Category Archives: Eye on the Marketplace

Articles from the point of view of an entrepreneur, comments on business, trends in the marketplace

Dressed in Illusory Robes: Selling a Solution that Misinforms and Creates Dependency

I have spoken before on the subject of technological imperialism. This concept uses the framework of imperial nations and colonized peoples to addresses how the consumer and social contract between vast technology multinationals and governments or private consumers. The goal of the imperial company is not to empower the consumer nor to educate and liberate them that they may be equals. Rather, the imperial multinational technology company builds its revenue model and projections on the expectation that inequality and dependence will continue.

I understand that associating technology giants with technological imperial powers may sound like I am advocating for a non-capitalist world or that I am against success. This would be an erroneous leap in judgement. As an entrepreneur I believe in free market competition. What I am speaking about however is the reproduction of inequality under the false guise of empowerment.

The following is an example of a multinational presentation to local government agency.  Continue reading Dressed in Illusory Robes: Selling a Solution that Misinforms and Creates Dependency

The Spark to Jumpstart Our Economy

William Damon’s book, "The Path to Purpose" is not yet on my bookshelf but in the meantime I read an article on the books key findinds in Education Week (June 11, 2008), "Majority of Youths Found To Lack Direction in Life." It seems that Damon’s findings point to one fifth of survey participants as having a "spark" or a purpose. In other words, 20% of our youth felt passionately about something, had been involved in the community, had an idea of what they wanted to do in life and were committed to leading productive lives. The downside is that 80% of our youth are either "disengaged" from their communities, unfocused or dreamers.

Continue reading The Spark to Jumpstart Our Economy

Kitchenaid Botches No Hassle Warranty

Last Mother’s day I got several neat presents. I got a tablet pc and an immersion blender from Kitchen Aid. I was sceptical at first. I remember how underpowered the last American immersion blender we had was.  But, we had done our online research and many chef’s recommended this product for its powerful motor and varying speeds. To boot Kitchen Aid boasted a "hassle free warranty." Excellent! I am sold.

But the boast turned to a botched promise. The blender worked great. Jim made me home-made mayonnaise -makes me weak it’s so fabulous, fruit yogurt smoothies for my health, and shakes. I made cooking starters – like sofrito from with recao from my garden or a starter with my fresh oregano brujo.  Asier was now into babyfoods and having a ball eating home cooked meals pureed for him. We were in heaven for exactly six months. Then the shaft in the middle of the blender attachment loosened and stopped working.  Life expectancy of modern household items is poor, which is why warranties are important to read.­

Kitchen Aid promises:

Continue reading Kitchenaid Botches No Hassle Warranty

Exploring the limits: CSR to Individual Social Responsibility

Almost a month ago, at the request of the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Arecibo’s Business Administration Faculty I offered a conference on how to apply corporate social responsibility to the small and medium sized business.  A month before the conference I had been brought aboard a project by a client of mine that sought to instill the precepts of Free Enterprise and Social Responsibility in our Univerisity students (you can see our contribution – the webdesign and framework -to our client’s project by opening this link).  What a coincidence, I thought.  I am tasked with speaking to their target audience about the very same principles.  As I worked on my client’s pet project,  I became convinced that the students would be better served if I took the core business proposition for corporate social responsibility and applied it to more immediate examples.  And thus I wrote about: "Corporate Social Responsibility: Beyond the Multinationals" (I attached it FYI).

Usually when we talk about CSR we hear examples of multi-nationals that get involved in their communities, become greener, and push the limits of human resources policies. Nike had their supplier’s child sweatshop scandal –> Nike developed new stricter policies for ensuring that there is no child labor or violation of human rights on the premises of their suppliers.  Scandal did not always directly pre-empt the socially responsible corporate program, Ford Motor company has their green manufacturing plant where explore new ways to reduce the impact of their plants, Starbucks pro-actively sought to incorporate into their purchases, a percentage of coffee that comes from suppliers recognized to have fair wages. Though the examples are good and noteworthy, when the examples used are solely of the big and mighty one begins to think that in order to work in CSR one has to be employed by them or count with their resources.

In preparation for my presentation I googled around for CSR and small business and found alot of nothing and some "under construction pages."  I was on my own on this one and yet I was teaming with things to say. I pulled from my own experiences. Looking back our the highs and lows of these past 7 years as an entrepreneur I can safely say CSR strategies have been vital to making things easier for the company and its employees.

In designing the business I kept in mind "living wages," office day care, volunteer hours, flexible hours, flexible location, and the means to motivate and measure performance in order to get ideal results.  I had to defend these policies to investors, board members and lenders, who thought – and not wrongly so – I was being idealistic and causing unnecessary expense to the company. 

My response: the actual costly decision is to employ anybody. Pay anybody a miserable wage ad you get bottom of the barrel quality you communicate to the employee "you are just another body I need to run this business" and they reply "this is just a jobs to pay the bills." This common meeting of the minds results in a revolving door of hiring, valuable time of the key company officers training newbies and a constant loss of company history. To give you an actual example: My administrative assistant was paid $21,500 in 2000, not a lot, for US standards, but this was a startup in a lower paying marketplace it raised many eyebrows.

"Laura, the market does not demand that type of salary, comparable positions earn 16,000, heck you could even get away with less!" I was told more than once. Aware that the  salary was $5- 6,000 more than I was suggested to pay I added that company policy would also cover her and every employee’s direct health plan.  She had 2 week paid vacations and 9 "personal use" days.Had she had children she could have used our office daycare. Had she found the right non-profit she could have volunteered 2 hrs of work  every 2 weeks.  I was lucky to have found her and keep her working with me for over 2 years. She was committed, driven, open to perform multiple tasks and explore or develop new talents.

Unfortunately, a myriad of factors coalesced and six years later the staff had dwindled down from 12 to 2 but that is another story.  I credit these policies for having assured me the best out of the staff I had. The administrative assistant was excellent. She worked with us for of long as we could have her. In the end, however, it was she, like many employees before her, who decided to part ways, realizing it would be in the best intent for the company. Years later employees that worked with us harbored the company no ill will and when they could sent us referrals for sales. 

No matter how fun Donald Trump made it seem, firing people is not fun and a moment fraught with potential liabilities  for the company. I consider the company’s inhouse CSR policies to have benefitted it greatly when things got tough and the economy tanked.  

Drawing from my experience in those early years I spoke to these students on the ROI  for socially responsible policies- even in the early years of a company.   But keeping in mind that these were students, I wanted to take my message a step further. take CSR to the individual.

The bridge to talking about individual social responsibility is more elegantly made in Spanish – the original language of the presentation – since in this Spanish CSR uses the word Entreprise, Empresa and the link to entrepreneurial spirit  "empresarismo, espíritu empresarial" is more easily made. Once the task of being socially responsible is put to the entrepreneurial spirit -and not limited to a corporation- the concept of CSR flourishes into a force of social change and economic development.

The importance of entrepreneurship is that it does not require the actual birthing of a company. Anybody can be entrepreneurial by having a vision, a plan, strategies, and metrics. A dreamer with a plan and the good sense to make it happen or revise it. When students get together and develop a call to action and steps for change, they are being entrepreneurial.  There are social entrepreneurs, these give birth to social movements, foundations, and non-profit organizations. There are intrapreneurs working in large companies and government. These are employees that lend their vision and leadership to the larger bureaucracy for which they work and take on the responsibility for carrying out that vision. 

The world needs more entrepreneurs and if these individuals layout plans for change ensure that their plans are socially responsible in the methods and goals, the world will be a better place.

Trampling Amateur Photographer’s Rights

Corporate America is littered these days with misguided policies drafted by lawyers to protect companies from liability, but without a moment’s pause to what they convey. A good example is this recent bit from an interaction between an amateur photographer and Walgreens.

I come to pick up my prints. I uploaded them via your website.

I’m sorry sir I cannot sell you these prints.

Excuse me? How come?

It’s our policy not to infringe on copyright of professional work. You need to bring a release from the photographer.

But I AM the photographer. You see this is my family.

If you are the photographer, then how can you be in a picture?

I set up the shot, gave my camera to a friend and he clicked it. But since the configuration, tool and subject are mine copyright is mine.

Sorry sir, you need to provide proof that you are the owner of the copyright.

How can I go about doing that?

Well you bring the media you used to save the picture or you bring proof by bringing the sequence of pictures or a signed release.

Now, this is a real story that happened to my husband, right before Father’s day. I even went to the store myself with my four kids to explain the situation to the managerial staff, to no avail. I saw they had my prints, my beautiful prints and still it was a Father’s day without our anticipated wallet pictures. I mention this incident as an example of ill-advised policies. In this case rather than protect copyright it infringes on a consumer’s rights and invites employees to treat consumers as thieves or scammers.

The policy is likely a throwback to a time when rolls of film were the medium of the day and photograph retouching and fancy lenses were the exclusive realm of "professional photographers." With the advent of digital photography and readily available art programs, touching up photographs has become a hobby of many. Semi-professional cameras can now be bought for $800, the price of one computer or two palm devices. Now that we rarely use film and all images are digital, we can snap hundreds and select the 3 that are excellent, whether by chance or design. In our case proving ownership meant either going home and printing other pictures – the irony being we used Walgreens online to upload the pics and get them printed so as to NOT to use our printer. If we had not had a printer I guess we could have brought the computer hard drive as the pictures were never on a single camera memory disk but in our files at home. The pictures were the best in our past six month.  I concurred with the Walgreens staff and that is why we wanted them printed.

Adding to the confusion and irritation, the policy is not posted online nor on the store. Consumers are led to believe the service is being provided and then when we were ready to pay "$1.99" the staff let us know they thought we were stealing images from some professional.

I am sure many lawsuits and underhanded situations have led stores to no longer uphold "consumer is always right", but "the consumer has to prove he or she is innocent" is quite upsetting. The courts in Puerto Rico spoke on this topic. In 2006, clients of Costco participated in a lawsuit against the store for their practice of requiring their clients proof of purchase as they stepped outside the store. The local courts found in favor of the consumer stating that the stores could not force clients to prove their innocence. If the burden of proof should be anywhere it should be with the store itself. If theft is a problem approach those whom you suspect or have witnessed in foul play, but don’t treat us all as thieves and scam artists.

But the practice of requesting proof of purchase at the exit continues, I just know I have the right to abstain. To the consumers that stand in long lines waiting to prove that they bought their goods and give me dirty looks, I say, defend your rights or be aware of what is the marketplace you are agreeing to sponsor and build.

There are great opportunities here for better policies and greater respect and better treatment of clients in exchange for consumer loyalty. But it is up to the consumers to let the businesses know when policies are unacceptable and for the business to review its policies and invest in improving their client relationship. I for one will continue to work to expose what is wrong and offer a solution.

Busca el sello… Invierte en ti

Banner_Web_17x27.jpgAl fin comenzó la campaña publicitaria diseñada para promover la compra de los productos y servicios "Hecho en Puerto Rico."   La msma llevaba fraguandose hace más de dos años y cuenta con cientos de horas de empeño y sudor de mi parte para verla nacer.  La conceptualización final del arte y coordinación con los medios la hizo Kreative Marketing. Grandes colaboradores son: la Compañía de Fomento Industrial (PRIDCO), Banco Popular, Evertec, Departamento de Desarrollo Económico y Holsum, entre otros. Mi mayor orgullo es ver que pude gestionar el trabajo en equipo entre sector público y privado unidos con el fin de promover la industria nativa.  Aunque la campaña solo cuenta con un presupuesto de 440,000, la aportación en especie y la solidaridad que han mostrado los medios de comunicación y empresas de visibilidad pública es tal que el valor agregado del esfuerzo fácilmente sobrepasará el millón de dólares.

Esta campaña publicitaria y de servicio público es la primera fase de un proyecto mayor que diseñe como parte de mi compromiso con un cliente, la Asociación  Productos  de  Puerto Rico y con la industria puertorriqueña.  Todo empezó con James recalcar que habían muchos visitantes al portal de la Asociación que llegaban porque buscaban "productos Puerto Rico" y que al hacerlo el enlace de la APPR es consistentemente el primero.  Luego James añade: "El problema que veo es que el visitante llega porque quiere conocer los productos de Puerto Rico y el sitio web actual no está proveyendo esa contestación.

 Como suele pasar con las verdades… esta observación se quedó conmigo mientras comenzaba a gestar un plan para maximizar ese sitial entre los buscadores y contestar la pregunta. El mundo ya está tocando a la puerta, solo faltaba contestarle.  Para ello Altamente desarrollaría un catálogo de productos y servicios.  "Pero el catálogo solo no vende" apuntó James – otra verdad fundamental que tendría que incluir al plan.

 Fui a la Asociación y comencé a desglosar para ellos lo que sería un plan de trabajo centrado en crecer la industria puertorriqueña mediante la exportación. En el centro del plan tendríamos el uso de las nuevas tecnologías de Internet facilitando el puente al mercado global.  Como asidua colaboradora de la Compañía de Fomento Industrial y de la Compañía de Comercio y Exportación conocía bien las estrategias anteriores que buscaban lo mismo.  

Evaluando las lecciones aprendidas y repasando los resultados de programas gubernamentales,  llegué a la conclusión que la industria nativa estaba en neutro conservando energías en momentos de alzas en los costos de negocios y una imminente recesión.  Para salir de neutro necesitaría un buen empujón.  Aquí nace la idea de realizar una campaña de servicio público que instara al pueblo a comprar productos y servicios "Hecho en Puerto Rico."

Desde el 2000, se había vuelto un mantra de la industria local lo difícil que estaba la economía. Había resentimiento por los productos que entraban ahora con más facilidad y el poco respaldo del gobierno en ventas o en incentivos.  El sentido común de los compradores puertorriqueños, fuesen compras de casa o para negocios, dictaba como prioridad precio y a menudo discrimen contra lo local.

 En el pasado había quedado la conciencia de la calidad del producto local, del beneficio de tener servicio e innovación local.   El concepto de compra como modo de inversión era foráneo a la gran mayoría de compradores.  Si el futuro habría de cambiar, tendriamos que comenzar por resaltar nuevamente los lazos que nos unen y como cada transacción afecta estos lazos.

 El mensaje está ahí, anuncio tras anuncio… si quieren verlos todos pueden pasar por el sitio web de la campaña

 Al fin vemos el fruto de tantas reuniones hacerse realidad… la primera fase ya está ahí afuera en la calle, en la prensa, en las guaguas, en la radio.  Atentos a la segunda y tercera fase. Estoy convencida que estamos entrando en uno de los mejores momento para la industria puertorriqueña.  El apoyo multitudinario a la campaña si es acompañada por nuevas ventas dejará a su paso empresas con un gusto por la inversión y el crecimiento, empresas listas para exportar y seguir creciendo.

Dejaremos la recesión para otros… ¡Busca el sello!

Your Company as a Veggie

The other day I was invited to be on a panel for an event called "…Among Women Entrepreneurs." The event itself is a great idea that was very well received. Nearly a hundred women gathered to come to listen to a round table discussion of 6 preselected business questions. One of the women asked: " Do the members of the panel have any suggestions for marketing your Company when you don’t have a budget for it?"

I was itching to answer that one….

"You see, as most moms in this room might have heard, what works for kids and veggies goes for companies as well. Let me explain. There is a current school of thought that says your child has to see the veggies on the plate at least 7 times before he or she tries it. Well the same goes for marketing your company. Your prospective clients out there in the world need to be exposed to your company and your products or services at least 7 times before they decide to pickup the phone or keyboard and contact you. Now, mind you, just the same as you vary your kids plate with mmm carrots, and peas, and broccoli, your company’s exposure should also be varied:

  1. First do the rounds and present yourself to the different business news desks – get out a nice ABC Opens Shop article.
  2. Become a reporter yourself. Find newsworthy angles in your industry and provide your insiders point of view to journalists.
  3. Send out the traditional product mailings – their response record is low but it adds up to the 7 times we need.
  4. Send directed letters to contacts you meet or want to meet.
  5. Have employees and yourself wear your company’s logo.
  6. Combine these and other ideas in creative ways and get your 7 exposures in."

I thoroughly enjoyed using the Mommy Wisdom angle to convey the answer.