Corporate News That Caught The Eye

userpic=corporateToday’s (not quite) lunchtime post is a collection of news articles about various corporations that have caught my eye:

P.S.: Debate what you want about global warming and its cause, but weather is getting weird when it reaches 81°F in Anchorage, and 91°F near Mt. McKinley in Alaska!


Saturday Miscellany: GF Foods, Plantar Fasciitis, West LA Markets, and Bag Closures

userpic=observationsThe “clearin’ of the links” post seems to be increasingly moving from Friday to Saturday, so let’s just go with it. There is some slight connection between these stories, but not enough to make a full themed article:

  • Gluten Free Waste. My wife is gluten-free, for a reason. She’s dealing with Celiac, and there’s a medical basis. But for many people, going GF is the latest food fad. A recent Time article posits that we are wasting billions of dollars on GF food unnecessarily. They cite a new survey from market research firm the NPD Group that found America is cutting gluten out of its diet in a big way, with just under one-third of 1,000 respondents agreeing with the statement: “I’m trying to cut back/avoid Gluten in my diet.” Time notes that is the highest level since the company added gluten consumption to the surveys it does about Americans’ eating habits in 2009. TIME labeled the gluten-free movement #2 on its top 10 list of food trends for 2012. Time’s contention is that many of those paying a premium to avoid gluten are doing so without any legitimate medical reason. From what I’ve seen of fad diets, I’d tend to agree. As always, we’re heading towards a GF bubble here.
  • Foot Pain. Another article that hits close to home deals with Plantar Fasciitis. This is something I dealt with recently — it impacted my ability to exercise tremendously, and it took me almost a year to get rid of it. They recommend shoe fixes, but I haven’t seen that my fancy insoles made a big difference. More important, to me, was a “boot” I wore at night that prevented the Plantar from relaxing, so it didn’t get re-inflamed when I stood up in the morning. That, combined with anti-inflammatory medicine, seemed to make the biggest difference.
  • Remember Market Basket. Curbed LA had an article this week about a sad Pavillions at Wilshire and Stoner being closed, and talking about redevelopment that might occur at the even sadder (but open) Santa Monica and Barrington Vons. This caught my eye because of the location. You see, many many years ago (back in the 1970s and 1980s) the Wilshire and Stoner location housed the Market Basket where we did most of our shopping. My parent’s accounting office was in the Barrington Plaza next door, and I was always picking up stuff there for them (either there or Westward Ho on San Vicente). Wilshire and Stoner was also the location of the Crocker Bank where I got my first credit card (which I still have). In the 1990s, they “redeveloped” the parcel putting in an office building, but with a covenant that they retain a market there for the Seniors living in the Barrington Plaza. They put in a fancy Ralphs… which died. Then came the Pavillions, which died. Meanwhile, the really old Marina style Vons on Santa Monica stays busy.
  • There’s Profit in Everything. We often think about the big parts of business, not the little parts. For example, when we talk GF bread, we think about the bread itself not the bag… or how they close the bag. Well, Businessweek did that thinking. They have a really interesting article on a big battle between the clip-on bag closer and the twist-tie closer manufacturers to gain market share. As I said, big business… and not something you commonly think about.

Music: The Legendary Josh White (Josh White): “Trouble in Mind”


Bigger Isn’t Better… Or Is It?

userpic=corporateMerger mania is back. Today’s lunchtime news chum concerns some mergers that are in the news, as well as some other business news primarily focused on ways to bring in the green:

  • If You See Your Waitress Here, Send Her Over With a Beer. The “mainstream” beer world is devolving, with everything distilling down to two major brewers who make most of the beer in the world (which personally isn’t a big deal for me, as I don’t drink beer). My favorite blog, Planet Money, has a wonderful thing they call a Beer Map: for any country, who makes the swill you drink (Two Giant Brewers, 210 Brands).
  • A Clip Joint. So Office Depot and OfficeMax are merging. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but it probably isn’t that great for prices. Neither has ever been great in the fancy pen department. Of course, some cities are happy about it. Good example: St. Louis, which has no Staples stores, might get some to give Office MaxDepot some competition.
  • An American Conglomeration. Tom Paxton once sung about the horrible baggage service of Republic Airlines. Republic was formed by the merger of North Central and Southern, and then merged with Hughes Airwest. This then merged with Northwest Orient to form Northwest, which then merged into Delta (which itself was the merger of Delta and Western). Then again, there is United Airlines, which is the merger of United and Continental, where Continental absorbed the old People Express and Texas International, and United absorbed most of Pan Am. Well these two Frankenstein monsters now have a third beast to contend with: American (which in the past had absorbed AirCal, Reno Air, and TWA) is merging with US Airways (which itself was the merger of Allegheny, Lake Central, Mohawk, Trump Shuttle, Piedmont, America West, US Airways, Pacific Southwest Airways) to form an even bigger American. Here’s how American and US Airways joined. I should note that coming up forth is the combination of Southwest and AirTran, which to my knowledge haven’t swallowed anything else.

And as we’re talking about business, here are a few more business related items to clear out the bookmarks:

  • Flyaway Expanding… and Raising Fares. Yet another Flyaway bus line is being added to get people to LAX because the light rail doesn’t go there. This time, the bus will be running from the Expo Line La Brea Station starting in the Spring (at a price of $6, moving up to $7). More importantly to me, the article noted that one-way fares between Van Nuys bus terminal and LAX will rise to $8 July 2. The increase is expected to reduce an annual deficit of $531,000 for operating and maintaining the Van Nuys terminal to $168,000.
  • Paying to Play. We’re all used to it. The hours and hours of previews before a movie. (That’s one nice thing about live theatre — no previews to sit through!). That may be changing, as a number of theatres are either charging to run the previews, or are limiting the number that can be run for free. I’m curious whether this means there will be less previews. The theatres need to be looking less for revenue and more for what will draw patrons in (as Michael Jonathan noted in a blog post I noted yesterday); their problem is that the movies they advertise might not even be running in their theatre, or certainly not exclusively in their theatre.
  • In Bed With Martha Stewart. It appears Macys and Pennys are sparring over the queen of domestic advice, Martha Stewart. Yup, the two retailers are arguing over who has the sole right to see the convicted women’s branded stuff. Neither is asking, however, whether people actually care about the name in the first place.
  • Customers Demand More Fees. Caesars Entertainment has announced that they are going to start charging resort fees in all of their Las Vegas properties. Specifically, Caesars will begin adding fees ranging from $10-$25 on March 1 that will provide package coverage for amenities including Wi-Fi, local calls and fitness centers. Caesars operates nine hotels in Las Vegas, including Caesars Palace, Harrah’s, Bally’s, the Flamingo, the Quad, Paris Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood on the Strip. Why are they doing this? According to Caesars, it is something guests asked for. Specifically, Caesars indicated guests asked for a pckage fee, as opposed to what Caesars did in the past: charging separately for such amenities.




What’s In a Name?

userpic=corporateToday’s collection of lunchtime news chum articles all have to do with names in the news:

  • Darjeeling. It’s one of my favorite types of tea, and it has recently regained its name. Specifically, the tea growers in the foothills of the Himalayas in India have won legal protection for the Darjeeling label under laws that limit the use of certain geographic names to products that come from those places. In a recent decision, the European Union agreed to phase out the use of “Darjeeling” on blended teas. Now, just as a bottle of Cognac must come from the region around the French town of Cognac, a cup of Darjeeling tea will have to be made only from tea grown around Darjeeling.
  • Budweiser. Another name that has been the subject of a long battle is Budweiser. The Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar and AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch) have been negotiating for a century over the name. Budejovicky Budvar was founded in 1895 in the southern city of Ceske Budejovice — called Budweis at the time by the local German-speaking people. Beer has been brewed here since 1265 and has been known for centuries as Budweiser. We all know about the St. Louis company. AB wants the right to use the name globally, not only in selected areas as it is now. So does Budvar.
  • Reading Rainbow. LeVar Burton has reacquired control of the Reading Rainbow name, and is now marketing it as an app for tablets. He’s having quite a bit of success. With almost no marketing, it quickly became the No. 1 educational app at the Apple iTunes store. In the first 4 1/2 months since its launch, children used the app to read more than 700,000 books.
  • Infiniti. Infiniti is changing the name of its entire lineup of cars, moving from the easy to remember EX, FX, G, M, and JX nameplates with ones starting with the letter Q. I’ve never understood the desire to use letter and number codes to “name” cars; I remember the old days when names were real names.
  • Restaurant Names. USA Today has a nice article on a number of restaurant chains that are disappearing due to changing tastes and the recession (although referencing Tony Romas and “taste” in the same sentence is questionable). I’ll note that Bobs is still active in SoCal, although we have some of the original stores.
  • Potatoes. And lastly, we have SPUDS. Specifically, Boeing is testing aircraft Wi-Fi to ensure the signals are consistent through the cabin without interrupting the navigation and communication systems. How do they do this without paying people for hours to sit? They use sacks of potatoes, which replicate the way human passengers reflect and absorb electronic signals. The testing idea has been dubbed Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectric Substitution, or SPUDS.



Friday News Chum: Birthdays, Roses, Motel 6, Junk Food, Made in America, and Carmageddon II delayed

Well, it’s Friday at lunch, and you know what that means… time to clear out the accumulated links. This week, they are all across the board.

  • Happy Birthday To You. I’m sure by now you’re aware of my tradition of birthday songs. I used to post these on LiveJournal, but LJ has begun to lose its audience, so I now post them on Facebook*. So naturally I was interested when someone posted a heat chart showing the distribution of birth dates. Most birthdays are clustered in the summer months (Jul-Sep, with a little overlap in Jun). This gives us an idea what people are doing come October and November. People also seem to avoid giving birth on major holidays (look at the anomalous coolness of July 4, December 25, and Thanksgiving… but seem to want to give birth on Valentine’s Day and just before the end of the calendar year (nothing like a little tax deduction).
    *: If you’re an LJ reader and still want an LJ song, please let me know. Also, if you are a reader of this blog and haven’t friended me on FB, please do so. Please drop me a message so I know you’re doing this as a blog reader.
  • Whose Garden Was This. At our previous house, I had a large collection of different varieties of roses. I would plant them in January or February as bare-root roses. I’ve been meaning to do this at our current house, but the last time I went to Lowes, they had an extremely poor selection. Here’s part of the reason: roses are fading away in popularity. People are buying fewer roses, and fewer growers are producing new varieties or maintaining old variety. This is sad. Having a bush of lovely fragrant hybrid roses is a delight to the senses.
  • I’m Changing My Name To Chrysler. The movement of corporations and brands is something that fascinates me–it has going back to the debacle of the NBC “N”. So I read with interest that Motel 6 has moved from Accord to Hilton’s owner, Blackstone. I wonder if that means Motel 6 might connect to the Hilton reservation line, accord Hilton Honor points, etc. Could be interesting–I don’t think Hilton has a real budget brand. In other news, NBC is looking to push Microsoft out of the online version of MSNBC (they are already out of the TV network).
  • Don’t Slay That Potato. A couple of food related articles. First, echoing the fact that “gluten-free” is the current in-fad (not that I’m complaining), Frito-Lay is joining the bandwagon in getting its snacks certified as gluten-free. It is important to remember that Gluten-Free .NE. healthy be default (just as Kosher .NE. healthy). Does it really serve society to have more gluten-free junk food? Speaking of junk food, a congressman has introduced a bill that removes pizza as a vegetable. In understanding this issue, it is important to realize that “pizza is a vegetable” is as meaningless a phrase as “Obamacare”. Pizza is not a vegetable: the real debate was whether a serving of pizza had sufficient vegetable material to count as a serving of vegetable. It’s like asking if spinach pasta is a serving of vegetables. The debate raises an interesting question: does eating tomatoes count as eating vegetables, and how much concentrated tomatoes (which is what tomato paste is) constitutes a serving. Further, what makes pizza bad as a food is not the tomatoes or even the crust — it is the fat that comes with the cheese and pepperoni. But we neglect educating the public on these facts, preferring the sound-bite of “pizza is a vegetable”.
  • Made in America. Stupid debates (such as the one about pizza) seem to be made in America. We’ve certainly seen the dumbing down of America; this is demonstrated by the speeches that Congress gives. So is there anything good made in America? The answer, of course, is yes–as demonstrated by this list of 10 products still made in America.
  • Take Me For a Ride in Your Car Car. Two transportation articles. First, it looks like Carmageddon II will be delayed. As you may recall, Carmageddon was when the entire I-405 was shut down in the Sepulveda Pass to demolish the southern half of the Mulholland Bridge. Part II was planned for June, but that looks to be delayed. Why? According to the article, “Workers have encountered dozens of unexpected utility lines that need to be removed or relocated from the area, he said. Retaining walls must be rebuilt because of manufacturing defects. Additionally, a $300 million lawsuit – filed last year by a Bel Air landowner – forced Metro to move a freeway on-ramp near the Getty Museum 150 feet to the west.The lawsuit, which claimed a planned, nearby golf course would be negatively impacted by the widening, was dismissed last month, it but still necessitated the construction changes. And then there’s the FBI. The agency works out of a building at 1100 Wilshire Boulevard, near the construction site. Government officials are demanding Metro workers go through security clearance before working on the sensitive FBI lines.” That last part is fascinating to me, as a security guy. Of course, when Carmageddon II happens, people will need to ride Metro. Guess what? They are going to have to buy TAP cards (the reusable card costs $1 on top of the fare) — gates will be locked, and there will be no more paper tickets.

Lastly, as a reminder to me: There are some interesting musicals previewing at the NoHo Arts Center.

Music: Ramblin’ Boy (Tom Paxton): Harper


A “Brand” New News Chum

Today’s lunchtime news chum all has to do with brands and branding:

  • Refreshing a Brand. USA Today has an article on two brands (Pepto Bismol, Wheat Thins) that are refreshing themselves to create a new image. Pepto Bismol is realizing that the pink bottle isn’t portable, and so is introducing Pepto-Bismol To-Go, a pack of 12 cherry-flavored, chewable tablets in a pink, plastic cylinder. This does nothing for me; Pepto has always had chewables. The other brand is Wheat Thins, who has decided to stop marking themselves as a cracker, instead going for the “salty snack” market. Umm, no.
  • Brand Origins. The OC Register has an interesting story on the origins of two brands: Motel 6 and Sambos Restaurants. Both started in the Santa Barbara area (as did Cocos Restaurants). Motel 6 is still going strong, and the article talks about the original Motel 6, which is still in operation. Sambos, however, isn’t. It is down to one restaurant, the original. Why did this happen? Because of a bad choice to tie the restaurant (which was named after the founders, Sam Battistone Sr and Newell Bohnett) to the 1899 children’s book “The Story of Little Black Sambo” that depicted a dark-skinned boy who saves himself from tigers by running them around until they turn to butter, then pours it on some pancakes. Most of the Sambos that once existed became Bakers Squares.
  • Zipping It Up. A fascinating article from Slate on YKK Zippers, the people who make such high quality zippers that no one wants to use anything else. Once interesting note is that YKK owns their entire supply chain to ensure quality.
  • Splitting Shoes. Collective Brands is splitting up.  That may mean nothing to you, but let’s put it another way: Wolverine Worldwide (the folks behind Hush Puppies and Patagonia) has bought Collective, and will be keeping their shoe business (Sperry Top-Sider, Saucony, Stride-Rite and Keds). They will be spinning off the retail business (Payless Shoes).



A Tour Around the Corporate World

Today’s lunchtime newschum brings together a collection of things, all having to do with the corporate world or the current economy:

  • Where Do You Buy Electronics? I might as well comment on this, as everyone and their brother is posting the Forbes article on why Best Buy is killing themselves. Here are my thoughts: First, I avoid Fry’s, due to bad experiences of their restocking returned products and not indicating them as such, and having poorer quality. I do shop at Best Buy. They have the advantage that I can actually go and see the item, and… in person… compare different looks and feels. That’s a hassle to do with an online retailer. They also have regular 0%-for-18 months promotions, and I’m more than willing to use cash flow instead of savings. They aren’t perfect (and I don’t fully trust Geek Squad, given my experiences). I just avoid their salescritters unless I need them.
  • Ch-ch-ch-changes. A number of articles relating changes in the corporate world. First, Orchard Supply has come out from under the thumb of Sears Holdings–this is a good thing, in general, as Sears was holding OSH back. Alas, you probably won’t be able to use your Sears card there anymore, and who knows about Craftsman tools. 3M is purchasing Avery Dennison’s office supply business (which, if you didn’t know, includes Hi-Lighters, binders, labels, filing and indexing products, and writing instruments as well as their pressure-sensitive labels and such). The Avery name will remain for those products. In the fashion world, Liz Claiborne is changing their name to Fifth & Pacific, reflecting the fact they sold Claiborne to JC Penny. Lastly, Macy’s is closing 5 Macy’s and 4 Bloomie’s stores, none in California.
  • Truly (Artifically) Scrumptious. The war to sell you fake sweetners is intensifying. The WSJ is reporting that Truvia (owned by Cargill) is readying another salvo in the war between white, pink, yellow, blue, and green packets. It’s a battle indeed, with Truvia trying to figure out how to prevent people from taking the pricy green packets, as well as battling for supremacy (it is currently #2) and knockoffs, such as Pepsi’s PureVia, which is also Stevia based.
  • Blue Diamonds Aren’t Just For Vinkus Royalty. The Sacramento Bee has an interesting article on the Blue Diamond Almond manufacturing plant near Sacramento. The plant operates for 20 to 22 hours a day, shutting down only for routine cleaning. Six-ounce cans are filled with almonds, labeled and packed at a rate of 250 to 260 a minute. What I found interesting was that almonds pass through X-ray equipment to pick out foreign objects like buckshot – sometimes the spray of pellets from a hunter’s shotgun can lodge inside an almond.
  • Borrowing from the Government. You may not realize this, but most people are dependent on government debt. They put their money in safe Treasury Bills (one of the safest investments around), and purchase Savings Bonds (as an aside: do you realize those would all go away is the US had no government debt–and that would be a bad thing). What you might not know is that the government did away with paper savings bonds. You can only purchase them electronically at, and can’t really gift them. However, you can now buy more of them because the government has restored the previous savings bonds purchase limits. By the way, unlike paper bonds, which can be replaced if lost or stolen, if someone gains access to your TreasuryDirect account and steals your bonds, there is no guarantee the Treasury will replace them.



Who Is The Customer?

Well, LJ has made another change to their interface, and the community is complaining left and right about it. As for me, it got me thinking about the customer.

We all know businesses are in business to serve their customers. But we often forget to think about who the business perceives their customer to be, and then mistakenly assume it is us, the consumer. Often, we couldn’t be more wrong.

Take Livejournal. Perhaps in the beginning their customer was their user. Certainly that was the case in Brad’s day, when their only income was paid accounts. The minute LJ added advertising, the customer changed. The new customer—the one that pays the bills—is the advertiser. LJ moved from having a more usable site to wanting a site that attracted the most eyeballs that were the most sticky. When SUP bought LJ, the customer shifted slightly to the Russian advertiser, for the Russian market for LJ is so much bigger than the remainder. This explains quite a bit. It explains why LJ doesn’t care about its paid users anymore. It explains the growth of “Oh No, They Didn’t” and its clones: these bring outside viewers to the site. It explains the design changes and connections to Facebook and Twitter: bring in more eyeballs and bring in people from outside. LJ isn’t about its users or communities anymore. LJ can get away with this because the users are stickey: either the others in their community are here, or it is too much trouble to change. That’s why people often stay with services that suck. Just ask any bank. As for Dreamwidth… it is where LJ was in the beginning, focussing on the user. I can’t answer whether it will stay that way, but it is not going to gain the critical mass of users it needs unless LJ drives them away. DW will always be a niche player: it’s users will primarily be LJ refugees or the small corner that is fandom. It doesn’t have the mass market attraction.

But this post isn’t just about LJ. Look at banks and the banking system. Who is their customer? Who pays their bills? More often then not, their customer is not the individual account holder, but the institutional investor and the shareholders. Banks exist to make profits for their shareholders and other investors, not to return funds back to the account holders. This is why fees go up and service gets economized. This is why banks and financial institutions go after the risky investments: to bring in more profits, and return more to the preferred investors.

Let’s look at politicians. Who are their customers? Who pays their bills? Two answers here: lobbyists and the people that elected them. The lobbyists are a customer because they pay the bills: they make the donations, they fund activities, they funnel the dollars. As for the people that elected them, it is important to note that this is not their district as a whole or the country as a whole. Most politicians do not really care about their entire district or what is good for the country as a whole. They want to talk to their solid base that will re-elect them, so the lobbyist money can continue to flow in. This is why redistricting and number crunching has destroyed this country. Districts give politicians majorities in a particular party, and thus they can appeal to the party faithful to get them elected in the primaries (i.e., the majority within their party within the district). This is what the Tea Party and Conservatives are doing, to put it bluntly. Once having passed the primary, they only need to be less worse than their opponent. Republicans are more likely to vote for a Republican who is bad than a Democrat who is good (and the same for the Dems).

Understanding the customer explains a lot. Of course, over-understanding is equally bad. I alluded to that problem in the last paragraph, and perhaps I’ll do another entry on that in the future.