An Open Letter To Alvin & Company (The Art Supply People)

Jill Rubino
Customer Service Manager
Alvin and Co.

1335 Blue Hills Avenue
Bloomfield, CT USA 06002

800-444-2584 x247

Dear Ms. Rubino:

I am writing you today to offer my services as a specialist in viral marketing and brand awareness. For more than fifteen years, I've worked in the internet and marketing arenas as a combination designer, developer and campaign / brand manager, all-in-one. I'm quite the rarity, and I'm pretty darned good at what I do, if I do say so myself. My track record is long and pretty decent. I'll save you the resume and merely offer that if you Google me (especially with adding "Scott Pilgrim" to the search), you'll find enough to verify that I'm nifty.

With this in mind, I want to give you a free trial of the types of things that I'd suggest which will make you an instant viral customer service success. And for this free trial, I'll use a recent exchange between you guys and myself.

You see, my good friend Tom Feister is teaching me very cool things about drawing. And he has this one irregular (French?) curve that he loves, and he loves it with all his heart. This is the curve:

He found this curve at a supply surplus sale, and it was already worn when he got it -- so the identifying markers such as manufacturer and model were already worn off. He suggested this curve for me, and said half-jokingly, that he's looked everywhere for another one, and if he could ever find it, he'd "Buy a case of them, in case this one breaks."

So I set about finding this thing, mostly so I could surprise him with a bunch of them to say thanks for all the time he's been spending helping me pretend I can draw. I don't know too much about the world of art supplies, so I Googled "French Curve" and from there, was able to determine that your company makes curves, and furthermore, at some point, you offered one that, if not this, looks VERY similar. I found an image of all the curves Alvin and Co. offers here, and here's the image:

When cross referencing the image above with the catalog numbers I was finding on various online retailers, I was able to work out that all of your curve item numbers begin with "1010" and end with the number seen in the image above. And I can find all of the others, except for #12 -- the one curve we need!

So, I wrote you. I figured it couldn't hurt. I knew that, as Alvin and Co., you'd be the authority on why I couldn't find an Alvin and Co. product that seems to be the only model out of 25 that isn't offered by resellers. I used your contact form, and the next day, I was greeted with this message:

Subject: RE: ALVIN Information Request - Sales Manager
Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2011 09:53:00 -0500
From: Jill Rubino
Organization: Alvin and Company Inc.
To: 'joe@joethepeacock.com'

Thank you for your interest in Alvin.  We distribute our products to authorized resellers, we would not sell directly to you. Please visit the retailer locator on our website to find your local and internet retailers.  All Alvin retailers can order our full offering for you.

[signature stuff]

Now, this was a chance for you to interact with a customer, who has a studio (which I mentioned in the email) and could possibly have become a regular, adherent buyer of Alvin and Co. products. It doesn't matter that I also have an audience, or who I know, or what the result might have been of telling a wonderful story about how helpful you were to me to all my comic book and artist and illustrator friends.

But I can tell you, had you found a way to help me out, I'd have tweeted and written and shouted out loud just how helpful and wonderful Alvin and Co. are. Would it have been picked up by news outlets? Would you have become social media darlings? Who knows.

But one thing's for sure -- you can't be now, because you were not only unhelpful, you were pretty rude to boot. Contrast this to Staedtler, who -- as it was revealed by another friend of mine, Buzz -- actually makes this curve, but also are sending me some. Just because I tweeted and Facebooked a need for it.

They're my heroes. And you guys need some help with your customer satisfaction and marketing-through-word-of-mouth efforts.

I'm available at my standard hourly rate, and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Peacock

***Update 9:10PM ***

She wrote back:
Subject: RE: ALVIN Information Request - Sales Manager
Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2011 15:26:00 -0500
From: Jill Rubino
Organization: Alvin and Company Inc.
To: 'joe peacock'

Hi Joe,
I'm sorry you don't agree with Alvin not selling directly to you.

Alvin is an authorized wholesaler, we are not a retailer.  We distribute only to resellers that offer our full line of products.  We would not want to take away potential business from an authorized Alvin dealer.  It is these dealers that that support the consumer side of our business.  We support our dealers so they can support their customers.

If you are interested in becoming an Alvin retailer, we ask that you complete a credit application and send a copy of your resale certificate.  If you are interested in selling  Alvin products, we would open an account for you.

Thank you for your feedback, we appreciate your interest.

Jill Rubino
Customer Service Manager
Alvin and Co.

It is very clear that Jill doesn't get it. This wasn't about buying from them, it was about finding a product they offer (or at least, offered). She couldn't place a phone call to a product manager? Ask around? Refer to a catalog? At the very least, look into what the heck I'm talking about?

No. Because that's not her job. Her job is to be a Customer Service Mananger, and she's making it very clear that a single buyer can't be her customer -- only resellers are her customers, and I'm not one. So, she owes me no service.

And thus, I won't be buying Alvin ANYTHING. And what's really sad -- they're likely suffering as it is and it's only going to get worse as artists move to digital tools. Already, people are asking me since I have a Wacom why I'm not just using that. I wanted to move back to the drawing board on purpose, to learn the fundamentals the right way.

But most pros, and now the starting amateurs, are moving digital. Now is the absolute BEST time to begin offering proper customer service to the people who are actually going to determine if Alvin and Co. will have customers in the future, and create a reputation for being a company that will go above and beyond for their clients.

And here's a hint, Alvin and Co.: Your customer ISN'T THE RETAILER. The retailer might order the stuff from you and hand you the money, but I hand the retailer money -- and now, I won't. Not for you. Enough people stop handing the retailer money for your product, what good is your "customer" going to do for  you?