By Garland Pollard
WAYNESBORO – Perhaps the greatest American brass company of the 20th century was Virginia Metalcrafters.
The company started as a stove manufacturer, early on making, of all things, the Hotpoint brand. Begun by William J. Loth as the Waynesboro Stove Company, it was born at a time when there were many regional iron foundries and stove makers. As electric appliances took over, most of these companies shut down, unable to adapt. However, Virginia Metalcrafters figured out a way to survive. In 1936, it became Virginia Metalcrafters, selling unique household items to that new, sensational American tourist attraction, Colonial Williamsburg.
At right, a photo of its trivets, placed in a modern decorating scheme, from the 1982 Williamsburg Reproductions catalog. [Read more →]
By Garland Pollard
Pillsbury has made many a product since 1872. Perhaps one of the most forgettable was Space Food Sticks, a sort of chewy-chocolate Slim Jim vitamin.
The Space Food Stick, we presume, never really actually made it into space. In fact, if you were going to serve “space men” something chocolate, perhaps a chocolate bar would deliver more of the excitement and sugar rush that one would wish if you were circling about the moon in one of the Apollo capsules. Astronauts would want something that reminded them a little bit more of what they might buy in a Houston, 7-Eleven.
The brand had a number of problems, most evident from a brief look at the packaging, which tried to sell to too many audiences at once. Each stick was “44 calories” which was an obvious ploy to sell it to dieting women (and the stray man) looking for something that tasted good, was nutritious and filled with vitamins. The “Space Food” brand was obviously a ploy to hijack some of the Tang buzz, which was then all a craze with kids.
As I recall the taste, it had a vile tang to it, but the tang was more an aftertaste, perhaps a result of the vitamins and preservatives added, with a bit of the metallic terroir of chocolate Ex-Lax. The texture was equally chewy, not quite candy, not quite a chocolate cupcake.
Curious if any others had experienced these treats.
March 24th, 2015 · 1 Comment
By Garland Pollard
The news that there were numerous bidders for the remnants of Radio Shack includes the fact of a joint Sprint/Radio Shack deal that came to the press in February. The bid aims to keep a half-skeleton of the stores alive, and use them as a place to promote Sprint wireless. We hope it wins, as there are still thousands of employees who would at least have a future.
However, the stores and real estate are not the only assets of value in the bankruptcy. There is at least some intellectual property, a distribution network and a product line that still has value.
Of course, the company has made so many mis-steps, including rebranding as “The Shack” when really, people call it radio shack. It also missed the whole gaming craze, which it pioneered, and has been completely useless in the field of personal computers, which it sort of half invented. It also ignored all its great brands and products in favor of an Uber brand.
For instance, in antennas, it had Archer. Today, an antenna is a very useful thing, as people attempt to cut the cord to cable. However, at the store where I would go, the antennas did not work for HD, and were not really thought through as products by buyers.
That being said, iPhone apps have just about killed every segment of an old Radio Shack store. From clock radios to receivers to telephones to cassette recorders to thermometers to weather radios, an iPhone does it well, although not with the nostalgic charm.
Of course, the decision will be with the court. And it can only be a niche play, though I still would love a friggin Flavoradio, in yellow or blue please!
Seriously, though, it would seem like the judge could perhaps piece together a solution that would please the bidders who wanted to keep some stores alive, and the others who want pieces.
Over the years, we have had some suggestions and comment; some of the related stories are show below, including a story about Rodrigo Mitma and Josh Finkelstein’s entry in BrandlandUSA and Savannah College of Art and Design’s Phoenix Competition. The contest, led by ad professor Sean Trapani, attempted to revive dying or dormant brands.
- The name. While it is certainly tarnished, Radio Shack has value. It is often the first place where you go to get a connector, charger, iPhone case, USB drive and all the other little pieces that you need for our electronic era. Much as we try to Bluetooth or Wifi our way to connectivity, we still need all those doodads, which become ever more complex, not less. Questions such as what as the difference between big HDMI and little HDMI? Does HDTV work? That sort of thing.
- The brands: Radio Shack has ignored its sub-brands, but there is some value there.
- The website: Alexa stats show radioshack.com does not have great traffic, but it ranks 1,470 in the United States. Each visitor stays about three minutes, viewing about three pages. Not horrible, and that site could be valuable as a hub for electronics information and mail order.
- The expertise: I am not sure where you find 23 year olds who like to talk to 40-plus people about electronics tips, but these employees are good at it, and often approach it with a sense of humor.
- The number of stores. Back in the 1970s, when Radio Shack was king, there were about 2,000 stores. Today, there are over 4,200, and the idea that one store is needed in every neighborhood shopping center is just too much for a company to manage. As I recall, the typical Radio Shack of the mid 70s was slightly larger, and had room for the higher margin electronics that would spur all the other sales of connectors, tapes and such.
- Needs: What does a person need today for electronics if you have an iPhone? You never have enough USB chargers, but separate from that, what else?
- Computers: The 60 plus set loves Facebook, but has trouble with routers, laptops and such. Having such help is definitely a market that they ignored.
- Franchising: The brand is well known, and I could see many entrepreneurs who could use the flag as a way to sell the sort of bucket shop items that we all need, as well as sell Dish TV services and the like.
By Garland Pollard
As the U.S. retires the last C-141 StarLifter, Lockheed-Martin issued a press release, the sure sign of a company that values its history, as it is currently making the C-130J modernizing the C-5 Galaxy.
The aircraft, used from Vietnam to Iraq as a transport, debuted in 1967; the retired Hanoi Taxi aircraft has 39,470 flight hours and 10,900 landings.
The C-141 was a tremendously successful aircraft for Lockheed as a military jetliner; a commercial version never succeeded. It was notable for many reasons; Walter Boyne, in The Lockheed Story, recounts that the plane’s production area was where the company decided to desegregate its Georgia operation, as it was with Federal money. Lockheed officials Dan Houghton and Dick Pulver quietly removed all segregated signs at drinking fountains, and instead simply offered paper cups. Segregated lunchrooms were abandoned, with food carts placed in halls. [Read more →]
By Garland Pollard
LONDON – How about a rerun or a revival for Digital.com? A firm in the U.K. entitled Quality Nonsense purchased the digital.com domain and hopes to redevelop it. Or not. As they say in their website:
We bought the domain to develop, rather than to speculate, and have declined several substantial offers. However, serious offers will receive suitable consideration.
The domain was part of HP, which purchased Digital Equipment Corporation and shut down the brand. Quality Nonsense has put up a shingle website, using a Mad Men era Flickr image.
The Digital shutdown was a waste of a great corporate legacy. Not only did Digital have a great history of innovation known to older technology pioneers, early Internet adopters in the 1990s appreciated the brand for its Altavista search engine, which Google clearly aped. Even today, I find myself missing some of the search features of Altavista, which pioneered a sort of generic search that showed no favorites. It also allowed for the searching of images and audio files.
Today, the altavista.com website redirects to Yahoo. However, because Altavisita was originally a subdomain of digital, if you go to altavista.digital.com you necessarily fold back to digital.com, as that’s the way the website works. [Read more →]
By Tom Harding
Classic ad from IWC in the 1950s, when the brand marketing was about performance and function, not image.
NEW YORK – In an ever saturated market, with companies jostling to differentiate, the appeal to associate brand with ‘heritage’ continues to increase. Virtues of timeless legacy, quality & tradition become lighthouses of authenticity in ever volatile, albeit, undifferentiated waters.
That said, when companies artificially manufacture such authenticity, do consumers care?
In 2012, Georges Kern, the CEO of IWC, a company with an outstanding heritage & reputation for producing some of history’s most exemplary timepieces, gave a refreshingly frank yet brutal summary of how they brought their Portofino range of watches to market:
The firm, with a number of perennially successful lines, had a challenge with the Portofino; “We never knew what to do with the product, it had no story, no repositioning, but it had a great name” Kern says in the presentation – IWC set to work on developing that story: ultimately drawing inspiration from the 1950’s Mediterranean jet-set. [Read more →]
September 11th, 2014 · No Comments
By Garland Pollard
CANAJOHARIE, N.Y. – Classic kitchen staples that have not changed over the years are getting rarer and rarer.
One of those mostly unchanged brands is Gravy Master, made by Richardson Brands. Richardson makes other classic niche brands, including Beechies, Dryden & Palmer Rock Candy and Richardson Mints, those tiny mint-candy covered chocolates that restaurants give out by the register. The company began in the late 19th century when Thomas D. Richardson first began selling mints at a Philadelphia department store.
Gravy Master is a useful thing to have around; a few drops in the pan after cooking meat make a tasty gravy; all you do is add flour to the mix…
The little glass bottles, which sort of remind of an ink bottle, keep a classic look. The competitor to Gravy Master isKitchen Bouquet.
By Garland Pollard
NASHVILLE – RCA’s Studio A, an important legacy in American country music history, is under the threat of demolition for a condo project. However, the music industry (and the National Trust) is taking note, hoping this great artifact can be saved, and in turn becoming a keystone in the music industry’s efforts in preserving Nashville’s Music Row.
The studio, developed by Chet Atkins, was built in the early 1960s, and was part of a new generation of Nashville music that had a smoother, more polished sound. It is large enough for a symphony orchestra; indeed Ben Folds, who is fighting to save it, uses it for a large number of different recordings. Folds is best known for that elegant-but-haunting piano ballad of the late 90s, “Brick,” recorded by his group Ben Folds Five.
A bit from Folds’ website and studio, Grand Victor Sound:
Grand Victor Sound Nashville is home to one of the largest and most historic recording spaces in Nashville. The studio, built at the request of Chet Atkins, first opened its doors in 1965 and was known as RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios, part of the RCA record label’s Nashville division. The studio’s client list, past and present, reads as a “Who’s Who” of music legends. The Monkees, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett, George Strait, The Beach Boys, Amanda Palmer, William Shatner, George Jones, Brian Setzer, Hunter Hayes, Kacey Musgraves, Jewel and Willie Nelson are just a few of the many talented artists who have recorded in this room over the years. After almost a decade of dedicated private use, Grand Victor Sound Nashville has re-opened to the recording community for commercial sessions.
The music industry is what has given Nashville a reason to be something on the world stage, and something other than yet another Southern town. It would be tragic if this resource were lost to future generations, particularly now that it is a working studio with so much life.
In his letter, Folds writes, “Take a moment to stand in the silence between the grand walls of RCA Studio A and feel the history and the echoes of the Nashville that changed the world.”
Visit the Music Industry Coalition to find out more.
By Garland Pollard
WATERFORD, IRELAND – When I converse with anyone about an old, deceased brand, the conversation often comes to the point where we wonder about the brand’s value, especially if I am the only person who knows of the brand name.
I came across a perfect situation while reviewing a March 1961 National Geographic, which featured “The Magic Road Round Ireland”. In the story, there was a photograph of Waterford Glass by Robert Sisson, which I photographed here. The caption noted that the brand disappeared because of “crippling excise taxes” and was revived in 1951.
To determine the book “value” of a brand after it has completely disappeared, accounting wise, is a fairly straightforward thing. Once it has passed for three years out of the trademark register, or has been discontinued long enough to be forgotten by the public, its value is pretty much nil, officially. Today, there are once national restaurant chains that have surviving franchisees that pay no money for “the name” as the presumed value of the brand has disappeared. Accounting wise, brands are not well cared for on balance sheets, and often ignored; a page of reports by Jim Gregory’s Core Brand gives the details here.
Which is why the case of Waterford Crystal, now part of WWRD Holdings, is so instructive.
The Waterford Glass Works began in the 18th century with entrepreneurs George and William Penrose, who utilized artisans in Waterford to create the sort of high quality glassware found elsewhere in Europe. Working closely with government and craftsman, for nearly a century Waterford produced classic glassware for the elites. But it shut down in 1851, and was closed for over 100 years.
After World War II, entrepreneur Charles Bacik (1910-91) came to Ireland and rebuilt the legacy using the Waterford idea and a niche-but-remembered name mystique as his marketing tool. He had a Czech glass tradition, and married it to a local idea.
We would venture to guess, however, that the perceived “value” of Waterford in the pauper-land that was post World War II Ireland, was not great, and perhaps only had value in the minds of certain people who still had the glass, or knew about it. What Bacik understood was that there was a great tradition and legacy in the idea of Waterford, and he could connect that legacy to the craftsmen, salesmen and marketing people who could make it work again.
Unfortunately, and in the latter part of the 20th century, the company was mismanaged, sold, and manufacturing was moved out of town, and the labor struggle that ensued made world headlines. Only recently has a Waterford visitor center reopened.
Very often manufacturers are only looking at costs when they think of manufacturing, but connections to a historic location make a brand authentic. Today, the brand Waterford has done un-useful things with the Waterford name by making Waterford outside of its native city.
- Today’s consumer is obsessed with authenticity and local connections; hundreds upon hundreds of new boutique brands are connecting their location to their product.
- Strong personal convictions, leadership and skill are essential: Brands cannot be a pure marketing or licensing play. What revived Waterford was a skilled entrepreneur who knew about glass.
- Design is central. The creative, iterative part of a consumer product brand is essential. While some brands like toothpaste, soap and canned foods can remain mostly static and survive, good craftsmanship and artistry cannot be ignored.
Tags: Factory Tour · Home design
By Garland Pollard
MARINA DEL REY – There are thousands of family businesses in the U.S. that were once considerable enterprises, so it is refreshing to see some of them come back, even if they are but modest start-ups.
To wit, Cohen & Sons Apparel. I don’t know much about the original, but the Zach Cohen, a grandson, is in the process of reviving it.
The company originally started in 1947, at 536 Broadway in New York (the video has a shot of it). Young Zach, in the video, tells the story quite effectively, stating that he quit his job to “restart the machines.”
So far, he is doing well with his Kickstarter, and at presstime is less than $100 away from his $10,000 goal. For this project, Kickstarter investors get different levels of clothes, including socks ($10) and shirts and hoodies as you donate more.
He talks a bit about it:
“Sixty-seven years ago my Grandpa Jack flipped the switch and his clothing factory was open for business. His shop cranked out quality garments for almost half a century until competition overseas forced him to shut off the lights and close up shop.
Arm cast and all; I’ve been ironing out the designs, sourcing the materials, and assembling a seasoned team of production partners to launch an apparel company to produce stylish, comfortable, and reliable clothing. I promise none of our gear is going to shrink, fade, fall apart, or change sizes and pull a Houdini on you.”
His brand statement? Life is way too short to be staring at a machine, thinking about what everybody else is doing.
So the big question. What company and/or brand did YOUR grandfather start? And does it deserve a new life?