By Garland Pollard
NEW YORK – One of the many niche defunct brands in men’s accessories was His Lordship. Back in the day when many men regularly wore cuff links, studs and tie tacks, smaller companies like His Lordship sold custom crafted jewelry. In the case of His Lordship, it was mostly nautically themed items, mostly made of sterling.
In the 1960s, the company had an affluent WASPy clientele that learned about His Lordship through sailing and boating magazines. It was totally a businessman’s product. The His Lordship Products Company, located at 245 Seventh Avenue, not only made jewelry other small metal items at their Manhattan location. At right, a set of Champion spark plug cuff links that were given to me by my father in law. The are supremely well made. Quite snazzy.
Today, the products can be found on Ebay and Etsy, usually quite reasonably priced.
One of the company’s key segments of business was making special Defense Department medals, including the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal; Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Commendation Medals; the Legion of Merit; Distinguished Service Medals; the Air Force Cross; and the Purple Heart. Their contract specification was never to have a defect. [Read more →]
February 17th, 2017 · 2 Comments
By Garland Pollard
SAN ANTONIO – Sears has opened a new spin-off concept, the Die Hard Auto Center. Of course, Die Hard is a strong Sears brand, and this news is just coming off Sears’ sale of Craftsman for an astounding $775 million to Black & Decker.
Currently, Sears Holdings is on track to do a Pan Am. That is, a great, iconic (an easily overused word, but true here) brand name company is now in the business of selling off the family silver. Pan Am did it by selling its headquarters, the Pan Am building, Inter-Continental Hotels, Falcon Jet, its Asian routes, the Pan-Am Shuttle and other subsidiaries. It was then left with its money losing airline, which went bankrupt. The brand then went up for auction and Pan Am, just the globe icon, sold for about $200K.
Sears has done a slightly different route, however, and in some ways quite interesting. The thesis: a company should create and spin off many companies as it grows powerful. That way, the economic value of the company survives if the main business struggles. [Read more →]
By Garland Pollard
There is a large amount of room in the marketplace for small, regional, handcrafted fashion and craft brands. One of the many surviving leather companies is J.W. Hulme of St. Paul, Minnesota. They make excellent leather goods, including bags, briefcases and wallets; it’s a luxury approach with a simpler, less fashion look.
The company is a turnaround success story; CEO Jen Guarino rescued the company just after it lost a major wholesale contract to a factory in China; Forbes has an excellent story HERE.
Hulme is one of many hundreds and hundreds of American leather brands; few have survived. To name a VERY few, they include A.F. Gallon, Gokey’s, Pfister & Vogel, Moser Leather.
Hulme actually makes their leather goods, which helps them stand out from brands that have survived merely on licensing.
Guarino is supportive of American brands, and has also put together a group called the The Maker’s Coalition, which aims to gather up American craft manufacturers into a trade group.
By Garland Pollard
LONDON – I hate to pick on British Airways, even for small things. There are few brands dearer to me. But when you have great affection for a classic brand, when they get annoying, you need to call them out on it.
First, let’s get a few things clear. I learned to love British Airways back in 1973, when I took a first trip to the U.K. on a B.O.A.C. 707 from Kennedy to Heathrow. I remember so many details about the day, even as I was only eight years old. I even kept some of the miniature playing cards. So when I saw, for the umpteenth time, an a British Airways ad on Facebook encouraging baby boomer parents to spend the “kids inheritance” on a trip, I got annoyed.
The ad is an annoying ploy for boomer parents to spend it away and booze it up at the top of the Shard while the kids are home in the U.S. The idea? Spend it away and booze it up at the top of the Shard while the kids are home in the U.S. As if London is a sort of Las Vegas or something? Talk about marketing tearing down the brand.
[Read more →]
By Garland Pollard
BELIZE CITY – British Honduras, now Belize, became independent in 1981. Today, the Commonwealth country Belize has been one of the most successful post colonial countries. It has not only managed to preserve its institutions, but create a welcoming climate for locals and tourists, preserving its nature, farms, Mayan ruins and overall sleepy vibe.
One of the most important ways to preserve a local identity is to keep around local retail brand names. Thankfully, American chains have not taken over Belize; the market is still not large enough. A great survivor is Brodies, born in 1887 as James Brodie & Co.
Today, Brodies is a grocery store, as well as selling a wide variety of housewares. To promote their brand, Brodies even does a yearly Christmas commercial, rather like British supermarkets.
The chain would do well to build on its history, all the while keeping its roots selling a variety of general and grocery merchandise.
One asset they have is their local employees, who give the store its identity. While there are local brands like Lighthouse Lager, Belikan beer and Independence cigarettes, most of the products are from the U.S. and other Commonwealth British countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad. The Brodie company is a true asset.
Also an asset are the larger companies; for instance Bowen & Bowen is the Coca-Cola distributor, but they are also the beer company and own fish farms and a Ford dealer, even the Chan Chich lodge in the jungle. This gives local stability to the economy.
Sadly, Bermuda lost Trimingham’s, its local department store. American cities have forgotten this, but in order to have a strong local identity and a viable downtown economy, you need a local or regional department store.
If you are planning on starting a retailer, why not go to your local historical society, and see if there are any defunct local retail brands? It will give your firm a leg up, because while most will not remember the brand, just having a story helps you, your employees and your customers have a narrative.
Below, the Brodie’s Christmas commercial.
November 11th, 2016 · 2 Comments
By Garland Pollard
That Arby’s CEO Paul Brown has joined the board of JCPenney has got me thinking. After JCPenney brought back appliances, why not bring reintroduce food?
Part of the old joy of going to department stores was the element of surprise, and options for repeat visits. One way to do that is a restaurant operation and grocery items. Sadly, as chains merged and department store management became more dictatorial and unimaginative, food operations left the premises. In the U.K., department stores like Marks & Spencer all sell food, and are able to weather the ups and downs of economics by being diversified.
If a bad fashion buyer takes control of a merchandise segment for a season, they can kill a clothing retailer. If there is diversified merchandise, the damage is less.
Brown might be the perfect person at Penney, with experience at Expedia and Hilton. He revitalized Arby’s, and understands hospitality.
Perhaps the most popular part of going to IKEA is the food, even though it makes up about 5 percent of the store’s sales. The restaurant is not only a draw that attracts customers. It is a demonstration for the kitchen products that are sold in IKEA, and that food that is sold for take away. Anyone who has been to IKEA knows what the dining room serves; it is a simple menu of just a few items, including meatballs, salmon and chicken fingers. There are other reasons for IKEA to have food.
Why food has left department stores in the U.S. is really about mismanagement and a lack of understanding of its benefits.
A particular culprit might seem to be Macy’s, but it was really their predecessor May Company, way back in the 1980s and 1990s, that was the evildoer in shutting down so many food operations. I say evil, because the decent restaurants in department stores were keys to the life IN the department stores. And when that life left, the store identity died as well. In recent years, Macy’s and other department stores have realized the power of a food operation to assist sales, employee morale and store atmosphere. [Read more →]
August 15th, 2016 · 1 Comment
By Garland Pollard
Uniforms are the original way to rebrand an institution. From Roman soldiers to Olympic athletes, clothes make the man. And the woman. And the institution.
Alitalia figured this out in a stylish rebranding. Late this spring, the national airline of Italy unveiled a new branding campaign with its central identity created by the fashion designer Ettore Bilotta.
The uniforms are made to reflect Italy, not only showing a fashion identity reminiscent of an early 1960s romantic Italian movie, but showing Italian craftsmanship. They are a throwback, with gloves, hats and formal wool jackets. [Read more →]
By Anthony Winfield
F. W. Woolworth store, closed, in downtown Richmond, Virginia. The store was demolished for parking in a redevelopment scheme.
The closure of many Kmart stores, and the potential for the shutting down of the entire chain, reminded me of F. W. Woolworth, better known as Woolworth’s.
At the time of their closure in 1997, they had many long-term leases and at well below market rates. For thus reason alone, they had an incredible value. It still amazes me that no corporate raider types stepped forward to scoop up such an monumental deal. But that is part of business thinking in recent decades. The bean counters require a new way of thinking beyond black & white, to consider all the shades of gray resulting in the total real world costs of their decisions. Most American businesses are too fixated on quarterly bonuses instead of the long view.
I believe that Woolworth’s is still a marketable brand, and humbly suggest a format in which they wrap themselves in the flag. The highlights would be somewhat nostalgic of simpler times when people were proud of our country and not ashamed to show it. Cracker Barrel serves nostalgia, wrapped in a practical thing, namely a useful restaurant. Woolworth’s could serve a slightly different and more practical market.
Woolworth still exists in some places around the world, though it went bankrupt in Germany (the company restructured) and the chain closed in the U.K. A spinoff Woolworth, with red W, is still open in Barbados.
This would be based on the following elements:
- Resemblance to the Original: The physical plant should resemble the original in a warm ‘n fuzzy way; what that is can be different things as the store looked different in each generation.
- Food Is Key: At the very least, and at the center of the operation, the lunch counter should be included, along with the sweet smell of their coffee shop drifting through the store.
- Many American Products: Offer, or at least feature, as many American made (not just assembled) products as possible. The trend to the return of U.S. manufacturing has already begun, and barring some catastrophic event will gain the momentum of a cartoon snowball rolling downhill. This will be further bolstered should Trump get elected (an observation, not an endorsement).
- Motivated Employees: Using the Costco model, employees should be paid an above average rate. This instills the old time work ethic and saves a fortune in reduced losses (damaged goods, theft etc) and increased productivity (including reduced turnover) It has the added benefit of not only avoiding Walmart’s Scrooge persona, but can be exploited for marketing and head hunting.
- Employee Owners: An alternative to this would be to have the company employee owned in the manner of Harley-Davidson or WinCo Foods (the latter has Walmart running scared)
- Charity Connections: Taking a page from another competitor, emulate Target by donating to charities, especially local ones of interest to the community. Not only is this a good and a right thing to do, but it should lead to increased sales.
By Garland Pollard
There are a large number of helpful websites that detail retail history. While Wall Street has finally understood the dangers lurking in American retail, these websites have been detailing what has been happening, some of them for the last decade. Many of them also have ideas and answers and solutions, should the investor class take the time to look and think.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Society for Commercial Archaelogy: This is the Margate Elephant of organizations that has raised the importance of telling the story of roadside commercial history, from gas stations to local motels to national chains. They do important advocacy work; recently they helped save the Queens Pepsi neon spectacular sign, and have done this sort of thing hundreds of times across the nation. Founded by Chester Liebs in 1977, they have a strong relationship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Smithsonian.
- Not Fooling Anybody: This is genius, a website about chain stores and their conversions into other uses. The “not foolin” part is that no matter what you do, you cannot erase the original mark of the chain store that was erected, no matter how hard you try. Oddly, as national chains have grown, they open up space for locals as margins deteriorate and the national tenants move on or disappear. Unfortunately, the national aspect of the design tends to imprison the local brand, and it is hard for local companies to break out. Its subtitle is “a chronicle of bad conversions and storefronts past.” The reality? A Fotomat is always a Fotomat.
- Groceteria: This is all about supermarkets and grocery stores. I have a special appreciation for it as they have a history of Colonial Stores, the Norfolk, Virginia chain that my great grandfather worked for. I also sort of am obsessed with grocery brands. Colonial was originally D.P. Pender and then became Colonial Stores and later Big Star. The site was put up by Greensboro, North Carolina historian, archivist and librarian David Gwynn.
- Deadmalls.com: Peter Blackbird, Brian Florence and Jack Thomas put this site up perhaps 15 years ago, and it is also on Facebook. They were the first ones to understand the value in these malls and also understand their lack of value, despite the protestations of un-imaginative commercial real estate brokers and investors.
- Sky City: A compendium of Southern and Mid-Atlantic retail history. This has lots of in depth information on small towns and lesser known chains. Emphasis on deep south, though some great discussions of places from my home state of Virginia, including Eastgate Mall in Henrico County. At right, the simple but handsome modern Patrick Henry Mall in Martinsville, Virginia.
By Garland Pollard
Rockwell logo at an exhibit at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Rockwell name was intimately connected with the space program, letting everyday Americans “participate” by buying their consumer tools.
As American companies have abandoned their legacy and sold out or turned into ever larger monopolies, new companies, often non U.S., have reaped the great rewards. One such story is Rockwell, which was one of the stellar brands of the United States space program, and best known and most trusted industrial names in the world.
Rockwell began with bearings, and making everything from the Apollo capsule to the Space Shuttle to the B-1. Founder Willard Rockwell was an Elon Musk of his time. The halo of the brand rubbed off on the popularity of their American made tools, each bearing the Saul Bass designed “praying hands” rocket launch logo that appeared in households and across the space program.
The company was clever in its ability to connect the consumer aspect with the industrial and space divisions; that generation of men, not trained “marketing” people, understood that average guys in their workshops wanted tools that were connected to World War II, Air Force and NASA equipment. The suburban male, looking at ideas for home building projects in the Popular Mechanics “Wordless Workshop” might indeed want tools made by the manufacturer of the Apollo Command Module.
The elder Rockwell had the logo on every part of the Rockwell International empire, even patches and playing cards. They were also brilliant at marketing at a sub-obvious level. For instance, in 1974 the company was astute enough to lend out its buildings for a Six Million Dollar Man episode with a UFO and sorta-hot space alien woman that Steve Austin managed to slip onto a lunar module to send back into space after she got stuck on earth. This sort of promotion does little for the consumer (only the most observant will hardly ever read the episode credits), but it does wonders for the excitement and morale of the company. If one can only imagine having Lee Majors hopping around the campus in a leisure suit for a week.
The companies were not only the place of great innovation, but great humor. Two internet items that mention Rockwell are the fictional invoice sent by Grumman to Rockwell over Apollo 13, and the fictional training film for the Rockwell Retro Encabulator. They are proof that greatness, gentle humor and innovation are ultimately connected.
Very often, a great brand comes from a great man.
Founder Willard Rockwell the man was an M.I.T. educated industrialist who believed that the pieces of a great piece of moving machinery was as important as the package, and today that legacy survives in different places as Rockwell Collins, a publicly traded company, Rockwell Automation, (which itself is really the Allen-Bradley company, which began as a rheostat maker in 1903) and the consumer line of Rockwell-branded tools (owned by a Chinese company). There were generations of Rockwells at the conglomerate; Willard Rockwell’s son succeeded him, and his grandson Willard III, a physicist, was also a space industrialist (as well as religious thinker and philanthropist).
The company has been broken up and the pieces are at companies like Boeing, which has an unfortunate and wasteful habit of not preserving the historic brand names it acquires (i.e, McDonnell Douglas). However, the tools brand lives on with the company Positec USA, and perhaps it makes sense that Boeing does not use the brand, as a company’s name cannot be split between too many companies without diluting the meaning.
The everyday consumer had little to do with Rockwell save the tools brand. Happily, the consumer brand was rescued over a decade ago by a University of Virginia grad named Tom Duncan of Positec USA, which is Chinese owned. Positec is a company started by a Suzhou entrepreneur named Don Gao. Gao is one of many industrialists in China realizing that being the low-value manufacturer is a dead end, and owning your own, U.S.-based brand not only helps improve margins, but keeps your company so it is not dependent on the whims of other middlemen.
While the Rockwell is owned overseas, the company has created jobs in North Carolina. Duncan told The New York Times in 2012:
Too often, Americans have a negative perception of Chinese companies, but I have a unique perspective. I was impressed with Mr. Gao’s operation, which was entrepreneurial and driven by innovation.
We’ve created more than 100 high-paying jobs in the United States, and also a number for our business partners here. We’re also considering transferring some functions that are now done in China to our North Carolina facility.
That there are riches to be found in distressed or unused brands is undeniable. It just takes years, and very sustained effort. There are hundreds of brands like Rockwell out there, needing revival. Good work. And glad it was a UVA guy that did it.
Follow their Twitter at twitter.com/rockwelltools
A vintage Rockwell circular saw.
A vintage Rockwell circular saw advertisement
Rockwell NASA equipment
A modern Rockwell tool from a Lowe’s ad.