Archive for the ‘Brian’s Blog’ Category

Take a Moment

Monday, September 13th, 2021

It is hard to believe that it has been twenty years since 9/11.  As I heard one pundit say, “That is almost a generation ago.  It is turning from a memory to history for many people.”  The memories of that day remain fresh in my mind.  My mother calling us in Chicago and telling us what happened.  Spending the day with a business school friend whose brother perished in one of the towers.  Wondering if colleagues I had worked with that summer were OK. 

Despite all of our challenges, the United States remains a special place.  We have freedom to question our government.  We have freedom to debate each other.  We have opportunities others do not. 

Take a moment to remember the good about our society today.  Take a moment to do something good today.  Honor those that died on September 11, 2001. 

The New Reality is Setting In

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

I was in a hurry last week and ordered a sandwich on a fast-food company’s app. I planned on going through the drive thru. When I got there, the drive thru line was wrapped around the building. Stating the obvious, I thought waiting in that line contradicted the fast-food concept. I changed my order to pick up in the restaurant which the app allowed. I parked and went to the door. A big sign on the door said, “DINING ROOM CLOSED DUE TO LACK OF STAFF.” The door was locked. Apparently no one updated the app to stop pick ups inside the restaurant. I got charged for a meal I never got.

I went to another restaurant to pick up lunch and I am now disputing the initial restaurant’s charge with my credit card provider. Isn’t it ironic that all this technology that is supposed to save us time and make our lives easier is held up by a lack of workers?

I am a broken record. Not only are costs going up, but so is the time to get something. Americans are impatient by nature. To an extent, we tolerate prices going up. We do not do well with our time being wasted. The last few years of speedy delivery spoiled us. We’re all going to have to learn to move a little slower. Maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Bizzaro World Continues

Monday, August 30th, 2021

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a car dealer friend of mine.  He told me he had very little inventory on his lot.  I told him I bought a car last year.  (It is a Toyota.)  Without hesitation, he said, “I’ll pay you two grand more than you paid for it.”  He was half-kidding, or so I thought.  Intrigued, I went online and got bids on my car.  Two different sites offered me thousands more than what I paid for the car.  Keep in mind, I have used the vehicle and it is not a collector car. 

Cars are typically a depreciating asset.  Given shortages, delays, and inflation, that is not true, at least right now.  Any gain I would make on selling my current vehicle would most likely be lost in the purchase of a new vehicle if I could find one.  I stopped in another car dealer last week.  The sales person said the dealer had a grand total of six new cars on its lot.  That dealer typically carries 300 – 400 cars on its lot!  It is not a good time to negotiate a lower price for a new car. 

Supply will eventually catch up with demand.  I think it is going to take a while for that to occur.  Until the supply chain improves, we will have government officials and pundits try to convince us that inflation is under control.  I know my story is anecdotal, but the more I see, the more I am convinced government officials see what they want to see in inflation data.  Those of us in the real world are having a completely different experience with inflation than what our government officials see in their data.  If things do not change soon, this will not end well for anyone. 

Come Clean When There is a Problem

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

A few weeks ago, our son had some friends sleep over.  That night, I was in a deep sleep.  Our son came in our room.  I faintly heard him whisper, “Dad…Dad…”  I finally heard him and I screamed like a little kid on his first real roller coaster ride.  The following conversation ensued:

Me: “What the $#** are you doing?”

Son: “I need you.”

Me (I looked at the clock.  It was 1:47 AM.):  “It’s 2 in the $&*(#)_  morning.  What could you possibly need?”

Son: “I need you.” 

Me: “What do you need?”

Son: “No one is hurt.  The police are here.  The kids that slept over snuck out and got caught.  They can’t get reach their parents and they want to talk to you.”

We went downstairs and talked to the police officer.  The three teenage boys contacted a girl and snuck out to go hang out with her and her friends.  They got caught.  Fortunately, none of them had any illicit substances and the officer said they were respectful.  He said, “In a situation like this when it is the first time, we let the parents handle it.”  I know the parents of these young men and his assessment of what a worse punishment would be, a ticket or dealing with mom and dad, was spot on. 

The three young men apologized profusely and “owned” their mistake.  They did not give us any excuses. 

As we all deal with supply chain, shipping, and people issues, it is best to treat your suppliers and customers the same way.  Come clean with what you know.  Don’t sugar coat it.  People understand challenges and mistakes as long as you are honest with them. 

Oh, The Humanity!

Monday, August 16th, 2021

We had a severe storm last Wednesday.  Eighty mile an hour wind gusts turned beautiful century old trees into kindling.  Power lines were down.  Property damage was extensive.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.  But something even more dreaded happened: we lost internet connectivity for 36 hours!

After the storm passed, our first concern was checking for damage.  Other than losing a few small branches and some pots being blown over, we had no damage.  We were lucky.  While the rain continued, we decided to eat dinner.  As my wife and I were preparing the meal, our son said, “The internet doesn’t work.”  Like Pavlov’s dog, I went down the basement to check our router.  I turned it off and on and yelled up, “Does it work?”  The reply came quickly, “No!”  I took drastic measures.  I unplugged the router and disconnected its intake line.  I waited a few minutes.  I yelled up again and quickly got a negative response.  This was serious.

Our cellular network was overwhelmed.  After about fifteen minutes of my phone thinking as if I were on a dial up modem, I finally got to our internet service provider’s website.  Scrolling across the screen in bold font: “WE ARE EXPERIENCING MAJOR OUTAGES IN YOUR AREA.  PLEASE BE PATIENT.”  Uh-oh.

Prior to this storm, we had never lost internet connectivity for more than a few minutes.  We were lost.  Our teenage son picked up a real book.  It’s the summer!  My wife and I had a substantive conversation.  We made it through the first half hour.  Phew.  I checked the internet again.  Still no luck. 

After thirty-six hours, my wife woke up Friday morning and discovered the internet worked.  All was well in the world!  

If the last year and a half have taught us anything, it is that we crave connectivity, both perceived and real.  No pandemic or internet outage will ever change that.  Do not take your connections for granted. 

Half-Full Restaurants Are Not a Good Sign for the Economy

Monday, August 9th, 2021

This past weekend, we were hanging out with my brother and his family.  We decided to go to an early dinner.  We called three places around 4 o’clock or so.  None took reservations; all said the wait was forty five minutes or more.  We decided to go to the grocery store and cook at home.  Thank goodness for grills; my brother and I cooked everything.

One of the restaurants we called was across the street from the grocery store.  The parking lot was far from full. For giggles, we peaked in.  The restaurant was less than half full.  I asked why the wait was an hour.  The manager said, “We don’t have enough staff to fill the restaurant.  We have raised wages but we still have several open positions.  We can only seat to about half capacity.” 

I do not know much about the restaurant business.  I am pretty sure it is hard to make money filling half your capacity on a weekend when there is clearly demand for your products.  If the restaurant doubles prices to make up for the lost volume, I think many consumers will opt to eat at home.  That situation quickly becomes the death spiral for a business: lose volume, raise prices to offset the lost volume, lose volume due to high prices.  It quickly spins to a closed business.

We are in a labor market like no one has ever seen.  As I have written in the past, it is not normal for a business to turn away revenue.  That is happening across the economy, in the service sector, shipping, and manufacturing.  I hope our policy makers can figure out how to help turn the tide.   

Collaboration Produces Better Results

Monday, July 26th, 2021

Last Saturday, my wife and I enjoyed a few adult beverages.  One of us decided it would be a good idea to play “Name That Tune” to random 80s music.  We pulled out the digital assistant and told it to play 80s music.  The fun began.  First, it was just name the song.  Then, it was name the song and artist.  We might have added in name the album or where the band was from.  The rules kept changing as one of us tried to get an edge.  I am pleased to say I won (at least in my mind).  I am embarrassed to say I got “Live to Tell” by Madonna before my wife.

Something interesting happened, though.  After we settled on the game being name the song and the artist, more often than not, one of us got the song and the other named the artist.  We called those ties.  My hazy memory tells me tie became the most common result and ended up with both of us laughing and singing along.

At work last week, I was talking with one of our executives about our supply chain challenges.  He said, “It seems like everyone is starting to drift apart and we have fewer productive conversations with our vendors and partners.”

We are fortunate to have a great relationship with one of our major vendors.  We communicate on all levels with them.  While everyone is having supply chain challenges, I believe the open and honest communication both sides have had has helped both companies navigate this challenging environment.  Instead of competing, we are collaborating.

Everyone wants to “win.”  Your winning does not mean that the other side has to lose.  Collaboration will result in a better outcome.  And just in case it’s not stuck in your head yet, a link to “Live to Tell” is below.

Live to Tell (Madonna Ciccone/Patrick Leonard)

The truth is never far behind
You kept it hidden well
If I live to tell
The secret I knew then
Will I ever have the chance again

Aren’t We in 2021?

Monday, July 19th, 2021

Our accounting firm finished our business tax returns last week.  I printed out 1,078 sheets of paper to mail to five jurisdictions in which we operate and are subject to filing tax returns.  These jurisdictions, which include the technologically advanced havens of California and Massachusetts, require paper copies of their returns along with your federal return to be mailed to them.  Fortunately, several enlightened jurisdictions, predominantly located in flyover country, allow us to e-file, thus eliminating printing and mailing obscene amounts of paper.  When I talked to one of our accountants, she reminded me how much worse it used to be, when no jurisdictions accepted electronic tax filings. 

I wonder if anyone actually reads these monstrous tax returns.  My guess is the first thing the recipient does is have someone scan the file into their database so they do not have to store all the paper!  Efficiency at work. 

What can be digitized is being digitized. Even government entities will eventually catch up to trends that started decades ago.  Economic friction used to be a source of profits in the economy.  Those profit streams have been replaced by companies whose products and services reduce economic friction.  As I have written in the past, the more friction you reduce, the more money you can make.  For government entities, instead of trying to raise revenues (i.e. raise taxes), think about making your tax filing and collection system a little more efficient.  The private sector has made itself more efficient.  Now it’s your turn.   

A Few Percent Here, A Few Percent There.

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Either for posterity’s sake or because I am a glutton for punishment, I keep a folder in my email inbox titled “Price Increase Letters.”  Between January 1st and July 3rd, I received 85 emails from suppliers indicating a price increase.  Some of our suppliers are old school and still send actual letters.  I have a stack of 19 price increase letters sitting on my desk.  That period represented 131 of the 261 business days in 2021.  We received at least 104 increases over those 131 days.  That is almost one increase letter a day.  And I wonder why our purchasing team is cantankerous. 

Many of our main vendors are on round two or three of price increases for the year.  They also indicate that they still see cost pressures in their supply chains.  Through the magic of compounding, three, 5 percent price increases result in an overall price increase of almost 16%.  To put it in real terms, what cost us $100 at the beginning of the year will probably cost $116 by the end of the year.       

As our fearless monetary officials repeatedly tell us, they believe the inflation we are seeing is “transitory.”  Of course it is, nothing lasts forever.  16% transitory inflation is significant.  If I were in the press pool, the question I would ask Fed Chairman Powell and his cronies is, “Are these high prices the new normal?  Do you expect prices to come down at any point?”  Here’s a hint to the answer:  prices are sticky.  Once they go up, it will take a recession for them to come down.  Be careful of what you wish for if you want prices to decline. 

A Eureka Moment

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

As part of his high school experience, our son has to perform volunteer work.  He has spent the first four weeks of his summer vacation volunteering at a day camp in an inner-city school in Cleveland.  His first few days were eye opening.  The third and fourth graders he was working with did not demonstrate the self-discipline he experienced in school.  Outbursts and fights were common.  He would come home exhausted from his day.

I would often ask him what he was learning from the experience.  From a 15-and-a-half-year-old that knows everything, the typical answer was, “Nothing.  I just want my summer back.”  Occasionally, I would get something like, “Kids are a pain” or “Kids don’t listen.”  Last week – the final week of his volunteer requirement– a eureka moment occurred.  I asked him what he learned that day.  His response, “You know, dad, they’re really not bad kids.  They just need someone to listen to them and talk with them.”  He talked about how many of the kids come from challenging home lives.  Later, he even told my wife and me how fortunate he is.  He said he wants to continue volunteering.

We all need someone to listen to us and talk with us.  Reach out to someone today – a relative, a friend, a customer – and just ask how they are doing.  They’ll appreciate it. And you will benefit as well.