Monday, June 19, 2006

Two ways to lose a loyal customer

We go out of our way, literally, to buy Nutro's Nature's Choice Complete Care Weight Management kibble for our herd of cats. The low-calorie formula allows us to leave bowls of the kibble available at all times, so there is no whining for food because a bowl is empty, and no worry on our part if we have to leave the cats on their own in the house overnight. Another reason we like this brand is that the large oval pellets have been very effective in keeping the cats' teeth tartar free. With teeth cleaning running well over $200 at the vet (and requiring full anesthesia) we'd prefer to keep such procedures to a minimum.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to get to the pet supply store today and see the familiar light blue package of Nature's Choice now has this banner on it "Smaller kibble! Improved taste!"

Well, I don't go around comparing the taste of cat food, but I can compare pellet size. Nature's Choice is now just like all the other kibbles available, and will be no more effective in reducing tartar than any of the competing low-cal kibbles. We'll likely switch to Royal Canin, whose speciality formulas we're already using for our elderly, frail cat.

It was on to the high-end garden supply store, for more disillusionment:

Last year, Seattle gardening expert Calvin Creasey advised me to use inexpensive corn meal gluten (also called simply corn gluten) in the garden to suppress weeds. Great idea! The corn gluten, sprinkled lightly over a garden bed or brick pathway, prevents weeds from germinating. It gets applied every two or three weeks. It's cheap. It's safe for pets. And the brand I've been buying at the local garden supply store has convenient packaging: a heavy-duty bright yellow sack that opens (like a ziplock bag) at the bottom to expose a perforated shaker. Holding the top of the sack by a clever plastic handle, I simply walk along my garden beds, holding the bag at arm's length and shaking the corn meal gluten out the bottom of the bag. It takes five minutes to treat the entire yard; then I up-end and reseal the bag and store it. A bag lasts for three or four treatments.

Well, that had to be too good to be true, didn't it?

Today at the garden store I asked for the usual corn meal gluten and the fellow directed me to a shelf. I peered. "Sorry, I don't see it," I said.

He pointed again. That's when I saw small dark blue/green bags of something called "PrEmerge." I looked at the bag. It said nothing about corn gluten. Finally, in tiny print at the bottom, I read that it was "100% corn gluten." The slippery bag had neither a shaker device at the bottom, nor a handle.

Incredulous, I turned back and asked what happened to the convenient bright yellow shaker bags of Weed Prevention Plus that said "CORN MEAL GLUTEN." The fellow indicated a heap of 50-ton yellow sacks on the floor.

I pointed out that you couldn't sprinkle either bag, and asked why the small, convenient shaker bag was no longer available. The fellow proudly told me that he had changed their order to PrEmerge ($11) because it was cheaper than the Weed Prevention Plus ($22). Mind you, this is at a fancy nursery where a medium-sized glazed pot runs you about $80. I considered whacking him over the head with a bag of PrEmerge, but then realized there wasn't a handle to swing it by.

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