Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Phone Books Returned to Dex!

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

About a week and a half ago, I picked up over twenty-five phone books from vacant properties in only part of the Hawthorne neighborhood. I'd been meaning to get rid of those right away and get back out there to fill the trunk up with more, but stuff happens. So I finally got around to dropping these off at Dex early this morning.

The sign at their Maple Grove headquarters is pictured above, as well as the location in the phone book. I liked the poetic irony of using their product for nothing else except the act of determining where to return dozens of unwanted phone books.

On my way to the building, I pondered whether I ought to act like a supremely PO'd bird of prey, or put on my happy face. So I walked into the third floor lobby and...

...decided to play nice. I used the tone of voice and overall demeanor that once convinced not one, not two, but THREE municipal employees to stay past 4:30 on a Friday to help me with some mortgage documents.

I introduced myself and said I lived and worked in the Hawthorne neighborhood in north Minneapolis, and that one Saturday I noticed quite a few phone books that were left at properties that were clearly abandoned. When I said I had somewhere around thirty of those phone books in my trunk and gosh, I'd sure like to return them, THAT got the receptionist's attention.

She went and got one of their marketers to help me unload the phone books from my trunk. This woman was incredibly grateful that I took the time to do this, and pleased that I was being so cordial. I said that at least the first time I spoke with them about this issue, I didn't want to just drive by and throw the phone books at their building. "We've had that happen," she said.

I explained to this woman that we see this a lot, and that Dex phone books have appeared on clearly vacant properties across NoMi over the past two weeks. These aren't just phone books that owners or occupants at the houses have neglected to pick up, these are ones that based on the BOARDS ON WINDOWS AND DOORS should never have been delivered in the first place.

The main areas where I'd seen them were between Plymouth Ave N and Lowry Ave N, which is what I'd told this woman when she said she would have a delivery person go back and pick them up. I graciously pointed out that at least the ones I was returning were still dry and usable, whereas the other phone books were probably pretty wet - not just from the rain, but let's just say that cats don't use phone books for the same things people do.

I was brought into the loading garage, and we unloaded my haul. Once again, I asked her if Dex would send someone out to pick the phone books up from vacant properties, and was told that they'd get their delivery people to look into it. I also suggested that perhaps the delivery people should get paid not just on straight-up units distributed, but by getting credit for a delivery when they mark a house as vacant.

And let's talk about numbers for a minute: In the area where I picked up 25 phone books (roughly half of Hawthorne), there were 35 properties registered as condemned or boarded and vacant. Some of these properties were duplexes and had two or more phone books left there, but still, it comes out to a phone book at over 70% of the vacant properties in NoMi. I've also got a dot map that marks each condemned/boarded property. Counting dots gets tiresome after a while though, so I'm going to estimate this as between 350 and 400, knowing that even the 400 number is probably an undercount.

Still, 70% of 400 comes out to an estimate of 280. But this round of Dex phone books contains three different ones in the same bag. So now we've got over 800 phone books left at vacant properties in NoMi by ONE COMPANY ALONE. How much waste is that?

In fairness, the Dex representative did say they would go back and try to pick them up. After a week or so, if you see a Dex phone book sitting at a vacant property in your neighborhood, call 763-971-7195 and let them know about it.


M. Clinton said...

Good job Jeff!

Anonymous said...

I wish this was like one of those "choose your own adventure" novels... I would take the 'bird of prey' option for sure! I wonder if Dex would still be apologetic or just call the cops.

If the books across the street aren't picked up in a week I'm gonna 'Incredible Hulk' their asses over the phone!

kanoyes said...

I think a misunderstanding as to why Dex appears not to care about the issue other than lip service.

Doesn't DEX make more money because they can say they reach such and such a number of population: their circulation numbers.

When I worked at a newspaper, it was kind of crucial to have lofty sounding circulation numbers to justify to customers the cost of advertising reach. All ridiculous in the age of the internet, I know, but there is still some historical inertia in the practice.

I once went to Chicago and saw thousands of obviously unsold newspaper stuffed in bundles underneath a bridge to rot. I think it was a result of circulation tampering. Pumping up circulation numbers for its obvious economic benefits. Perhaps the same for DEX.

Jeff Skrenes said...

Anon 11:40 - I LOVED "Choose Your Own Adventure" books! Those and the similarly-themed "Interplanetary Spy" stories.

And I won't lie, there was a part of me that also wanted to do the angry, melodramatic crazy person. Maybe next time, we can rent a U-haul and fill it with phone books and drop them off at one of these places.

Ed Kohler said...

@kanoyes, I think you've nailed why the YP model is so unresponsive. I've chatted with YP reps before who compare themselves to direct mail, but the comparison isn't valid. If you contact a direct mailer, such as a catalog company, they're more than willing to remove you from their list because they understand that they have no chance of selling anything to someone who doesn't want their mailing. As you state, the YP industry is more about creating the illusion of universal use in a community that they can use as a talking point with small businesses. Being everywhere doesn't hurt them because they don't directly benefit from the response rates of their directories.

Johnny Northside! said...

I clicked on your link to the YouTube video for "stuff happens" and it said "an error has occurred, please try again later."

Is the irony obvious, or should I beat it to death?

Jack said...

Thank you Jeff. This just shows that you can get a lot accomplished when you act respectful, and with diplomacy. While I still disagree that you have the authority to patrol all of NoMi and rescue the poor abandoned phonebooks. The story shows that your passion for Hawthorne has a positive ending.
While some might tease you and call you a Hobbit, that's certainly much better that being labeled a Douchebag. Your associates should learn a lesson from you. Progress will come swifter if you work with people, rather then against them.

Unknown said...

I live in North and work in Longfellow - they're all over the place here too! Empty storefronts with bags of unwanted phonebooks!