My Weekend at Camp Groupon

imageIt is no secret to friends, family, and the occasional stranger that I love Groupons. Some day I need to do a little research to find out when it started; suffice it to say that I’ve been a customer for several years and really believe in the discovery and savings aspects of their collective buying service.

Over the years, Groupon has expanded beyond the Daily Deal in almost very way imaginable. Every morning I’m excited to see the “traditional” restaurant, activity or services offered, alongside gifts, Groupon Now!, andWP_000228 more recently travel deals. So while I wasn’t surprised to learn of Camp Groupon, I was tickled by the novel approach.

The easiest way to explain it is this: imagine a weekend camping excursion, where, instead of staying in tents you bunk up in hotel rooms (I guess you could still bring a tent) and spend the time with other campers discovering and experiencing events and activities that Groupon has become known for but with little added touches of Groupon love. Sprinkle in some camp-style metaphors, enthusiastic Camp Counselors, and you have a wonderfully unique travel experience for a very fair price.

After going through the sign up process, I had stalled on completing the purchase in order to compare calendars with my better half. As it happens, the good folks at Groupon offered a complementary WP_000122package to me. I’m not a shill for them, but figured I should let you know this.

Over the course of 2 1/2 days, I and my fellow campers were treated like Chicago VIPs, taking in events and activities that were either unique to Chicago or just unique in how they were presented. Each morning started with a WP_000169hearty breakfast buffet that was sure to give you a great start, followed by joining your assigned Camp Counselor to begin the festivities. For me, WP_000159this included a painting class at Bar Louie, cooking demonstration and wine education at Macy’s Culinary Studio, and a behind-the-scenes tour at the Museum of Science and Industry. In between all of this were lunches at area restaurants were we would learn more about each other and share our best Groupon scores.

Oh, and did I mention Movie Night at Wrigley Field? Even as a White Sox fan, I was grinning ear-to-ear as The Blue Brothers band played, followed by a viewing of the Blues Brothers movie under the stars, with fleece blankets provided by Redbox.

WP_000150But the good folks at Groupon weren’t done. Saturday we all walked to the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier for a concert by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a fireworks interlude over Lake Michigan, then rocking out to The Counting Crows!

WP_000180It would be an understatement to say that I had a fantastic time. Looking back on the photos and memorabilia I still smile, because Groupon has figured out how to take the relatively staid experience of packaged travel and made it a individualized and unique experience for all of us. While there were some bumps along the way, everyone understood we were privileged to be a part of something special, and can’t wait for the next camp destination.

Rave: Body Shop Bids

imageI love how technology has made our lives easier. Even the most mundane of tasks can be made infinitely more efficient when paired with a little internet-fueled entreprenuerialship. Body Shop Bids, a Chicago-based startup, is a company that has made auto body repair almost as easy (and fun) as ordering a pizza.

How it Works

When your car is in need of repair (body work, paint, etc.) you simply go to their website or use their mobile app and upload pictures of the maligned areas. I happened imageto be a customer of theirs last month, the unfortunate mating of my car with a Mitsubishi SUV. After taking a few photos, adding my VIN and a short description, I selected a date for dropping off my car. A little while later, received an email letting me know that I would be receiving estimates shortly. Wow, really?

Behind the scene, the great team at BSB is amassing a catalog of reputable shops, eager to increase their business and willing to use their expertise to assess damages and costs through photos, VINs and customer descriptions. It would seem that the trust factor on their part is significant, but I suspect that’s where their experience comes in handy.

In a few days, I received an email notifying me that I had 3 estimates for my repair. They varied greatly; I began to question whether I’d given enough information, but realized that this is not unlike what I’ve experienced in the past. But this time, I wasn’t driving all over town, wasting time only to give up and just randomly pick someone. Here I not only had the quotes but imagealso reviews from others. Additionally, BSB takes your credit card information beforehand, but waits for your assurance of a good job before charging – a great approach to lowering my concerns with choosing the lowest bid.

3 days after dropping off my car, I got a phone call from the sop that it was ready. Mind you, this was the first time I’d talked to anyone there. I went over, picked up the keys, and drove away. The next day, BSB called to confirm I was happy with the work, after which they processed my credit card for the payment. The car looks fantastic – the body work and paint couldn’t have been better.

To say I was impressed with BSB is an understatement – I’ve spoken with several guys from the team on the phone and over email. And, I stalked them at the Moxie Awards last month, hanging out with them for most of the night. A great idea, well executed, with a group of folks I’ve grown to appreciate for their passion towards delivering a great customer experience in a situation that traditionally has been wrought with angst and distrust.

Are there areas for improvement? Sure. The shop left a fine film of dust throughout my car; nothing a few Armor All wipes couldn’t handle, but it’s the details that make the difference between an A and A+. And, going back to the pizza idea, it would have been nice to have some type of visual timeline that would give an indication as to where in the repair process your car was (parts delivery, repair, paint, cleanup).

But these are very minor – I only list them because I want BSB to stay humble a little longer Smile.  If you ever have the misfortune of needing auto repair, or you own a shop and see this as a great way to increase business with little overhead, I highly recommend Body Shop Bids. I’m rooting for them to be a great success.

A Bunch of Random Thoughts

After all of the posturing, the will raise the debt ceiling, guaranteed.  But no politician should expect a thank you from me.  Let smokers smoke.  If common sense can’t change their habits, why bother with warning stickers?  1-liter bottles are such a blatant rip-off, but they must know there are people out there who can’t do basic math.  Friday Night Lights is the most underappreciated show on television.  LinkedIn Spam.  How does that happen?  I do appreciate hearing “thank you” when I drop it in the tip jar at Starbucks.  Sometimes, I think it’s taken for granted.  Internet beats cable TV.   Cancel the NFL season, see if I care.  There are times I’d pay to go to the theatre and just watch trailers for 90 minutes. Is it me, or are Groupons getting monotonous?  Living Social is getting more of my attention.  Being loved is greatly underappreciated.  If I had to choose, I’d take a grill over a stove any day, in any weather.  The Murdochs did the right thing.  Now, about Fox News…. 10 minutes after accepting a Google+ invite, I felt dirty.  Nuff said.  I don’t blame the jurors for the Casey Anthony verdict.  I blame the prosecution.  Involuntary Manslaughter would have been a more reasonable determination.  In traffic, I can usually tell the drivers who are on the phone or texting.  And I keep my eye on them.  I’ve never seen Gone With The Wind.  But, I’ve seen Pootie Tang, and loved it.  I’d love to be in Tokyo right now.