network coverage.

I suggested that Vodafone should at least make customers aware that smart phones are rendered virtually unusable in areas such as Cornwall that have little to no 3G network coverage. Apps, emails, internet, Facebook and Twitter all rely on 3G to make the activity pleasurable rather than a chore.

Who buys a smart phone to access the online functions laboriously slowly? Don’t the networks and phones all sell themselves on speed and ease of use?

To give you an idea how bad the battery is;  a couple of days ago I unplugged the phone from the charger at 8.30am. At 5.30pm that evening I received a phone call that went straight through to voicemail as the phone had died sometime during the day. I know this because when I went to set an alarm at 11pm the phone was dead with not enough battery power to start up. I received the text notification for the missed call at 8am the following morning. It had been an important call I had missed. One that had the potential to cost me financially had the caller not been contactable the next day.

This is Nokia’s supposedly flagship phone, less than seven months old!

After thirty-five minutes of getting nowhere with voice #1 I asked to be transferred to someone more senior; I was put on hold and eventually Gavin Mandrill, a customer service manager took the call. He asked me to cut to the chase, explain what was wrong succinctly and what I wanted Vodafone to do about it.

Once more I explained that I was unhappy with the 3G coverage in Cornwall and that the lack of 3G made a lot of the phones ‘smart’ features unreasonably slow. I explained that were this problem explained to me at point of sale I might have chosen a phone that had more ‘offline’ features. I suggested that Vodafone made it a priority to explain the lack of 3G locally and that it would be of great help to future customers. I explained that I was more than a little unhappy with the phones lack of voice directed Sat Nav especially in a flagship model, especially when the phones predecessor had it and especially when Nokia use it in their television advertising as a selling point.

Regarding the lack of 3G Gavin again stated that in Vodafone’s T&C they did not guarantee coverage. Therefore, Vodafone were fulfilling their obligation by ‘not’ supplying 3G to the majority of Cornwall. Although they didn’t advertise the fact at point of sale I was in error for not doing my research. Regarding the short battery life Gavin suggested as Voice #1 had done that I compromise and adjust my settings so that the phone stopped looking for 3G. Sure, it would be hassle to keep having to change settings if I ever wanted to use 3G where I could but it was one or the other… Short battery life or 2G unless I knew I was in a 3G area and reverted my settings back to the standard ones.

“Again, tell me directly” said Gavin, “What do you want Vodafone to do for you?”

“Well” I replied “Orange have offered me the same tariff as you guys but at half the price. What I’d like from you is that you give me an early upgrade so that I can get a phone I can use or that you let me cancel my account with you without charging me a cancellation of service fee.” (Which they quoted in the region of £500).

“Why should we not charge you?” said Gavin. “You’ve had the phone for seven months, you have seventeen months left to go on your contract and we stand to lose money. You can make phone calls, you can send texts, you can access the internet and you have Sat Nav. Where have we failed to withhold our end of the contract?

If you’ve had a bad experience in-store, I apologise but you should take that up with the store’s manager. Not with Vodafone directly! On top of that, you’ve seemed to be happy with the phone up until now and I don’t understand why you’re complaining now, after seven months.”

I explained that missing the call last night was the final straw and that although I ‘had’ complained about the lack of voice in the Sat Nav app before I had been told that that was Nokia’s problem and not Vodafone’s. Adding everything together I believed that Vodafone held at least some of the blame in bad customer service, bad information at the time of sale and poor network coverage in the west of the country that wasn’t publicised.

“Look” I said, “I’m not trying to scam Vodafone, I’m not trying to get something for nothing, I’m willing to compromise. I don’t want to go through the hassle of cancelling with you and opening an account somewhere else. I’m sure you don’t want to lose my business and don’t want the hassle of taking me to court to reclaim the cancellation fee which I definitely ‘will not’ pay up-front and willingly because I’m happy to argue that you ‘have not’ fulfilled your contract completely with me.

Let me have an early upgrade please, to a phone I can use offline as easily as online, a phone I can get Sat Nav with turn by turn voice direction, even if I have to pay for that feature as an app and I’ll happily agree to a new 24 month contract.”

Gavin reiterated that everything was fulfilled by Vodafone in their contract with me and that I was at fault for not researching both the phone and the area I live in. Point of sale staff are not at fault for not answering questions not asked of them and not at fault for not supplying information that might be of use to a potential customer. Everything I was sold was ‘fit for purpose’.

‘Hmmm. Fit for purpose. Interesting!’ I thought.

“Define fit for purpose.” I said.

“Do you want the Oxford English definition?” asked Gavin.

“No, you know what I mean.” I said.

“What are you getting at?” asked Gavin.

“Would you agree that Satellite Navigation on a phone or on a Tom Tom like device is aimed primarily at drivers?” I asked.

“Yes.” replied Gavin.

“Would you agree that reading a book while driving was dangerous?” I asked.

“Yes.” replied Gavin.

“Would you advocate looking at a map whilst driving?” I asked.

“Ummm, I know what you’re getting at and I’m not going to answer.” said Gavin.

“So in declining to answer and by not agreeing that looking at a map while driving is dangerous, you’d, by implication, be suggesting that a Satellite Navigation system, aimed at drivers, that you can only make use of by taking your eyes off the road and squinting at a small, phone sized screen is ‘not’ fit for purpose?” I asked.

“Gavin, is the Sat Nav on an N900 fit for the purpose of driving?”

“I’m not answering that and not getting into this.” said Gavin.

“Can I quote you on that?” I asked.

“If you do it will be libellous unless you recorded the conversation and informed me of such at the beginning.”

“Vodafone recorded it.” I replied “You informed me of that at the beginning of the call. If this goes to court to reclaim a cancellation fee it can’t possibly be libel as the definition of libel is:

Libel occurs when a false and defamatory communication is written and seen.

Nothing I’ve said or will say, if this goes to court, is either false or defamatory. You have the proof there at Vodafone unless you can erase or lose it.”

“We will agree to disagree.” replied Gavin.

I said my goodbyes and hung up the phone. Honestly, I’m not going to let this drop. I was more than happy to take out another exorbitantly priced twenty-four months when I can get the same deal cheaper. I don’t usually have a problem with Vodafone. I would get to keep my number when it’s on all my stationery and we would all have come away smiling.

Where to from here? I don’t know yet but ranting on my blog is a start.