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Can Capitalism Save Us?

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Few in America would argue against a free enterprise system when opportunity appears. For the disenfranchised—those that are and those that like to believe they’d share the fruits of their labor “equally” with the less fortunate—free enterprise becomes reality the moment they choose among identical products with different pricing. The lowest price is typically that choice. Once done, this group has exercised the “free enterprise system,” proving that demand sets the price of goods and services. Think gas pump prices. As demand rises so does price, if the goal is profits, unless a volume model multiplies profit faster and beyond the ability of exclusivity markets to grow it. Think Amazon.com.

The natural tendency of the human condition is to extend one’s influence and gains to the fullest. In other words, it is to take advantage of opportunity when it presents. The opportunist sees opportunity in most everything (read: how can I take advantage of this?)—a false positive. In a world bent toward discovering another’s weaknesses (to exploit) it is small wonder that so-called “have-nots” often “feel the weight” of another’s thumb on them.

Weekly, theologians present an age-old alternative: namely, service to others. In fact, the “Good Book” states that … we are “to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves … Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others … ” Philippians 2:3,4

Cooperative commerce and communities, so seldom the blush in a “Postmodernist” world, remain the driving force in community growth and wealth building. Postmodernism means to “ … dissolve the merging of subject and object, self and other, and a radical, anarchist rejection of all attempts to define, reify or re-present the human subject.” An example is the non-gender reference to “they” for all who will not accept defining by anything, including gender.

The freedom to control the means of production (by our choices) presents unusual opportunities for cooperative societies: namely, free-enterprise systems only slightly akin to capitalism in its strictest sense. Freedom is the natural underpinning of well-being, a spirit of completeness that brings order and fulfillment to our lives. We are most content when we feel competent in the things we do, authentic in our lives, and connected to others in shared lives—the model of self-determination theory.

Equally, enterprise is the natural tendency to put our best into things, to make things happen by the expressions that uniquely qualify us as individuals working together for a common good. The two are prodigious in their outcomes, but the distinction between free enterprise and capitalism must be clear.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, contemporary thinker and author, clearly measured American capitalism as better than his homeland Russia’s communism or Europe’s varietal socialism, but it still leaves us wanting, he concluded. American capitalism was more concerned with “Is it legal?” than “Is it right?” according to Solzhenitsyn. What he saw may have been more a model of CYO that defines expedience, and not ethics. Similarly, he saw its culture more concerned with “Is it profitable?” than “Is it good?” The outcome is a nation that is “more materialistic than spiritual, more interested in superficial success than genuine human progress,” in his view. Not coincidentally, his criticisms don’t apply to the model of free enterprise that has only supply and demand as catalysts, and little or no government regulation.

Thus, a free market system tends to be privilege blind, accepting all equally, according to one’s needs and willingness to pay. The means of production are “not so much owned,” as they are “granted” by the same math in supply and demand, largely without the constraints of regulation. The result is a population of buyers and users and sellers and builders of products and services that go to those with need of them and at the market price; a cooperative model that engages others to serve their needs while joining to grow sustainable local economies and communities.

If we call this model of free enterprise, community capitalism, the vision of it clears; that which places a priority on the well-being and sustainability of the entire community, not just the privileged. This is not a new idea, but takes on a fresh scent when practiced in countries such as Australia, Germany, and Denmark; and in US markets such as Kalamazoo, MI and the E2M Community Capital project. We see clearly the seeds of the approach as we consider the key focus of community resources on place, capital, infrastructure, talent and education. The model suggests that viable communities must successfully address all five concomitantly. Further, it joins with organized philanthropy and investment to grow commerce and communities cooperatively; already in practice across America.

Creative Applications

Few local organizations can develop the funds necessary to fuel even moderate growth objectives. Local, regional, and state governments can. Starting businesses and community organizations that fill local needs, then turning them over to private enterprise for sustainable growth accomplishes more than providing a shoemaker or donut shop for communities without them. It is the clearest demonstration of tax money at work for community good. Simply, commerce builds communities, and local towns and small cities offer the best opportunity to provide the needed capital to fuel growth. The obvious question asks if locals will buy into communities with empty storefronts lining its streets, or towns with character and successful small businesses. The local level is where community capitalism (conscious, family capitalism) has the greatest impact and growth opportunity, because towns can use tax funds for growth and not just service additions. In fact, community capitalism has a better chance of funding both than the typical tax model.

 

August 3, 2016 |

Competitive Analysis

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

Most of us face competition. Even those who work in the “not-for-profit” world compete for resources. In fact, competition may be defined as the alternative use of the same resources. That is, the solutions to problems are usually found by the application of these resources, whether by the purchase of a standard product or one that is made to serve its purpose. It’s the old hammer and screwdriver model. When we don’t have a hammer, a screwdriver will do.

In many open markets, most goods and services can be purchased from any number of companies, giving customers a wide variety from which to choose. It’s the work of companies in the market to find their competitive edge and to meet customers’ needs better than their competitors. So, how can one company gain competitive advantage over the others? Whether there are few or many like products and services in the chosen marketplace, how do different organizations sell basically the same things at different prices and with different degrees of success? It is a classic question, and one addressed by many over the years. Among them is Michael Porter, business professor at Harvard University, and market student. In his original work, “Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors,” he summarizes competition into three classic strategies:

  1. Cost Leadership
  2. Product Differentiation
  3. Market Segmentation

These three generic strategies outline the ways organizations provide their customers with what they want at a better price or more effectively than others. Essentially, Porter maintained that companies compete either on price (cost), on perceived value (differentiation), or by focusing on a very specific customer (market segmentation).

Competing on lower prices or by offering more perceived value became very popular (as competitive advantages) for simple reasons. Price is ever present in the mind of the consumer and easily confused with value. If the analysis of value becomes too arduous, many “sellers” of product and service revert to price as the distinguisher to attract customers. Ultimately, price becomes the value proposition.

For many, however, the detail in the choice among the three strategies revealed opportunity. Thus, tools were developed to assist the analysis of competitive advantage. In developing Bowman’s Strategy Clock, Cliff Bowman and David Faulkner looked at Porter’s strategies in a different way.

In 1996, this led to the development of Bowman’s Strategy Clock. As with Porter’s generic strategies, Bowman considers competitive advantage in relation to cost advantage or differentiation advantage. This model of corporate strategy is another suitable way to analyze a company’s competitive position in comparison to others’ offerings. There are six core strategic options, eight in total:

  1. Low Price/Low Added Value. This strategy is commonly considered to be appropriate only on a segment-by-segment basis. It is generally a high-volume strategy.
  2. Low Price. This strategy calls for the company to position itself as the “low-cost leader.” The company risks low margins, price wars, and ultimately devalues the market.
  3. Hybrid of Low Price/Differentiation. Here, the company establishes a low-cost base and reinvests to keep prices low, while still seeking differentiation.
  4. Differentiation. There are two versions of this strategy — with and without a price premium. With a price premium, the company adds enough value to the product to justify its relatively high price and so, increases margins. Without a price premium, the company adds value to the product in hopes of gaining market share despite lower margins.
  5. Focused Differentiation. Here, the company adds enough value to the product for a specific customer segment to justify a price premium. This is also called an “exclusivity market.”
  6. Increased Price/Standard Product. With this strategy, the company raises prices without adding value to the product in hopes of higher margins. Unless the product is the de facto industry standard, however, the company risks losing market share.
  7. Increased Price/Low Values. This strategy pertains only to monopoly situations.
  8. Low Value/Standard Price. This strategy invariably ends in loss of market share.

Bowman’s Strategy Clock

The Strategy Clock is adapted from the work of Cliff Bowman

 

As an exercise, place the following product/services in their likely categories onto the Strategy Clock. Add your own as you get the hang of it.

  • New Zealand lamb
  • A standard domestic 40-watt light bulb
  • A colored 40-watt light bulb
  • Pay per view TV
  • Hyundai autos
  • First class airline flights
  • A standard paperclip

The idea is to find out where your product/service rests in the Strategy Clock to determine either your competitiveness or the opportunity to improve it. Products in the high price/low value segment (6-8) are likely to fail. Most brands don’t make money and consequently, company portfolios are replete with loss-making and marginally profitable brands. This occurs because companies too often see core competencies as far as their product definitions reveal, and not as far as the skills necessary to making a market for them. Knee jerk reaction to competitive entries is also at the root of much product formation.

The opportunity in competitive analysis is to capture a clearer picture of the brand strength — either actual or expected. Once identified, the work necessary to effective positioning can begin. As is always the case, if you don’t do your own positioning your competitor will do it (to you).

 

February 16, 2018 |

Causing Conversations

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ROI by Frank J. RichROI
BY FRANK J. RICH

Turning a prospect into a customer is the goal of all commercial organizations, not least retail. It applies equally to medical professionals and not-for-profit organizations, whose patients and patrons
are customers before conversion. It’s the preoccupation of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
The simple view of conversion is the point at which a prospect buys, but today there are often more steps to this end-result. Conversion may be defined as causing a prospect to perform a specified action. Examples of conversion include signing up for an e-mail newsletter or promotion or contest, returning to a site or store or radio program to check if you won or the status of the contest, clicking on a link, or moving from a browser to a buyer.

(more…)

September 4, 2014 |

Furniture With Character

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

What does it mean when talking about furniture having character? After all, it is an inanimate object, so how could it have a personality?  Several years ago I read an article in a decorating magazine that said even if a home was decorated in one particular period, throwing in a totally different object might add interest to the room. The article went on to state that adding an older piece of furniture to even a modern décor could give the room character. Our home is decorated in a traditional style, yet there are several older pieces of furniture that I feel fit the description provided in the article I read.

When I was a little girl my grandmother had a unique dining room table that was rectangular in shape, with extensions on either side to make it larger. The bottom of this trestle- shaped table had both carvings and little swirl designs on the cross section that ran between the two ends, giving it support. When I visited, my grandmother would entice me to dust the bottom swirls and would give me a quarter for my efforts. As a six-year-old, this was a small fortune.  I now have that table as part of my living room; it is no longer used as a dining room table, but as a display surface for family photos.

Perhaps there was a talented member of your family that loved to paint or draw. Displaying some of these long forgotten works of art in a cluster on one wall might add interest and family history to the collection.  One of my cousins had an ornate fireplace mantle piece that was in the home when their family bought it, but she didn’t like the design and wanted it changed. The previous owners, who traveled the world, had this piece shipped back from one of the exotic locales they had visited. When I mentioned to my cousin that I thought the mantle piece was beautiful and she should keep it, she asked if I wanted it when they remodeled. Without hesitation I said yes. This piece is now the focal point surrounding our fireplace, and I receive many compliments about its beauty and the richness of its wood.

Look around your house and see if your rooms are missing some character or personality. See what you can add to give it spirit and a new life. There may be a piece of furniture in your attic or basement that you might have overlooked that is just waiting to be discovered!

 

March 9, 2016 |

Annual Native Plant Weekend to Benefit The Native Plant Center, Hosted by Rosedale Nurseries on September 9 & 10

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The 8th annual Native Plant Weekend at Rosedale Nurseries, 51 Saw Mill River Road, in Hawthorne, New York will again benefit The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College. The plant sale takes place on Saturday and Sunday, September 9 and 10, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A large selection of native shrubs, trees, perennials, grasses and ferns will be available for purchase at the nursery, and personal shoppers will help customers find the best plants for their gardens.

“Native plants are growing in popularity, and this event allows gardeners to choose from a large selection at a great time of year for planting,” says Carol Capobianco, Director of The Native Plant Center. “In addition, customers will get individualized attention and personal shopping advice on their specific site needs from our knowledgeable volunteers. Many thanks to Rosedale for annually hosting this wonderful weekend.”

Four free educational talks will be offered on various aspects of native plants. The talks spotlight Go Native U, a program on sustainable gardening with native plants that The Native Plant Center presents in conjunction with Westchester Community College’s Division of Workforce Development and Community Education.

The talks are scheduled as follows:

Saturday, September 9

Native Host Plants for Butterflies and Moths, by Kim Eierman (11 am.)

Native Plants for Shady Areas, by Missy Fabel (2 pm.)

Sunday, September 10

Native Trees that Attract Wildlife by Guy Pardee (11 am.)

Plants and Best Practices for the Fall Native Garden by Carolyn Summers (2 pm)

Nursery staff and Native Plant Center volunteers will be available throughout the weekend to help customers pick the perfect plants for their purposes. The selection is diverse, including many beautiful, hardy, low-maintenance native plants. In addition to a large plant selection, Rosedale sells gardening books, supplies, decorations and more. A percentage of proceeds from the event will be donated to The Native Plant Center.

“Rosedale Nurseries is pleased to sponsor this year’s native plant sale to benefit Westchester Community College’s Native Plant Center,” says Richard Schnall, Vice President of Rosedale. “We have assembled a varied collection of native woody and perennial plants for sale, including plant specimens grown on our own Hudson Valley Farms. Our very knowledgeable sales staff will be available to assist with all purchases.”

For more information about the benefit, The Native Plant Center, or Go Native U (Fall classes start September 25, featuring a special all-day event titled “Understanding Pollinators”), call The Native Plant Center at (914) 606-7870, email wcc.nativeplant@sunywcc.edu, or visit www.nativeplantcenter.org. For information about the weekend benefit specifically, call Rosedale at (914) 769-1300 or visit www.rosedalenurseries.com.

 

The Native Plant Center was established in 1998 as the first national affiliate of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. The Native Plant Center maintains demonstration gardens and educates the public about the environmental necessity, economic value and natural beauty of native plants through conferences and its Go Native U classes and certificate program.

 

 

 

August 17, 2017 |

Movin’ up to States: John Jay Volleyball, Lakeland Field Hockey, Somers Soccer

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  • John Jay celebrates its 1st regional title 

  • Lakeland looks for 6th straight state crown

  • Somers (20-0) has shut out opponents for 5 playoff games

BY CHUCK SLATER
SPECIAL TO TOWNLINK NEWS + VIEWS

Two undefeated girls teams, the Lakeland field hockey squad and Somers soccer, plus the John Jay girls volleyballers advanced to state competition with victories in regional finals  the weekend of Nov. 8-9.  All next play on Saturday, Nov. 15.

Lakeland, now 19-0 and trying for a sixth straight state crown, routed Section 9’s Roundout Valley, 6-0, on Nov. 9 in Milton. Next on tap in Class B is Vestal in Binghamton in the state semis.

On the pitch the same day, Somers (20-0)  held off another Section 9 foe, edging Goshen in Class A, 1-0, at Arlington and next has a state date with Jamesville DeWitt of the Syracuse area.

The John Jay (21-2) girls ousted Class A opponent Cornwall at SUNY Delhi on Nov. 7 after dropping the first game, 17-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-20, for its first-ever regional title.  Next: the state semifinal pool-play round in Glens Falls. (more…)

November 10, 2014 |
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