When people are stressed and troubled, they have several options. They can call their mother, a best friend or maybe a crisis hot line.
But here's a story about a distressed woman who found her savior in a Pleasanton, Calif., store.
It happened a year ago when she wandered in and began telling her troubles to the clerks. She hated her job. She was in a bad relationship. And so on.
Lisa Draveling, a clerk at the time, recalls: "She basically asked us, 'What do I need to do?' " An hour later, the woman left with a minor purchase.
"Six months later she came back," Draveling says. "She'd quit her job and had a new, better one. She had a new boyfriend. She came back in the store specifically to thank us."
Good grief! What do they sell at this store?
Planners. But they are planners of the sort that will make their converts get religion, so to speak. Those who own them say their lives have improved in myriad ways. For the for-merly unorganized, these planners are nirvana.
But the people who work at the Franklin Covey stores, where these planners are sold, would never make claims like that. They are understated in their approach and never critical, not even when a bumbling reporter digs through an overstuffed purse to show them her own planner, complete with latte spills, which she bought at a warehouse store for $20.
They are polite enough to look interested, even intrigued.
It's obvious, though, that there are differences that help explain why the Franklin Covey system claims 15 million users.
If you're a mom, there are "Child's Play" inserts for the Franklin Covey planners, which contain games to occupy the young ones during long waits at the doctors or in the car.
If you're a mom-to-be, there's a pregnancy insert to take you through the nine months.
If you're getting married, there's a planner for your wedding. If you're a gardener, there are inserts for you to record your planting schedule. There are health and fitness inserts, budgeting inserts, and you get the idea.
It can be overwhelming, but in the Franklin Covey store in Walnut Creek, Calif., gleaming wood, recessed lights and spare decor create an atmosphere of serenity. Rows of binders in every size and fabric are arranged on shelves.
There's an unspoken promise as you enter the store. Life will be less stressful. You'll achieve all your goals.You'll have a happy marriage and well-behaved children. You'll have time to read that stack of books on your night stand.
The "Covey" in Franklin Covey is Stephen Covey, author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," one of the best-selling self-help books in years. He's also the guy who has crisscrossed the United States, giving motivational seminars from Microsoft to the White House.
His message? Some common sense sprinkled with moral values and simple delivery. In a nutshell, prioritize.
Covey is all about personal mission statements. His seven habits include "Be proactive," "Put first things first" and "Think win-win." But scratch the surface -- by taking one of the seminars or reading the reams of material available at the stores -- and you'll discover a philosophy deeply rooted in the importance of family.
This is no surprise. Covey, a Mormon, father of nine and grandfather of 20-plus, stresses the need to put relationships first.
About 18 months ago, Covey joined up with the planner people, Franklin Quest. Now there are 128 stores worldwide, including outlets in Towson and Columbia.
Comfortable chairs and a few tables dot the floor of the store. This is where the "counseling sessions" take place, Draveling says. The novice customers sit with employees, who try to figure out what the customers' needs are.
Lon Anderson and his wife Melinda took a Covey seminar several years ago and became hooked on the systems.
"It's not just a calendar," says Melinda, who lives in Benicia, Calif. "It's a way to prioritize your life. ... The only problem: It won't fit in my purse."
Eventually, Franklin Covey users come to grips with the planners' sizes, which are cumbersome for someone used to a purse-sized planner. The smallest are about 5 inches wide and 7 inches tall. To compensate, some users give up purses, instead stuffing change and credit cards into planners.
The only flaw in the system is that they carry so much information, to lose one can be painful.
Store clerk Nathan Rockwell recalls a businessman who ran his entire company out of his planner. And then it was stolen.
"He came here practically in tears," Rockwell recalls.
After much discussion, he bought a Palm Pilot, which can connect to his personal computer to make copies of his records.
Which is where the store's employees find their satisfaction.
"For us, this is a great job," says Draveling. "People wander in, wondering what we're about. Then they'll walk out with a whole new lease on life."