Business

Dairy Queen

I saw today that Dairy Queen plans to open sixty new stores in Massachusetts. We actually have one in walking distance, but there aren’t many around besides that. It’s very popular, even in a town with a Friendly’s and with a branch of one of the best ice cream places in the state, also in walking distance.

It intrigued me to learn that DQ is owned by Berkshire Hathaway. That’s the first I’d heard of it. I can see it being a good turnaround or expansion target. The brand is well-known, reputable, and for some of us has nostalgic associations.

When I was a kid, we regularly went to the DQ in Kingston or East Bridgewater, both long gone. I believe at least the Kingston store had food, not just ice cream.

In 2004, driving the new wife from California to Massachusetts, we stopped to eat at a Dairy Queen. Might have been in Virginia. The food was fantastic. That made me with we had some around here. Or some that served food, anyway.

So that was my question, seeing the news: Would they try to be full DQ stores, or mere ice cream shops? I guess we’ll see.

I Agree With Coyote

My story of his most hated tax actually goes back to the seventies, and the first time I proudly filed a DBA with the town. I was bemused (well, OK, horrified) to receive in the mail an annual “form of list” tax form, where I was supposed to list every business asset so it could be taxed. Since I had nothing much (maybe $100 worth) and was rebellious to boot, I ignored it. Ever since, though, I have cringed at the idea of what some businesses much go through to do that reporting for what would be a modest tax.

Much later, I did run into paying local property tax on the contents of an office. We had filed a DBA in the town where we originated, but never did one in the town where we rented the office. Eventually they caught up with us and sent in someone to poke around and talk to mem then sent a bill based on what they imagined the value of the chattels in the office to be. Most of what was in there was actually client property and/or undiscarded junk, and even if it weren’t, the total was laughable. Yet the property tax bill was too low to be worth fighting.

Dell And EMC

The big news today is about Dell buying EMC. This hits close to home, EMC being a Massachusetts company and employing people I know. It also reminds me of all the people I knew who worked for DEC before it was bought by Compaq, which still seems odder to me than the current merger. But then, DEC was shortsighted in some ways, missing the boat when it came to microcomputers, even more than IBM, which at least grasped things enough to create a market and widely adopted standards. IBM has been seen to varying degrees as the walking dead for decades, yet somehow kept going, even thriving. Then again, installed base creates inelasticity on the way to doom. Just ask COBOL. This is why, in the absence of total annihilation, civilization itself will not collapse absolutely and immediately in the face of many possible disasters. But I digress.

EMC is arguably more focused, robust and nimble than was DEC, and a better fit with Dell than was DEC with Compaq. It could work, until enough of their combined business goes obsolete. We’ll see.

Pricing for Freelancers

Pricing is always a favorite topic of mine. I have always had a tendency to undervalue my own skills and efforts, and to price too low, then be just as disgusted as I am with people not valuing the work enough to pay what the actual price should be. Worse, it doesn’t actually get you more work to lowball yourself. There’s a psychological element with me. First, what I find easy, I can’t imagine people wanting to pay much for. Second, I have spent a lifetime at generally limited means, and I can’t imagine paying the amount that is generally charged for most services, including those I could provide. Third, I was raised, somehow, not to think well of my own work and skills. This has tended to make me sound to others like I brag when I state how good I am in some way, when that is more of an attempt to convince myself and perhaps thwart negativity from others that would persuade me downward. But I digress.

The actual point of this post is to link to pricing advice for freelancers that explains why you should remove the zeros. Excellent thinking.

It’s The Regulation, Stupid

I couldn’t resist the title, which would make a great theme/reminder for a Presidential candidate. At the risk of redundantly linking Warren Meyer, I wanted to note his latest post, describing through his own experiences how growth in regulation and compliance has led to a fundamental shift in the economy. I don’t need the firsthand experience to see that this is the case. This is a great way to stifle growth, making people hesitate even to go into business, or changing their approach to one that limits regulatory overhead. It becomes more than just a matter of tax avoidance or minimization. Don’t grow too large. Don’t hire. Don’t expand. Or, in the linked post, can’t expand any longer. A business that doesn’t start or expand reduces jobs or sales to that business that otherwise might have been.

Yellow Pages

Warren Meyer has a post about a Yellow Pages (now YP) nightmare that begins to smell like fraud. Talk about desperation, continuing to bill you after you’ve closed a location and informed them as much repeatedly.

Anyway, this reminded me of my experience with Verizon Yellow Pages when I ran XTreme Computing. It’s more humorous than anything, although we never got the slightest little bit of work from an ad in our local book and listings in the books for a large chucnk of Southeastern Massachusetts. All we did was generate a phone bill that peaked at over $800 a month when most of it was the monthly charge for Yellow Pages.

When I spoke with the sales rep about getting an ad, she gave me a number. I was excited, because the number was low compared to what I’d expected, to the tune of half what I thought it would be for the year. I went all expansive, pricing listings in other books than our own.

Then I found out that what I had taken to be an annual rate was a monthly rate! No wonder it seemed low. It was, in fact, high. Extrapolating from my initial perception, that would make it about six times what I had expected.

After a year, I canceled most of it. After 2-3 years I canceled the local ad, too. We couldn’t afford or justify it. Heck, eventually I canceled our second line, for faxing, and well before we closed entirely, I canceled our phone service entirely. There really was never any excuse for it to be as costly as it was. By that time, I could be reached by pager, cell or e-mail more readily than by the office phone, and I worked from home more than not.

In retrospect, we should never have done the Yellow Pages in the first place, and arguably should have skipped the second line.

C is for Conglomerate

Recently I found myself toying with the new .XYZ top level domain, checking whether anything interesting might be available.

Naturally I tried abc.xyz which, predictably, was taken. Makes sense, right? Since something like ABC would naturally tend to snag a new TLD to match, or since someone like me, but faster, would snag it on a whim.

Some whim!

Google is now under an umbrella of many disparate companies in one, but as Alphabet, rather than as Google. It becomes one of many. I found out about this in the middle of the night, just before going to my “day job,” seeing the announcement at that time.

My overwhelming thought about it since then has been: Didn’t we used to call this a conglomerate? Those were all the rage, decades ago. Breaking those up to extract shareholder value was all the rage fewer decades ago.

Still, if being a conglomerate is effectively a done deal already, it makes some sense to brand the conglomeration differently from the original and presumably still most major component of the conglomerate. One could poke fun at the name, but hey, this is a company that called itself Google and wound up taken utterly seriously.

My secondary thought: .XYZ will be taken seriously as a TLD in a way that it might not have been.

Walter S. Mack Jr

Don Surber has been running a series of posts on exceptional Americans, with the first set now in book form. Many of them are, naturally, people from the world of business, invention and innovation.

Today’s example was a real education for me, as I did not know the history of Pepsi, or how there came to be a longstanding two cola rivalry.

Read about Walter S. Mack Jr and how he turned an obscure drink owned by a candy company into a huge success, at the same time helping to normalize racial equality of opportunity.