Friday, October 31, 2008

What nationality is Wal*Mart?

So I own a Toyota. Toyota is headquartered in Japan,yet it has a substantial US presence.

from Wikipedia:

United States employees and investments
Toyota directly employed around 34,675 people in the United States, invested USD $15.5 billion, produced 1.2 million vehicles using US and foreign auto parts, sold 2.54 million vehicles, and donated USD $340 million to nonprofits. [34] It has in total 10 plants, USD $2.9 billion per year payroll, purchased USD $28 billion in parts and supplies from 30 states. It created around 386,000 jobs in the United States as result of Toyota's spending and demand from suppliers.

But most people wouldn't consider it a "US" company - would you?

Bill Bishop wrote the following about traditional "US" companies rooting for the Chinese Olympic teams

No ‘Home Team’ For U.S. multinationals
Many U.S. multinationals have a big presence in Beijing. Some, like Coca-Cola (see an earlier post on their Beijing Olympic market efforts here and McDonald’s, are Olympics sponsors.

While from a business perspective I understand why they are doing it, as an American I find viscerally strange to see U.S. corporate icons rooting for the Chinese team. McDonald’s is running ads with the slogan “Cheering for the Chinese team 24 hours a day,” and in at least one Beijing Wal-Mart (not an Olympic sponsor) employees wear shirts with slogans supporting the Chinese team.

What these companies are doing is necessary to be successful in the China market. But it does, to me at least, bring home the point that at least some of these American corporate icons don’t seem to have a home team anymore.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Feeling lonely?

Feeling lonely? Don't talk to enough people during the day? Wish more people called you?

Start a business.

We get 5-7 telemarketing calls a day. All of them ask/whine/beg/demand to talk to the owner. At first I (innocently) took most of them (we are a small company, no "screening" here!).

They almost always want to sell us something we don't need - a satellite dish for TV (we are a business?), credit card processing (it took too much time getting our current one to work) or Miami Heat tickets (if cold calling a tiny Internet company 90 miles from Miami is your best sales lead, I wish I could short the Heat...).

Once a month a collector calls, looking for Mrs X - apparently someone had this number and several companies would really like to speak with her. They never believe that this is a business phone now, apparently pretending that the number changed is a common scam (really? amazing!).

My current favorite call comes from AT&T. The caller ID always says "Provo UT - (801) 221-2893" or similar (I am from the rural south and sound like it, so I can never speak ill about someones accent, but it seems safe to say the callers don't sound like they are calling from Utah, a state I have spent much time in). When you answer, there is always a telltale pause, as some gremlin / outbound dialing machine connects your live voice to someone in a huge telemarketing center... "My I speak to the owner? this is X from AT&T." He tries to sell us some modification to our phone service, which we don't need and don't want. I always ask him to take me off of the calling list, at which point he/she hangs up on me. The number is always disconnected if you try a call back. This is annoying.

Is it really AT&T? Who knows? They clearly say they are. Perhaps is is some rogue vendor. If it is AT&T, the people charged with monitoring their outbound sales efforts suck at their jobs.

We are going to stop answering these calls.

If you are selling a product via the phone, I would be looking (hard) for a new delivery mechanism. You may have the greatest product in the world, but you can't sell it if people don't answer. I believe that day is coming... The bad guys are winning.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Sushi Nazi(s)

I'll show my country-bumpkin ways by howling at this article in the WSJ today - Sushi Bullies.

My favorite part, this series of quotes

Geri-Ayn Gaul had her first encounter with a raw-fish autocrat in August at Ino, in San Francisco. First, she tried to add some soy sauce to her seaweed salad. Big mistake. Chef Noboru Inoue scolded her, she says, telling her, "No, no, no. No soy sauce!" Then, she had the temerity to scrape some wasabi off a piece of sushi, because she doesn't like spicy food. The chef's response, she says: "'No. It needs the wasabi.'" She obeyed, and choked down the fish.

"I was so nervous, I spilled my miso soup," says Ms. Gaul, whose meal for two, with no alcohol, cost $75 -- before tip.

So, let me get this straight. You Geri-Ayn are the customer. You know you don't like wasabi. Yet because you are "ordered" to do so by the chef, you choke it down and pay $75 for the privilege?

Is it just me, or is this some version of "the chef has no clothes?" I understand that the chef is an expert and we should possibly defer to them, but at all times and in all ways? This is silly.

Would you buy - and wear - something you hate just because the designer told you to? Would you buy an ugly house because the architect said to?

This is 100% about being in the club, the hazing is the price you pay to get into the fraternity. It has nothing to do with food, everything to do with feeling like you belong.

Which is ok. I may have to go next time I'm in California. I like to belong too!

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's that smell?

Its fear.

Apparently a lot of people I know (me included!) had money in the stock market. Money that was there (and theirs!) a month ago and now sadly, 40%+ is gone.

I have heard friends and friends of friends say that they are no longer going on vacation/buying a new car/purchasing that cabin on the lake/eating out (?!).

With the market falling everyday, and the cable pundits screaming "don't sell," or "sell if you ever want to see your money again - or in the next 5 years," or "12 more days like today and the Dow will be zero," it is easy to see why many Americans are confused and more than a little panicked.

My favorite quotes so far came from a WSJ article:

Investors seem, above all, to be in a state of shock, bludgeoned into paralysis by the market's astonishing volatility. How is Theodore Aronson, partner at Aronson + Johnson + Ortiz LP, a Philadelphia money manager overseeing some $15 billion, holding up in the bear market? "We have 101 clients and almost as many consultants representing them," he says, "and we've had virtually no calls, only a handful." Most of the financial planners I have spoken with around the country have told me much the same thing: Their phones are not ringing, and very few of their clients have even asked for reassurance. The entire nation, it seems, is in the grip of what psychologists call "the disposition effect," or an inability to confront financial losses. The natural way to palliate the pain of losing money is by refusing to recognize exactly how badly your portfolio has been damaged. A few weeks ago, investors were gasping; now, en masse, they seem to have gone numb.

In my family we have a saying: "Ignore it - it will go away." Annoyingly, it doesn't work, but each of us have tried (and failed) to go with this advice on one occasion or another.

Apparently our family saying has been adopted by the country?

A friend's mother announced she wasn't reviewing her brokerage statements "for a while." Just wasn't going to look. If only it were that easy?!

What are you doing? Not content to sit and watch,I am at least generating some commissions. I shifted much of my beleaguered portfolio out of weaker stocks and into high dividend paying blue chips, beaten down in the frenzy of last week (best example? swapping Tim Horton(THI), the Canadian donut shop for GE, with its 7% yield. Call me crazy.)

Also, I having been buying my old friend Berkshire (BRK.B). Buffett has got to be going nuts in this market - why not having the world's best picking stocks for you? I have been a big fan of his since 1991 - when as a graduation gift, a friend got me the collected ramblings of Warren's shareholder letters. Amazing stuff. He hasn't let me down yet!