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Category Archives: Business

The modern-day lemonade stand

Kids these days. Who needs an MBA anymore when you can just open your own business in the garage?

My 10-year old son has taken the concept of a neighborhood lemonade stand to another level. Only this time he’s not donating proceeds to charity. He’s in business for himself.

Along with several other committed kids in the neighborhood, he’s created a bike repair service called Opie’s Bike Repair in our garage. As the “general manager,” he pays the other kids a “salary,” which we’ll get to a little later.

Most of the time they spend sitting in the garage, waiting for the phone to ring or a random customer to happen by. They’ve made a bit of money doing various bike jobs for friends and family, and they’ve reinvested it in the company, after paying out expenses.

Understanding the need for additional customers, they’ve started marketing with a website, created special offers, and plastered flyers all over the neighborhood.┬áRecognizing there is a limited potential market for bike repair services in our neighborhood, they’ve recently added car washing to the menu of Opie’s services.

And they’re already getting a taste of labor disputes with the employees (a.k.a friends) demanding to be equal partners in the enterprise instead of specialists hired to do a job. As a result, my son sent a memo to the staff requesting feedback on how to make work more fun, via anonymous notes dropped in a mailbox. Employee engagement 101!

As a parent, it’s a fine line between encouraging enterprising behavior and being the voice of reality. For example, when they wanted to add a new phone number for the business, I told them that would cost around $30/month, which they didn’t realize. Of course, that’s not in their budget and so the news was hard to take. On the other hand, they’re learning nothing in life is free and you have to work hard to make something succeed. It’s difficult not to just tell them how to do things, because I want them to have some success. After all, isn’t this how Bill Gates and Mark Cuban and Steve Jobs got started?┬áI’m just hoping the friendship dynamics on the street don’t get permanently bent out of shape while they figure it out.

What’s amazing to me through all this is that the lessons my 10-year-old is learning are on some levels the same ones any small business owner learns. And I hope that the experience he’s gaining today will help him succeed in the future. By the time these kids get to college, business degree curriculum is going to need a major update.

But, until then, the next time you have bicycle in need of repair or a car that needs washing, remember Opie’s, just down the street.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Business, Family, Thoughts

 

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The five ugliest (yet most successful) websites

Content is king. That’s the time-honored lesson you learn when you study web design and management. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that some of the most hideously designed sites are also the most successful.

For a business site, design does matter because a company’s brand is riding on the user experience. But for other types of sites, ugly just works. When design surpasses content and functionality, the user can feel left out, as if they are not getting the most from their visit. So some sites take advantage of this principle, and thrive on simplicity and lack of design.

So without further ado, here are my choices for the ugliest, yet most successful, websites.

5) Ebay. It’s a miracle that anyone can get anything done on this site. Navigation and content are all over the place, account settings are buried under mountains of navigation menus. Yet ebay remains the category killer for online classifieds.

4) Craigslist. Not to be outdone for simplicity,this classifieds site is the epitome of bare bones. Not a graphic to be found, 100% text, and no frills. But, for millions of users, it gets the job done.

3) Huffington Post. One of the best aggregators of content on the entire world wide web. Also one of the worst designed. It’s like someone threw up on the page. The Drudge Report follows a similar, design-despising structure, but the powerful content keeps users coming back. And the site has undergone some face-lifting lately that give users just enough structure and navigation to balance the eye sore a bit.

2) Amazon. Yes I know I’m an admitted Amazon addict. But the site — come on, big-time atrocious. The product description is found where? Oh, of course, down about 3/4 of the page below all the other items you might want to click on and lose track of your original purchase. And yet it works. How can something so bad be so good?

1) YouTube. This site was born during the dark ages of the Internet and essentially gave birth to video online. Despite an unbelievably bad design and user interface, it rakes in over 3 billion views per day, with 48 hours of video uploaded every minute. Simply staggering, especially considering how difficult it is to do. Again it goes to show how content rules.

So there you have it. For my money, the five best worst websites in the world. I’m sure there are others that are in the same league — so let’s hear it. What are your picks?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Business, Random, Work

 

Why Amazon is becoming the real best buy

Like all red-blooded American consumers, I receive 5-7 packages a week from Amazon.

Wait, what? You don’t?

OK, I admit I have an Amazon addiction. But I can stop anytime, I swear. See, for $80 a year with Amazon’s Prime service, I get free 2-day shipping and pay no sales tax on most orders. Prime also gives you free access to Amazon’s video streaming content, but the selection is lame so that’s not really a consideration.

Best Buy

Amazon's Showroom: Best Buy.

Amazon warehouse

One of Amazon's warehouses: where the real magic happens.

What’s happening in retail is interesting, and it’s making the national big box stores sweat bullets. Physical stores, which spend millions in bricks and mortar, inventory, staff, and advertising, have essentially become Amazon’s showroom.

Best Buy’s impending death has been frequently documented. Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Kohl’s are also feeling the pinch. After all, who doesn’t like going to squeeze the Charmin in person, scanning the bar code with the Amazon iPhone app, and then buying it for an average of 11% less with one click?

So what can stores do to combat this momentum?

1) Beat Amazon on price. This one is difficult. Since most of these stores deal largely in commodities, profit margins are already razor-thin. Some retailers are experimenting with in-store discounts by using their special financing deals. Target, for example, gives you 5% off for using their Red card, which is simply a debit card tied to your bank account.

2) Provide other services that can’t be matched online. It’s still more convenient to get your computer serviced at a local store than shipping it to some unknown location. And stores that combine experiences such as eating and shopping (Ikea, Costco), or groceries and electronics (Super Target), for example, make it more tempting to shop locally. Moreover, immediacy is still an advantage. Two-day shipping is not same day delivery. When you gotta have it now, nothing online will do.

3) Create exclusive products. The box stores could develop strategic product lines that are unique to their stores. While this may work for some consumers who care most about features, many are more motivated by price and are likely to forgo the latest product features in lieu of a cheaper overall price tag.

That’s about the best advice I’ve got for the big box retailers. Not an easy proposition, obviously. But it is an interesting study in modern capitalism. What do you think? Are there other things retail stores can do to survive? Or are you already an Amazon addict like me?

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Business, Random, Thoughts

 

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