Friday, April 24, 2015

My Taurus Experience

(Remember Monday, when I said I had a post that became a letter to a corporation? This is the result of that letter. Never let anyone tell you that blogging is dead.)

I am going to tell you about a negative experience I had in the Taurus booth at the NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville, and then I am going to tell you how that experience was turned into a positive one by Timothy Brandt, the Director of Marketing for Taurus USA.

In order to tell you what happened at NRAAM, I am going to share (with his permission) the email conversation I had with Mr. Brandt.
Dear Taurus USA,

I would like to bring to your attention a stunning display of unprofessionalism by one of your sales reps during the NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville. So stunning, in fact, that a blogger who was contemplating purchasing a Taurus PT-22 has instead decided to spend $100 more and buy a Beretta Bobcat instead.

The incident happened on Friday, the first real day of the convention, and I was hanging out with my fellow bloggers Oddball, The_Jack, and Awelowynt when one of us decided to check out the your booth.

I would like to state now, for the record, that both Oddball and I were wearing versions of "SERIOUS GUNBLOGGER" t-shirts. This was his, only in black:

And this was mine: 
Add that to the fact that all four of us were wearing Media Badges, and it should have been pretty obvious that: 
  1. We were press.
  2. We were bloggers.
  3. We liked guns.
In short, it should have been patently obvious that we were on the same side as the vendors on the convention floor. Please keep this in mind, as it will become relevant soon enough.

As I was saying, the four of us had walked up to the Taurus booth and were looking at its wares when a Taurus employee (who looked a surprising amount like Titus Welliver) walked up to us. I know he was part of the Taurus delegation because 1) he was wearing a sports coat, and no one on the convention floor wears business clothes unless they are working a booth, and 2) his vendor tag had "Taurus USA" on it.

The sales rep's name was Kim Kyle. I'm going to say his name as many times as possible, so that it makes as much of an impression in your mind as his actions did in ours. [Author's note: at the request of Taurus USA, I have reduced the number of times I mention Kim Kyle by name. All further references will be replaced with [Sales Rep] to indicate where his name was in the original letter.]

[Sales Rep] walked up to me and looked right at my shirt, tilting his head to read what it says because my badge -- my MEDIA BADGE, mind you -- is in the way. I obligingly lifted the badge up so he could have an unobstructed view. 

When he got to the bottom of the shirt, which has my blog URL listed on it, he murmured "Lurking Rhythmically?"  I helpfully explained that "Yeah, it's a bit of a private joke." At that point [Sales Rep] then looked at me and, in a sneering tone, said"Well, it should have stayed private."

And that, as the saying goes, is where things took a turn. Taurus USA, [Sales Rep] truly covered himself in glory that day, for not only did he start a conversation by insulting someone with a media badge, he then continued to dig a deeper hole by launching into a tirade about bloggers in general and how awful and stupid we are. 

I cannot recall exactly what he said then as I write this article now, because I was getting hot under the collar at the time and anger tends to cloud my memory. Therefore I will postulate two approximations of what he said, with the explicit understanding that what I am saying here is not a direct quote. 
Conversation approximation #1: "This one time I really needed to make myself vomit, so I went online and read what bloggers said about guns."
Conversation approximation #2: "There was this one time I was really sick, I mean puking my guts out, and that still pales in comparison to how I sick to my stomach I felt when I read a gun blog."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how [Sales Rep] introduced himself to four gunbloggers with media passes. Remember, as a sales rep, he needs to make people like him so that they will buy his client's product. In other words, his entire job hinges on making a good impression, and his disdain for online media was such that he deliberately made a bad impression not just for himself, but for Taurus USA as well. After all, he was in the Taurus booth and wearing a Taurus badge.

I happen to get upset easily, and so when [Sales Rep] started spewing his bile, I decided I had better things to do than listen to him and so I wandered off to take a look at the Curve. However, another of my blogger friends stuck around to hear him out; you can read Oddball's side of the story here but I'm going to quote him directly:
He [Kim Kyle] almost instantly started on a 5-10 minute rant about how evil and mean gun bloggers were, and how we only spew lies. I tried to give him a couple outs, since I know that there are many out there that bash Taurus because that’s what all the cool kids do, and not because they’ve had bad experiences/done research/etc. They’re not the only company that has that issue. Some deserve it, and some don’t, and I have been giving them the benefit of the doubt. He failed to act like I might be different. Thanks to Taurus’ sales rep, I have learned that they do not wish to have the benefit of the doubt, nor would they like my good will, business, or recommendations to others.
Oh, and I very much was considering buying one of their products in the near future (the PT-22), but it looks like I will be spending about $100 more on a Beretta Bobcat instead because I’m not a fan of giving money to companies whose representative talk shit about me to my face. I will also no longer even consider telling people to consider buying a Taurus… something that I’m asked on a regular basis.
Later the four of us reconvened on the far side of the booth (well away from [Sales Rep]), and we were all shaking our heads and going "Can you believe that guy? Jeez." Right before we left, I asked my friends if anyone had gotten his card, and they all said no. I decided I would go back and ask him for his card.

Why did I ask him for his card?  A few reasons. First, I wanted his name in writing for accountability, purposes. Second, I though that perhaps he might have realized he'd made a mistake (especially since I was asking for his card) and possibly apologize. I was, in fact, giving him a second chance to make a first impression. 

"No, I don't have a business card," said [Sales Rep], "but can I have yours?"
Pardon me while I interrupt my own letter here, but I do not for one second believe that someone who works in sales doesn't have business cards with him while he's working one of the biggest industry conventions of the year. I just don't, full stop. I think he simply didn't want to give one of his cards away to someone he regarded as a dumb blogger.
The only other option here is that he's so incompetent that he doesn't actually have business cards with him for one of the biggest industry conventions of the year, and if he were truly that incompetent he wouldn't be working the booth at all.
Of course, his behavior has basically demonstrated he makes poor interpersonal decisions anyway, so perhaps he truly is that incompetent. 
"Can I have your card?" he asked, and I said "Oh, you wouldn't want mine. I'm a blogger." I turned and walked away, and again [Sales Rep] made no move to apologize.

Ladies and gentlemen of Taurus USA, some of you may be wondering, "Are hurt feelings truly worth someone losing their job?"  And that's a valid question. It's a decision I grappled with over the following days. 

What it ultimately came down to were these conclusions:
  1. Jobs are tight, and [Sales Rep] is a jerk and possibly incompetent. He's taking a job away from someone who deserves it more. 
  2. Taurus USA's public image is taking a beating lately, what with the poor reception of the Curve and its partial recall, and your Brazil-based parent company recalling all 98,000 pistols issued to the state police because their pistols discharged after being shaken, even with the safety on. And then there are the multiple videos showing various Taurus pistols going full-auto
  3. What I feel Taurus really needs to do to fix both #1 and #2 above is to jettison the incompetent people in order to get the company back on track, because right now I'd rather own a Hi-Point than a Taurus. 
  4. As far as I'm concerned, this is not "My feelings are hurt and I must get revenge". Rather. this is "I detect a definite pattern within Taurus' corporate culture, and the only way it will likely get fixed is by hitting the company in the bottom line."
  5. Clearly I'm not the only one who feels this strongly, as Oddball (who doesn't blog very often) was moved enough to complain about it. And then Miguel of responded by saying that the Latino business model is "Shut up and buy it as is."

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen of Taurus USA, you have a PR problem when the actions of one of your employees ([Sales Rep]) spurs the creation of two blog posts, the promise of a third, and this letter. I was going to turn it into blog post, but I was persuaded by Oleg Volk to send it to you first so that you could take appropriate action. 

I look forward to hearing from you in this matter, and am more than happy to answer any questions about what happened that day. 


Erin Palette

Mr. Brandt immediately replied with the following:
Good Morning Erin,

First and foremost, I want to apologize for the experience you had in our booth in Nashville. I appreciate you sending this note our way, and wanted to respond and let you know that we have received it, and are taking it very seriously. I have plenty more on this topic, but would like to speak to you in person.

On that front, I am tied up most of today, unless you are free in the next hour or so. I do have some time tomorrow morning--and into the early afternoon. Is there a chance your schedule allows a conversation during this timeframe? If not, I have a pretty flexible schedule next week, and want to make it a priority to speak with you on this matter.

Please know that your experience was outside (an understatement) the norm of what we strive to deliver at our shows, and in general day-to-day contact with those interested in our brand and products. There is no excuse for the behavior exhibited, and it is being addressed immediately. We hold our employees and representatives of our company to very high standards, and clearly they were not met here. I look forward to providing more insight on this topic, and a few others you mention in your email, but think it is best to discuss when we're able to set up a time for a call.

Please let me know when you're available to discuss. I look forward to speaking with you soon.


Tim Brandt
Director of Marketing
Taurus Holdings, Inc.

The "tomorrow morning" Mr. Brandt mentioned was today (Friday), and I had a nice long conversation (more than 30 minutes) with him. During that conversation he again apologized for the conduct of Kim Kyle and reassured me that my concerns did not fall upon deaf ears. He also mentioned the following, which I shall bullet point so that they do not get lost in the text:
  • He acknowledged that the culture within Taurus needs to change, and that he and others in management had been brought in to effect that change. 
  • He acknowledged that change does not come overnight, but things are changing, and for the better. 
  • He thanked me for bringing all of these points to his attention -- not just the actions of Kim Kyle, but Taurus' public image in the eyes of the general public -- and reassured me that they were being addressed. 
  • He specifically addressed Miguel's point and mentioned that Taurus USA is in the process of becoming more than a sales and advertising branch of its parent company. Not only is it building research and manufacturing capabilities in its own right, it is also developing new products specifically for American customers that will be manufactured within the United States.
  • He encouraged gun owners to give Taurus guns a chance, as (again) the company is working hard to correct the problems I mentioned in the video links above. 

Overall I would rate this as very good customer service by Mr. Brandt on behalf of Taurus USA. It heartens me to know that a corporation cares about what bloggers think, and I appreciate that he went out of his way to turn a negative experience into a positive one. I also appreciate the fact that instead of closing ranks the way a lot of companies do, Mr. Brandt acknowledged that there was room for improvement and he outlined ways that Taurus was looking to improve.

Mr. Brandt's remarks might not change Oddball's mind; that's up to him to decide. Speaking for myself, however, I will say that the next time I am looking to buy a gun, I will not dismiss a Taurus.

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