Posts Tagged ‘Business’

I have very little love for Apple and their products. One thing is certain: they will never have my business when it comes to technology I travel with. As I sit here in a hotel room that doesn’t have wifi, I can’t help but think of how writing this blog wouldn’t be possible if I were a Mac guy. Sure, I could use the single USB port on an Air, but then I wouldn’t be able to charge my cellphone and extended battery pack at the same time. And in cases like this trip where I forgot to bring the wall charger with USB port, that’s an important thing.

I’ve been in hotels all around the world. The majority of them don’t have wifi, so I’d be carrying around a brick if I were a Mac guy. Maybe for some, this isn’t a problem but I prefer access to my work, cloud, etc. everywhere I go. That’s just not realistic with Apple. I’m sure they have some extra wifi hotspot I could plug into an Ethernet connector if I want to if I wanted to pay them an additional $100.

Hiring office workers can be a bear! So, I have developed a simplified screening process…

  1. Post a job requesting that they specifically send you their resume in PDF format only (delete all other submissions)
  2. Pre-screening: If they have a Yahoo or Hotmail email account… (No interview)

By this time, you’ll have about 500 submissions and only 50 to spend more time on.

First interview question: What are the keyboard shortcuts for cut? Copy? Paste?

Second interview question: What web browser are you most familiar with: Firefox and Chrome are the only acceptable answers

Third interview question (more of a request): Please type the following sentences on the keyboard in front of you… Of course, you’re going to read this to them and not show the typed sentences. You’ll be able to see if they chicken peck the keyboard or have a solid QWERTY skill-set.

They’re shopping at our store to discover what the best prices are and how much their savings will be compared to the stores over there. When they see two links for the same item, they’ll think it’s too many and then purchase one item rather than two.

That last one narrows the race to maybe 5!

Fourth interview question: I can fit 8 widgets in a carton, 50 cartons on a pallet, and 18 pallets in a 40 foot container. Customers must purchase a minimum of 1 carton every 4 weeks. The widget costs me $40, and I sell it for $100. How many customers must I have to sell my entire 40 foot container of widgets in 120 days? And what will be my gross profit?

The fourth one is actually a trick question. It will give you great insight into the mindset of the individual…

The pragmatist will do all the math and figure out how many customers you need and how much profit you’ll make at the MOQ. That type of person fits a very specific need for any business. His/her attention to deal is extremely valuable!

The person who is really going to make things happen, someone who will move and shake your business in a positive way, will point out the fact that you really need just one great customer to purchase all your widgets in a single day to make the same GP as those buying at the minimum but ultimately a higher net because selling everything in one day requires much less overhead than keeping it for 120 days. This is someone you want in sales or marketing.

Of course, every business is unique with their own needs, and there are legitimate candidates who use Yahoo or Hotmail. Every business should make sure that it has solid interview questions to help find the candidates that fit the specific needs of the position.

Step into a casual conversation with someone about the economy, and it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Everything is made in China”. Looking on the bottom of half the items you purchase at the store (even grocery stores are selling items from China) you’ll discover a “Made in China” sticker or engraving on the product. It would seem that “Everything is made in China” is an observation of the truth. Yet it isn’t.

I’ll digress for a moment… My company does a great deal of manufacturing in China. So, after developing a new product, we didn’t consider anywhere else but China for our manufacturing. The idea of Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, or any other country wasn’t on our mind at all. We have established relationships with factories and suppliers in China. We have agents in China that perform our quality control. It’s just the natural choice.

Delay after delay after delay soon had me thinking that something wasn’t quite right with our choice of factory, so I set out to do some research into the materials we needed. During the process, I found that the United States had a massive manufacturing industry. In fact, US manufacturing as of 2009 is still larger than China by $200 billion! To top it off, the apparel industry (which is what our new product is) was the largest manufacturing industry in the United States! My mind was ablaze with opportunity…

At the center of the US apparel manufacturing industry? Los Angeles (and New York). I found countless pointers to the California Market Center. Fashion shows, trade shows, manufacturing resources, suppliers… Everything was right here in Los Angeles, and my timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The LA Textile Show was just a week away!

Fast forward to the Textile show and mountains or research, phone calls, Internet searches later… I found the suppliers of the materials I need for our new items but what about the finisher? Fortunately, I found Fashion Business, Inc, a non-profit resource for the fashion industry in the United States. They had a couple of seminars they were doing during the LA Textile show that were right up the alley of what I was looking for, and the material suppliers at the show were very helpful as well.

The materials (of which I could choose American, Italian, and any other sources) were at the ready. There was no 30 day wait like I had with my China factory, and the materials were genuine leather as opposed to the bonded leather product we were being sold as genuine leather in China (a costly endeavor I’ll save for another blog). Finding a finishing company that was still in business was going to be hard to come by, but I was feeling quite positive about manufacturing a product in the United States! Especially one made with all US materials!

I made an appointment with a belt finishing company in Los Angeles (one of less than a handful left from an industry that used to be filled with competition). As soon as I walked into the LA location and showed them the belt… “We can’t make that type of belt. We don’t have the ability to make feathered edge belts in the United States.” Uh oh… But I wasn’t going to stop until I had checked every single belt finisher off my list!

Finisher after finisher had the same story. We don’t have the ability to do that here. I had a very memorable conversation with a finisher in New York:

Jared: I have a leather belt I’d like to make here in the United States

NY: Why?

Jared: I want to manufacture a belt in the United States, use US materials and US labor. Put people to work here. There are half a dozen more reasons I can give you.

NY: Well, it’s going to cost you a lot more than China.

Jared: I know. I’ll worry about that with my pricing, and I have a very unique product so it’s a bit different from the run of the mill belt. However, I have to tell you that I have a unique men’s belt, and I want a feathered edge.

NY: Feathered edge? We can’t do that. Nobody in America can do that. Good luck (click)

I’ll admit that I was a bit disheartened by the weeks of searching for a finishing company only to be told that my particular want is not possible by half a dozen of the dwindling field of belt factories in the United States. I even went about changing the product to a more casual design that would not require the feathered edge. I really wanted a US made belt!

I’ll admit that I’m pretty happy that all this happened. I developed a new casual version of our product that is amazing, and I did eventually find the perfect finishing company that can make both the beveled edge and feathered edge belts. They are even providing a great wealth of knowledge and resources for future designs, leathers, and other materials that will help expand the belt line.

US manufacturing is not dead. It’s struggling and merely a shadow of itself. However, when I consider the continued rising costs of raw materials on an international level, the skyrocketing costs of fuel and freight charges for products manufactured in China, and the constant problems we had in particular around this belt… Made in USA is the clear direction and entirely possible! The quality of the product is better. The turn around time is much faster. The ability to launch new styles and materials is much easier. There are a myriad of benefits from “onshoring” the production of this new product!

It seems like everyone and their mother received money from the Federal Reserve in 2008. My dogs didn’t get any from The Fed, but my cat certainly did! The dogs aren’t too happy about it.

All joking aside, the lending to Verizon, Harley-Davidson, and countless foreign banks really helped prevent a “financial meltdown” and “Some have recorded healthy profits for taxpayers”… Oh wait! I said all joking aside. First, I don’t see how returns to The Fed benefit taxpayers in any way. Second, I don’t see how getting paid back money with interest when the USD has been devalued so significantly over the last two years is actually making a profit.

If I lend someone $10 and they pay me back $12 in two years but $12 is really only worth the equivalent to $9.60, I really didn’t make a profit. That’s what The Fed did on the scale of $9 trillion.

The logic of all this “stimulus” and “bailout” is flawed. The idea is that companies, banks, etc are “too big to fail”. The biggest problem with this logic is that a company reorganizing its debt is not a failure. Sometimes this happens. I’m not talking about completely cooked books like Enron and companies like that. Bankruptcy protection allows a company to sit down with the folks it owes money to and say that instead of going through expensive collections processes and incurring massive attorney fees for our 3 year loan, we’ll pay it back in 5 years instead. That’s just one overly simplified example, but pretty much how it works.

There is no company that is “too big to fail”. Unless there is egregious cooking of the books, the company can always be salvaged and work out deals with its creditors to solve the financial issues. The Fed just printed money and handed it out to people. So what if the money was paid back! The value of the USD has decreased so rapidly over the last 2 years that the money paid back is worth far less in terms of tangible value than it was when it was lent out.

The result of the $9 trillion money printing job is this stalled out economy. Rather than forcing businessmen to grow come cojones and take responsibility for their businesses, Bernanke dished out trillions because he read in a textbook that the idea would work. I’m sure in his mind it has worked because the alternative was a “financial meltdown” (which is patently false). I’m sure Congress and Obama won’t do anything about his reckless action.

My friend Jim brings up an excellent point about the redistribution of wealth and communism in his reply to my post about Flat Tax being communism. First, I’ll cover his question of why governments levy taxes. Then I’ll get back onto the topic of the flat tax and communism.

Jim is suggesting that income tax is communism but property tax is possibly justifiable if the purpose of government is the protect and to serve. There are a few problems with this, the most important being that the federal government should have absolutely nothing to do with property taxes. Second, the majority of Americans (and this hold true for most of the world) don’t own real property. Now, perhaps Jim is saying that you should pay taxes on all property you own so that you are paying your fair burden of the police and fire services in your area. Again, does this then mean that people who do not own a house are not deserving of police protection? They may be productive members of society that generate income, purchase cars, gasoline, clothing, rent an apartment from a property owner. They too are deserving of protection under the law.

Now, let’s get back to the purpose of government. There are several levels of government, but the purpose of all governments (at least in America) is the protection of life, liberty, and property. Jim is probably thinking to himself that I just proved his point about the property tax. However, life and liberty still come before property. The protection of these three equalities of all Americans takes place in several different ways via several different government agencies: Military, Police, Fire Departments, Department of Homeland Security, Commerce Department, Transportation Authority, FDA, EPA, FBI, CIA, etc.

All American’s are deserving of the services of all of the above, and all Americans should pay into those services. Now, there may be programs that an individual doesn’t support, but I’m not going to tackle that topic in this blog. Instead, I’m going to ask the next logical questions: Who stands to lose the most if our country in invaded, attacked, or bombed? Who stands to lose the most if there is a fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster? Who stands to lose the most if there is a severe disruption in the availability of natural resources, energy, or foreign services and labor? Not the guy making minimum wage, and not the guy paying 15% taxes (unless you implement a flat tax – communism).

The people who stand to lose the most in any of the above events are the business owners, investors, and wealthy Americans who utilize a great deal more of the protective and political power of or governments. Those who make more money stand to lose more money if something disastrous happens in this country. Therefore, they should pay a greater portion of the taxes. Some (like Jim) might say that wreaks of communism as it is a clear redistribution of wealth. Well, while there are certain programs that do redistribute wealth, most of them do not. Also, one need only look at history to know that a growing and increasingly upset lower-class is the demise of any ruling party.

Take any of the above departments and you will find a disproportionate amount of services being provided to those with greater wealth and income. Sure, there is some money redistributed to lower-income citizens, but again… History.

So this brings us back to the flat tax, which is ultimately the greatest form and supporter of capitalism. Yes, you read that right. A progressive taxation system is capitalism at its finest. How many of our Founding Fathers were in what we’d call the lower class? Was Washington? I think not. Jefferson? HA! Hamilton? Perhaps the closest. Franklin? You’ve got to be kidding me!

How many patent, copyright, and trademark lawsuits are there for the little guy? Barely any, but the giants are in the courtroom all the time. The wealthy utilize our legal system far more than the poor. The law, our government is supported and swayed by the wealthy far more than the the poor. Our governments have been created for the protection of all, but those who are wealthy have far more at stake and are easily responsible for a greater tax burden. In fact, it would be foolish to think otherwise because it would put at risk so much of what business owners and investors have works so hard to gain.

The moment I heard about Facebook’s “like” feature, I shivered. The idea seemed brilliant to someone at Facebook, brilliant enough to push it through testing and into release (for a company like Facebook, that’s a pretty big deal). This new “like” concept was going to revolutionize Facebook usage on the Internet! It was going to show up everywhere! The Internet was going to become a big giant like-fest…

Folks at Facebook and Interweb “pundits” chimed in about how Facebook was doing this to help generate greater interest in brands. It was designed to lower the barrier to entry (so to speak) for a consumer to brands establishing themselves on Facebook. The idea was that it’s easier to “like” a brand than to be a “fan” of a brand. How cute, right?

Lowering the barrier to entry for a potential customer seems like a good idea, until you do the math. Let’s say my business is paying 40 cents per click on Facebook. If the barrier is at the “fan” level, I will presumably receive fewer clicks, but they will be from “fan” level (potential) customers. Fans are more valuable than likes (I’ll get to that in a second). If the barrier is at the “like” level, I will presumably receive more clicks than at the “fan” level, but they will be from “like” level (potential) customers. This means that I will be paying more money to Facebook for a less qualified potential customer.

BTW, the above is not conjecture. A lower qualified customer is not as valuable as a higher qualified customer. Now, let’s get into the difference between a “fan” and a “like”.

The problem with this is that businesses don’t want likes, we want fans. The Los Angeles Lakers (replace with any sports team) don’t sell season tickets every year because of their likes, it’s because of their FANS! Lakers merchandise does sell to likes, it sells to FANS!

But not every business is sports team… Of course not.

Now, let’s replace the Lakers with perhaps a watch company 🙂

People purchase watches that they like, right? I mean, you go to a store and see a nice watch and say, “I like that watch.” You don’t say, “I fan that watch.” So, obviously my theory is broken, right? Well, not really because you still haven’t purchased the watch. Liking something is window shopping. We all see a lot of stuff that we “like” in the windows but never buy. However, when we really find a watch that resonates with us, we become obsessed. We become a FAN! We figure out some way to convince our wife or girlfriend that we NEED that watch. Just like we need season tickets to the Lakers (good luck with the waiting list)!

Getting back to Facebook… They just devalued themselves. They are providing a less qualified potential customer and no business in their right mind will pay the same for a less qualified potential customer than what it was paying before for a presumably more qualified customer. That being said, time will tell whether the potentials are less qualified or not. My prediction is that the potentials will indeed be less qualified, and this will make Facebook less attractive to advertisers (like myself).

Facebook is quickly becoming far more than just a social network. The ability to build applications that integrate with Facebook make it perhaps one of the most useful tools for a business. I talked about this with Dean on the Words Cause Radio Show on BlogTalkRadio.com this morning.

For example, my business is going to launch an integration with Facebook that will provide customers will FB notifications when there is an update to their order. Our customers will also have further interactions and special promotions available on Facebook that we cannot necessarily provide through our own system. I predict many other businesses going down this route with Facebook rather than Myspace (which is bloated) or Twitter (which is not private).

Tuesday evening rolls around, and it’s time for an international meeting. We’re talking Internet marketing for an international jewelry business. Doesn’t get more exciting than that! There were about 10 action items that came out of the meeting. I got nine of them! Making it all happen on time is going to take some serious skills. Good thing I’m an Action Hero 😀

Before I get started on my rant about Magento, I need to make it clear that I LOVE open source software and I absolutely LOVE this particular open source ecommerce platform. I think that Magento has tremendous promise and is an excellent choice for a company’s ecommerce platform. Now that I’m done with my praise, I’ll get to my rant…

Honestly, they have to be kidding! I know that the whole point of open source is to get the programmers work where they get paid. Hey, WordPress is open source. It’s not like these guys are independently wealthy and just make cool software out of the kindness of their hearts. However, Magento is far from an enterprise level platform. Even with the additional features, Magento is not at that level. Case and point… They can’t even process sales tax correctly.

The latest release of Magento (1.3.1.1) didn’t fix a bug that was created when they released 1.3.1. This bug is a rather serious bug that makes Magento practically useless for ecommerce. Since ecommerce is what this platform is supposed to be used for, Magento 1.3.1 and beyond are worthless until they fix this bug. The bug is that no matter how you setup your tax groups, there is no way to enter an order into the Admin interface that doesn’t get charged taxes if you have a tax setup for that postal code.

Now, a careful ecommerce guy will read that last sentence and find another flaw with Magento. Yes, Magento does their taxes based upon zip codes. There is no state in America that allows you to base your taxes on a postal code. Postal codes are setup by the US Post Office (which is NOT a government agency). Our local and state governments recognize cities and municipalities ONLY, not zip codes.

In my opinion, Enterprise level software should be able to handle sales taxes properly. Magento doesn’t. There is plenty of work left for the folks over there before they have an Enterprise level application. How about the fix the community edition tax problems before releasing “Enterprise” software.

No movie was more influential to the image of bikers being bad asses then “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando. The city of Hollister, California’s 4th of July biker party was inspirational for this story. This biker party is something of biker legend and has put the city of Hollister on the map!

I was a little surprised when my friend who created Jack the Rabit told me about a threat by the Hollister Clothing company to sue companies from the city of Hollister if they use the Hollister name on their products. I highly doubt this is a publicity stunt by the Hollister company. They likely will make good on their promise. When they do, I’d love to see Johnny Strabler show up in Ohio (since that’s where the headquarters are for the “California” company Hollister).

This appears to be the case of a company’s head getting a little too big. I have not problem with the ficticious story that was made up about the Hollister 1922 brand. That is good marketing. However, when a big business starts going on the prowl against small businesses in a small city in California, it definitely rubs me the wrong way. The city of Hollister was around long before Hollister Clothing. Nothing would make me happier than watching the city of Hollister give a legal beatdown to Abercrombie & Fitch around this issue. I’d love to see the city of Hollister counter sue this arrogant Ohio company!