Archive for the ‘Business Decisions’ Category

Service of Admiration for a Modest & Successful Fashion Icon: Eileen Fisher

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Eileen Fisher. Photo:

I have always admired fashion designer Eileen Fisher for her simple silhouettes and comfortable clothes and over many years have mentioned to countless other designers the genius of her marketing strategy: In her ads she was the first that I can recall to feature models of all ages, often in one photo.

I didn’t know anything about Ms. Fisher until I read David Gelles’ article in The New York Times, “It Would Be Better Not to Call Eileen Fisher a Boss.” Her business approach is as smart and unusual as her using young, middle aged and old mannequins to show off her clothes and accessories. She sports the same hair color—white—as some of the women dressed in her fashions.


There’s no CEO at her company because of “Ms. Fisher’s belief that consensus is more important than urgency and that collaboration is more effective than hierarchy,” Gelles wrote. And her 30-something year old business is successful. Owned by Ms. Fisher and her employees, annual sales are around $500 million. “And at a moment when many consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality, sustainability and durability, the company’s longstanding values are deeply relevant.”

She lived in a chaotic household as a child with nobody telling the kids what to do so having a boss in her first job at Burger King at 15 was “kind of strange for me” she told Gelles. She said she had an authority problem.


“I wanted to create a place where people weren’t powering over people. Where people were kind and people were together and shared.”

In New York she started in interior design and when she went to Japan with her then Japanese partner and first saw the kimono she was “very intrigued by the way it moved…..I was fascinated by the idea that one design, one shape, could transcend time, and be made new just by different patterns and colors.” Her fashions revolve around eight basic pieces to which she adds or subtracts a few pieces every season. Her customers read The New York Times and The New Yorker, not Vogue.

She started her fashion company with $350 in the bank, going by subway, carrying the pieces she cut on the floor of her loft in garbage bags to a factory in Queens. She sold those clothes–$40,000 worth– at a boutique show.


“I think of myself as leading through the idea, trying to help people understand what I’m trying to do, or what the project is about, and engaging them. I always think about leading through listening. I was a designer, so I didn’t have preconceived ideas of how this business works.”

The company has a leadership group, a board and she’s founder and chairwoman of the board, “but that’s not really what I do.” She thinks “co-creation and collaboration absolutely can work in a big company.”

The company offers generous benefits, Gelles reported, and employees own much of it. Ms. Fisher says she knows that the sense of ownership works when she hears in a meeting, “don’t spend my money on that.” Ms Fisher thinks “corporations should have to share a minimum 10 percent of their profits with the people working. It’s not socialism, it’s good for business.”

Have you worked for an employer like this? Would you have fit in? Are you surprised at how successful this business is especially in the fashion world with a reputation for rough gruff souls and primadonnas galore?


Eileen Fisher Photo:


Service of Unicorns: It’s Nice to Believe

Monday, August 31st, 2015


One of my first eye-openers happened years ago with the now defunct Cue Magazine that covered going’s on in NYC and was a reliable guide for eons. After arriving late at the movies a few times because of inaccurate listings and event and restaurant recommendations turned from being editor picks to sponsored ones that weren’t  always so hot, the resource lost its usefulness.

Angie’s List may be following a similar model, according to Abby Haglage in, which is too bad: It sounded like such a good idea. The answer to the title of her piece, “Is Angie’s List Making Business List Owners Pay for Top Spots?” appears to be “yes,” and it’s only a part of the problem. Its well known mantra for its 3 million US subscribers, “Reviews you can trust,” should be tweaked to “Sponsored reviews to take at your own risk.”

Figures don’t lie and should be a big hint. Haglage reported that “76 percent of the company’s $315 million total revenue came from service providers” translated to advertisers; Membership accounted for 23 percent. She also wrote about Jeff Blyskal’s 2013 findings in Consumer Reports. He similarly debunked the influence of consumer opinions in determining the order of listings, starting with the best, noting they favor advertisers.  

One customer, Janell Moore, filed a class action suit this spring. The kitchen home remodelerremodeling contractor she found on the list left her project in the lurch and didn’t respond or return the $4,000 she’d paid. Wrote Haglage: “Moore claims it was only after leaving a negative review of the company that she was able to see other negative reviews, which led her to believe that the rating system wasn’t done fairly.”

Moore’s complaint contends that members are duped into thinking the lists are arranged according to quality of review. In reality they are determined according to who paid the most for the listing. And according to Haglage, there also were complaints from hundreds of Consumer Reports readers.

“Angie’s List falsely assures consumers that ‘service providers cannot influence their ratings on Angie’s List,’” reads an opening section of Moore’s 28-page complaint. “These and similar statements dupe potential and existing members into believing that Angie’s List reviews, ratings, and search results are valuable and trustworthy because they reflect unfiltered feedback of consumers, for consumers.”

home builderThe company has filed a motion to dismiss. Haglage explained: “In a section titled ‘How Angie’s List Works,’ the company says that it’s transparent about money being involved in its rating mode. ‘Members are expressly told that service providers may pay to offer such promotions and that as a result they may be placed ‘at the top’ of search results.’”

There’s another side to the story—that of taking advantage of small business people. It’s not unusual for advertising fees to be flexible and an example in the article shows how elastic. One Minneapolis-based landscape and construction business owner, Stanley Ganadek, had this experience Haglage reported: “After a few positive reviews on his page, reps called asking if he’d be willing to pay $33,000 to stay at the top of the page. Genadeck, who talked them down to $3,000, created a YouTube video to help protect other business owners from spending too much.” The landscape owner confirmed that you can’t pay to be on the list but sales reps—almost 2,000 of them–call when you’ve received two reviews and according to Haglag, they call and call and call.

Who hasn’t had a bad experience with a contractor, real estate agent, vendor, hair stylist or dentist that a friend, business colleague or relative recommended? Do you think Moore’s complaint and those of Consumer Reports’ readers have merit or does caveat emptor play here and that consumers should be punished for their naïveté? What about the model of picking on small business owners who might not be informed about how advertising works—all’s fair, right?

small business 1


Service of Limiting Communications

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

no emails

The French got the recent headlines but German companies such as Volkswagen already had email policies in place to curb the enthusiasm of people in management who send emails at all hours and expect employees to respond.

The alert employee who gets the worm–i.e. the promotion–must be on the job at dawn, at night and on weekends with eyes riveted on smartphone screens should a business-related email pop up. A friend’s former boss has a sleeping disorder which kept him up at night. My friend had a hard time fitting life in after 8 pm or 9 pm, when he left work, as there was no after work: He was expected to respond with charts, figures and explanations into the night.

early bird gets wormWrote Adam Auriemma and David Gauthier-Villars in “French Pact Could Give Workers an Email Break” in The Wall Street Journal:  “The French pact between companies and workers, settled last week and awaiting government approval, amounts to a declaration of principle more than law. It gives certain technology-sector workers the right to stop using work tools such as email and smartphones after logging France’s state-mandated maximum 13-hour day.”

What had Volkswagen done in 2011? It cut off email to 3,500 non managers at headquarters in Germany between 6:15 pm and 7 am. The authors reported Pew Research findings that email frenzies “start at the top,” as they increase with salaries, and they quote others who note the obvious: For the behavior to stop, the brakes must also come from the top. They wrote: “But as long as promotions go to the workers willing to do company bidding at any hour, policies intended to limit the workday are unlikely to matter, managers and scholars say.”

What do you think of email curbing policies? Are they realistic in a world where bosses and clients demand and expect immediate attention? Do you know of managers who overtax and burn out employees by expecting their full attention and immediate response 24/7? Are you one of those?

 Urgent stamp

Service of You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

Monday, March 24th, 2014

man with blndersCar with blinders on

I am breaking my rule not to mention brand names when addressing negative issues because of the size of the companies involved, the flagrant lack of concern for customer safety and the fact that this approach appears to be increasingly acceptable.

General Motors, Toyota and Target have been in the news not for their product launches and retailing innovations but because they sat on negative information of utmost importance to their customers resulting, in the case of the auto manufacturers, in death.

GM waited years before admitting to problems with ignition switches in potentially 1.6 million Chevy Cobalts. Some 12 people died as a result. I don’t know how many were injured.

Toyota hid information about sticking pedals causing cars to zoom ahead uncontrollably. They also kept mum about floor mats that interfered with acceleration. Both malfunctions caused injuries and deaths.

credit card at retailOn November 27th, two days before Black Friday and almost a month before Christmas, Target learned about the breach of its in-store credit card terminals affecting some 40 million and waited for weeks, until mid December, to own up to the disaster. I wouldn’t again charge a toothpick in this store–which I like–and I don’t carry much cash. A few years ago I was sent a new credit card immediately when TJ Maxx discovered credit card violations. These things happen and will increasingly. The prompt and seamless handling gave me more confidence in that brand.

I can hear the chorus from readers: “GREED made them do it.” But who is advising these businesses? Damage is so much worse when you don’t admit to wrong doing, causing more harm and dragging out the story so increasing numbers of people are adversely affected and more hear about it.

Why do executives, time and again, think that they will be the ones to make these problems go away before anyone notices? If they fear assault on their reputations once a disaster occurs, don’t they realize that by trying to hide they are only growing the circumference of their black eyes? Are immediate profits more important than reputations and conducting business responsibly because people count on the public’s microscopic memory?

dog with black eye


Service of How Did That Happen?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

how did that happen

Monkey Business

primateI’ve covered plagiarism before and am consistently amazed by the reaction of the outed plagiarist. This time it’s a world-famous primatologist according to Christopher Joyce, NPR. Jane Goodall who, according to a statement reported by Joyce, wrote the following about “Seeds of Hope.” “This was a long and well-researched book, and I am distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies.” I added the bold to part of the quote to underscore the passivity of the apology. Joyce points out that Goodall had a co-author.

 What’s a $Billion Among Friends?

BillionBankruptcy is a different kind of oops, especially when a $billion is involved and in so short a time. The Revel Casino in Atlantic City is less than a year old, according to Tom Hals and Jonathan Stempel of Reuters, and management expects to be out of bankruptcy by summer. A little bump in the road to everyone but those who are owed all that money and if the vendors are small enough and unable to weather the loss, they won’t be in business as Revel expects to be. quoted CEO, Kevin DeSanctis, in an earlier article: “‘Today’s announcement is a positive step for Revel,’ DeSanctis said. ‘The agreement we have reached with our lenders will ensure that the hundreds of thousands of guests who visit Revel every year will continue to enjoy a signature Revel experience in our world-class facility.’”

How benevolent, how wonderful for the CEO to be concerned about future guests: Is my scorn coming through loud and clear?


LululemonThe press had fun writing and speaking about Luluemon’s $98 yoga pants that turned out to be see-through by mistake. It affected the stock and reporter Sapna Maheshwari covered analysts’ interview of Lululemon’s CEO, Christine Day. Day told them:

“The truth of the matter is the only way you can actually test for the issue is to put the pants on and bend over,” Day said on today’s conference call. “Just putting the pants on themselves doesn’t solve the problem. It passed all of the basic metric tests and the hand-feel is relatively the same, so it was very difficult for the factories to isolate the issue, and it wasn’t until we got in the store and started putting it on people that we could actually see the issue.” [Highlight is mine.]

People in a store are different from people at headquarters or at the plant? I’m not the only PR person to test a client’s toll free number or website link before sending out a press release that includes such references. Chefs are known to have bad teeth because they are test-tasting food all day long. At that price point, couldn’t somebody at headquarters or at the plant try on a pair of these pants and use them as “people in the store” would?

Anybody interested in taking responsibility these days?


Service of Made in America

Monday, July 16th, 2012


Is it enough that the US Olympic Committee selects an American brand to design its uniforms-should we expect the committee to instruct that brand to be sure that the clothing is made in America?

olympics2012The initiative is funded by private money so we should be lucky there are uniforms at all and that there are sufficient funds to support and send athletes to London to represent us at a time so many are unemployed or using up their savings to pay for health care or barely eating or headed for shelters or in need of medicine or education. Right?

The company they chose-Ralph Lauren-is one of the best at PR in the country. I’m surprised their eyes were so riveted on the bottom line-the public can also buy the outfits– that they couldn’t strike a deal with a textile plant in the US and make hay as well as berets, shirts, pants and hats, here. A polo shirt costs $145; a track jacket $165 and blazer $700+–plenty of margin to pay an American workroom.

congressThe good news? Olympic uniforms caused members on both sides of the aisle in Congress to agree: “You’d think they’d know better”-John Boehner, R-Ohio and “It is not just a label, it’s an economic solution. Today there are 600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in this country and the Olympic committee is outsourcing the manufacturing of uniforms to China? That is not just outrageous, it’s just plain dumb. It is self-defeating.”–Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

Ralph et al listened. In 2014, the uniforms will be made here.

Meanwhile I heard on the Frommer travel radio show yesterday afternoon that there are 400 London hotels with space as well as tickets to the Olympic events–currently available at discount. Who knows if this is due to especially horrible London weather this summer or the economy or the lack of interest in the Olympics or the fact that London is a very expensive city to visit or that people know to wait in order to capture better prices.

Back to the uniforms: Was this outcry about the uniforms a question of pride, chauvinism run amok or politicians relieved they can finally agree on something? Do you care who designs the US Olympic uniforms and/or where they are made?


Service of What Were They Thinking?

Monday, April 30th, 2012


I’ve written many posts that illustrate business behavior or decisions that deserve this reaction. Recently I’ve noticed a rash of examples that inspired me to revisit the question.

Humor Doesn’t Always Translate

I saw a scarf manufactured by a well known Italian fashion brand. Prominently printed along an edge in fancy script were the words “cheap & chic.” European or rich person’s humor, perhaps? At $80, the scarf represented the couture brand’s bargain basement price point. In spite of the pretty pattern and colors, the words translated to “what were they thinking?” Can you imagine the reaction of the recipient of such a gift?

My Stars

Another well known apparel brand, this one with retail stores of the same name, sells a tee-shirt with a yellow star reminiscent of the symbol Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. Wonder what the stylist-and his/her boss-had in mind? One of the hosts of the WABC radio program “Religion on the Line” was not amused.

You Can’t Have That

magazinesLeafing through the pages of a once-favorite decorating magazine, I stopped at the image of a bright red and white bedroom ensemble. Most of the photo captions on the page were obscured by the dropout type on dark background. Centrally placed in the largest type on a white background I read: “____[name of store] no longer stocks this toile headboard, but the company still sells the matching dust ruffle.”

I couldn’t see the dust ruffle in the photo [though a friend said he could see a little bit of it]. The coordinating floral comforter took up most of the image but there was no mention of it.

Pay Your Debts

And then there was the Secret Service person who didn’t pay his Columbian prostitute. Now was that the time to be cheap?

Race to Play

sportscarsOn, Christopher Baxter wrote “N.J. state troopers face probe for ‘Death Race 2012’ down Parkway to AC.” According to Baxter, two troopers “escorted a caravan of luxury sports cars at speeds in excess of 100 mph down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City last month.” Baxter quoted one of two witnesses, Wayne Gantt, who complained to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority: “I had the great pleasure today of nearly being killed by, not one, but two, Lamborghinis traveling in excess of 110 mph in a (New Jersey State Police) escorted ‘caravan’ of approximately 30 exotic vehicles all traveling well over 100 mph.” What a precedent for the next time a state trooper tries to ticket a driver for going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone.

Guess the police and the sports car drivers don’t remember how former NJ Governor Corzine was almost killed when he urged his chauffeur to travel at 90+ mph down a turnpike and the car smashed into something. Speed must be in the air in that state.

Can you explain what these people were thinking or add other examples to the list?


Service of Business Decisions: Fox Smart or Fowl?

Thursday, January 12th, 2012


I wish I could be a fly on the wall when some business decisions are made. Here are a few that I’ve noticed recently.

canoncartridges-001If you have a Canon printer with its four small cartridges and large black one, you know how expensive printing is. And there’s no getting around it. A combo pack is supposed to save money, but it comes without the small black cartridge, which means you have to buy that separately at full price. Doing the customer a favor? No: Making more money for Canon? Yes. Altogether now, what color do you use most? Precisely: The one that’s missing from the pack! There’s another combo option: Buy the four small ones without the big black one. You can’t get all the ones you need in one box marked SAVINGS [all capital letters, theirs].

It’s a good decision for Canon. For now this customer is stuck and annoyed. But when the printer dies, I’ll be on the lookout for alternatives–and I like the printer.

lotsofmoneyMerrill Lynch has informed its brokers that in 2012, to be eligible to make a fee from new business accounts, the customer’s minimum investment increased to $250,000 from $100,000. I first heard about this last weekend on Ric Edelman’s weekly “The Truth about Money” radio program. Given how technology has made it so much easier to turn a profit on brokerage accounts said Edelman–his company can do so with $3,000 minimums–he was surprised at Merrill Lynch’s move. I’m not. Why would anyone want the middle class, a shrinking demographic, as a client? It’s also a good way to get rid of brokers who aren’t connected to the hedge fund crowd.

Verizon Wireless retracted a $2/month “convenience fee” for customers paying by phone or online. They instituted the surcharge to encourage customers to sign up for automatic payment where there would be no such fee. [Customers paying by check weren’t to be similarly penalized no doubt because the leap to automatic payment would be too dramatic.] The FCC was looking into the fairness of this fee. Verizon Wireless’ PR stance was that they eliminated the fee because they were listening to their customers whose uproar on Facebook and Twitter garnered headlines. Who cares what the impetus was for the change of policy. Customers don’t have to pay an arbitrary, cockamamie fee and that’s what counts.

parkingcloseup1I saw a city worker writing out a ticket at the garage next to my office building and warned the attendants. I thought they might be fining a car parked in their alley. The attendants shrugged and said that they were being fined because their sign [at right] was on the sidewalk. I pass that sign daily. There’s plenty of room for pedestrians on hte street. The fine is obviously an income-generator for the city. And we hear daily how small business is going to be the salvation of our parkingpshowseconomy. The city isn’t doing its part to help. You can see by the photo, left, that a car driving east on 44th from Third Avenue can barely see the Pa of the hanging parking sign peeking behind the neon red East sign, much less the entire word. Further, making the parking price clear is a benefit to consumers.

Any good or bad business decisions you’d like to share?


Service of Spending to Save Money

Monday, October 31st, 2011


There are times when you’ll save money and/or hours of precious time by spending more. Especially when budgets are tight, it’s easy to rationalize otherwise, which can be a costly error.

Gizmo Guru

Last week my husband hired our brilliant tech guru to install and instruct him about how to use unfamiliar programs in a new computer.

smart-kidIt turns out that the computer, which seemed to work OK at first, was faulty. We might not have discovered this for ages and by then any warrantee would have expired. Furthermore, I bet we would have blamed ourselves for not knowing how to get the [lemon] scanning element to work, therefore wasting countless hours repeating a thankless process.

In addition, our guru negotiated an exchange with the manufacturer, which included their paying for the return shipment. He dithered back and forth while speaking in “computer” with several voices in India all superbly trained to dodge responsibility. Nobody was going to flimflam this young man and he wouldn’t budge from his position. He knew what was wrong, that was that. Two days later he installed our new computer.

Hire Someone with Minimum Two Year’s Experience if Service is Your Business or You Care

restaurantressystemI hope I have a reservation for lunch to celebrate my friend Elaine’s birthday on November 1.Trying to get one was a challenge.

I called and said, “I would like to make a reservation for lunch, for two, at 12:30 on Tuesday, November 1.” Generally the response is, “Fine, might we please have your name and phone number?” and I’m off the phone.

This didn’t happen on Friday. First the young voice at the restaurant assured me that Nov. 1st was NOT Tuesday, but Wednesday. Once she figured out she was looking at the wrong year, I again asked for a reservation for two at 12:30 on November 1. Her response: “Only [and she mentioned some name] has a reservation then.” 

I said, “Might I have one too, please?” She asked [for the second time], “What is your name? Your phone number? For what date? What time?” I repeated all the answers when she said, “For how many?” I told her again.

I empathize. She was obviously new, using a strange computer [and perhaps on drugs?]. In her place, I would have written it all down and punched in the info later so that the customer didn’t have to wait [and I wouldn’t look like an idiot]. But she had obviously never had such a job, or any job. We will never know how many other customers they have they lost because they gave–and hung–up.

Also in the restaurant realm, a colleague received a confirmation phone call this week from a restaurant a week after her reservation and visit to the place. The coincidence made me wonder if there’s a canny salesperson out there selling restaurants an over-complicated reservation computer program when a sheet of paper with dates and times would work better–at least while staff gets used to the program.

We’ve all had our first job and complained at the time, “How can I get experience if everyone says I need experience before being considered for a job?” True. But that’s where spending money on training [which we’ve often discussed] comes in-as well as testing people for common sense and carefully overseeing what the new ones do.

Where have you happily spent more money to save money lately or observed others who have–or obviously have not?


Service of Let Bygones be Bygones

Monday, October 10th, 2011


In a discussion about the Wall Street protestors during a radio interview Friday morning, Mayor Bloomberg said, [I am translating what I remember and think I heard, this is not a direct quote], that for the economy to get back on track we should stop looking for blame and quit looking backwards to the cause of the economic downturn and no longer distract these bankers and other corporate types: Let them get back to work.

I disagree with the Mayor. Maybe it’s because I’ve been burned as have countless others. Call me a sore looser.

backon-trackI fully believe in forgiveness, hard as it might be to achieve, and bad as my track record is. This is business, not friendship. It doesn’t set well with me that having weaseled millions out of millions the heads of banks and corporations should sit on their yachts and in their mansions without so much as a knuckle tap to warn others who plan to follow their lead.

Call me Pollyanna, but at the least, they should propose sets of restrictions on themselves. Other industries do it because they don’t want the government telling them what to do. Smart. Guess these folks feel safe, with elections coming up next year. Who dares bother them right now?

And why would we want to leave in charge of the fix the same folks who helped get us where we are with their “Let them eat cake” mentalities?  Should we let them get more bonuses, personally profiting twice from flimflammery?

I think we make a bigger fuss over sports figures who break records by taking steroids.

Is forgiveness the issue here? Should we let Wall Street bankers go about their business as usual, make no restrictions that might help avoid our falling into similar pits now and in future, and take none of them to task?



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