Ain’t Technology Grand?

My friend Steve, visiting Taiwan on business, posted this picture on facebook of a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been over there, but even back in the ’90s, American businesses were all over the island.  Even so, traveling to Taiwan and China was about as lonely an experience as you could imagine.

It’s not that the people weren’t friendly, not at all.  The Chinese are very friendly, hospitable people.  But it’s their home, not mine, and it’s normal to crave contact with your loved ones.  But in those days, phone calls were very expensive and we were allowed to expense only one call home per week.  Besides, there’s a twelve hour time difference between there and here.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m away from home I’m always wondering what Jan and the kids are doing.  When you’re in the Far East the answer is almost always the same.  They’re in bed.

The time change is still the same.  As I write this it’s 10:30 in the morning in Saint Louis and it’s 11:30 at night in Taipei.

But, thanks to the Internet, the communications gap is gone.  Facebook, Twitter, even video chat make instant communications possible.  A person in Taiwan can actually see live images of family and friends for just the cost of an Internet connection.  No time limits.  No bad connections.  Just instant communications.

There are a lot of things wrong with the Internet, but when it comes to staying in contact with family, friends, and business associates, there’s nothing like it.

 

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Are Your Suppliers Letting You Down on the Web?

If, as I suspect, you’re a web-savvy entrepreneur, (If you’re not, how did you find this post?) it’s in your best interest to find the manufacturers who think the same way that you do.  The fact that you’re a blog reader tells me that you know how to find relevant information and that you know what to do with it.

Whether we like it or not, (and we should like it) the way business is done in the US and in the entire world is changing.  You can pretend that you’re customers can’t find the lowest price on anything with just a few minutes of web surfing, but you’d be sadly mistaken.  You can assume that your customers have to leave their homes to shop, but you’d be very wrong.  Maybe you don’t think that eBay and Craigslist are your competitors, but I promise you that they are.

Wise manufacturers are working with their dealers to provide them with the best, most up-to-date tools and information.  We’re in the midst of an economic crisis yet many retailers are thriving.  Often, but not always, these dealers are supported by like-thinking vendors.  Some dealers thrive in spite of their vendors, not because of them.

By way of disclaimer, I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable person on the subject of social media, but I have been a blogger, podcaster, and forum administrator for quite a while.  Between this blog and its predecessor, I’m approaching my 900th post.  I regularly follow dozens of blogs and podcasts.  Obviously I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in providing information to small business owners.  I guess that, since you’re reading this, you must find some value in the content of Mining the Store.

Sadly, there seem to be a lot of manufacturers who just don’t get it.  Twenty-first century business owners want and need help.  The climate is just too hostile for each of us to reinvent the wheel every day.  Likewise, very few suppliers have all the answers.  (even if they think they do)

The key to success in the year 2010 is community; communities of people with common interests who get together online to share information.  Whether it’s politics, sports, health matters, or business, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can find communities of interest where any question can find its answer.

A wise supplier will get involved in the communities that affect his/her market and become a contributor.  Simply lurking, seeing what people are saying, is critical but it’s far from sufficient.  The days of a company looking down at its customers, considering them necessary evils, are over.  There are too many other vendors who treat their dealers as partners in the supply chain.  They will be successful.  Make no mistake, the same rules apply to retailers and their communities.

The bottom line here is that you have to hold your vendors feet to the fire.  Demand that they give you the help that you need or you’ll take your business elsewhere.  I don’t want to generalize too much, but there are vendors whose sales are down who actually blame their dealers.  They have such a perfect product and such infallible marketing programs that the problem couldn’t possibly lie with them.  Therefor the fault must be yours.  One sales manager actually wondered on an industry forum why “the better dealers” aren’t participating.  Maybe it’s because “the better vendors” aren’t participating?  I’m just sayin’…….

I’m not advocating for insurrection here.  But I am suggesting that you insist that your suppliers give you the help you need to move the product through the marketing chain to your/their customers.  History has shown, even with the help of the Internet, that it’s very difficult for a vendor to go directly to the consumer.  They need you more than you need them.  If they aren’t giving you what you need, they’re not doing their job.

See the USA in Your ????

Chinese Chevy DealerHere in Saint Louis, a local car dealer, Frank Bommarito, often buys full page ads in the dead-tree newspaper to comment on business topics. He recently did a nice comment piece on the death of his competitor, Dave Sinclair.

But today, in a piece on China’s economic recovery, he made some comments that frankly, scare the hell out of me. Unfortunately the ad doesn’t seem to be available online, but here’s what he said in bullet points:

  • China’s economic recovery is progressing nicely. The one weak spot is manufacturing.
  • Chinese auto makers have been waiting for the right time to enter the US market. Our weak economy has held them back.
  • There are ten thousand US auto dealers who lost their American car franchises in the recent cutbacks by the “big three.”
  • These dealers will be lining up at the National Auto Dealers Convention in Orlando, more than happy to take on a Chinese car line.

After many years in the import business there are two sure things I can tell you about Chinese manufacturing.  One is they can undercut any American manufacturer based on their huge labor pool and cheap raw material prices.  The second is that they will build in as little quality as they can get away with.

American car dealers with no cars to sell will be very tempted to jump in bed with the Chinese.  Many of them will be eager to be pioneers in this new business.  At some point they’ll find out that undependable deliveries and inferior products will put them in a very difficult situation.  Trust me.  Been there; done that.

Of course, the high dollar value of a vehicle and the thousands of cars and trucks that will be brought in initially will further tip the balance of trade between the US and China, putting our fragile economy in even more trouble.

Hopefully Bommarito’s prediction will turn out to be wrong.  Hopefully our friends and neighbors who have lost their livelihood due to the mismanagement of American car manufacturers won’t be sucked in by the promises that the Chinese car makers are sure to make.  (Again, been there; done that.)

I sincerely doubt that our current administration  would dare take any steps to stop this disaster before it occurs, especially since we’re so deeply in debt to the Chinese.   In the midst of all the other turmoil in our capital, this whole thing could slip by under the radar with no one even noticing until it’s too late.

This might be a good time to write to your representatives and senators, voicing your objections to any more erosion of the US manufacturing base by Red China.

Hot Stuff in Gatlinburg

fed_beagleOK, I’ll admit it.  I’m a hot sauce addict.  I have two shelves in the fridge and a cabinet under the sink full of the stuff.  Like one of those beagles in the green blazers that sniff out contraband at the airport, I can smell a hot sauce shop a block away.

It’s a good thing, because the Pepper Palace in Gatlinburg, TN isn’t easy to find.  It’s on the third floor of an enclosed “mall” on the town’s main street.  But we did find it and I’m glad we did.  What the store lacks in walk-by traffic it more than makes up for in selection and service.  pepper_palaceThe picture displays just a small percentage of the products the store offers.  There are the familiar national brands like Tobasco, but much of the merchandise is private label, produced locally by Pepper Palace.

To sell a product like hot sauce, you really have to let people sample it.  This store does sampling right.  There are dozens of things for you to try with the appropriate tool for transporting the sauce from the sample container to the mouth.  Mostly tortilla chips.  Not tiny pieces of chips, mind you, but actual chips.

That would be reason enough to check out the store, but the lady behind the counter knows every sauce, how it’s made, what kind of peppers it contains, and how to use it.  She was like a wine steward of salsa.  She greeted us as we came in with the current special, “Buy four and get the fifth one free.”  Naturally I bought five and even went back the next day to buy a sixth item that I had originally passed on.

You might think of condiments, especially exotic ones, to be something that might be off most people’s budgets in a recession.  But pepper-heads must have their fix and this is a company that’s more than ready to provide it.  They’ve grown from one store to three and are looking for franchisees to expand even further.

Rhonda, the lady who waited on us is the company’s “Marketing Manager”, an unusual position in a small retail business.  Obviously she’s doing a good job marketing the company and taking care of customers.  You can see her in action in the video which is one of seventeen Pepper Palace has posted on You Tube.  Of course they have a web site.

Watch the video and ask yourself, “How can I use instructional videos to promote my business?” Don’t say you don’t have the capability to do it.  As you can see from Pepper Palace’s videos, big-buck production isn’t required.  If you have an interesting or entertaining story to tell, you should be sharing it on You Tube.

A City That Gets It.

This post first appeared on September 7, 2007.  Since I’m sitting here in Huntsville once again, it seemed like a good time for a rerun.  I hope you enjoy it.  FYI, the Marriott Courtyard in Huntsville does offer free wifi.

Huntsville, AL

Huntsville_wifi
I’m posting this from the Big Spring Park in Huntsville, AL, where they actually offer free wireless internet service.  Wi-Fi at our hotel costs $10 per day, but you can sit in the park, enjoy the beautiful weather, AND check your email for free.

As we’ve been discussing, the Internet is everywhere, but wi-fi in the park is a great idea.  Instead of being tethered to an ethernet cable or a phone line, in a hotel room with too little work space and not enough light, in Huntsville you can enjoy the fresh air and the scenery while you check your email.

Jogging in the park isn’t my cup of tea (or glass of sweet tea here in the South) but blogging in the park is something I could get use to.

I imagine the presence of NASA in Huntsville, and the high tech industry that supports the space program might have something to do with having the Internet in the park, but I predict that the day isn’t far off when every city will have it.

Meanwhile, your intrepid blogger will continue working hard for you, even on vacation.

Blogging_in_the_park

Important for Facebook Users

Thanks to Donna Papacosta of the Trafcom News podcast for pointing this out.  Amit Agarwal posted an article today on his Digital Inspiration blog on a threat to your Facebook account.

It seems that there’s no end to the number of ways that online criminals will try to rip you off.  This time it’s a Facebook application that attempts to steal your login information.

It looks innocent enough.  It starts with a notification that a friend has sent you an email message.  But when you click on the link, you’re taken to a bogus Facebook login screen, asking for your ID and password.  Fill it out and you’ve given your information to a third party.

If you use Facebook I urge you to check out Amit’s post.  I don’t think anyone can be completely safe from every threat, but it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on on your screen.

Complacency

self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies” [Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary]

Now that you and I are in the automobile business thanks to our government’s investment of our money into General Motors, maybe it’s time to look at some of our preconceived ideas.  (I wonder when I’m going to get my company car?  A Corvette would be nice.)

Face it, we’re in unchartered waters here.  No time in history has ever been quite like this one and the rules have changed.  Our parents generation looked at “the big threee” automakers with almost a reverent awe.   Post WWII America was all about cars and jobs and GM, Ford, and Chrysler created both.  They were invincible.  Or so it seemed.

Japan and Germany and Italy were in shambles.  The war had taken its toll.  There was little or no manufacturing.  What a difference fifty years makes!  Now the taxpayers are bailing out GM.  Chrysler is about to be sold again, this time to an Italian company while our driveways are full of Toyotas and Volkswagons.

Smarter people than me will have to explain what happened, but I am smart enough, and so are you, to learn from the past.  Today’s lesson:  Don’t be complacent!

The one thing we can be sure of is that things are going to change.  When they do, we have to be ready.  The Internet changes everything.  Cell phones change everything.  Computers change everything.  And we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

You don’t have to be a psychic.  You don’t need a crystal ball.  But you do need to pay attention.  Know what’s a fad and what’s a trend.  Microsoft thought the Internet was a fad and was slow to get on board.  They were left at the starting gate.  Lucky for them, they were able to use their size and strength to catch up.  You and I aren’t so lucky.  We have to work smarter and harder.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  The “Serenity Prayer” from Alcoholics Annonymous might just be a good mission statement for all of us.

Have a great weekend!