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Archive for May, 2011

Wall Street Journal Opinion Page May 21, 2011 – We Can Learn From RomneyCare, Romney Should, Too

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

We Can Learn From RomneyCare; Romney Should, Too

by: Geoff Ficke

I, like the Wall Street Journal, am disappointed and vexed by the approach Mitt Romney has chosen to defend the indefensible relating to his authorship of RomneyCare during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. We agree that he should have long ago admitted the plan was a mistake. In addition, Mr. Romney should have positioned the failure of the program as a Test Market, the results of which were available for other states and the Federal Government to examine before going all in on a mandated, centralized bureaucratic boondoggle.
 
Every business, mine as well as Bain & Co.,  which Romney managed and is a major part of his attractiveness as an alternative candidate, utilizes Focus Groups and Test Markets to vet products or services before rolling out to broader markets. RomenyCare was a Test Marketed program that has not contained costs and has caused doctors to flee the system. This is the opposite of a successful outcome. His response should have been “we tried, we tested, it didn’t work, I have learned the lesson and here is Plan B”. Many Test Markets fail, or provide evidence that allows for changes in design or strategy before a small mistake becomes a tidal wave of loss. People instinctively understand this.
 
Mitt Romney is one of the most experienced, capable and attractive candidates for President in many years. However, his window of opportunity has been closed by his inability to relate the real legacy of RomenyCare through sound business principles that made him interesting and so different from career politicians in the first place. His tin ear, and limits as a candidate are disappointing.

What is exponentially more problematic, is that President Obama and his acolytes have not studied the Massachusets programs disastrous results and have blindly extended the mess to the nation.

You Can Only Succeed at Life or Business If You Keep Moving

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

You Can Only Succeed at Life or Business If You Keep Moving 

Robert Goizueta, the former Chief-Executive of Coca-Cola was once quoted in Fortune Magazine, saying: “The moment you let avoiding failure become your motivator, you are down the path of inactivity. You can stumble only if you are moving”. This simple declaration, while so true, is becoming less apparent in modern commercial life. Though opportunity for prosperity has never been greater, fewer of us are willing to leave the security cocoons that government and universities have erected and fully commit to a life of accomplishment. 

During a time of economic uncertainty such as we are enduring today the desire for security is heightened. The media is replete with tales of hordes of job seekers seeking few available positions. Businesses are pulling back from committing resources for expansion and hiring. Hoarding is commonplace. This is all understandable, normal human reactions to hard times. 

There are, however, some new trends that are troubling no matter the economic conditions. In most developed, industrialized nations, the population is splitting between two core groups: producers and non-producers. The drive to avoid the chance of failing is endemic in the non-productive portion of the population. Producers are risk tolerant, thrive on competition and do not fear failure. Good times or bad, they will continue to strive. 

The French seek a 35 hour work week and make it exceedingly difficult to start a business and prosper. In Greece, the country is bankrupt, workers want to continue to retire before reaching the age of 50 and there are daily demonstrations demanding continuation of policies and programs that others (principally Germans) must pay for. Large portions of the Portuguese and Spanish middle-class demonstrate and strike for government support payments that have bankrupted their countries. In America, for the first time in history, 50% of the population receives some form of government support. 

University professors often rail against capitalism, free markets and overwhelmingly support centralized economic planning. The very system that generates the taxes, donations, tuition and endowments that makes the cushy life of a college professor possible is decried. Students are filled with a vision of a future that demeans entrepreneurship, selling and marketing goods and services, corporate villainy and the unfairness of profit. 

Government as always crouching behind the dwarf shrub of fairness, want to tax the most productive at ever higher rates. Transfer payments balloon while illegal immigrants stream into developed countries to take jobs that natives will not consider.  The social safety net grows ever more burdensome, the recipients subjected to a stunted life of dependency and capital fleeing to more welcoming countries will be the end result of this producer/non-producer divide. 

Not everyone will, or wants to be a financial and commercial success. That is fine. However, the ability to succeed, create and start a business, launch a new product, patent an idea and enjoy the harvest that is derived from commercial accomplishment is so fulfilling that I am always amazed that people regularly choose not to get into the game. The longing for security precludes the opportunity that comes only from assuming certain levels of risk. This is a recipe for mediocrity and a slow, flaccid life of minimum interest. 

You cannot be a success in any endeavor if you do not enter the fray. In order to confront and overcome competition you will have to strive and move ahead. A carpenter can work for a wage, or start a small cabinet or furniture making business. A truck driver can work for a logistics company for a wage or become an owner operator and build his own small fleet. A consumer of government program benefits can live on the reduced stage that this handout allows, or work to educate and become employable. Failure is an essential element in a system that greatly rewards risk takers and does not value inaction.

People are complaining that they want jobs. Jobs are created by people that take risks and start commercial enterprises. Every government job is created by depriving the productive private sector of wealth creation by consuming tax dollars and diverting those funds to non-productive uses. The store clerk that opens a small clothing boutique is exponentially more beneficial than the most subsidized government worker. An auto mechanic that opens a service garage and employ’s three other mechanics is a job creator. The entrepreneur who opens a restaurant, becomes a consultant, markets a barbecue sauce or creates a pet product is moving, striving and enhancing all of the rest of us. These are fine examples of the “movers” so aptly described by Robert Goizueta.

The Challenge for Big Companies Is Not to Be Slow! That Is the Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

The Challenge for Big Companies Is Not to Be Slow! That Is the Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

Louis B. Gerstner, the famous business executive who ran International Business Machines (IBM) once famously quipped, “I’ve never seen a small company that did not want to be a big one. The challenge is being big without being slow”. Mr. Gerstner identified the biggest obstacle that confronts large institutions in their effort to stay on top. Inadvertently he also identifies the opportunity that all inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses enjoy as they attempt to steal market share and grow into more substantial commercial entities. 

Huge businesses tend to be slower to innovate, take risks, consider outside ideas and think beyond the successful boxes they have created to shroud their enterprises than do start-up companies. As they grow larger they often become more concerned with protecting their space and market share than accelerating growth. All forms of bureaucracies confront this dilemma. 

An obvious success at overcoming this tendency is the hugely successful Procter & Gamble, the consumer product, cosmetic and fragrance behemoth. For decades Procter & Gamble operated under a strict brand management system that did not encourage outside innovation. The Company began to stagnate and evolved into a hodge-podge of slow growth, lower margin food and commodity product brands. 

15 years ago new management took over the famed Cincinnati-based P&G. The business model was redesigned to encourage the acquisition and licensing of outside ideas and products with a stated goal of 40% projected growth to come from new initiatives that originated outside the Company. The Spin Brush toothbrush was purchased and re-energized the Crest Oral Care brand. The acquisition of Cover Girl boosted the cosmetic division. Hugo Boss, The Art of Shaving and Giorgio pumped up the prestige beauty product category. Gillette Shaving and Wella hair care stoked the mass market health and beauty aid group. 

By any measure 150 year old P&G and tech giant IBM are successful and great size has been an asset. Consider, however, how many other formerly great brands have fallen, often expiring as smaller, more nimble competitors have entered the scene. The formerly dominant cosmetic and fragrance colossus Revlon is a shell of its mid-20th century greatness. Estee Lauder has greatly eclipsed Revlon after facing and overcoming the stiff headwinds that all startups must confront. The world’s first mega-retailer Sears Roebuck is now but an echo of its former self and has been surpassed by much younger Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and The Limited Stores. The first national supermarket chain The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) is no more while Kroger has become the prototype of a successful national purveyor of food and general merchandise. 

Specialty drinks brands such as Red Bull, Vitamin Water and Snapple have stolen huge market share from lumbering Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Small Japanese automakers arose from the destruction of their home country in World War II to pierce and conquer the North American vehicle market while Detroit fell asleep and squandered a century’s head start. Southwest Airlines, Frontier, Jet-Blue and Ryan Air have reinvented the aviation industry while legacy carriers such as Iberia, Pan Am, TWA and Eastern have either gone the way of the dodo bird or been relegated to obscurity.

The opportunity for entrepreneurs to join Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines founder), Leslie Wexner (The Limited Stores founder), Estee and Joe Lauder, and hundreds of other successful innovators is limited solely by a lack of courage. Taking an idea and turning it into a successful enterprise is not easy, but it is not impossible. The difference maker is vision. Seeing an opportunity and having the drive to execute toward a successful conclusion is what separates the successful from the conformist. You cannot get into the game, and can never be successful if you are slow. The bigger the competitor, the slower they will be to innovate and that is always the visionary’s trump card.

A “Stormonter” Will Always Be Obviated by Companies That Deal Strictly in the Truth

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

A “Stormonter” Will Always Be Obviated by Companies That Deal Strictly in the Truth 

Benjamin Franklin is remembered fondly as a Founding Father of the United States, a diplomat, scientist, inventor and founder of the United States Postal Service, among his many other successes. He is also credited with coining a number of words which found their way into wide use around the time of the Revolutionary War. This is a story that also displays the humor, quickness and twinkle that came to always be identified with Franklin and is useful to consider in today’s business world. 

During the Revolutionary War the British Ambassador in Paris was a Lord Stormont. He was a gossip, and took every opportunity to spread tales spun out of whole cloth that served to enhance British prestige and diminish the revolting young Americans. His goal, of course, was to discourage other European countries from aiding the Americans in their quest for freedom from the Crown and King George III. 

Stormont had begun to spread a rumor that six battalions of American soldiers had laid down their weapons and surrendered or run away in the face of a small British platoon. This was a lie made up from whole cloth. Nevertheless, the French were concerned enough to approach Ben Franklin and ask if this supposed act of cowardice had really occurred. 

“Oh no”, replied Franklin in his gravest tone of voice. “It is not the truth, it is merely a Stormont”. Almost instantly the wry, witty response had been whispered throughout the diplomat circles in Paris and the term “stormonter” became a popularly used synonym for lying. 

Stormonters (although the term is virtually unknown in modern English usage) are common in every area of life, especially in commerce. Marketers embellish their products features and benefits while often attempting to subtly, or directly, diminish their competition. I cannot count the number of times that I have experienced salesmen put down their competition by mouthing false statements. 

We all know that once a lie or untruth is spoken, it is ever more difficult to extricate yourself from the damage caused by such misplacement of truth. In sales and marketing, the principal components of every successful business, truth is paramount. Never put your product or business in a compromising position by even skirting facts as they truly are. 

Here are a few tips in how to position and defend your business against an untruth: 

  • Whenever confronted with a distortion of fact regarding your product, always, always compliment the competitor as having a fine product. Kindness kills.
  • Know your competition. When you know direct competitors it is easy to positively point out the difference in features and benefits your product offers, without slamming the competition.
  • Never be negative about another Company, product or management.
  • It is fair to ask for a performance test, market test, or blind consumer test versus another product. Proposed properly this will convey openness and confidence.
  • If you market a service you can gain trust by counseling a prospective to call several of your competitors and pick their brains. This always conveys superior confidence in a positive, reinforcing way.
  • Whenever someone tells you they are an honest person, put your hand on your wallet and run. Honest people carry an aura of trust that they do not need to shout. 

Ben Franklin turned Lord Stormont’s lies to his and his young country’s  advantage. In business we do the same things in many ways. Marketing consumer goods and services is a bit like an arms race. It is rough and competitive. But it should always be conducted truthfully. The chickens always come home to roost.

Competition Is to Successful Marketing As Fertilizer Is to Fruitful Agriculture

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

Competition Is to Successful Marketing As Fertilizer Is to Fruitful Agriculture 

Many believe that marketing a consumer product or service would be so much easier if we could have the field of commerce solely to our project. It only seems logical that if your business enterprise had the only peanut butter, pet food or toothpaste on the market you would prosper greatly. A monopoly certainly seems to be the “Holy Grail” that any marketer would desire to protect and enhance their certainty of success. It’s just that this is not so. 

Reality is different. If monopolies were so desirable then the state run enterprises of the old Soviet Union and Eastern Block Communist countries would have proven wildly superior to businesses that had to compete in capitalist systems. They did not. Lack of creativity, quality and shortages were rampant precisely because competition was not allowed as the bloated state scurried to protect firms from competing, and possibly failing. This only encouraged greater failure and inefficiencies. 

Farmers require fertilizer to grow abundant, healthy crops. Competition is the fertilizer that grows products and strong, prosperous businesses. The lack of an incentive to compete insures sloth, market distortions and lack of energy and innovation, so vital to achieving success. The firm that seeks protection for a preferred status rarely is able to stand on its own when real competitors are confronted. 

WalMart did not invent the mass merchandise, discount store retail model. Gold Circle, AyrWay, Hills, K-Mart and others preceded Sam Walton and had a head start. For awhile they succeeded. Ultimately, however, the innovations that Sam Walton utilized to build WalMart made his competitors adjust, compete, or die. The result is that consumers are better off, suppliers have prospered and the economy has adjusted to this high volume, low margin type of retail operation. 

In Europe and the Middle East there are still numerous examples of crony capitalism. In many countries a politically connected family enjoys a monopoly license or distributorship to operate a certain category of business. Automobiles, earth moving equipment, tools, machinery, foodstuff or garments are examples of exclusive distribution arrangements that enrich the owner of the license, but force the rest of society to pay artificially inflated prices, suffer shortages or minimum selection. The lack of competition is indicative of a lack of dynamism in economies that still organize their economies on this basis. 

For several centuries the United States Postal Service (USPS) handled all package and mail delivery in the country. This was a classic monopoly. Then United Parcel began to deliver small packages. Fred Smith created his logistics machine, Federal Express to deliver documents and packages over night. DHL and other international players then entered the space. The result is that this intense competition has kept prices contained, service has expanded and performance has become commoditized. All have done well except the USPS! As a monopoly it has been far too slow in adjusting to the new realities and technologies that have stood its service on its ear. 

I lecture to college students each semester. One of the topics we discuss is identifying marketing opportunities. I always ask a rhetorical question: “Would you like to start a flavored drinks business that would compete against Coca-Cola, Pepsi, RC Cola, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, etc.? The students always answer “no”! 

Their reasoning would seem sound. How do you compete with these giants for shelf space, floor display, promotional activity and consumer awareness? The answer is that because of competition, clever innovators introduce new types and categories of drinks each year that these behemoth brands cannot hold off owing to their bulkiness and corporate flab. Snapple, POM, Arizona Iced Teas, Vitamin Water and many more fresh new brands have carved out special niches in this mature market segment. There is always opportunity where there is competition. 

Successful people always are competitive. Athletes are obviously competitive. Writers compete for readers. Radio hosts compete for listeners. States compete for business relocations. Young people compete for love and spouses. We compete in almost every aspect of our lives. 

Successfully marketing a product or business opportunity requires a sharpened competitive instinct. Those lacking this trait are destined to work for others and this is fine for many, actually most people.  Those who are most successful in business, sales, marketing, or life are always people who do not run from competition but meet it as a challenge. They often view competition as fun as well.

For Seven Generations a Unique Business Has Brought Happiness and Beauty to Millions Each Spring

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

For Seven Generations a Unique Business Has Brought Happiness and Beauty to Millions Each Spring 

Newark, New York does not spring to mind as a base for horticultural genius. Not to be confused with tough, rough hewn Newark, New Jersey, this small farming area became the original home of one of the greatest horticultural enterprises in the world. From humble beginnings as a nursery servicing local gardeners Jackson & Perkins became the largest purveyor and developer of sub-species of roses in the United States. 

In the 1870’s Newark was the countrified mirror of cosmopolitan New York. Farms, vineyards and orchards dotted the countryside around the town. Here, in 1872 Charles Perkins, with the financial backing of his father-in-law A.E. Jackson started the now famous Jackson & Perkins greenhouses and nursery. This family business has grown to become synonymous with the development and hybridization of the greatest assortment of types of roses in the world. 

Initially Jackson & Perkins specialized in selling grape vines and strawberry plants. In 1896, the Company hired E. Albert Miller. To that date the nursery had done little in the area of plant hybridization. Mr. Miller would change that. In his spare time he began to experiment with rose breeding. In 1901 he had perfected a new strain which Jackson & Perkins began to market. This was a climber, named the Dorothy Perkins, and it became one of the most popular roses in the world and remains so to this day. 

As sales and passion for the Dorothy Perkins rose soared the Company realized it had a stunning growth opportunity to market and hybridize other styles of roses.  

Full-time hybridizers were hired. Soon Jackson & Perkins became the world’s most prolific grower and creator of new species of roses. One such hire, Eugene Boerner is credited with creating the beautiful Floribunda class of roses. Another, William Warriner developed over 110 specific types of new hybrid roses that won numerous international prizes, including 20 All-American Rose selections. Mr. Warriner’s Medallion and Red Masterpieces were chosen for special issue postage stamps in 1978 by the United States Postal Service. Over 40 million of William Warriner’s hybridized rose creations were sold to consumers. 

Fame, awards and prosperity kept accumulating for the Jackson & Perkins nursery. The 1939, at the New York City World’s Fair Jackson & Perkins organized a display of their roses entitled “A Parade of Modern Roses”. The exposition was an immense success. Visitors from everywhere wanted to purchase the Company’s assorted rose bushes but did not want to carry them as they travelled. The Company, always as astute commercially as they were as plant hybridizers, organized a mail order fulfillment operation. It quickly became the largest mail order house specializing in roses in the country.

By the 1960’s the Company had outgrown facilities in New York and began to move operations to California, finally settling in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1966 the Jackson & Perkins nursery operation was purchased by the fruit and gift house of Harry & David. The Company, however, still pioneered in the development of new growing techniques and saw sales extended around the world. 

The following are some interesting facts about the Jackson & Perkins nursery operations: 

  • The Company cultivates over 5000 acres of rose fields
  • The Company’s roses thrive in the local Hesperia loam soil
  •  Each year the Company horticulturists grow, bud and harvest 10 million plants
  • Each year between 300,000 and 400,000 seedlings are grown and evaluated at the Jackson & Perkins Research Center
  • Seven to 10 years of hybridizing work is required to perfect every new type of rose
  • Only the most beautiful and hardiest new roses are commercially cultivated, named and sold to the public, few make the cut!
  • The Company ships over 2 million plants to customers every year.

Today the Jackson & Perkins Nursery is one of the great success stories in horticultural history. The Company has expanded to market and sell a complete range of shrubs, ground covers, garden tools, decorative garden gifts, bulbs, tools, plants, and of course, roses. From humble beginnings as a local small business, this tale of achievement is evocative of what can happen in America when hard work, passion, vision, a belief in capitalism and the smallest bit of good fortune co-mingle to produce an enterprise that is valued by flower lovers, gardeners and rose enthusiasts from around the world.

As I write this piece I am surrounded by spring in full bloom. Growth, new life and abundance are sprouting everywhere after a very hard and extended winter. The roses my wife and millions of dedicated gardeners nurture are one of life’s most wonderful natural treats. We can all be grateful that a Company such as Jackson & Perkins has added so much beauty to our lives, and their genius renews itself so beautifully each year in our yards and fields.

The d’Orsay Pump High Heel Shoe Is Revered to This Day Even If the Creator Has Largely Been Forgotten

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

The d’Orsay Pump High Heel Shoe Is Revered to This Day Even If the Creator Has Largely Been Forgotten 

Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo are only a few of the famous contemporary shoe designers who owe much of their success to an early 19th century gentleman revered at the time for his style, manners and worldliness. Alfred Guillaume Gabriel, the Count d’Orsay was a nobleman and eclectic artist who married into the British aristocracy. He became a touchstone for manners, taste, understated luxury in the English royal court and high society. 

Count d’Orsay won fame throughout France, Britain and the Rhone Valley as an painter, sculptor, diarist and wit. He was considered the “most perfect gentleman of his day”. Cynics spoke of men such as Beau Brummel and the Count as “dandies”. The term “dossy, commonly in use during the first half of the 19th century, was considered to be derived from his name and meant a man who was an “arbiter elegantarium.” 

The privileged class at that time was very interested in all things related to fashion and vanity. Shoes and footwear were of particular interest. Since Catherine de Medici, in 16th century Italy, wore two inch heels to negate her diminutive height, the pursuit of shoes with ever-more exaggerated heels had become a passion. By the time of the reign of the famous French Sun King, Louis XIV, regal women were teetering on high soled and heeled shoes so ridiculously elevated that they required a type of ski pole to keep themselves upright. 

The Count d’Orsay had been a soldier in early life, and a courageous one. Uniforms and military dress were of great import to him. He was not happy with the military parade footwear of his day. He designed a military shoe for men in 1838. The profile of the shoe was quite different from pump footwear of the day, fitting more snuggly, and featuring low cut sides and a V-shaped top. The silhouette became so popular that it was soon adopted by women. The d”Orsay pump high heel shoe was thus born.   

“The d’Orsay pump leaves the sexiest part of the foot, the curved instep, naked. The curve of the instep resembles the curves of a woman’s body, and it is normally not exposed, but hidden from view “, said Christian Louboutin, in describing the modern influence and popularity of the d’Orsay high heeled style of pump shoe. Modern materials, technology and design have co-mingled to make women’s shoes ever more exotic and dynamic. The d’Orsay styles sold today are reflective of the advances in engineering that the pioneering styles created by the Count d’Orsay have evolved to. 

The origins of the d’Orsay designed shoe has been largely forgotten. Most women that wear the d’Orsay don’t even know the proper historic name for the shoe. However, the design is one of the most popular today, worn and favored by stylish women everywhere. 

The Count d’Orsay inadvertently created an enduring fashion style for women by endeavoring to create footwear for men. Modern haute couture designers have taken his military directed shoes and leapfrogged the styling to runway shows, department stores and boutiques where they are mated with ever more feminine fashion creations. This is a classic instance of a product or design evolving from its market of original intent to an ultimately more successful usage.

For 100 Years Women Have Enjoyed the Luxury of Jean Patou’s Joy Fragrance

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

French furrier and tanner Jean Patou moved from Normandy to Paris in 1910 intent on building an eponymous fashion house. He opened Maison Parry and sold his entire collection in 1914 to a single American client. Just as his fame was obtaining traction with the fashionable haute couture clientele of Paris World War I intruded. 

After serving as an officer in the war he returned to Paris and re-opened the fashion house. The “Flapper” style was popular after the war. This greatly offended the sensibilities of Mr. Patou. He countered the short skirts popular at the time and parried with a longer, more elegant line in his creations. He employed a French fashion sense to counter what he considered the gauche styles that swept in from America after World War I. The French tennis sensation Suzanne Lenglen became as famous for her Jean Patou designed tennis dresses, as for her scintillating game. 

Jean Patou developed the classic cardigan and won new fans for creating comfortable and natural fashions. In the 1920’s his fame grew even more with the creation of the first designer tie for men. 1928 saw the House of Patou introduce the first sun tan oil, Huile de Chaldee. The product became a sensation with many clients buying the oil solely for the sublime scent it offered. 

When the stock market crashed in 1929 the market for couture clothing also crashed. The House of Patou survived by being among the first to market and distribute internationally perfumes and scented luxury bath products. The most famous was one of Jean Patou’s first, Joy. Created in 1935 by master perfumer Henri Almeras, the perfume was offered initially to Patou’s former clients who could no longer afford his clothing. 

Joy was an immediate sensation. The perfume was packaged in a collectible art-deco box and included a beautiful Jean Patou silk scarf that matched each season’s carton graphics. Joy is the world’s most expensive fragrance. 

Dozens of other fragrances followed after the death of Jean Patou in 1936. Homme de Patou became a popular men’s fragrance brand. Jean Patou’s sister Madeline took over the business upon the death of her brother.

Famous fashion designers continued to be associated with the House of Jean Patou, including Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Kerleo. The family maintained control of the business until 2001 when it was sold to the giant beauty products Company Proctor & Gamble. 

For most of the last 75 years Joy by Jean Patou was the most expensive and the second best selling fragrance brand in the world. Only Chanel No. 5 was more popular with perfume customers around the world. For years a 15 ml (1/2 ounce) flacon on Joy perfume sold for the equivalent of $250 United States dollars. 

The success of the Jean Patou brand for most of the past century is testament to the staying power of products that are exclusive, artisan crafted and perceived as a thing to aspire too. Fragrances that inspire the consumer create a unique loyalty. Hundreds of perfumes and scented lines of bath and body products come. Most go quickly. In order to stand the test of time the scent must evoke a uniqueness that involves luscious aural notes, classic flacon design, subtle packaging and exclusivity.

An Eccentric Lifestyle Popular in the Early 19th Century Has Left Us the Simple Graham Cracker and More!

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

An Eccentric Lifestyle Popular in the Early 19th Century Has Left Us the Simple Graham Cracker and More! 

The Presbyterian Reverend Sylvester Graham, an early 19th century proponent of an extreme, aesthetic lifestyle, is largely forgotten today. During his life, however, he was amazingly popular and many of the theories he espoused are actually popular to this day, though he is rarely credited with their acceptance. He was also widely reviled and a controversial figure of derision. 

Rev. Graham promoted a strict form of vegetarianism at a time when meat was a staple and considered essential to a healthy lifestyle. He held a number of extremely controversial diet and wellness ideas which he championed and was militant in defending. His followers were so dedicated that they became known as Grahamites. 

Speaking before adoring crowds, Rev. Graham spoke boldly and powerfully against women wearing corsets, any type of gratuitous sexual activity and nihilism. His encouragement of a Spartan lifestyle was widely reported in the media. 

In an age when bathing was rare and oral care primitive Grahamites practiced both; daily and religiously. Temperance was strictly enforced among Grahamites. Excitement was discouraged. They also did not use spices to enrich the taste of food, as these additives were considered to excite the senses and encourage sexual activity. Consuming meat, butter and white bread were forbidden. Especially white bread! 

The elimination of white flour from their diet became central to the lifestyle and philosophy of Grahamites. Rev. Graham preached about the evils of white flour which was considered crucial by bakers in producing whiter loaves and more commercially appealing bread. He despised any food that contained additives and chemicals. Darker types of bread were considered a foodstuff for the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution. Graham set out to change this perception. 

He created the recipe for Graham bread. It was made from un-sifted flour and contained no alum or chlorine, both present in the white bread of that time. He believed that bread should be coarse not fluffy and uniform like the loaves then being mass produced in industrial bakeries. A variant of the recipe for Graham bread lead to the creation of Graham crackers, popular to this day. Grahamites consumed massive quantities of Graham crackers to supplement their exceedingly bland diet. 

Grahamism died out soon after Rev. Sylvester Graham’s death in 1857. His death in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a restaurant named Sylvester’s stands on the site of his home, marked the zenith of his movement. His influence, however, had touched such important Americans as Horace Greeley, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother William Kellogg. Their creation of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and founding of the Battle Creek Institute, was heavily linked to their belief in Grahamism.

It has been over 150 years since the death of Rev. Sylvester Graham. It is generally forgotten that he is responsible for the creation of ubiquitous Graham Crackers, still found in most home larders. And yet, many of the principle ideas which he pioneered and were forgotten after he was deceased are again au courant today. 

Modern nutritionists strongly endorse limiting the consumption of meat and refined, processed foods in the diet. Dark, multi-grain breads are promoted as key elements of a healthy diet. A vegetarian or vegan type of diet is increasingly popular. Daily bathing and proper oral care are cornerstones of hygiene and personal care. All of these ideas were key, if controversial planks in the philosophy that was central the Grahamist lifestyle. Today we accept them as   factual truths, supported by science and research data.

How a Long Forgotten Shipping Magnate Removed His Name from Restaurant Menus around the World

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

by: Geoff Ficke

How a Long Forgotten Shipping Magnate Removed His Name from Restaurant Menus around the World 

Ever enjoyed a meal of Lobster Wenberg? You will not find the dish on any fine restaurants or diner’s menu today. In fact, the dish existed as Lobster Wenberg for less than a month at Delmonico’s in the 1890’s. This epicurean delight has thrived ever since, but the name has changed, and the man who was responsible for popularizing the treat has been forgotten. 

Benjamin J. Wenberg was a late 19th century shipping magnate. He travelled widely managing his far flung enterprise. While on a trip to South America he enjoyed a lobster dish such as he had never tasted before. It was rapture at first bite. He immediately began to assemble the recipe and carried it back to New York. 

On a visit to the famous Delmonico’s restaurant Wenberg described the dish to the owner, Lorenzo Delmonico. He raved about the sauce made from sherry, thick cream and egg yolks, and how the shelled lobster taste was so enriched by the creamy concoction.  Mr. Delmonico was intrigued and began to have his chef’s work on the recipe. When it was perfected he added it to the menu as Lobster Wenberg, in honor of the discoverer. 

The dish was an immediate hit with Delmonico’s wealthy patrons. Word of mouth, the best form of marketing spread like wild fire. The restaurants sales increased dramatically. Then, providentially for Benjamin Wenberg, and the dish he had discovered and initially helped popularize, fate visited a cruel turn. 

While on one of his regular visits to Delmonico’s, Wenberg imbibed a bit too much grog, got into a fight with another customer in the main dining room and was permanently evicted from the eatery. Lorenzo Delmonico was furious, and he now had a problem. His hottest gastronomical offering was named for a cad who had torn up his dining room and could no longer visit and partake of the meal he had uncovered. 

Lorenzo Delmonico was nothing if not a great restaurateur. He was not going to take the dish off his menu; it was too popular and profitable. However, he was furious with Mr. Wenberg and decided to remove his name from the dish. He chose the name Lobster Newburg, Newburg being the name of a small city on the Hudson River. Newberg is also an amalgam of the letters in the last name of one Benjamin J. Wenberg. Mr. Delmonico never announced definitively which applied. 

Today Lobster Newberg is ubiquitous on fine dining establishment menus everywhere. Benjamin J. Wenberg is but a footnote to culinary history and largely unknown, except for his being a footnote in restaurant lore.  His name had adorned the dish he was instrumental in launching for less than a month. 

History is replete with examples such as this of people who are forgotten, but their discovery, invention or product lives on after being driven to commercial heights by others. But for a night of debauchery, Lobster Wenberg would still be the ultimate indulgence to enjoy after a promotion, the birth of a child, or any of life’s other successes are celebrated.