Archive for the ‘Manufacturing’ Category

Service of Formal Entertaining: In Fashion or Wishful Thinking?

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

We're breaking out of pandemic mode, some more gingerly than others, into unprecedented inflation, a zigzagging stock market with war on the wings. When, last week, I passed these Bloomingdale's windows dressed for spring I had, simultaneously, contradictory reactions. One was a flashback to a time people gave formal dinner parties not associated with Thanksgiving and other traditional gatherings--me included. Perhaps the store's tabletop team had hopes of inspiring Easter and Passover celebrations, the next ones up. St. Patrick's Day's corned beef and cabbage, as yummy as it is, doesn't evoke gold rimmed plates.

So who would buy these elegant dishes and wine glasses? Young people aren’t interested in things much less luxurious ones, and many older people, who might want them, already own them. Friends tell me that they have a hard time passing on family heirlooms to their offspring.

I asked Google for the items that top bridal registries and for March 2022 they are, in this order: Cookware (nonstick skillet, sauté pan, pasta pot, saucepan, etc.); Bakeware (roasting pan, casserole dish, baking sheets, loaf pans, muffin tins, etc.); Knives (serrated knife, paring knife, chef’s knife, etc.); Cutting boards; Dutch oven; Cast iron skillet; Stand mixer and Food processor.

I thought “that can’t be right! Not a plate?” and hit “more” which led me to Sarah Zlotnick’s article in brides.com, “The Ultimate Wedding Registry Checklist.” Under “Dining and Entertaining Registry Ideas” she lists: Everyday dishware (eight to 12 settings—dinner plates, dessert and/or salad plates, bowls); Everyday drinking glasses (eight to 12); Mugs (eight to 12); Flatware (eight to 12 settings); Steak knives (eight to 12); Wine glasses (red and white); Champagne flutes; Salad bowl and serving utensils

Serving bowls, platters, and trays jump in at the end and the Specialty glassware (margarita glasses, martini glasses, rocks glasses) and Colored Stemware.

I loved to dress a table because it was fun, I liked to look at something pretty and I felt that it said to my guests, “I wanted to honor/please you.” I think that I should invite over some friends and do a table up round even if I’m ordering in Chinese, Mexican or pizza. Maybe manufacturers should promote their products this way rather than in the same old same old. The market has been stagnant for them since well before the pandemic. I wonder if, like changing dress and skirt hem lengths, the fashion for formal entertaining will ever return just for the fun of it.

Service of Choosing Gifts

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

‘Tis the season: Will you, too, be scratching your head to find perfect gifts?

Some of Evan Polman’s findings may shed light on final decisions. He reported them in “That Product Will Work Well for You. But for Me? Not So Much,” in The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Polman is associate professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison.

“In 15 studies involving thousands of participants, we found that people believe that scores of products—including moisturizer, granola bars, calendars and online classes—will have a greater positive effect on others than on themselves.” The less familiar the product, wrote Dr. Polman, the stronger this belief. [He observed that some think medicines work better for others hence they opt to overdose, which obviously isn’t healthy…but I digress.]

Dr. Polman wrote: “When buying gifts for others, for example, we might worry less about whether something will be as effective as advertised because we assume it will have a relatively positive effect on the recipient.” That’s why, he posited, gifts are less practical and more creative than what most would buy for themselves. “This would suggest that people have a blind spot when choosing gifts for others, preferring gifts that dazzle in the short run but have less usefulness in the long run.”

I don’t think this happens when buying gifts for children who often have their hopes pinned on specific toys or games. Fanciful substitutes won’t do.

His research also has impact on a company introducing new products or entrepreneurs launching a business: “New products—and businesses—often fail, and this could be because marketers and entrepreneurs overestimate the benefits that their products will have for others.”

Given that the recipient already owns the basics, do you look for something special that is considered a treat, even an extravagance, that a beneficiary wouldn’t buy for him/herself? An example could be as simple as a luxury Swiss or Belgian hot chocolate powder vs. a generic grocery store brand that might already have a place in the pantry. Wouldn’t this also explain how people choose gifts, even if they don’t exactly “dazzle,” in Dr. Polman’s words? How do you decide?

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.

NJ.com 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?

Peek-a-Boo

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 Bloomberg.com 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?

Peekaboo3

Service of Packaging V

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Floral Packaging

Packaging has inspired me to jot yet another post, this time inspired by some stunning simple brown bags of flower bulbs [photo above] that caught my eye on my way to buy food at Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie. Like the sound of the first ice cream truck’s bell in spring, the images of flamboyant blossoms and simple display on a brisk day at winter’s end attracted me and no doubt many other customers.

Deceptive Packaging 1That’s the only positive packaging example today. I was dismayed by the deception of the iron-on patches made to look as though they took up the length of the paper sleeve [photo right] when in reality, they hardly Deceptive Packaging 2made it to halfway [photo left].

And while I’ve mentioned toothpaste tubes before, I have not been happy living with this heavier-than-standard gauge tube with a silver finish that, for its heft and shine, comes at a higher price. I was duped into thinking it would be better than the typical tube I’ve bought for decades. Half the time the top doesn’t close and when this happens the paste hardens when air hits it [which is a formula problem as the other paste doesn’t do this in the hours between brushings]. I need to search kitchen drawers for something long and thin to pry out the hard stuff that even countless squeezes won’t dislodge. It’s back to the standard tube for me!

Do you have any packaging praises or gripes to share?

 Crummy Packaging

Service of Saving Money

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

savingmoney

Who doesn’t want to save money, especially these days?

My friend Clotilde, [she asked me to use this pseudonym], told me about how some in one industry are approaching this objective although she didn’t cotton to the approach. Clotilde heard the story on NPR. I read David Folkenflik’s coverage in “Fake Bylines Reveal Hidden Costs Of Local News” on wbur.org.

oldfashionednewsroomFolkenflik wrote that major newspapers in Chicago, Houston and San Francisco admitted that they published print and/or online items under fake bylines.

That’s the least of it. According to Folkenflik, “As was first disclosed by the public radio program ‘This American Life,’ the items in question were not written by reporters on the staffs of the papers at all but by employees of what is effectively a news outsourcing firm called Journatic.

“‘How do you get police blotters from 90 towns? It’s not easy. But that’s what we do,’ says Brian Timpone, a former television reporter and small-town newspaper owner who created what became Journatic six years ago.”

strapped-for-cashFolkenflik continued, “Journatic has dozens of clients, many of them strapped for cash but all hungry to serve up local news for their readers.”

Worth repeating: I’ve found that daily newspapers are turning to syndicated stories to fill their pages rather than to spend money for reporters to cover local business news.

Back toFolkenflik:  “‘It’s a short-term cost-cutting measure, and that’s all it is,’ says Tim McGuire, the former editor-in-chief of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who now teaches media business and journalism ethics at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. ‘It’s not a long-term solution to providing local news to people who want it.'”

Journatic has 60 employees and 200 freelancers but what most caught my friend’s attention was that the company hires 100+ people from abroad to write copy. One employee who rewrites the foreigners’  material told Folkenflik that these writers are paid “a pittance.”

Since I began to write this post, the Chicago Tribune, a Journatic client, suspended its relationship when it learned that “the company had published stories with fake bylines and that a writer there had plagiarized a story on TribLocal, the network of suburban papers and hyperlocal websites Journatic published on behalf of Tribune,” according to Julie Moos on pointer.org. The Tribune has brought in a former editor as a consultant to help “the outsourcing company on its processes and standards.”

Are cut-rate solutions like this better than nothing? Do you think such cost-cutting measures will help save newspapers? 

costcutting

Service of Made in America

Monday, July 16th, 2012

made-in-the-usa

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?

pride2

Service of Déjà Vu

Monday, June 25th, 2012

newspapers

This post is about marketing.

I worry about the newspaper industry for more than the obvious reasons: Shrinking readership, slashed editorial budgets, the good reporters are melting away, little competition and negligible investigative reporting. I think many publishers are following a shortsighted, sure-to-fail marketing strategy that I’ve watched others try, one that has landed others facedown in the mud with a splat.

In Jennifer Saba’s article for Reuters: “Analysis: In scare for newspapers, digital ad growth stalls,” she wrote: “As more newspapers cut back on print to reduce costs and focus on their websites, a troubling trend has emerged: online advertising sales are stalling.”

adspacehereWhy?: “A flood of excess advertising space, the rise of electronic advertising exchanges that sell ads at cut-rate prices, and the weak U.S. economy are all contributing to the slowdown, publishing executives and observers say.”

The electronic advertising exchange concept alarms me the most. The rationale behind using them reminds me of the advent of the 800 numbers. Manufacturers bemoaned them for selling their goods at cut-rate prices. [I wondered: “How did your brand get there and did you have no control over this?”] There were severe discounting strategies and licensing frenzies. Some sold goods with their brands posted prominently at both big boxes and boutiques, the former versions of inferior quality. This demeaned their brands leading to the demise of many. In addition, why would anyone pay full freight for a product that was available at umpteen places for half price or less?

Back to the advertising exchanges, Saba explained that they: “…are electronic platforms that allow buyers to bid on and purchase advertising space at drastically reduced prices. Many websites — not just newspaper sites — rely on these exchanges to sell unclaimed advertising spots, known in industry parlance as excess inventory. The thinking is it’s better to get something than nothing at all.”

Saba continued, “But it also trains ad buyers to expect lower advertising prices. ‘It’s like a publisher trying to sell me an Armani suit for $3,000 but I can walk around the corner and buy it from Google for 90 percent less,’ said Shawn Riegsecker, chief executive of Centro, an agency that specializes in buying and selling digital ads, and counts many newspapers as its clients.”

wallpaperWith the strategy of cavernous discounts and helter skelter product placement, manufacturers lost sight of the value–and sizzle–of their lifeblood. Try to Google images for “wallpaper”  and you’ll not see a slice of the decorative kind–just the electronic variety. I cringe to see newspapers follow the same destructive path.

What can stop this spiral? What other product lines or industries have been destroyed by deep dish discounting and sloppy marketing?

spiral

Service of Genius II

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

genius3

I am fascinated by brilliant, entrepreneurial people. I first wrote about geniuses from a different point of view in November 2010. I heard about Ayay Bdier, founder of littleBits, in “Meet the Makers” by Anand Giridharadas in The New York Times Magazine. [Online the story was called “The Kitchen Table Industrialists.”] Bdier sells $99 kits of electronics components that even the “technically ungifted” can make into things.

And then there are the techies who silently infiltrated Michaels’ stores so as to be able to suck money out of the craft emporium customer’s debit cards. The scheme was first noticed in Illinois and traced to an additional 19 other states. According to Gregory Karp in The Chicago Tribune, “The scope of the crime has surprised security experts and exposed the vulnerabilities of debit cards, a method of payment that many shoppers have come to rely on for everyday purchases.

fraud“Debit card fraud is worse for consumers than fraud involving credit cards because little stands between thieves and the money in bank accounts. In the case of Michaels’ stores, many customers had money stolen directly from their accounts via ATM withdrawals.”

The culprits altered 90 keypads in 80 stores, according to Karp. On Saturday, I bought a few things at the Poughkeepsie, NY branch and paid cash. We asked the cashier what the latest was and she said “I can’t speak about it.”

Wall Street Journal coverage detailed that “The thefts apparently involved the use of electronic devices called skimmers that allowed the crooks to record information from shoppers’ debit cards and steal their personal identification numbers (PINs).” The Journal noted that most of the money was taken from ATMs in California.

creditcardtheftThese techie thieves will eventually be caught and punished. Meanwhile, they might have started a business as the 28 year old Bdeir did, or directed their minds to invent the next competitor to Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter or any number of services or products that would have led them to pots of gold. Think of the potential results if they would collaborate with clinicians and physicians to discover how to delay the affects of Alzheimer’s or apply their technical genius to helping children with learning disabilities.

Why do brilliant people use their smarts to steal when they would make so much more money–often lifelong income–along with admiration and adulation by directing their brains to productive use? Is it the thrill? Lack of direction or of models? Frustration with what they see as a trying system to do things legitimately? How do you stop or redirect them: Through education or punishment?

 stop-thief

Service of Skilled Labor

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

HM Byington wrote this guest post. Byington is a retired international banker and an officer of J M Byington & Associates, Inc.

The respected British popular historian, Paul Johnson, is the author of many thoughtful, well selling commentaries on the modern world and what many consider to be the finest history of Judaism ever written by a non-Jew.

In reply to a question asked him during a recent C-Span interview, he admitted that the unemployment problem in the United States (and by inference in Western Europe) was certainly caused in part by our having exported many jobs requiring skilled labor to the Third World.

However, he also argued that our unemployment woes would best be cured by our focusing our considerable intellectual competence and expertise in capital formation on inventing and selling new products and ideas to the rest of the world, instead of trying to retain, whether by subsidies, tariffs or other means, our traditional leadership as a dominant manufacturing nation.

This is not a new idea, and is one often put forward by politicians and business leaders to explain away the problems that the dismantling and exportation abroad of much of this country’s industrial base over the past 30 years have caused.

I strongly disagree.

Almost all new products are refinements of existing products. They come about because someone skilled and proficient in their manufacture has a bright idea about how to make something better. They do not come like lightning bolts out of some academic think tank.

A fine violin must be played regularly to maintain the beauty of its tone, and the mind is not dissimilar. A sharp mind remains sharp if used, and if pushed usually becomes even sharper. A skilled laborer remains skilled if he uses his skills as anyone who has learned a foreign language can attest. If you don’t use a language, you lose it.

There is also the psychological issue. Someone who is un- or under-employed is likely to face debilitating anxiety or even depression. A craftsman who can no longer practice his craft is in danger of losing his will as well as his skill.

Some 50 years ago, along with other young Foreign Service officers, I took part in a seminar at the Department of State at which a futurist made the point that the gravest problem that the United States would be facing in the next century would be its need to manage the massive leisure time that its citizens would be enjoying. I never forgot his prediction, and he turned out to be right!

Just take a look at how much time and money so many of us devote to seeing the latest in films, on television and in spectator sports, playing computer games, surfing the internet, talking on cell phones, listening on iPods, poking BlackBerries, twittering and blogging, attending theme parks, going on cruises, shopping at malls, and on the darker side, consuming social drugs and alcohol, or just sitting around. If government is not our most formidable industry, then leisure must be. Unfortunately people at leisure are likely neither to be skilled nor productive, and even worse, our young have learned to mimic them. (Witness the decline in educational standards in this country.)

I suppose one could argue that this will not be a real problem as long as those skilled people abroad now providing us with much of what keeps us happy (and lending us the money to pay them for it) will continue to go on doing what they are doing.

However, I believe that we are in far greater peril than we dare imagine. It is an inevitability of nature that the most skilled will always come to dominate the least skilled, and we live in a world of diminishing resources and expanding populations.

If we are to survive at least with some of the freedoms we still enjoy, we must at all cost rebuild our skilled labor force and defend it against the inroads of those who would put the making of short term profits before the long term well being of our society.

Does anyone agree with me?

 

Service of Responsibility

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Deborah Brown [Debby] is far more than a savvy consumer. She began her retailing career at Neiman-Marcus and currently runs a New York-based marketing and communications business, Deborah Elliott Brown &Associates. In between, she worked in marketing for household names in publishing such as House Beautiful and House & Garden.

Brown sent this post fresh from an experience with two other household names–a retailer with 800+ stores and a designer brand that aligns itself with elitist sports.

She wrote:

I turn to you and your blog — not to the store where my experience occurred.  Not the designer and manufacturer of the defective goods that supplied the store.  I would only be stonewalled and put in phone hell to report the incident. 

Shopping at the Herald Square [NYC] branch of the store this afternoon, cruising for holiday clothes, I found on sale a fabulous-looking red quilted jacket,  50% off at $109.00.  While I did not need it for sure, the appealing price and great look wooed me.  The first try-on revealed a zipper that was caught in the interface lining.  Try-on #2 wouldn’t zip at all.  Try-on #3: no zip to the zip.  After five tries, I gave up.

I did, however find something to purchase and upon checking out recounted my experience to the sales associate saying, “I know it’s not your job and you probably don’t care, but I tried on five of those jackets and not any of the zippers worked.”

Her response: “Yes, they’re defective.”

So whose responsibility is it to “serve” the customer? 

**The store’s–to have refused the shipment? 

**The designer/manufacturer’s quality assurance inspectors at the factory? 

**Where does the buck start?  Or stop?

We add, what is the point of going to a department store if it isn’t going to vet the goods it sells? And why do businesses not feel a twinge when they know they are setting up customers to waste time?

 

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