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Category: Retail (page 1 of 10)

On E-Retail in NL: So many wrong assumptions

I’m sorry, I will have to link to some Dutch articles in this text, as there seems to be something brewing in this country that I couldn’t help but comment on. As always, Google Translate is your friend.

So, here is the timeline. About 3 years ago, the local retail association HBD came up with this brilliant advice that retailers had to make it easier to do comparison shopping. According to them, the Millennial was already doing this big-time and this was sure to increase across all generations by 2016.

Here’s the method described:

It starts with a search via Bing.com, Layar Vision, and Google Goggles (I am stunned by some of these options), which allow for visual searching and identifying a retailer nearby or online carrying said item.

HBD advises that these searches may be overwhelming and a more effective strategy to reduce noise is for individual retailers to develop apps that allow for easy navigation in store.

According to HBD, word-by-mouth marketing is important (via apps like Yelp & Foursquare), and online reviews are important (e.g. Amazon or Google searches). I agree with both somewhat.

So HBD suggests:

  • marketing consumers’ pockets (for instance: targeting via QR codes)
  • understanding that customers want cheaper AND better products (…)
  • Combining efforts to go online together: working as a supplier for the bigger e-commerce outlets, pooling investment to build a joint e-commerce outlet, etc.

There’s so much more gold in this article of 74 pages (incl. 1 page of references), I can’t possibly summarise it all.

So the HBD decided to run some experiments in various cities starting in 2011. Silence followed for some years.

This week, an article and interview revealed that it was a mess. From the article: many retailers expected this to bring big profits, instead the costs were out of control. Another retailer (a butcher) states: I never believed in The New Shopping. Old shopping methods: good service, good products, a smile, work just as well.

From the interview with an HBD representative:

  • Clearly retailers prioritised technology over customers
  • They focussed on tools, rather than the end-goal (it can be argued that the latter was badly formulated)
  • Consumers are changing: multiple devices, more info about products online
  • Risk is a physical shopping area to not be interesting enough and lose its value
  • Retailers misunderstood the message and HBD communicated it badly as well
  • HBD also had to learn how to formulate such an approach better (…)

So… how to respond to this.

Technology moves fast and is in its nature disruptive. It starts with studying computing science and finding out 5 years later that most things you learned in terms of programming language is already obsolete. It’s powered by the competitive landscape of technology (Apple, Samsung, Google) and of software development.

A physical retailer is not usually in that mindset. They buy or rent a space to keep it. They don’t want to move and not necessarily change or take risks. That is not a bad thing either, because customer value consistence if it’s good.

But with technology, you need to make gambles and you need to stick to it, as well as having a strong vision about where you want to be.

The bigger risk is listening to hacks like the HBD (Bing & Layar, really?) and giving away your online channel to giants that will eat you up (Amazon, Bol in the Netherlands, others…). Pure online retail is driven by efficiency. It’s more efficient to keep profits centralised and to push costs from e.g. a supplier down as much as possible. Ease of comparison also pushes prices down.

It’s an equally big risk to not do your homework and not invest in those talents that drive your online strategy forward. A changing landscape needs a champion that rides that wave and makes it their own. It’s a lost cause to invest in gimmicks like QR codes, if you don’t understand what value they really hold and how to replace them if they lose significance.

I was sad to read this 3 years after they published this study, because I don’t think my opinion would’ve been different then. Online is just as important as physical, but you can’t master it without understanding and owning it. It’s 100% not surprising that this initiative failed.

Sorry once again for linking to only Dutch articles in this text.

A not so short article explaining why the stock market loves Amazon and fears Apple

It all comes back to the simplistic but realistic view that investors have of any investment. Amazon spreads its revenue risks across many different income streams and Apple instead focusses on a few high value products. It’s not about Amazon re-investing its profits in growth, even though that is exactly its strategy enabler, but that Apple seemingly does not. The market prefers a risk averse strategy to a profitable one and along with that a transparent strategy–the antithesis of Apple’s approach.

Read the whole article here.

The Conclusion

I bet you that these are two words you won’t often read in the blogosphere. Usually when something ends, it is accompanied by a deafening silence, which, years later, is broken by a nice 404-page announcing that this page/blog no longer exists.

I don’t like ending things, but prefer to do so as loud and clear as possible, as it both forces me to stop something and to do something else instead.

So this blog has ended! Which is logical, as it has, from the beginning, been a limited enterprise, a conduit into the world of food and retail, even though I’m pretty much decided—though never say never—that the food-industry is not where I am going.

The truth is that I have learned a lot these last 6-7 months, enough to form a relatively clear vision of what I want and what values I believe in. The food-industry is a great vehicle for that:

  • It’s low-tech, it’s not rocket-science to follow the path of a good from the farm to a person’s kitchen.
  • It’s a people-business (whatever Harvard business review may say), and understanding people’s taste and expectations of food is translatable to any other industry.
  • It’s a global industry and affected by economic cycles, just like any other industry.
  • It’s got a variety of business models to choose from—from restaurants to supermarkets, from franchises to super—fmcg—companies.
  • etc. etc.

I encourage anyone who has some learning to do on a subject, to start a blog about it (for a limited time) and write to their heart’s content. Just don’t confuse your learning-project with a media-project, or else you’ll never end it! And know that your innocent passion in the beginning may take into a completely different direction in the end!

Reasons for me to stop are personal and I won’t discuss them here*. These last few years, I wrote a lot, which means I had to come up with new ideas daily, find new and better ways to communicate them, and of course gather new information constantly. And I enjoyed it most of the time, though now it is time to put those creative and problem-solving skills to use in a different environment.

So… here I go and retire from this activity. That also includes my work on Tech IT Easy, btw., though I expect that my co-bloggers are more than capable of producing great content (and hope this post hasn’t depressed them too much).

In the words of Mr. Hodgman, “That is all!“, and in the words of Mr. Murrow, “Good Night, and Good Luck!

Sincerely yours,
Vincent van Wylick

*: Anyone who knows me, knows that they can reach me anytime and discuss what’s going on in their life and mine. To the visitors of this blog, you can also feel free to drop me a mail, knowing that, even though any subject will be treated with complete respect and confidentiality, my time is limited.

Some (disjointed) thoughts about entrepreneurial qualities

start-up entrepreneur qualities.jpgStill don’t have too much time at the moment, but trying to produce content if possible, in a quick and (hopefully) digestible format. Some qualities of entrepreneurs that I’m thinking about:

  • Perseverance: This is a tough, tough issue. I consider myself a person that bites into a project and doesn’t let go; at the same time there are times when you have to or should abandon an idea. Even so, a start-up is an 80 hour a week job (let’s say), it has stakeholders—investors, partners, employees—and it may take some time to go into the black. Perseverance is probably the most important quality to possess, but I’d love for it to be simpler to know when to persevere and when to abandon.
  • Instinct: it’s a funny thing, this one. There is of course good and bad instinct (e.g. bravery vs. fear), but sometimes a “bad” instinct is a good one too (fear > jump > evade car). And even if you try to follow your instinct, your rational self—your experiences, education, arrogance, other emotions—will want to interfere with it. The reason to follow instinct is because it’s quicker and a more natural way to be (and my theory is that natural = confidence = charisma and all that good stuff). Still a tough one.
  • Inside-knowledge: in an industry, sure saves you a lot of time finding contacts and focussing on the right stuff.
  • The numbers: are important in a numbers-business. And every business is ultimately a numbers business, maybe not at the beginning when there’s lots of growth, but certainly at that point when either your wallet begins to look empty or a competitor is moving in next door.
  • Money: is kind of nice. The more you have, the less you need to give away in equity. Of course, rich parents help, but so does having an investment-portfolio. Investing in your industry means that you keep track of the latest trends, of your competition, and if you make money from that, that’s a qualifier that your instincts are correct. And, ultimately, giving away equity to the right people, means having a smaller piece, perhaps, but of a bigger pie.

Other things I missed? Definitely! You can always drop a nice comment about it.

The picture is courtesy of fairinvestment.co.uk

Some disjointed thoughts about empowerment

power to the people.jpgDisjointed, because I don’t have the time or energy to write a beautiful essay about empowerment—I’m not even 100% certain what it means yet. And in a way, by writing about ’empowerment,’ I’m breaking the first rule, which is “Don’t speak about empowerment.” Or at least it seems that way. Currently, there’s around 505,000 articles online about the term, which qualifies it as a hype and as such something that has already been discussed too much. But also, empowerment is basically about trust, a behaviour, and how can you talk about a behaviour, you just behave.

I think I first came across the concept, without even using that term. A few years ago, I read a book on ants, called “Emergence.” It was a great book, I thought, about how ants at every level exchange signals, in the shape of pheromones, to indicate what they were doing and whether they needed help. A completely decentralised organisation, and the only thing the queen needed to do was produce babies, which, equivalent in business-talk, is, I guess, take care of human resources. I was so excited about it, that it became a research proposal for my master-thesis in strategic management, and was very quickly rejected, as I guess I hadn’t related it well to strategy.

I again came across the concept last week, after reading an interview with the then-CEO, Dennis Bakke, and the then-chairman, Roger Sant, of AES, a power-company, which was, at least at the time of the interview (1998), very big on empowerment. And it seemed to work pretty well for them, if you look at their share-price, it rose pretty steadily up to 1998, and even more up to ca. 2001. Though, it hasn’t been doing quite as well these last few years.

Reading the interview, I got the impression that empowerment is a religion, which in itself is hard to quantify into a set of rules. Essentially, at AES, it was (or is, I don’t know) a system of open exchange flows; people could evaluate each other’s performance, investment-decisions were decentralised and crowd-sourced, job-rotation was common, and micro-teams of ca. 10 people, focussed on different projects and tasks, were spread all around the organisation. And that seemed to work pretty well.

But there were also some downsides, such as that the company didn’t work well with other companies—rather, it preferred a contractual relationship—and there were constant pressure to revert back to the traditional top-down model, from the public, share-holders, even employees. Essentially, every employee at AES becomes a kind of mini-CEO, which is clearly not something everyone is conformable with.

And the question is, and I haven’t figure that out 100% yet, is how you come from that top-down view of human “resources,” to a decentralised ant-like model? The key-word, which is equally hyped but seems to apply, is “delegation“—i.e. shifting executive responsibilities out to a team.

I think the problem of this is quite well spelled out in a recent interview with Brad Bird from Pixar, who was at one point confronted with a team that was demoralised. The former director had taken their work and evaluated it in private, giving written comments to individuals, not giving them a chance to give any input. And in order to turn that team around, he had stand in front of them for two months, evaluating the work, in public, and encouraging to take part, through questions. Two months, it took to go from the traditional model to one of empowerment, and just for that team.

The good news is that for start-ups, this is pretty much the way it should be from day 1. The bad news is that for big companies, or as soon as a start-ups grows bigger, the dissonance between people becomes larger and larger. And you have to—if you want to, at least—find ways to decrease that gap, probably most easily achieved through team-building after team-building exercise.

Anyway, not much more to say about this for now, but empowerment is cool, let’s leave it at that.

Ah yeah, I forgot! I liked these interview questions, which were typical of an AES job-interview at that time, and made me think about my own opinion on empowerment:

  • Should everyone be treated equally? Explain.
  • What do you do when something needs to be done and no procedure exists?
  • What self-improvement-efforts are you making?
  • Recall a time when people around you weren’t being entirely honest. What did you do?
  • What does “fair” mean to you? How important is fairness?
  • For what have you been counselled about the most?
  • What is the most difficult situation you have faced? What did you feel? How did you react?
  • Describe two important achievements.
  • Tell me about a time when a decision was needed and no supervisor was available.
  • What kind of rewards are most satisfying to you?
  • What does “fun on the job” mean to you?

I guess, this suggests that part of the answer to my question lies in an organisation’s hiring practices.

The picture is of course of Che Guevara, who wasn’t an entirely nice guy, but does stand for this whole “power to the people” movement.

April 2008 wrap-up

Sounds + Food _n_ Retail ~ Focussing on the business and art of food, retail, and music-venues!.jpgThis is going to be a nice and short one. April 2008 can be characterised by three types of posts: general business, food and retail (yay!), and interludes-after-interludes (the latter is just a naturaly consequence of time/creativity-problems, sorry). Previous monthly wrap-ups can be found here.

Let’s get started!

General business
I think I started with people-businesses, a topic I find interesting and will likely write more about in the future. Essentially, a people business is one whose value is mostly made up of people, which, I believe, includes most start-ups, but excludes businesses like McDonalds, which has a lot of capital costs. There are a number of challenges related to such businesses, such as measuring/increasing productivity, and finding business models that are compatible.

The next (micro-)topic I discussed, was bootstrapping, which I thought depends on three abilities: low cost-living (duh), time-management skills, and a strong goal-orientation (lots of distractions on the way to enlightenment).

Another micro-topic was on taking a detached view towards business. A lot of business-people and entrepreneurs, serial ones mostly, talk about seeing their business as just another business, rather then a passion, executing the right levers to make it succeed and eventually focussing on the next challenges. You have to be strongly motivated by something though, and I guess, following Ram Charan’s logic, the passion is for business itself, which can be an exciting and all-consuming activity. Well, that wasn’t exactly what I wrote, but is what I was thinking! 😉

Finally, for general business, I linked to three interesting stories, which I quoted here, but which illustrated the importance of the team, the “test,” which shows the level of understanding a leader must have about his business, and the “rule,” which is that every action has some sort of reaction elsewhere.

Food & Retail
Let’s start with the challenges facing the food-industry, which are currently related to economics and the environment. Economics-wise, everyone is seeing high food-prices due to events going on around the world, including a shortage of oil and an increased demand for farming-goods from India and China. Eventually, an equilibrium will happen, either the demand will subside as production happens locally (unlikely in the short-term), or production will increase. Considering I just heard that dairy prices are falling, I’m betting on the latter. For environmental-costs, we are mainly speaking about the cost of transportation. Food is a very global business, which seems to come at a high price to the environment. No solution is in sight for that yet, I don’t believe living locally is as yet sustainable, though there are plenty of proponents for that way of living.

A second topic, I looked at, was beer and the way pubs are funded in the Netherlands, which is often through exclusivity-contracts with breweries. It’s an interesting situation, as breweries have been facing the problem of commoditisation for that reason; people order “a beer” instead of a Heineken or a Grolsch (mmh, Grolsch). It seems to be good for the horeca-industry as it suffers from high failure-rates, but at the same time, other countries, like the UK, seem to manage without exclusivity-contracts, at least as far as I know. Requires further research.

A retail-topic was about the differences between Spanish Zara & Swedish H&M, both fashion-businesses, with a different business-structure, but otherwise fairly compatible in attitude, I think. Both have a strong design-branch, focus on cheap, high-quality fashion, and have an extremely high IT-focus, which helps them manage logistics and merchandising at an elevated level. The differences arise with Zara being very vertically integrated, owning producers, supplier, and retailers, most likely because Spain is such a low-wage country traditionally. H&M is not so integrated, probably because of Sweden being such a high-wage country. And while H&M is very strong in terms of marketing, Zara does virtually none of it, but draws high repeat-visits from its customers, due to constantly releasing new fashion-lines (3-5 x more then comparable businesses).

Some lists then, Coke Zero no. 1 in the Netherlands, and incidentally the first food-related topic I wrote about, I think. And a list of the top-horeca-businesses in the Netherlands, mostly hotels, but also some retailers, like Hema, which I like as a business.

Interludes
A lot of interludes this month, as it’s my way of recharging creative energy. These posts can be divided into ones posted here, and others posted on Tech IT Easy. Let’s start with the first.

The flirt was about some of the variables involving flirting, which I consider useful information, but probably not food ‘n’ retail. The cookerlude was my attempt to do a regular posting on cooking, but I’m still not sure whether I’ll go that direction.

On Tech IT Easy, I wrote a couple of interesting posts last month. Two on blogging, why it isn’t for everyone and what competitive advantage means for some. One on copyright, which is a topic I’m pretty interested in and which Fidji Simo continued with her usual insights. And the latest on technology-incubators, which relates to research done for my thesis.

That’s about it! Happy to close the door to the last month and already busy thinking about the next one!

Restaurant dynamics

restaurant customer service.jpgThe world of business, I think, has a certain illogical—the “human element”—shell around it, but centres around the concept of supply and demand. How you create a business where demand is high, how to you make sure that you have sufficient supply and/or not too much supply. You can see this play out in a number of places, e.g. on the web you have scaling issues, when your service proves to popular (e.g. Twitter), or you have the case of the million+ blogs that are collecting dust, because no-one ever reads them, or because the blogger was unable to gather enough interesting supply.

In restaurants, or food-places, you also see this play out. A couple of months ago, I was going to write about take-out, how some businesses embrace and others avoid it, and why. I think the reason is, at least in part, to control supply. If you control supply, then you can focus on quality and charge a higher price. You also become an artist/creator, rather than a factory.

How do you limit supply? Two ways, I think. Mainly it’s the physical space; by limiting the number of seats in your venue, you ensure that a certain quota is set (of course, the question is also whether that quota is met, which comes from quality inspiring demand). By investing in quality-ingredients, you not only limit your budget, but also your production-capacity, and it forces you to limit supply. That’s a little vague, I know, I haven’t worked it out 100%.

The other way, is to have an increased level of supply. How do take-out and fast-food places do it? By standardising as much as possible. Whether it’s the ingredients, which are mainly starch-based (burgers, pizza, noodles, etc.) and cheap, the production-facility (often just an oven, a grill, or a big wok), or a standardised customer-space (from seats stapled to the floor, to waiting-lines, to a website/phone nr.). All of which enables you to deliver mass quickly.

I was thinking about this today after watching “Iron Man,” which is one big Burger King (and US-army) commercial, and getting a cheese burger afterwards. Burger King was packed and, ironically, slow. The “waiting in line” method doesn’t seem to work that well when you have 50+ people waiting, and a limited space behind the counter to deliver burgers and stuff. People on both sides were bumping into each other constantly, and I actually had to wait over 5 mins, even though I was second in line.

On some level, I like to think that technology can solve a little bit of this problem. If you look at Zara and H&M, which I wrote about last week, both are very advanced in this area, in order to optimise and speed up their production, logistics, and merchandising. Of course, that’s on a back-office level, and that’s not the same as the front-office, where customers interact with a business. No one wants to be confronted with a screen to do the ordering, but sometimes I wonder if people wouldn’t be happier just pressing some buttons in a fast food joint, rather than waiting in line. Of course that would mean more seats, as more people would sit down, and more staff, as someone will have to bring that food to the table.

In the end, it probably comes down to experimentation and constant improvement. That said, apart from the computers that cashiers operate, and quicker food-preparation, not much has changed in the last 50 years for the people doing the actual eating.

The picture is courtesy of lightningspeed.net.

The value of support

All right, in 10 mins or less…

I just started reading a series of essays, entitled “Wish I’d known: Insights and inspirations from the journeys of successful entrepreneurs.” Do a search, and you’ll find it for free online. One essay finishes with:

“I wish I’d started younger and wish I appreciated how much family and friends would support me beyond what was reasonable and fair. I wish I’d know it was OK to have fun and in so doing not taken myself so seriously—the journey is often superior to the destination.”

Words to live by!

Last weekend, I wrote the acknowledgements for my thesis. The cherry on top, which I’d left for one of the last things to finish. And it would’ve been impossible to write it before anyhow, as even in the last lap there were/are people driving me on.

During the writing, one person died, another got terminal cancer. Both much too young and undeserving of such a fate. And both of whom I consider good friends, whom I trusted and who trusted me. In part it was the thoughts about them that prevented me from giving up.

But, strangely perhaps, it was also my little brother, just 19 years of age, that was unrelenting in pushing me forward and not letting me quit. It was as silly as him telling me 6 months ago, “I want you to finish this in three weeks,” which got me to get my act together, perhaps taking longer than three weeks, but not stopping until I was done.

And it was all the people I interviewed for this study—my subjects, and ultimately my customers—all of whom unquestionably agreed to share their wisdom and whom I ultimately do it for.

It’s only about a page worth of acknowledgements, but it is for the people on that page that I spent countless months writing, that I ultimately produced a 120 page-document for, and without whom I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today.

That… is the value of support and why nothing is impossible!

(No picture, as I found nothing that could do them justice)

Some initial impressions about Zara & H&M

Zara versus H&M.jpgTime for a wee break. In the last week, I’ve been researching Zara and H&M a little, to better understand the retail-sector and the fashion-segment. I’ll probably have to do a follow-up to this post, as there is lots to say about both businesses, but here’s some initial impressions, nevertheless.

First off, H&M appears a lot more clean in its approach. Judging by the annual reports alone, H&M not only has a 2007-edition (Zara is only up to 2006), but it is also only 85 pages long (presented in an eco-friendly 2-pages-per-side way), while for Zara, or actually Inditex, it’s mother-company, the annual report is a stunning 450 page long!

Now, that’s really not all that surprising, as Inditex is composed of a number of companies, and it is extremely vertically integrated, while H&M employs the Nike or Apple model—it designs and it retails, but it doesn’t produce.

Why this is so, I can only guess, is due to their origins. Inditex comes from Spain, traditionally a low-waged country, while H&M is Swedish, not a low-waged country. Similar to IKEA, I imagine it was an economical decision to outsource most of its supplies.

It’s very hard to separate Inditex from Zara, as both are founded and owned by the same person, Amancio Ortega Gaona, Spain’s richest man. Zara has been in existence since 1975. H&M was founded by a Swede, Erling Person, in 1947, who ran the company to ca. the mid-90s, but which has continued to be a family firm.

Their business-philosophies are fairly similar, a low-cost, high-quality approach to fashion, as opposed to traditional brands, where quality most often equals price.

Zara made lots of headlines with its extremely high turnover of products—it produces around 11,000 items annually (as oppsed to 2,000-4,000 for other retailers); 15-20% produced before, 50-60% at the start of the season, and the rest during. If a product fails to do well, it is usually removed after a week in stores.

H&M made headlines with its celebrity-marketing, which is noteworthy, as Zara has virtually no marketing. Instead, because it has such a high turn-over of goods, customers tend to visit it more often, expecting new things—an average of 17 times per year vs. 3 times for other stores!

Both employ mostly a wholly-owned retail-strategy, except in countries where this is not possible. And both are very advanced in their use of IT to manage logistics and production, which is definitely seems to be a key-characteristic of delivering fashion quickly and find ways to decrease costs.

H&M’s largest markets are Germany, Sweden, the USA, Spain, and the Netherlands (in terms of sales). For Zara it is Spain, France, Germany, and Mexico (in number of stores).

That’s all I can think of in 30 mins or less…

Food on a system-level

food crisis.jpgTake a look at this quote, which I posted a few days ago:

There should be a rule: before helping the environment in one market, we should be required to think through the impacts on other markets.” (source: Freakonomics blog).

Or, to put it differently, every action has a (sometimes equal) reaction (I think the traditional phrasing ignores the human element). The idea that everything is interconnected is both fun to right-brained generalists like me (not a compliment), and scary at the same time. The global economy is very complex and, I would say, impossible to regulate.

There’s a couple of things going on the world, which I’m sure everyone is aware of. There’s a number of wars, there’s the weakened dollar, there’s some kind of housing-related recession going on, there’s a shortage of oil, our planet is perceived as suffering and currently being saved (I hope), there’s India and China, the rise of the Anglo-Saxon system, etc. etc.

And some of the biggest problems facing the food-industry (depending where you are in the chain), are rising food-prices, which relates to that oil-shortage (both in terms of pricing, but also because of alternative fuels using farm-products), the rise of India and China, and some other factors; and the costs of keeping green, which has largely been inspired by companies like Wal-Mart, but also by the (exaggerated) need for global diversity by customers (which the food-industry is also partially to blame for).

The solutions vary, and are, so far, very defensive in their nature. For the cost of going green, most pollution comes from transport and the solution is to either use the most eco-friendly way to go: on land, by train, across water, by ship; or to go local—which companies like Marqt seem to focus on, but which also comes with the pitfall of seasonal shortage.

For rising food-prices, again one solution is to go local, to save on transport and have some control over how farmers work, and be able to charge higher prices to the rising local-conscious consumer. But a bigger solution is for more food-production to happen (much of it currently goes to India & China, or to biofuels), and possibly from smaller farmers. The problem here is that it will take time (some estimate decades) for smaller farmers to get ready.

Both are definitely big picture-problems, and will take time to solve. One thing, I’m personally looking at, are micro-lending sites like Kiva.org, which put you into contact with local farmers, allowing you to help them out in your own way. From a Venture Voice interview with one of the founders, I understand that some of these investments happen within the context of a community, where each member keeps watch over the other’s use and repayment of the funds, in order to ensure a good outcome, and so loans will continue to come in. But, while I think it’s well worth the effort, this is still a small-picture solution to a much larger problem.

The way it looks right now, the solutions have to be planned in the long-term and on a large scale. There is definitely space in the farming-segment for more production to happen. In the mean time, food-prices will continue rise, as will the price of educating consumers to make more responsible choices. I like Tesco’s approach in labelling the origins of their food and allowing people to make more carbon-friendly (locally focussed) decisions. But that doesn’t solve the problem for farmers in remote areas of course.

Sigh, if you just got a headache, I sympathise, as I just got one too.

Further reading:

The picture is courtesy of ABC News.

*Quarterly* wrap-up: it’s time to re-evaluate the past!

Sounds  + Food _n_ Retail.jpgThis wrap-up covers material up to April 6th, 2008. I will dedicate another one to this month and then hopefully go back to a monthly schedule. Looking backwards is hard, but I find it useful…

Normally this would be a monthly wrap-up, except I postponed it by quite some time. In this post, I try to look back in order to see how far I’ve come and bring a general set of themes to what I’ve covered so far.

Tag: The internet
I spent a considerable amount of time writing about the internet, somewhat influenced by my thesis and that I’ve been blogging for longer on Tech IT Easy.

One thing I looked at extensively was social networking, because, hey, that’s the age we’re in. I looked at lifestyle-brands, which require a more contextual approach, and how the internet can act as a platform for business to communicate with customers more richly and bi-directionally. A related topic—social network as competitive advantage—was published on Tech IT Easy. At the same time, I don’t completely embrace social networking like Facebook, which I’m bearish on and have, to a degree, sadly been proven right.

I also looked at the role of the internet in terms of physical retail, for which a company, called NearbyNow, is offering an interesting service to both retailers and consumers; they allow consumers to browse and reserve goods through the internet or their mobiles, and give more exposure to retailers. At the same time, my outlook for the physical retail of media is bleak, and I expect all of it to go via the internet soon.

Tags: Logistics & green tech
In terms of logistics, I looked at different methodologies of storing and transporting goods across the globe. Very interesting how each continent/country is getting around its disadvantages (e.g. high labour costs in Europe) and compensating with other factor (e.g. more technology in European warehouses = less labour dependancy).

Also green tech is another “trend,” well, I expect it to stay around for quite some time. I outlined five reasons why I think business are and should be going green. The mirror-post on Tech IT Easy spawned some interesting discussions.

Tag: Business strategy
Of course, business strategy is somehow involved in all business-topics, nevertheless I did look at a number of issues specifically. One was on entry-strategies into difficult markets, which is something I can’t really describe in a few words, but requires speed, stealth, and brains.

I also commented on new business developments in a number of retail-outlets, and how it is only those that are synergetic with a company’s core-focus, and can reap advantages like scale & scope, that end up being worth the effort.

Not to forget, I wrote about IKEA again, first, in note-form, talking about the international moves that the company made and why; and second, a summary of the lessons that I learned from IKEA.

Finally, I looked at the social element, human resources, and how companies use coaching and social operating mechanisms to scale their strategy and passion across the organisation. Ford, again, makes an interesting case study for that.

Tag: Entrepreneurship
As always, and somewhat difficult to separate from the above. I looked at the interdependent components of strategy, and financial, organisational, and product-market strategies are really part of a greater whole, when writing your business-plan.

I also looked at some statistics in franchising, and the lower failure rates are one reason to consider it a worthwhile entry-point into the industry. Still, it’s not risk-free; There’s clearly a lot of work to do beforehand, in terms of choosing the right franchise with growth-potential, financial risk to fund your business, market-risk, when you launch, and competitive risk, after your up and running. Some of this should be overcome with the help of a franchiser, however. Related to this, I posted an overview of the week of a franchise-owner, which was quite diverse and exciting, as well as a look into the drugstore-industry in the Netherlands.

On a softer level, I believe that entrepreneurship is ultimately an exercise in focus, which goes so much easier when you love what you do, but also an exercise in believing in the impossible, even when “facts” may prove you wrong. Micheal Masterson also had some good tips for starting & running companies, more from an investor’s perspective.

Tags: Branding & marketing
Again, I already linked to some related post under the internet-heading; I believe that social networking is a big deal in that area these days. Related to this is also the concept of referential marketing value, as opposed to direct marketing value, which wrote about a little here. Clearly this is a dimension that is fairly complex but which the figures show should not be ignored.

I also criticised cinemas’ moves into the luxury-segment as faulty branding, because luxury isn’t a big differentiating factor during the movie-viewing experience; technology and timing is.

Tags: Food and retail
I could’ve probably placed these in any of the above categories, but this is after all the food and retail blog. I still take a dual approach here, looking at food-retail through retailers, and then through actual food-venues, like restaurants. There is a difference, but I’m not sure whether I want to or should discriminate between them.

In terms of supermarkets, I discussed a number of worrying trends going on in that world, namely there’s less consumer-spending on food and supermarkets are forced to respond by consolidating and pushing efficiency up on the agenda. But I also find the presence of supermarkets like Marqt encouraging and hope they do well.

Also, I recently summarised some points I got from a book on Ahold. It’s an interesting company to follow as it’s been around for about a century, and has survived several similar challenges, we are facing today (high fuel-prices, recession, etc.)

I also discussed snack-food, which I find particularly flawed in terms of health and which could use an influx of alternative, yet good-tasting snacks.

And I looked at restaurants, which I find scary, but I remain open to. Starbucks level of vertical integration is also a little worrying. It’s a like a beast that, as soon as it had to retrench from the market, it eats up more companies from the supply-side, in order to gain a competitive edge over other coffee-retailers. There’s just something that worries me about this move.

Finally, I took notes from a very interesting lecture by John Schneeberger, who offered some interesting insights into the world of vegetarianism, organics, and local produce.

Other
Other topics that I didn’t mention here, include my links (where I try to link to interesting stories) and my interludes (where I try to write about more fun and personal stuff).

Thoughts (written at the beginning of April!)
There’s two challenges ahead, as far as my blogging goes. Topic-wise, I’m fairly open to both big-company and small-company problems, which may be too broad. I also perhaps don’t focus enough on food & retail in particular, though that’s because I’m a generalist and am still deciding on my passions.

Presentation-wise, I’ve been analysing some other people’s blogs, e.g. TechCrunch‘s & Jeremy Fain’s early days, to see what these guys did different. TechCrunch used a very mechanical approach, the same template for discussing companies, no colourful language, and a regular pattern of several posts a day. Jeremy also blogged a lot and brought information to the table that he himself came up with or that he got from discussions with people.

I do too little of that, because I don’t make enough time for it and am more introverted in my approach. I can’t really say whether my approach will change from now on, but I’ll try to bring more of my personal experiences into posts. Those appear to get a better response (still working on that).

3 links: the team, the test, and the rule

A VC: From Messes To Successes:

“The prescription for turning these messes into successes is really pretty straightforward. You need to build the team and bring in people who excel at the blocking and tackling and the PLANNING that most startups don’t have the time or inclination to do. And you need to gradually change the culture of the business from one that is all about the product to one that is about the entire company. Sometimes, often times, that means changing the people around. And that’s never easy. And it’s even harder to change the people around when it was the initial team that made the product so popular in the first place. So you have to somehow find a way to add the ‘operational’ people without drowning out the ‘product’ people.”

Eggbeater: Chef Owners Who Work The Line

I’m starting to think people should take a test before they open a restaurant. It will be like a triathlon: you must work the line, well, if not stellar. You must understand and be able to explain one P&L statement. You must understand why raw fish and cooked meat cannot share the same bin in the walk-in. You must understand how to make cookies, one dessert with chocolate that’s not a molten chocolate cake and it would be great if you knew the difference between panna cotta and creme brulee. The test would list a series of questions and you would be graded on how much responsibility you took for your own actions or the actions of those you hired. For bonus points you might have to research why all the restaurants in your location before yours failed, or cooking in and creating a menu for a kitchen with no Latinos (or your State/ Country picks for easy-to-exploit-able peoples.)

Freakonomics: The Consequences of Being Green

There should be a rule: before helping the environment in one market, we should be required to think through the impacts on other markets.

The Dutch horeca top-100

I’ve included just the top-25 and annotated their focus. What’s interesting, but not surprising, is that the majority of companies in that list are not independent horeca-orientated, apart from two: Hennie van der Most and Sjoerd Kooistra, both Dutch horeca-entrepreneurs.

The majority is hotel-chains, though the top-10 is quite diverse; a number of convenience-(fast)food places, resorts, as well as retailers. Interesting that both Ikea and Hema are on that list. Hema, as far as I know, has not been on the horeca-market for long (no revenue reported in 2006), but is already reaping significant successes. Probably my favourite retailer in the Netherlands, btw. Ikea, as I reported before, has been in the restaurant-business since 1971.

Misset Horeca - Complete ranglijst Misset Horeca Top-100 2008.jpg

You can see the complete top-100 at Misset Horeca.

Cookerlude – thoughts on cooking

chef!.jpgI’m thinking about adding another “interlude” to my collection, inspired by ADD without a doubt. It’s the cookerlude, baby, aimed at collecting thoughts and notes on cooking in order not to forget and to better understand the world that a cook goes through. While I cook nearly every day, I don’t consider myself a good cook. I simply don’t have the taste-buds for it; but I do love the good food, which, luckily, my gut no longer shows!

I recently discovered a podcast, called/by The Restaurant Guys, which, apart from the insanely long commercials, actually seems quite interesting and is funny enough to keep my attention. Some notes.

Salt: So, we seem to have this internal taste-meter for the stuff, which in some ways is tied to the percentage of salt in salt-water. At the same time, our saliva actually dilutes salt in food, reducing it, meaning there should be a higher percentage in food than salt-water, for us to enjoy it.

Sugar: apparently there’s no set limit for that, people love sugar (I must be the exception).

Salt + Sugar: whenever you make a sugary desert, adding a little(!) salt helps the taste; apparently they do funny stuff to each-other in your mouth, a party in your mouth, so to speak.

Taste-enhancers: apart from the above, olive oil, mushrooms, garlic, tomato-paste, alcohol (and much more) enhances the taste in your mouth.

Pretty basic, no? You can listen to the whole episode on what (American) people like in their food, here.

My own world
(This is where I talk a little about what I discovered myself in regard to cooking. Pretty basic too, so I’ll try not to embarrass myself.)
I’m a big fan of salads, I make and eat one nearly every day as a meal. I often use canned tuna, but I recently discovered salmon in a can, which tastes better, is less salty, healthier, and costs about the same here in the Netherlands.

But steamed salmon is the best. You can get an expensive steamer, but a cheap solution is a microwave-steamer. I found one in a Chinese store for about €10, you can steam whatever you want in 5-10 mins and it magnifies the taste. Add some green beans and carrots, and you got a great salad for a meal! Add some potatoes or rice, and you won’t need the salad.

Last, but not least, sometimes, not always,Ketchup actually makes for an interesting dressing (together with some oil and spices). It often contains vinegar, which salads like, and the tomato mixes well with the salmon-taste.

That’s about it for today, I’m not sure how often I’ll repeat these cookerludes, but I hope you enjoyed it! The picture is of course of Chef!, the show.

Interlude: From medical to space-tech – How technology affects incubation-strategies

rocket surgery start-up incubator.jpgHigh-tech… My never-ending hobby! Read about it on Tech IT Easy!

Interlude: The flirt

flirt.jpgI took part in a “flirting in business” workshop last night, pretty fun and insightful. It tried to explain the fundamentals of communications to us—around 50 professionals, students, work-seeking-people, etc., both shy and outgoing, all with their own qualities and questions—and I took a lot home from it, including a book by the presenter.

So, apparently a “flirty” conversation has three main components:

  • giving attention;
  • showing curiosity;
  • showing trust.

An exercise to meet a stranger and asking them the name of a parent, illustrated the latter quite well, as I don’t trust many people with the name of my mother. 😉

Several things, like conditioning, fear, and ego stand in the way of change, and the only way to get around it, is to acknowledge the feeling as it happens and know that you have a choice. Good to know! Apparently, a conditioned change—one that lasts—can happen quite quickly, you have to practice it around 15 separate times for it to become internalised.

A round of answers were given concerning what people pay attention to during a first meet, the infamous first impression: it ranged from dry hands (which you can’t do anything about), tone of voice, general looks, and, most importantly, the smile, as that overcomes a lot.

It was also interesting to hear that only 7% of the message that we get from people is verbal, and the rest is sensory. That explains why I often don’t listen and go on instinct, I guess… 🙂

Did I take anything big back from that meeting? Not really, except that it’s really not that hard to sell yourself, as long as you have a certain awareness of what’s going on in your head and what matters to other people.

Apologies to You!

storm rainbow.jpgDear reader,
If you’ve been following my blog, which is kind of you, you may have noticed both a drop-off in posts, and, more importantly, a drop-off in relevancy.

To put it bluntly: I’m bored of the topic! I’ve been researching this industry to the extent that everything seems similar, rising food prices, fmcg-marketing strategies, the “organic” differentiator, etc. etc., it all feels like I’ve seen it before, and I’m struggling to come up with new and interesting topics.

In addition to this, and this is entirely my fault, I’m stuck with a project that doesn’t want to finish itself, my thesis that refuses to get published, or rather that I refuse to be published. The effect is that I’m sitting behind a PC… a lot… and not experiencing/talking with insiders/etc. enough to get fresh perspectives on the field of “third places” and feel productive in that setting.

I’m not going to abandon this blog; no, very likely I’ll continue to publish several posts per week. However, some, if not all, will not exactly be on topic; they will likely be discussing things going through my mind, on business, on art, on technology, etc. and hopefully on sounds + food ‘n’ retail as well.

Until I dig myself out of this valley, and I will, I hope you’ll be patient and not hold my lack of focus against me. I still aim to be a producer of excellence in mine and your world.

Sincerely,
Vincent van Wylick
Main honcho @ foodandretail.blogspot.com

Interlude: Copyright or the *Right to Eat*

copyright right to eat.jpgRead it on Tech IT Easy!

Interlude: Some films I’ve enjoyed recently

I’ve been planning to write about cinemas again for some time now, but that’s going to be a long piece and will have to wait for disposable time and inspiration. Here’s some films, I’ve enjoyed these last months, however.

  • Starting with a lecture by Robert J. Sawyer, regarding the difference between Star Trek & Star Wars. I had no idea that the phrase “A long-long time ago, in a place far-far away” makes such a big difference. Essentially, while science fiction was originally a commentary on issues in our own society, that phrase gave George Lucas the license to not-comment, or rather to accept things like racism (towards robots), slavery (robots again), and countless of other stuff. Really a good lecture to listen to, if you’re into sci-fi.
  • On a related note, I recently (re-)watched Star Trek 1-6. You really notice the shift from slow cinematics in Star Trek 1 and 2 (a la Kubrik’s 2001, which I’m not a fan of), followed by more intense action-scenes in the later ones. I think I recorded the social values more on a sub-conscious level. Numbers 4-6 were my favourite, regarding nature (transporting whales through time); the search for God; and retirement. But I have to say, Kirk was at his strongest in the first two movies. Also, something else I didn’t know: Leonard Lemoy (Spock) is a multi-talented individual: writer for several films, producer, and of course actor.
  • My favourite adventure movie these last few months: Lawrence of Arabia.
  • My favourite cartoon: The girl that leapt through time.
  • My favourite fantasy: Pan’s Labyrinth (picture is my interpretation of Pan)
  • A film, which is taking me a long time to watch, but which I will finish because it’s good: Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth without Youth.
  • Excellent commercial, but not mainstream, movies: Into the Wild; There will be blood; No Country for Old Men (the last three, somewhat depressing too); and Juno.
  • An excellent series that recently finished and everyone should watch: The Wire. Seasons 1-4 especially.
  • An series with potential that will hopefully not be cancelled: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

That’s about it, I probably missed a few. But all are, I think, excellent choices to watch in 2008!

Coke Zero no.1 in the Netherlands

According to Distrifood.nl (Dutch) the “ man’s cola” showed a nice profit this last year, making it the top new introduction to a brand in 2007.

Retail - Coca-Cola Zero beste introductie in super.jpg
(Source picture: Elsevier.nl (Dutch))

I only point this out, since Coke Zero is one of the first food-related topics I wrote about on Tech IT Easy; a, fairly clear, signal that it was time to “spin-off” to this blog.

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