“Evergreen” Contracts and Contract Negotiation with Tellecommunications

I prefer month-to-month contracts as much as possible, especially in areas of technology.  This is to give me the freedom to cancel with the vendor in case they aren’t working out financially.  It’ll allow you to cancel after the month without any repercussions.  Perhaps you find someone cheaper or you may discover their services aren’t really needed.

Make sure you’re reviewing ALL contracts in the fine print and renegotiate the fine print.  If you don’t like it, walk away and check with a new company if many companies offer similar services.

Often contracts will have provisions that automatically renew the original term of the contract unless you cancel at least 90 days prior to the end of the term.  These are “evergreen” clauses and I HATE them.  Some contracts will even state you can’t cancel earlier than 180 days before the end of the term.  That means you only have a 90 day window to cancel a contract that may automatically renew another 5 years!!!

I will often try to do a standard term on the contract, and then once the term ends, have the contract month-to-month.  Or if it’s an evergreen contract, I will send them a cancellation letter the first month or as early as possible so that it’ll force them to come back to the table to renegotiate the terms at the end of the term, rather than automatically renewing.  You still need to be on the ball upon renewal time.

The most notorious companies are the ones that deal with technology.  Month-to-month is the way to go or at most an annual contract because technology and pricing is constantly shifting downward.  You have to be on the ball and paying attention to these because often times you have a small window to cancel.

Companies to consider: telephone, Internet, and television.  Or basically any company that you started services with more than 3 years ago.

I’ve saved hundreds of dollars per month by trimming bloated telecommunications contracts from 2004.

WARNING! Korean Phone Company Shadiness in Orange / Los Angeles County

http://youtu.be/r-YXHhr5F3Y

Here’s the email (December 31, 2009) summarizing the shadiness that I sent as a complaint to Mitel.  I had attachments for the contracts and bills, but I don’t think it’s necessary for you to get the moral of the story.

Hi [redacted] ,

I was told that you are the regional representative for the [redacted] owned by [redacted] .

I would like to report to you that we are currently in a dispute with [redacted]  stemming from his misrepresentation and fraud.  The leasing company, [Financial Company] has also been pulled into the issue.

Prior to meeting [redacted] , we had 18 phone lines through a T1 Data/Voice Intergrated Phone line through Telepacific with an older model Mitel SX-200 that uses a floppy drive to boot up.

Here is the timeline of what occurred:

November 2009

[redacted]  and representatives approached me and offered me a new Mitel SX200 ICP PBX telephone system and a T1 Dynamic Voice/Data service with equivalent service for a total monthly payment of $680.00 plus tax.  How he would do this exactly wasn’t clearly explained to me at the time.

December 3, 2009

The Mitel SX200 ICP PBX was installed without the T1 Dynamic Voice/Data Service.  They gave me a leasing agreement without any mention of the T1 Dynamic Voice/Data Service.  I told them I needed it on the contract and they added it at the last second.  I signed the lease agreement ([Financial Company].pdf) after they finished installation with the added line of the “T1 Dynamic/Voice Data Service.”

December 4, 2009

[redacted]  from [Financial Company] called me to confirm that the equipment was installed.  I notified her that the equipment was installed.  There was no mention of the T1 Dynamic Voice/Data Service not being provided.  [Financial Company] then disbursed payment to [redacted]  believing or not aware of the T1 Dynamic Voice/Data Service to not be a significant feature.

[redacted]  offered to replace the T1 for a much faster 10mbps/1.5mbps DSL line for an additional $99 per month.  He verbally guaranteed the speeds and I signed up for that contract as attached (DDSL10Mbps.pdf) believing the DSL to be an upgrade to the T1.

December 14, 2009

I receive the first bill from [Financial Company] and discover that there is no mention of the T1 on the bill.  I called and emailed [redacted]  from [Financial Company] to discover that they were not aware that [redacted]  included the T1 service in the leasing agreement.  The email I sent is copied below along with the proceeding communication that the original lease agreement is invalid.

This is when I discovered that [Financial Company] could not guarantee the T1 Service.  Should [redacted]  fail to provide T1 service during the 60 month period, then [Financial Company] would still require full payment.  My understanding was that [Financial Company] gave a lump sum to [redacted]  for signing us up for a $680/month lease payment.  [redacted]  was going to use that lump sum to pay for a separate T1 service, however, no written agreement or contract was setup regarding this and it’s still unclear to me how this would make financial sense to [redacted] .

December 22, 2009

[redacted] , an employee of [redacted] , contacted me about trying to separate the Lease payment from the service portion (email chain is below).  I communicated to [redacted]  that it was not acceptable.

December 23, 2009

[redacted]  signed a contract with Telepacific (TelepacificAnalog.pdf), despite my clear communication his offers were unacceptable, to remove our T1 Line with 18 phone lines down to 10 analog lines.

December 28, 2009

[redacted]  and [redacted]  came to the hotel to attempt to straighten things out.  He offered that we pay an adjusted $399/month for the lease of the equipment, and then $380/month to his company directly for the phone and Internet service to replace the T1.  I asked [redacted]  why I needed to go through him for the service when I could just go direct, and he stated that he gets a special discount.  I questioned how it was possible for [redacted]  to offer us 18 phone lines, and a fast Internet connection for just $380/month since I knew the DSL alone would cost $169.99 at the time.  [redacted]  stated that he knew nothing about how Telepacific was going to offer us a technical solution despite the fact that he had already signed a contract with Telepacific on the 23rd.

During the meeting, a technician from Covad came to the hotel to install DSL.  I was notified by the technician that [redacted]  had signed a contract with Megapath.  I called Megapath and let them know that their service was not authorized.  I also discovered that Megapath’s contracted speed was 10mbps/1.0mbps DSL and that a 10mbps/1.5mbps DSL does not exist.  I also discovered that they could not guarantee that I would get those speeds.  The technician from Covad, after determining the line speed, declared that the maximum speed possible is 6mbps/768kbps.

By the time I found out that they had signed a contract with Megapath, [redacted]  and [redacted]  had already left after talking with the owner of the hotel.

December 29, 2009

I talked with my Account Manager, [redacted] , from Telepacific and discovered that [redacted]  had fraudulently signed a contract on December 23, 2009.  The contract signed was that Telepacific was going to cut our phone service down to 10 analog lines and remove our existing T1 circuit.

Conclusion

It became clear to me that [redacted]  was intending to cut the quality of service to my hotel without my knowledge in order to save on expenses.  He demonstrated a pattern of misrepresentation and open fraud when signing the contract for Telepacific despite my clear communication regarding the unacceptability of his offers.

I have informed [redacted]  that his company is no longer allowed to come on property.

Potential Solution

[redacted]  will need to hire someone I trust to reinstall our old phone system and to remove the phone system he installed.

I will also be including you in any future email communication I have with the leasing company and [redacted]  unless you want me to remove you from the conversation.  Unfortunately, I do believe that [redacted]  has sold these packaged deals to other customers and is jeopardizing your company’s reputation.

Using Consumer Grade 2-Way Radios

Currently I’m using Motorola MR350R Two-Way Radios at my two hotels. Currently (2011), they’re priced at $50.99 for a pair which comes out to about $25.50 each. I try to keep as many staff members with a radio to ease communication.

Compared to the price of more expensive “commercial” grade radios which can easily get as high as ten times the price, I considered the radios to be a great deal. Of course, there are trade-offs, and I’ll list here how I’ve dealt with the issues.

Durability
Meaning, if your staff drop the radio, you’re in trouble. These radios are not meant to survive the impact. They may not physically break on the outside, but you’ll start noticing that the radio my have problems sending or receiving signals.

You’ll probably end up having to buy a new replacement.

One way to combat the dropping issue is have your staff use the clips, or if they’re in housekeeping, they hopefully have large pockets on their uniforms.

Replacing the Belt Clips
The problem with the clips are that they are notorious for breaking continually. And buying replacements start getting annoying. Instead, I bought a bunch of these radio holsters from a local radio dealer that look like this:

Blogs and Social Media DIY

There are already tons of sites that go into this topic. Just google the terms, as that’s how I pretty much got into this.

Recently, I’ve discovered the world of WordPress and started implementing WordPress in this blog, and for the blogs of my hotels. I have one hotel that has a fairly significant conference center and realized we have TONS of amazing events that I could easily post pictures for.

In addition, for the hotels that you’re implementing a lot of changes (such as breakfast items, upgraded furniture, etc), it makes it easy for you to publicize them as you can see here.

All of these sites I was able to create on my own. I have some basic HTML skills that I learned through the “copy and paste” method. All of these skills can be learned through Google and trial-and-error methodology if you’re willing to put in the time. You’ll also need to deal with hosting providers. But you really only need one hosting plan, and you can host WordPress sites for multiple domains through your one hosting plan.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to show how my strategy is actually bringing in “real” money.

Sometimes, you won’t know the full potential of some of these sites until you just jump in and try through trial and error. I’ve found WordPress to be amazingly powerful and somewhat easy to use.

How I Fell in Love with Google Apps

Yes, I’m a Google Fan Boy. It’s VERY difficult to beat FREE and due to the fact that I have enough tech expertise to manage my own infrastructure, this has helped my hotels save TONS of money and increase productivity.

Here are some examples of how Google has saved us money:

GOOGLE APPS

NOTE: Google Apps recently limited the number of users to 10 for their free accounts which may GREATLY limit its cost effectiveness compared to FREE. When I signed up, I was able to add at least 50 users which is more than enough for my hotels.

Google Apps consists of numerous applications and I’ll try and break them down.

Google Mail – Every front desk agent has an email address and basically every employee except the ones that really have no need to access a computer (ie. some housekeepers, banquet staff, cooks, etc). I set up group email addresses, such as info@hojomaingate.com or fdesk@hojomaingate.com to make email messaging easier. I also setup each agent to reply from “info@hojomaingate.com” so that when an individual replies to an email from the front desk, it’ll go to all front desk agents.

Soocial – You can get this through the apps marketplace. Forget the hand written Guest Service Log! This application will allow all your front desk agents to communicate with one another similarly to Facebook. It also makes searching a breeze regarding specific guest issues using the search function.

Google Sites – I created a Wiki for the front desk and for our management staff. This includes contact phone numbers, frequently used files like credit card authorization forms, passwords, etc. I even used it for our http://conference.hojomaingate.com as our public site along with redroofbp.com It’s pretty simple to use as long as you know how to manage domains registrars.

The Wiki is used to create “tickets” for our housekeeping and maintenance staff. The back end staff can access the “tickets” and address issues and resolve them in live time with the front desk. I even gave a laptop to my maintenance staff, so that they go room to room without having to go to a workstation to check for tickets.

Google Docs – For most employees, they do not need an advanced word editor or spreadsheet program. The Sales team uploads group contracts into Google Docs and shares them with everyone in the hotel for read access. There are some key personnel which need the advanced office features, but this greatly minimizes the software costs. Google Docs also greatly aids in collaboration efforts. I recommend Open Office if you’re really needing something high powered and is free.

I also use Google Docs to organize large amounts of accounting files with our CPA or lawyers. Often there are large and numerous files, and it’s often more efficient to send them the link to a Google Docs folder you created for them than trying to email them all the files in complete chaos.

Google Calendar – The Sales Team creates all day events for large groups, and puts hyper links to the Google Docs folders that house the group information. The Wiki for the Front Desk has a Calendar that they can click through to see all the detailed rooming lists, details, and notes etc for the group. The front desk essentially has the most up to date information in REAL-TIME so miscommunication is minimized.

The banquet staff also lists all banquets and conferences that are happening on property on the Calendar. This Calendar is shared with the public which is listed on http://conference.hojomaingate.com so that the public can see all events coming and past events. This is an added marketing bonus as this allows people to see what kinds of events we’ve housed.

Google Voice – For different key personnel’s cell numbers, I attached a Google Voice number as their primary contact number. That way if the cell number needs to change for whatever reason or the employee changes, the vendors know which number to call.

Capsule CRM – This is another apps marketplace program that’s used by our sales team. This is relatively cheaper to run than SalesForce.com and much simpler.

 

That’s it for now that I can think of. Do you have other ways you’ve utilized Google Apps to streamline operations at your hotel?

Vending Machines as Extra Revenue

This one’s fairly simple and straightforward. Buy a used vending machine on Craigslist and place this somewhere safe and obvious.

Price your products competitively and it will be used just for the convenience factor by guests.

The biggest threat to profitability is vandalism. Other than that, you’re guaranteed some relatively easy money.

Why pay someone else to vend and profit on your property when you can easily just do it yourself?

If your parents aren’t already doing it, you might as well see if you can personally invest in a machine and stock it yourself for personal profit.

If you have some vending experiences, share them in the comments section!

How I Got Over $600,000 for Selling my Cell Tower Leases

Some hotels have cell phone towers on their hotels. Consider yourself lucky because YOU JUST HIT THE JACKPOT!

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Metro PCS, and whatever other cell phone provider basically pays out thousands of dollars per month to property owners for the permission to put cell phone towers on their roofs. Most of the time, the property owner doesn’t need to pay for electricity.

That’s a pretty sweet deal. You get thousands per month for doing pretty much nothing.

There are some companies that will offer you a lump sum of cash in exchange for the monthly payment from these cell towers (40-year term). So for example, for a $2,000 / month cell tower lease, you can get a lump sum of about $192,000 (more or less)!

The break even for this is about 8 years, but seriously, how many hotel owners actually keep their hotels for 8 years? And when a hotel brings in millions per year in revenue, a couple thousand is a drop in the bucket during selling time. A person who buys a hotel buys a hotel for its ROOM revenue and is not so concerned about a cell phone tower lease.

I got competitive bids from multiple companies, and we ended up going with UnisonSite.com We got the highest bid from them and they processed the cash relatively quick. Their lawyers also helped us get rid of an erroneous Mechanic’s Lien on our Title. Definite bonus points for that added perk!

Have you had experiences (good or bad) with different lease buyout firms? Have a better idea to best utilize your cell towers? Let me know below.

 

How I Became a Paperless Office Using a Document Scanner

I currently use the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 as a document management tool. I basically scan any document into this machine, and then it turns it into a searchable PDF document. This means that I can later do a word search and the results will bring up any document with the words I look for.

The time saved on not having to file and pull up documents is well worth the $400 investment. Just make sure you auto back up the folder housing all your saved documents! I’ve been using a document scanner since I first started in 2007.

Imagine: NO MORE FILE CABINETS!!!

Support Software

1) Adobe Acrobat – It comes with the scanner so you can create your own PDFs and separate the PDFs you scan in into individual pages for emailing purposes.

2) SyncBack – This is a freeware program that you can use to schedule automatic backups of your scanned documents. (Advanced Tip: I bought the pro version and setup a freeware FTP server off-site using FileZilla.)


How I Saved $83,112.09 on Property Taxes and You Can Too (Orange County, CA)

If you look at your annual property tax from Orange County (go http://tax.ocgov.com/tcweb/search_page.asp if you don’t have it on you), you’ll see a line item for “OCSD SEWER USER FEE” This fee is to maintain the sewer system in Orange County. One of the things with this fee is that it only an ESTIMATE based off of some formula I don’t understand. I think it may have to do something with the square footage.

This means, that if you send the OCSD (Orange County Sanitation District) the actual amount of water you use, they can calculate what the ACTUAL fee is and can adjust your bill. If it’s lower, they’ll give you a refund for the past 3 years of taxes, and if the actual bill is higher, they WILL NOT charge you more :]

Win-Win I say. And all it takes is for one simple form to be filled out here:

http://www.ocsd.com/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=8346

Now there are some “agents” out there who will do the paperwork for you and take 40% of the savings from you. Or you can just do it yourself and keep all the savings for yourself.

Or, if you really want, you can contact me and I can do it for you and I’ll only charge 25% of the savings I get you. :]

 

CASE STUDIES:

Howard Johnson Hotel – Saved $83,112.09

Red Roof Inn, Buena Park – We were undercharged, but we didn’t have to pay extra

Appealing An Unintentional Toll Road Violation in Orange County, Califorina

I never thought I would fall into one of these traps. A moment lapse of judgement along with a lack of knowledge to rectify my lapse just cost me $11. On June 11, 2011, around 4:00 PM, I was going South on I-5 trying to get off the exit for Sand Canyon Avenue in Irvine, California (Orange County). I don’t know if I was spacing out or not paying attention, but by the time I realized I had taken the wrong exit (CA-133), I had to keep going straight onto the toll road with no way out.

The entire way through, I’m just thinking to myself, “Crap, Crap, how could I had not noticed? I need to get off at the first exit possible. This is so dumb.” And as I kept driving, I see the first exit off.

I’m now completely irritated and stop my car completely in front of the fork after I noticed there’s no escape. “DO NOT STOP” is what the sign says, and because I’m way too flustered and confused, I failed to continue reading the other signs, “STOP PAY CASH” and the toll payment violation sign (which I actually do not remember at all). So I drive forward through DO NOT STOP.

I continue onto my destination, still confused and frustrated with the whole situation, but after going to the event I had intended to go to and dinner afterwards, the incident was soon forgotten. Then June 28, 2011 arrives and I get a nice notice in the mail. I had missed a toll of $1.00 and the penalty was $55.00. I then go online to research this issue. It turns out, had I been better informed, I could’ve gone to https://www.thetollroads.com/violation/missedAToll.do within a couple days of the incident and I may had received a courtesy removal.

The message states on the page, “*Reduction is a one-time courtesy. If you have prior or outstanding violations, you are not eligible.” So it’s possible they would only reduce the fine and not remove it completely. I was not eligible for the website, immediate forgiveness because I had waited too long, so I had to go through the standard dispute process at https://www.thetollroads.com/violation/.

So this is what I entered:

I was heading south on I-5 and I was intending to take the Sand Canyon Avenue exit. I got confused by the signs and accidentally took the 133 exit which is right before the Sand Canyon exit. Once I realized my mistake, I could not stop my vehicle or turn around until the first exit I saw which was off of Irvine Blvd. I took Irvine Blvd exit because I could not think of any other ways to get off the freeway I did not intend to get on. Once on Irvine Blvd, I went south bond on Sand Canyon Ave as I had originally intended.

I read more into the dispute process, and found this document that gave more explanation on the process and researched what the “Administrative Review” was because I didn’t think that my initial protest would bring the fee down to the $1 I was willing to pay on principal. I read that the next level of appeal would require a $250 deposit for a $1 missed toll fee! Plus I would need to drive all the way down to Irvine and prepare my case, and WORRY about it the whole time.

So I tried giving them a call at (949) 727-4800, waited about 15 minutes on hold. The agent on the end pulled up my online dispute and put me on hold while checking with the supervisor. She approved the final amount to $11. I ended up paying online because I was told that if I waited, the official response is not guaranteed to be the $11 and may be higher (or could be lower). I realized that if the amount they decided on was more than $11, then I’d either have to pay for it or go through the Administrative Review. I decided on the gamble and chose to pay the $11. Meh.

Unfortunately, researching this issue online has gotten me nowhere on people’s experience on appealing. Just generally unhelpful Yelp reviews. Perhaps you have an experience on how you appealed? Did it turn out favorable? Did you end up paying nothing? Has anyone gone so far as the Administrative Review process?