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Grab your goat and let’s go…

Creativity and innovation in any organisation should always be welcome and whilst technology is often at the forefront of innovation it is sometimes the really simple ideas that can create benefits.

Unfortunately, in this particular situation it didn’t quite go according to plan.

The initial idea was good. Officials in charge of the 1,200 acre Minto-Brown Island Park in Oregon in America were concerned that several invasive plants were taking over the park and killing off a number of the native flora including maple and hazelnut trees.

The solution put forward was to create a crack team of 75 goats who would eat the invasive plants such as the Armenian blackberry and the English Ivy which would then mean that the native flora would thrive.

75 goats were duly obtained from a company called Yoder Goat Rentals (as an interesting aside I wonder how many of you were aware that you could rent a team of goats. I certainly wasn’t.)

The goats got down to work but 6 weeks later the project was cancelled.

There were a number of issues.

Firstly, the goats were fairly relaxed about what they ate. In terms of the invasive Armenian blackberry for example they decided to eat the tasty blackberry leaves but left the prickly bramble. This resulted in the plant carrying on growing.

Secondly, they didn’t show any distinction between the (tasty) maple and hazelnut trees which they were supposed to be helping and the invasive plants.

Thirdly, the total cost of the 6-week pilot programme was $20,719 which was nearly 5 times the $4,245 cost for a normal parks maintenance man supported by a prison inmate work crew.

Finally, according to a report to the city council the goats “had a barnyard aroma”.

In summary, a nice try but it didn’t quite work. Still, as any successful business person will surely agree, you don’t progress unless you try. Better luck next time and at least the goats had a nice 6-week holiday in a lovely park…

This is shocking…

A lot of our readers are accountants or are training to be accountants. It should arguably follow therefore that you are good with figures. You are good with numbers and can manage your finances.

Not everyone though may be as good at managing their own personal finances and for any of you who may have problems controlling your spending, a new product will shortly be hitting the market which could be of interest to you.

A British company by the name of Intelligent Environments has developed a wristband that will deliver an electric shock to the wearer when they exceed pre-set spending limits.

The Pavlok wristband links to an individual’s online bank account and when a pre-set limit is exceeded a 255-volt electric charge is delivered to the wearer. The wristband is named after the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov whose research showed that the behaviour of dogs could be altered by the prospect of reward or punishment.

Submitting yourself to an electric shock to stop yourself spending money does seem a bit extreme and with a cost of £120 then the buyer may well end up having an electric shock earlier than anticipated…

EY confirm the women were real

Some of you may have heard of the website Ashley Madison.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ashley Madison, it’s a website where married people can register to meet other married people without their respective husband or wife knowing and then have an affair.

In fact, some of you may be registered members of the site (this does raise the question that if you are a registered member of Ashley Madison and are reading this business blog then at the moment you are finding business stories more interesting than having an affair so well done on that).

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of a website facilitating affairs, Ashley Madison has had an up and down ride over recent years.

Back in 2015, they were hacked. As a result the personal details of their users were leaked and there were a lot of users. When I say “a lot”, there were 32 million users.

The situation got worse for Ashley Madison though.

As well as their systems being hacked and details of who had signed up being leaked, it turned out that the vast majority of users were men and of the women who had signed up a significant proportion were Bots (i.e. a piece of software) or prostitutes.

All in all, not great selling points when trying to encourage new members.

In an attempt to build up trust (if trust is a relevant word for people looking for affairs that is…), Ashley Madison commissioned Ernst & Young to cast an eye over the membership data and see if it stood up to scrutiny.

There were some interesting results including the fact that 15,542 new members signed up each day in 2017 (that’s nearly half a million new users per month).

There were also more active women on the site than men. Globally, the ratio of active males to active females was 1 to 1.13 but there were variations on a regional basis ranging from Australia where the male to female ratio was 1 to 0.78 and Columbia where the ratio was 1 to 2.39.

Ernst & Young also reported that “The Client had used Bot programs to generate message activity with paying customers in prior years. The Bot programs were decommissioned in 2015 and our procedures related to calendar 2017 found no evidence that the use of Bot programs previously operated had been reinstated.”

So, in theory the registrations are human and there’s no danger of falling in love with a bot.

The full Ernst & Young report can be found at www.ashleymadison.com/2017report but I would be careful as if you’re viewing this on a computer at home and your husband or wife finds you’ve been visiting ashleymadison.com then there could be some difficult questions to answer.

Then again, if you start typing in the website and your web browser recognises it from a previous visit to that site then maybe…

Nicely said Mr Musk

We’ve all been there haven’t we? Long boring meetings that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Maybe you’ve tried to give the impression of being interested in what was being said but in reality the meeting wasn’t relevant for you and your mind was wandering to other more interesting things.

Well, if you’re not a great lover of excessive meetings then you are not alone. In fact, you share the thoughts of an incredibly successful and admired business person. Namely, Elon Musk.

Mr Musk’s current business interests include Tesla and SpaceX.

In the past he founded x.com which later became PayPal. Paypal was subsequently bought by eBay for $1.5 billion.

He currently has a net worth in excess of $20 billion.

But what does he think about meetings?

In an email to his staff that was leaked to the electrek website there were a few productivity recommendations:

In the words of Mr Musk, these include:

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.

Nicely said Mr Musk.

Popcorn and profits

Despite the growth of online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime it seems that we are still going to the cinema to watch movies.

Cineworld is the 2nd largest cinema chain in the world with 9,500 screens in 10 countries and they have just reported their latest financial results.

Sales increased by 12% to £891 million in 2017 and profits showed a healthy jump of 23% to reach £121 million.

It’s probably stating the obvious but the success of a cinema chain is largely driven by how good the films are. Cineworld said that their 2017 box office performance had been “underpinned by a strong film slate”.

In 2017 the top 3 films they showed were Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Dunkirk. Together, these 3 films grossed £197.4m for Cineworld.

If you compare this with their top three films in 2016 (Star Wars: Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Bridget Jones’s Baby) the figure was £149.4m.

A difference of nearly £50 million.

It’s not just the ticket price that brings in revenue for them though as movie goers buy a lot of popcorn and fizzy drink on their night out.

Almost 25% of their revenue in 2017 was from refreshments and this showed an increase of 11% on the previous year as it rose to £220 million.

I guess a key question for the business is whether the blockbuster films will continue in 2018 and whether people will still be filling themselves with popcorn and coke.

The company seems positive and are expecting the strong results to continue. With films such as Solo: A Star Wars Story and Jurassic World scheduled for this year and Minecraft: The Movie and Frozen 2 due in 2019 who would bet against them.

A great recovery

We’ve all made mistakes but the key thing is how you recover from those mistakes. ASOS, the global internet clothing company recently made a mistake but recovered from it really well.

ASOS is an incredibly successful company. They sell over 80,000 products on their website and last year had over 15 million active customers and sales of nearly £2 billion.

One thing they are not that good at though is using the spell check function as they printed 17,000 packaging bags with the slogan “discover fashion online” spelt using “onilne” instead of “online”.

Now, what would you have done in that situation?

Would you have ignored it and hoped that no one noticed or cared about it?

Would you have scrapped the bags?

ASOS did neither of those and recovered brilliantly by tweeting:

“Ok, so we *may* have printed 17,000 bags with a typo. We’re calling it a limited edition”.

So, depending on how you look at it you’ve either got a bag with a typo on it or a limited edition collector’s item.

A brilliant recovery by ASOS. Turning a typo into some great publicity.

A clean start…

I guess a lot of us have been there – we stagger out of bed in the morning half asleep and get in the shower. Suddenly we start to have some great business ideas and wish we had a pen and piece of paper.

Now, if I’m entirely honest with you this has never happened to me and I doubt it ever will.

The thought usually going through my mind is more of wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit longer in bed rather than be in the shower getting ready for work.

It seems though that not everyone shares my lack of business enthusiasm in the shower.

Marriott hotels in the US undertook research which indicated that half of business travellers felt that their best ideas came whilst showering.

So why all this talk about showers and ideas?

Well, Marriott have turned some of their shower doors into digital notepads.

Yes, after the door steams up, guests can write their business ideas on it (or for that matter draw a rude picture of their boss if they wanted to) and then their completed creation will be emailed through to them.

In the words of Marriott, so that “their brilliance doesn’t wash away”.

I’m not convinced that I have too many moments of business brilliance in the shower but fair play to Marriott for coming up with a clever use of the shower door.

She did what for a living?

Businesses can pay significant amounts of money for celebrities to endorse their products.

For example, the American singer and actress Selena Gomez is reportedly paid USD 550,000 per post that she promotes to her 133 million Instagram followers. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballer on the other hand “only” receives USD 400,000 per promoted post to his 120 million followers.

But not everyone is happy for famous people to be associated with a product.

Charles de Cazanove is a Champagne house that was founded by Charles de Bigault de Cazanove way back in 1811.

The Cazanove brand is now owned by the GH Martel Group and they have launched their latest Champagne vintage in a promotion with Clara Morgane. The champagne is imaginatively called “Le Champagne by Clara Morgane” and sells for €50 a bottle.

So, do you know who Clara Morgan is?

If you don’t and you’re a lady then ask your husband or boyfriend if he knows who Clara Morgan is.

If he does know who she is then there is probably another question you should ask him as Ms Morgan is famous as an adult movie actress.

Although Ms Morgan now performs with her clothes on (she’s a singer), it’s not good enough for a descendant of the founder of the Cazanove brand.

Count Loic Chiroussot de Bigault de Cazanove, who apart from needing a very long business card, isn’t happy that his family’s name is being associated with an adult movie star.

He reportedly said that “I am truly shocked. It’s simply scandalous. How could anyone associate the name of my illustrious family to that of Clara Morgane? It’s inconceivable.”

Although the family sold the brand back in 1958, the Count has been reportedly getting lawyers to try to remove his family’s name from the Clara Morgane vintage.

Either way, with all this publicity I’m sure the GH Martel Group are drinking to the success…

It will be a pleasure to go shopping with you…

It may be stating the obvious but if you’re a retailer in a shopping centre you’ve more chance of making a sale if people are in the shop.

Retailers in shopping centres face a number of threats. Some of these are a more recent phenomenon (e.g. the rise of internet shopping) whilst others have been around for a number of years.

One of these threats which has been around for a while is something which I’m sure a number of our male readers can sympathise with.

Let me ask the male readers out there who are married a question – have you ever gone shopping with your wife and at the start of the shopping trip things were going well but it soon descended into a long and windy journey through shops which to the male eye looked very similar but to the female eye were all different and offered new and exciting opportunities to try new items of clothes?

With the wife enjoying every moment but the husband getting more and more frustrated it is only a matter of time until stress levels rise, an argument ensues and the shopping trip is cut short.

A number of shops have chairs for the men to sit on and magazines to read but over in China, Shanghai’s largest shopping centre has come up with a novel way of keeping men occupied so that the wives are free to shop without the husbands getting bored.

Global Harbour shopping centre has introduced “Video Caves”. These are glass booths with a comfortable chair, a games console and a large screen. Men can be left to play computer games free of charge whilst their partners can shop to their heart’s content. The booths are soundproof so the computer games won’t disturb the other shoppers.

All in all, a great idea to keep the both the “lady shopper” and the “dragged behind man” happy but is there a potential problem?

After all, if you ask a lady how easy it is to get her other half off of a computer game when he’s nearly reached his top score, will we start to see women looking bored whilst waiting for the husband to finish his video game…

Did you break your fast this morning?

Did you have anything for breakfast this morning before you headed to work?

If I’d asked that question a few years ago the chances are that the reply would have been positive and brought back nice memories of what had been eaten earlier at home.

Things are changing though and according to a recent study for the Grocer magazine, nearly half of those surveyed who were between 16 and 34 skipped breakfast altogether. Even those who had breakfast were only likely to grab a croissant from a coffee shop on the way to the office or eat a breakfast biscuit.

The report said that “Millennials may be more clued up to food and health trends than older generations, but in terms of traditional breakfast there are empty seats at the table”.

Whilst skipping breakfast isn’t necessarily that good for your health, there are also financial health consequences for companies who produce breakfast cereals. In the UK, sales of cereal over the last 12 months are down by £40 million.

A number of companies are trying to regain some of these lost sales though.

Weetabix Limited, the company that produces yes, you guessed it… Weetabix, are now producing biscuits, bars and breakfast drinks that can be consumed on the go or taken to work to be eaten.

Weetabix has been made in the UK since 1932 but in 2012 was sold to Shanghai-based Bright Food.

Bright Food had hoped that as part of the general trend to more western eating habits in China, eating cereals would become more popular. Whilst sales of Weetabix have increased in China, the market share was disappointing as the traditional rice and steamed bread maintained their popularity for the first meal of the day.

Weetabix has now changed hands and was purchased by the US company Post Holdings for $1.7bn (£1.3bn).

Post Holdings already own the Shredded Wheat and Bran Flakes brands so the acquisition of Weetabix seems a good fit.

Back to breakfast on the go though and if you’re one of those people who struggle to get out of bed in the morning and miss breakfast then look on the bright side, if you’re getting into the office late then at least you’re closer to lunchtime.