Archive for the ‘Manufacturing’ Category

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 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


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

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 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? 


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 Déjà Vu

Monday, June 25th, 2012


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?


Service of Genius II

Thursday, May 19th, 2011


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?


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?


Service and the Business Cycle

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

In today’s guest post, Frank Paine a retired international banker, regulatory official, and the author of “The Financing of Ship Acquisitions,” tackles a thorny issue. Do those who lead the institutions that serve us–corporate, philanthropic, and governmental or otherwise–properly prepare themselves to address the inevitability of downturns in the business cycle?

He predicts that, “There may even come a time when organization directors will be held personally responsible for the adequacy of the analysis underlying their decisions.”  And adds, “That wouldn’t be such a bad thing…”

Do you agree with his analysis, and if so, with his conclusion?

In one sense or another, every organization exists for the purpose of giving service.  Corporations exist to provide goods and services desired by the market place: auto companies to provide the cars that we all know and love; electric utilities to provide the “juice” for all the appliances that we can’t seem to do without; ships, trains and trucks to transport those goods; “head hunters” to help companies staff themselves;  insurance companies to help everybody manage their risks; non-profits to raise funds for good causes and support the arts, and industry associations to promote their industries and provide networking opportunities that would not otherwise be possible; and schools and universities to provide educational services for our next generations.

The beneficiaries of these services are always multiple. Business organizations service their customers, their shareholders and their employees. Non-profits benefit their members, their particular causes, and, yes, their employees.  Educational institutions benefit their students, their faculties, their administrations, and everybody depending on them to provide well-educated people to the market place, and conduct vital research.  I could go on…

I want to make a plea to anybody directly or indirectly involved in providing service (and that should be pretty much everybody) to think seriously about the impact of the business cycle of the sector they are involved with.  We are now going through the worst recession that many of us have ever seen, and so the evidence of failures to understand business cycles are all around us.  We may be close to seeing the death knell of American automobile production.  We are seeing our banking system being challenged as it never has been in our time.  And non-profits everywhere are seeing their fortunes suffer from whatever is affecting their largest sources of funds.  And so on…

I am getting very tired of hearing organizations acknowledge their failure to see it coming, usually with very self-serving explanations.  I remember having a major oil company acknowledge that throughout its history, it had failed to properly understand when it should order tankers.  Over 30 years ago, I myself correctly analyzed the forces that would cause General Motors to be on the brink of bankruptcy today.  I also correctly predicted the failure of a Brazilian bank two years in advance.  There were plenty of people that foresaw the current banking “crisis” several years in advance.  Etc., etc., etc.

Trust me, I am not a genius-I simply had my eyes open.

It is not true that business cycles cannot be analyzed and understood, but it does take patience and time.  And much of the expertise can be bought-there is an army of analysts, many of them very good that are begging for work.  And there is the body of research provided by universities.

The people who most need the benefit of this analysis and understanding of the business cycle are the Board of Directors/Trustees (or whatever), and the most senior management.  How many times have you found that investments, projects, etc. can only get board approval at the top of the cycle?  It’s so easy to say, “This is a hot market and we need to be in it,” without taking the time and trouble to determine when the investment will actually produce results.

And so, in order to preserve service capacity, boards of organizations should be “opening their eyes” further to fully understand their business cycles, and make decisions in accordance with that understanding.  Who knows? There may even come a time when organization directors will be held personally responsible for the adequacy of the analysis underlying their decisions.  That wouldn’t be such a bad thing…

Packaging that Serves to Annoy

Monday, April 27th, 2009

A colleague plunked a round pillbox on my desk last week and asked me if I was able to open it. It was white plastic and the opening instructions, “press the dot,” were also white, indented in a kind of intaglio.

The medication was for migraine headache.

I was feeling fine until I couldn’t locate the dot! Eventually I did, but by then I almost had a migraine myself. You don’t have to have suffered more than a mild headache to know what a nightmare it is to fool around with a bottle top to get at an Advil, Bayer or Bufferin. Imagine being blurry-eyed with pain looking for a white-on-white dot. There must be a better way.

It’s not always the fault of the package. Tricky medicine bottles are obviously designed to save children from swallowing dangerous medications but there are times when the easy-to-open variety is in order. When my sister slipped on ice and broke her wrist, the hospital staff asked her a slew of questions. One was, “do you live alone?” Her answer: “Yes.” When she got home and tried to open the painkillers they gave her with only one hand in operation, she discovered that the bottle had a childproof cap.

If you’re slightly uncoordinated, try pressing and twisting open certain mouthwash bottles.


A box of brown sugar is easy to open but the sugar turns into a brown brick once you open the plastic inside, no matter how carefully you re-close it with tape or rubber bands.

So that toothpaste can no longer be accused of breaking up marriages, i.e. “You never put the top back on the toothpaste tube!”–some manufacturers attach the top to the tube. In my experience, those tops usually don’t stay closed, making me want to divorce the manufacturer.

Do you have favorite packaging grumps?

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