Category Archives: Business – Opinion

Dealing With Surprising Social Media Fame

Update 8/2/14 – NPR has a story about this and in it mention that they are checking with the Justice Department to see if the restaurant’s policy is a violation of the prohibition against public businesses like restaurant’s discrimating based on religion. It would seem not since the discount is supposedly at the discretion of each server, but then again stuff like this is often not obvious or all that logical. I wouldn’t blame the restaurant for discontinuing the policy just to play it safe.

Mary’s Gourmet Diner on Trade Street in Winston-Salem just found out what it’s like to have something go viral. From a story on HLNTV:

The tab belonged to Jordan Smith, who had traveled to Winston-Salem for a business trip and stopped for breakfast at Mary’s with two colleagues Wednesday morning.

She tells HLN the group “prayed over our meal and the waitress came over at the end of the meal and said, ‘Just so you know, we gave you a 15% discount for praying,’ which I’d never seen before.”

Impressed, Smith shared a photo of the receipt on her Facebook page. A mutual friend then posted the pic on the page of Orlando Christian radio station Z88.3 and it’s taken off from there, being shared more than 1,700 times as of Thursday afternoon.

Well, apparently things heated up on Facebook thanks to all the attention, causing Mary to post the following on her business’ Facebook page:

MarysFB

Here’s the text in case that’s hard to read:

There’s a lot of craziness going on in regard to the 15% discount. I will not respond to all the posts. I will say that it is not a “policy”, it’s a gift we give at random to customers who take a moment before their meal. This could be prayer or just a moment to breathe & push the busyness of the world away. Who you talk to or meditate on etc. is your business. I have lived in a 3rd world country, there are people starving. We live in a country with an abundance of beautiful food. I NEVER take that for granted. It warms my heart to see people with an attitude of gratitude. Prayer, meditation or just breathing while being grateful opens the heart chakra. It’s good for everyone!!!! Thanks to my local community for your support…you know who I am. As for all the people posting negative comments about me & my restaurant who have never met me or been to the restaurant, thanks for sharing, it’s your right to speak out, just as it is mine. Peace, love & happy eating!!!!

It’s a sign of our times that doing almost anything positive can be turned into a negative. Sheesh.

We were talking about this at work and we all had the same thought before Mary posted on Facebook: if we know they’re giving 15% off just for praying we’d bow our heads in a heartbeat. Of course that kind of defeats the purpose, but I wonder how many people around Winston were thinking the same thing?

Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Making the social media rounds recently was this observation shared on Craigslist by the management of a New York City restaurant who were trying to figure out why service was so much slower in 2014 than in 2004 despite a simplified menu and increased staff size. They found security footage from 2004 and compared it to current footage. Some results they shared in their post:

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago for them to pay and leave.

8 out of 45 customers bumped into other customers or in one case a waiter (texting while walking) as they were either walking in or out of the Restaurant. 

They studied 45 customers in both cases and found that, on average, the time spent in the restaurant went from 1:05 in 2004 to 1:55 in 2014. It’s fairly safe to assume that other service businesses are experiencing similar behavioral changes in their customers, and it’s stunning to think about how quickly it’s happened.

BTW, I’m a notorious food-porner, but I can’t imagine taking more than 10 or 15 seconds to snap a pic of my snapper. I like my food way too much to waste more time than necessary before I dig in.

Be Nice

Fred Wilson’s take on being nice in business is spot on:

So its conventional wisdom that being nice is a bad idea in business.

I have found otherwise. I have found that reputation is the magnet that brings opportunities to you time and time again. I have found that being nice builds your reputation. I have found that leaving money on the table, and being generous, pays dividends.

I am not saying you should be overly generous or nice to a fault. There’s a limit to everything. But I do think that thinking about others, and trying to make things right for everyone (which is impossible and will drive you crazy) is an approach that pays off in business.

It’s not the fastest way to make a buck. It takes time. But it is way more sustainable than screwing people over.

Gender Pay Disparity

The American Association of University Women just released a report showing that gender pay disparity is alive and well in the US:

  • There is a pay gap in all 50 states. In 2012, the disparity was smallest in Washington, DC, where women were paid 90 percent of what men were paid. It was largest in Wyoming, where women earned 64 percent of what men did.
  • The pay gap does not discriminate based on occupation or education level. Women working in female-dominated, male-dominated, and gender-balanced occupations earned less than men. And women’s median earnings were less than men’s at every level of academic achievement.
  • As women age, so does the pay gap. Women 25 and younger typically were paid around 90 percent what men were paid, while those 35 and older earned about 75 percent to 80 percent of men’s pay.

That last bullet point is very interesting because it begs the question about what's behind the change as women age. Is it because women pay a price for motherhood? Or, is it a relatively new phenomenon that reflects the trend of more women getting a higher education than men and thus holding more of the better paying jobs? It's hard to say without looking at the data to see if the study authors are doing an "apples to apples" comparison of people in similar jobs or are just looking at averages across all industries/jobs by age.

No matter the reason the smaller pay gap for younger women is still not fair and in a perfect world compensation would be purely merit based and not skewed by factors like gender or race. Of course the world isn't perfect and there's unfair pay even within genders and races, but at a minimum we should do everything we can to remove the blatant biases that still exist. 

With current demographic trends the gender bias might take care of itself. Fewer and fewer men are seeking a higher education and in an ever more complex economy like ours their lack of education might lead to the majority of men being the second income in their household and/or the primary caregiver for their children. Will women still be paid less than their peers with the same job? Maybe, but as the ranks of women in those positions grow it seems less likely.

Ripple Effect

Rex Hammock has 10 Bold Small Business Predictions for 2014 and #9 is dead on:

This is a non-partisan prediction. If you love Obamacare, or hate Obamacare, this prediction doesn’t care. With the bungled launch of the Healthcare.gov online insurance market and the non-stop accusations slinging back and forth between the political parties, it’s been hard for small busines owners to separate fact from vitriol. But here’s one fact: millions of “nonemployee businesses” (a census bureau segment that are independent free lancers, developers, consultants, authors, artisans, etc., who, collectively, account for 4% of all U.S. sales and receipts, but represent the largest number business entities) are now able to obtain healthcare insurance at a competitive price, even if they have pre-existing health condition. Not having access to such insurance has held back lots of employees of lots of big companies from setting up their own shop. Here’s another fact: If a small business has less than 50 employees, the only requirement they have under the Affordable Care Act is to inform employees of the availability of private healthcare insurance sold through marketplaces administered through (depending on the option of a state) federal or state healthcare insurance marketplaces. As Mark Cuban recently told the Wall Street Journal, “As someone who owns chunks of small businesses, the one thing all those companies have in common is [that] buying and providing health care is not a core competency,” he says. “It’s expensive.” By removing the responsibility to provide coverage from these firms and giving it to the government, he says, “You’ve freed up money and time.”

My long-besieged wife has heard me say this for years – if the health care system in the US was fixed there would be an explosion of entrepreneurialism. It's hard to overstate how many people have been tethered to a deadend job because they needed the benefits. Imagine what they would do if that wasn't hanging over their heads and I'm sure that thought is a big motivator in the fight against health care reform.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Walmart catches a lot of heat,  much of it probably justified, for its treatment of employees, low wages, sourcing practices, etc. but it rarely seems to get credit when it does something right. That's why I found this story from Louisiana so interesting.

Two Walmart stores in Louisiana will be stuck with most of the bill after food stamp recipients went on a huge shopping spree after a power outage temporarily lifted their spending limits, resulting in cleared store shelves and mass chaos…

According to a Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services’ spokesman, retailers who chose not to use the emergency procedures that limit sales up to $50 per cardholder during an emergency would be responsible for any additional amount spent during the power outage…

The shopping frenzy was triggered after the Electronics Benefits Transfer system went down because a back-up generator failed at 11 a.m. EST on Saturday…

Around 9 p.m. CT on Saturday, a Walmart employee made an announcement that the computer system had been restored and all card limits had returned. At that time, many customers left shopping carts full of food inside the store.

The focus of the story is on the food stamp recipients taking advantage of a computer glitch to go on a shopping spree, but what caught my attention was the fact that the Walmart stores continued to allow the customers to use their EBT cards even though they knew there was an issue. They could just as easily have said they wouldn't process the cards until the system came back online, but the store managers chose to continue processing. Maybe they thought they'd eventually get their money, or maybe they were compelled to by law – I have no idea – but the fact of the matter is they did a generous thing by not denying the EBT payments.

And those folks who took advantage of the situation? That's a perfect example of why the backlash against government aid programs is gaining traction.

On Publishing

Dana Blankenhorn has an excellent post on the demise of newspapers as we've known them and the future of publishing in general. Here's the money quote:

Your job, as a publisher, remains what it was in the 19th century. Define a market, aggregate both the buyers and sellers, and stimulate financial transactions between them. Publishing is a market-making proposition, and those who create the best marketplaces win. Every time.

These are still the early innings of the online publishing game. The collapse of newspapers is a gift from above, not a plague. It opens up vast new opportunities for people who have learned their business, publishers and editors both.

 

Embracing the Inevitable

The approach taken by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might very well be the approach some businesses should embrace with their content:

Many museums post their collections online, but the Rijksmuseum here has taken the unusual step of offering downloads of high-resolution images at no cost, encouraging the public to copy and transform its artworks into stationery, T-shirts, tattoos, plates or even toilet paper.

The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available throughRijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.

Pretty cool huh? If you think about it the museum is kind of doing what companies do with their customers and biggest fans: get them to promote their brand by plastering logoes and other corporate images all over shirts, cups, etc. What's obviously different is that the museum is having them slather their unique "products" on those various and sundry items and some artists or for-profit publishers might not like that. Also, as the museum's director points out, the museum is a different position than a for-profit entity:

“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview.

But in the next breath he makes a very good argument for why companies might very well embrace the museum's approach even if they own the subject matter:

“‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.

Of course this approach won't work for everyone, but the combination of free publicity and quality control make it a viable consideration for many content creators.

Today’s Essential Skills

The three Rs – reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic – will always be important but what else should our kids be taught to prepare them for the modern American working world? Sasha Dichter has a list of what he thinks are essential skills for today's working world:

Basically, the list boils down to:

  • Coding
  • Design
  • Writing good copy
  • Coming up with ideas
  • Selling stuff
  • Managing projects
  • Hustle

Not a bad list, though, sadly, it compares terribly to what we’re teaching in our schools (including business schools).