Surprise electrifies

Being taken has never been so profitable.

Back in 2002, for a first-person business story testing the claims of the Ab Force belt advertised all over TV at the time — twitch and jolt your way to thinner abs! — I bought a pair of belts and got to zapping.

There was some pain. Lots of tingling. One instance of self-shock (when I forgot to use the conductive gel; my fault). In a month’s time, the results were in: My credit card had been overbilled ($75.94,) then subsequently over-reimbursed ($69.95) and my stomach was a likely-unrelated half-inch slimmer.

I got a fun story out of it and moved on with my life — next leg-testing Epil Stop ‘N Spray, the caustic hair remover, if memory serves, and never once thought about the Ab Force belt again.

Until last week when my check arrived in the mail.

Unbeknownst to me, the Federal Trade Commission had my back, and my belly. According to an FTC release, last January it reached a $7 million settlement with the marketers of Ab Force for “false and deceptive claims that a device would cause consumers to lose weight by applying electronic stimulation to their abdominal muscles.”

Money went out to the people who collectively bought 700,000-plus belts. (All that collective tingling! It boggles the mind.)

My name was still in their records, so my cut was $17.89, $11.90 more than I ultimately paid for the belts. Now eyeing other As Seen on TV items for anything else than can offer that rate of return …

— Kathryn Skelton

Balloon ride bookings down

A tough economy isn’t leaving the Aug. 21-23 Great Falls Balloon Festival untouched.

One week before the balloons soar in Lewiston-Auburn, 135 people have booked rides at $200 apiece. The 135 riders is down about 20 percent.

“That’s better than I thought it would be,” said festival ride coordinator Mickey Reeder. This year more are considering floating in a balloon a luxury, Reeder said.

Despite the economy, organizers of the popular festival were able to secure corporate sponsorship for all of the balloons, balloon meister Mike Theriault said.

During the three days of the festival, rides are nearly sold out for the morning and afternoon launches of the first day, Aug. 21. Rides are available for Saturday and Sunday launches, both the early morning and afternoon.

Those who book rides don’t flinch at the price, which goes up to $225 on Aug. 19. “A lot of times it’s a special occasion or a gift,” Reeder said. “Over half of the people who have booked rides are out-of-staters. They are on vacation and tend to do things like that.”

Riders are often celebrating special occasions such as graduations, anniversaries or birthdays. “Every year we have at least one wedding and usually two proposals,” Reeder said.

Flying in a balloon “is a wonderful experience,” she said. “It’s one of those things you should do once in a lifetime.”

Typically bookings go up as the festival nears, Reeder said. “Always in the last week it gets really busy. Everyone discovers we’re having a festival and starts thinking about it.”

If someone has booked a ride and that launch is rained out, “you can fly later or get your money refunded,” Reeder said.

Those interested in booking rides should call the balloon hot line, 782-2637. They should “leave their name and number, and we’ll get back to them,” Reeder said.

— Bonnie Washuk

School daze

Three fourth-grade teachers recently loaded up four carriages with file folders, notebooks, crayons, markers, notebooks and craft supplies for their classrooms.

Jay teachers Donna Labbe, Nancy Anctil and Tammy Deering were stopped in an aisle at the Wal-Mart store in Farmington going over their curriculum lists and invoices for the coming school year.

“We were discussing what we had spent and what we had left over,” Labbe said Friday. She believed they had spent it all except for about $1.

They started that morning at 7:30 a.m. and shopped until 11:35 a.m. before they checked out.

The day wasn’t over yet. They drove to the Jay Middle School where the fourth grade has moved to this year and unloaded their supplies.

They had stretched the school department’s dollars to get the most for the money.

“Rather than ordering through specialty catalogs, it’s cheaper to go to Wal-Mart,” Labbe said. They also go to bookstores for other needed supplies.

“We shop for the best price,” Labbe said.
— Donna M. Perry

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