December 24, 2014

The Kyle, Texas Shop Local List - 2014

The 2014 Shop Local List
Keep Kyle Charming - Buy Local

Go Karting at Central Texas Speedway

By Sean Claes

I have lived in Kyle, Texas for the last 12 or so years and have watched it grow and grow. Kyle now has the numbers to support stores like HEB, Target, Ross, Lowes, Home Depot, and a slew of others... The awesome thing about THAT is when larger business move in, it makes way for the "little guy" to open up shop... but without a big national advertising budget, small owner-operator businesses sometimes struggle to let people know they I thought I'd make this list of some of the most fantastic local-to-Kyle shops. 

I wrote this thinking of shopping for Christmas presents. 

  1. For salsas, honey, photos, beautiful crosses and other stocking stuffers try Cross Plants and Produce
  2. For getaway present, consider Sage Hill Inn Above Onion Creek
  3. For an awesome go-kart racing coupon: Central Texas Speedway
  4. For the kiddos, how about a gift card to The Jumpy Place or music lessons at Curious Chords Music Studio at Plum Creek
  5. Shopping for a lady? Try Tiaras
  6. Buy a friend a hookah from The Pipe Lion
  7. Bring a drinkable gift to a party for the host from FriDaze Liquor
  8. Have a hunter or gun enthusiest on your list? Gun Guys & Gals
  9. Maybe a massage from Hands On Healing
  10. Everyone loves flowers... and Lutricks Florist is awesome.
  11. Funky furniture from the past? Try Sway Vintage
  12. For anything else... and I mean ANYTHING.. check out the Kyle Flea Market
  13. Find Gardening supplies and cool stuff from Sustainacycle's Sustainable Living Center at Kyle
  14. Awesome Kettle Corn goodness can be found at Lone Star Kettle Corn (soon to open a storefront.. but contact them direct for now)
  15. Satisfy your BBQ lover with a gift certificate from Milt's Pit BBQ
  16. Have to bring some dessert to a gathering? Check out the The Texas Pie Company (I prefer their Peanut Butter Pie, FYI)
  17. Help your friend/family reach their fitness goals with Elite BodyWorks of Kyle
  18. The gift of news year round? Buy your loved one a subscription to The Hays Free Press.
  19. Are you buying for someone who needs a computer diagnostic or a fix or an upgrade?  Maybe an awesome new gaming computer? Get them a gift certificate for Blue Computer Solutions.
  20. Buying for someone who needs that adrenaline rush? Go Karting from Central Texas Speedway is a great option.

It's good for the businesses for you to shop local.. it's good for the local economy and blah blah blah... but what's even cooler is you can buy something that is unique.. you may even meet the person who made it... you can find that thing you never knew you needed... and meet your neighbors all at the same time. It's like a shopping adventure.. because shopping should be fun.. right?

Happy Shopping Kyle, Texas.

(I originally wrote this in December 2014 as a Local Christmas List... please feel free to shoot me a note when this needs updated if I don't catch new business openings and/or closings... thanks. seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom.)

June 3, 2014

Sunset Electronics - My horrible experience dealing with a business that sells via Amazon

Sunset Electronics - My story of a Cracked Lens and Cracked Customer Service


By Sean Claes
I’ve been a FujiFilm camera owner and advocate since 2003 when I bought a Fujifilm Finepix 3800. Sine then, I bought the more professional FujiFilm FinePix S9000 (I liked it so much I bought it twice) then the FujiFilm FinePix HS20exr.

My collection of FujiFilm Cameras

For my 41st birthday, my wife bought me a Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR Digital Camera SSE Bundle Kit from The SSE Bundle Kit included a bunch of lenses and carrying case and stuff that I might use… and it was put together by Sunset Electronics (SSE on Amazon).

Sunset had a good rating on Amazon and seemed reputable. They have a really nice “about” section on Amazon that states:

Sunset Electronics prides itself on offering excellent customer service to all of its customers.  Everyone in our entire on-site staff had been trained rigorously in the art of, The Customer is Always Right, and we all have the clear understanding that whether it be a $100 order, or a $10,000 order, each order is of equal value to us, no matter the bottom line.

Our first class customer service is ready to solve your problems

Where it went bad:
So, my birthday was in early February. The camera came in around the 10th. When I opened the box, I set out to take photos. Like I said earlier, I've owned five FujiFilm cameras in my lifetime so I'm very happy with the brand.

I took a few photos of little events in town, but I used my older camera (the HS20) to do my non-essential shooting since I wanted to protect the HS50 for my freelance photography gigs. I had no issues with the quality, I really, really like the brand and how easy it is to get great shots and be professional without spending a mint on gear (the lens and body are one piece).

So, I didn’t notice anything wrong with the camera since it sat in a camera bag for a bit. In early May I finally had a big photo gig.
After taking photos of a family, I noticed in the editing process that there was a sunspot in the middle of some photos.

I took a closer look at the camera and there's a tiny crack in the middle of the lens. So small I didn't notice right away. So small the imperfection only shows up at a certain angle when shooting into the sun. I’d not shot with that angle, so I’d not noticed the issue.

Besides, When you open a factory sealed camera... you don't really expect to see a cracked lens... right?

So, although my wife bought this at the end of January and here it was May, I thought I'd contact Sunset Electronics because I was sure they'd do the right thing and replace the camera. My wife contacted them through her Amazon account since she was the one who ordered it.

So… here is the e-mail exchange…

Message 1:
May 5, 2014:
I received this product in January to give away as a gift to my husband for his birthday.

He just used it yesterday to shoot photos of a family (he is a freelance photographer) and noticed that, at a certain angle, the photos were not taking well. Seemed like a blurry spot or a sun reflection. When he looked at the lens, there's a fine crack in the center of the lens. He has never dropped the camera and when not in use it's placed in the bag, so this lens had to have been cracked before he used it.

Other than the cracked lens, he is VERY happy with the camera and the kit.

I would like to return this camera to receive a new one without a cracked lens. Please advise.
Thank you.


So just to be clear the lens is the issue not the actual camera correct?

Sounded like something was going to be done. Yeah Steve!

My Reply (I took over since I could explain a little more):
Answering your question... (Not sure how this is all working through Amazon...)
It is the lens that is attached to the camera...  it's an all in one body. All of the extras that came with the camera are fine.

This is Sean Claes (______ husband who discovered the crack after a photo shoot)

I've uploaded 3 photos to let you see exactly what the issue is. The actual lens that is built in as part of the HS50 is cracked.

A clip of the photo where I noticed the "sunspot"

Me pointing to the camera
The crack is in the middle

 I noticed it when shooting from a certain angle during a professional shoot this past Sunday. You can see the blur in the image (LensIssueExample (NOTE FOR BLOG… I SENT THEM A FULL PHOTO, BUT I DON’T WANT TO PUBLISH THE FAMILY IMAGE ON A BLOG), I also included an iphone photo of both the closeup of the lens (it's hard to get a good lens crack photo... it's small which is why I'd not noticed it earlier). I had, however noticed "sun spots" at certain angles when I took other photos... only now realizing that those were the crack and not a neat nature effect.

It is my hope that I can receive a replacement camera and a way to ship this camera back to you.
I do have another professional shoot in about 2 weeks and I'd love to have a non-cracked lens to shoot with.

At this point, I'm having to pull out my old camera for that shoot... which I'm not thrilled with the quality.

Thanks for your time. Look forward to hearing from you.

Unfortunately our return policy is only good for 30 days after you receive the camera. I don't mean to sound rude, but whats to prevent a customer (not you) from dropping their camera and then trying to return it well after the 30 days? I do feel bad but my hands are tied. it puts me in a very tough position. You should try contacting FujiFilm and see what your options are. If you would have told me this a week after you received it, I would be more than glad to sends a replacement. I'm sorry I couldn't do more to help you. 
Customer Service

So….They first said it was out of the allotted time for returning. Then they accused me of trying to rip them off... insinuating that I must have damaged the camera and now I want them to pay for it. Then they said FujiFilm had to take care of it... and I didn’t even shoot with it until a few weeks after I received it… and the blemish didn’t show up in photos until much later… anyhow…

Now I’ve got to reply and prove I’m not a rip-off artist. Awesome.

My reply:
"I don't mean to sound rude, but whats to prevent a customer (not you) from dropping their camera and then trying to return it well after the 30 days?"
Because I am a fair person and I'm looking for a replacement camera for a camera that was never dropped and never damaged once it got to me... and since I didn't think about checking the center of the lens on the camera (because I assumed I was getting a brand new camera) I'm now stuck having gotten a $400 gift from my wife for my birthday that I can't use.
Steve, I'm not the guy that's trying to take you for your money or slip one by you. I'm a person who tries to make a little extra money on the side doing freelance photography... I am the communications chair of my church... I put on charity concerts... I'm not trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
I'm perfectly certain that you were not aware the camera was damaged when I received it.... the box was sealed... but I assure you... the crack was not caused by me and was there when I first began using the camera (recalling what I thought was odd "sun spots" that I attributed to the angle... it was the crack)
If you choose to help me out with this issue (I know it's a choice and I'd appreciate it if you would say yes... (and I know as soon as you see the crack you will know it couldn't have been caused by me... and you'll also see how easily it could have been missed).. I'm sure your contact with Fuji whom you order the cameras will be happy to replace the damaged piece.  
If you are not interested in helping, perhaps you could give me a good contact at FujiFilm who might be able to assist me.
I know you hold the cards.. you can make the choice.. and you have the ability to help me if you choose to do so. I hope you will.

The reply:

Ok I read your message and showed my manager. He wants to know if the scratch is on the outside of the lens or inside the lens?

And me…

It is directly in the center of the lens. After running my finger over it... seems that it's a crack on the surface.
Still.. it's never been dropped or manhandled... so it must have been there from the beginning. I've owned 5 Fujifilm cameras over the last decade and have never had any issue with them.
Just making sure.. you did get the images I attached with the previous e-mail, correct? 
Hope you can help.
If you'd like to take this off the Amazon page, please feel free to e-mail me at [e-mail address removed] or call me at [phone number removed].
I'd love to get this solved before my next shoot. I've got some graduation photos scheduled in late May.

I will discuss this with my manager. And yes I did receive the photos and showed him. 

That was 5/7.
I heard nothing for a few weeks… and assumed things were being taken care of…. So on 5/27 I sent a message.

My message:
I've not heard back from you on this. Really, I'd love some closure to the matter.
Last I heard from you was almost 3 weeks ago.
I was reminded about the crack yesterday while shooting the Memorial Day Service in town.
My favorite shot of the morning was ruined (for me) by the lens crack.
Please let me know if you are willing/able to do replace this camera.
I hope you do.

You are covered through the fujifilm warranty. Please contact them and they will be able to help you as this is 2 months past the 30 day returns period.
Thank you,

OK.. looks like Adam has taken over for Steve. And he just kind of replied to one message…. So I thought I’d give him the benefit and recap for him and allow him to read the background.

I've been going back and forth with "Steve" for the last month.
I don't know if you know or are privy to the larger story.
Was hoping to get this taken care of with the store I bought it... not the manufacturer. If I do need to go through the manufacturer, please supply me with the contact information.
I will use this e-mail exchange to drive my case home, as it's been ongoing.
Thank you.
- Sean Claes
(______ husband / she gave me this camera for my birthday this year)


Toll free: 888-424-FUJI (3854)

So.. I called that number.. and it seems to be for the FUJIFILM North American Corporation Motion Picture Group… not the people I needed to talk to at all.

BUT… with the power of Google I did call the correct number for FujiFilm and I got some young man who pretty much told me that they’d fix it but it’d cost me. It’s not their problem. They don’t have any warranty on lenses. The person I bought it from needs to take care of it… and when I was asked if there was anything else he could help me with, I said something like “You haven’t helped me with a single thing so far… and I started to ask to talk to the manager.. he hung up on me.

So… I got a little angry… and fired this one off back at Sunset Electronics.

This has gotten fairly ridiculous.
This is Sean Claes... the recipient of the camera as a present. I'm writing from my wife's account (who bought it for me).
Fact - The camera was received with a crack in the middle of the lens.
I've sent photos. you have seen them.
I have never dropped the camera... and the crack is so small that I didn't notice it existed until I was shooting a family (I'm a freelance photographer) and the images came back ruined because of the way the sun reflected off the break. It only happens in certain angles when it hits the sun right.
I talked to Steve... it's been 3-4 weeks now.
I replied asking for an update. Adam replied with a generic "can't help you"
Then he replied with a "you need to call Fuji"
I called Fuji. They are going to charge me to fix it and said you should have taken care of it when I explained the situation. 
I'm losing my patience.
I've been accused of trying to rip you off.
I've been accused of breaking the camera myself.
I've been brushed off to the larger company... who volleyed the ball back to you.
I'm a very patient person... but this needs to be solved.
I need to send the Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR Digital Camera back to you.
You can take care of it from there... and deal with FujiFilm because a sealed box was OBVIOUSLY their issue to begin with...
I know you can send it back as damaged... and not have an issue.
You have every ability to send me a new undamaged camera.
If you have any issue with this....I need to talk to an actual manager.
- Sean Claes
512-787-0308 (cell)
Make this right. I've got my wife who feels horrible that she gave me a $400 camera for my birthday that was damaged from the factory that I can't use.. and am getting the runaround.

They responded with a:
You only contacted us, May 5th (4 months later). I apologize we cannot take back the product.
Thank you,

If you want to be technical.. it’s been 3 months… Received in February… then March (month 1) April (month 2) and May (month 3). But that’s not what this is about.

It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about a customer that is not trying to be a jerk.. and just wants the product his wife paid for and gave him as a present.

I sent this one from my personal Amazon account… this morning (June 3, 2014).

You have sent me a faulty product. When I noticed it, I contacted you.
Order # [number removed]
I have explained myself well, and you have understood that I'm not trying to pull a fast one over on you.
I intend to make sure as many people as possible know what you have decided to do in light of me being upfront, honest and just wanting to get a product my wife paid for and gave me as a gift that works.
You have sent me a $459.99 useless product.
Make it right.
Here's my first review.
I promise to be fair and only include the actual conversations we've had....and my understanding of what "Customer Service" actually means to you. The last reply you have me didn't even have a name for clarity. 
Make it right, please.
- Sean Claes
[phone number removed]
Please reply to [e-mail address removed] as I don't check [e-mail address removed] any longer.

Then I started writing this blog.

This whole thing could have been avoided by me if I’d just taken a good look at the product when it arrived. That was my bad. I assumed that a brand new product that was factory sealed and took good photos was not damaged. It was only when the camera caught that odd angle that I noticed. I understand that.

The fact remains.
  • Sunset Electronics sent me a faulty product.
  • I contacted them as soon as I noticed.
  • They had the opportunity (and duty if their “About” section I quoted from their Amazon page) to make this right.

After doing some research…
  • Sunset Electronics is NOT BBB Accredited (but they have had 6 complaints filed against them and they have failed to respond to 4.  - Link to BBB Page
  • Sunset Electronics has a Facebook page (Since 1/31/13) that has only 5 likes (one of them me to bookmark for this blog… there will be 4 soon) and seems to never have been used – Link to Facebook
  • Apparently in March 2014, Some guy by the name of Jeff Snyder was fairly upset with dealing with Sunset Electronics. He posted a YouTube video about it.
  • Sunset Electronics has a Webpage that I get “access denied” when I try to click the link.
  • Sunset Electronics (as of June 3) had a “4.7 star” rating on BUT at Yelp, they have two 1 star reviews.. and that’s it – Link to Yelp
  • Sunset Electronics has made people unhappy enough to publish complaints on a site called “The Ripoff Report.” – Link to Sunset Electronics Ripoff Report Page

They still have the chance to make this right.

9/15/14 UPDATE

Sunset Electronics has never, not once, in no way tried to contact me and make this right. I stand by everything I said about them.

In June 2014 I posted a Review - here.
Within hours, FijiFilm contacted me and offered to make it right.
They mentioned that Sunset Electronics was not an official reseller as well. That might mean is someone tries to register for warranty work with the maker of the camera, it might me considered a "Grey Market" camera and will be denied.

Anyhow...I worked with FujiFilm and they, for the price of shipping and handling to their North America repair facility (Digital Camera Service & Support), fixed the camera...and offered to take a look at 2 of my other cameras to see if they could be fixed as well (the S9000s I have... unfortunately they weren't fixable).

BIG Thanks to Dan Scarola, National Manager w/ Fujifilm North America Inc. for taking such good care of this situation.

Unless Sunset Electronics steps up and acknowledges me, this will be the final update.

February 5, 2014

Why these 5 Super Bowl Commercials ROCKED or FAILED (2014)

I decided to poll an audience of one (myself) to see which Super Bowl Ads were winners and which ones were well done, but missed the mark on marketing.

Here's my list:

1. Radio Shack - The 80s Called

This is the best example of jumping on your own grenade. It's been pretty obvious that the court of popular opinion has been wondering how Radio Shack stays in business with the perception that all of their stuff is antiquated. I mean, unless you're building a transistor or need speaker wire, why would you even go inside?

Now the reality is, Radio Shack wasn't really stuck in the 80s, but people had that perception.

Well.. this commercial has made people think twice about that perception by the store itself saying.. "yeah... we had a bunch of old crap.. but now we're all new and updated."

I know I've thought about walking in there to see what the "new" Radio Shack is like. Plus the commecial is fantastic w/ all of the old-school 1980s guest spots... Mary Lou Retton, The California Raisins, Devo, Erik Estrada, Kid n' Play... wow. They rocked that one out. Funny AND effective.

2. Coca Cola - America The Beautiful

This hit a home run. First... it evoked emotion. It caused response. I don't think Coke predicted this kind of response. I know I didn't think that people all over the country would take this beautiful piece of art and slam it for the song being in different languages. America is a melting pot. That's the point. It's a beautiful song. Coke won for being inclusive and the nay-sayers have been called out post haste.

Now, will it cause ME to drink Coke? No. I tried it before and i don't really like the taste.

That brings me to the second big win.. and what I think Coke had in mind when they put this spot together. This ad is about diversity, america, people from all cultures and countries who now make the USA their home. People who might not have had the opportunity to try a Coke in America before. Marketing-wise, they were going after the demographic that was less likely to have had experience trying their product... and by providing a commercial like this... they talk directly to them.. in the universal language of acceptance.

3. Budweiser - A Hero's Welcome

Budweiser did a good job of taking the funny/stupid out of their campaign and also drove home their "Support our Troops" mantra with this mini-documentary of a soldier's homecoming. Every soldier deserves a hero's welcome. If that doesn't make you want to give a Clydesdale a thumbs up.. I don't know what will. This is a brand strengthener ad. Just in case you jumped off the bandwagon to try a craft beer, 'cause that's the thing nowadays, you've not got a reason to grab a Bud. 'Merica!

  4. Hyundai Genesis - Dad's Sixth Sense
As a dad... I'm moved by this one. It does, with humor, tackle every parent's thoughts when they allow their kid to do something like operate a car. I will likely never be able to afford this car... much less afford one for one/both of my daughters... but I hadn't taken a second look at a Hyundai for about... well... ever.

I'm not sure if this is an effective ad, though. It makes a good case for people to consider a Hyundai.
I'd be interested in seeing if they have a raise in sales. Time will tell on this one.

5. Cheerios - Gracie
OK, this one is just cute. It doesn't mention Cheerios, they just use the cereal to break the news to little Gracie that she's soon going to be a big sister. Almost like a product placement. I don't know if this one will be a winner in the "selling Cheerios" realm... because there wasn't really anything that made anyone think: "Hey.. I want to go get a bowl for myself." So, win for cuteness and loss for marketing. It was a multi-million dollar "awwww shucks" ad.

BONUS: Turbo Tax - Love Hurts

This isn't a great commercial and, honestly, I didn't remember who it was for until I looked it up. But my name is Sean... and I'm here to steal your holiday... :)

January 6, 2014

You have the right to remain... Out of Prison (Infographic)

This made me laugh:

Seriously though....Saw this neat little info-graphic online (here) so I thought I'd share.
Of course... this works best when you're not actually guilty of anything...

Happy New Year.
Resolution? Stay out of jail in 2014.

Know Your Rights