Back in May, Sears announced that it was closing roughly 100 stores, cutting the company’s footprint in half. Even those stores that survived the downsizing are likely living on borrowed time, and someday soon, Sears may fade into history. It’s hard to remember these days, but Sears revolutionized the retail industry and once ranked among the most successful companies in the world.
Founded in 1892, Sears, Roebuck and Co. initially focused on selling watches and jewelry. But the company moved aggressively to expand its product lineup. As with many disruptive companies, Sears leveraged emerging technologies and new ideas to offer goods at lower prices than the competition and the company won big.
Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century, folks living in rural areas were often forced to pay exorbitant prices at local general stores, typically on credit. Rather than setting standardized prices, local retailers typically set prices based on the creditworthiness of the customer. Have bad credit? Be prepared to pay more.
Rather than setting up local general stores and basing prices on creditworthiness, Sears offered a large catalog from which customers could order products. Prices were transparent and published in the catalog.
Of course, making a sale is one thing, and delivering the goods another. Rather than building up local infrastructure in rural areas, Sears used the high tech of the day — railroad networks. After an order was received, the items were loaded onto trains and shipped to customers. By today’s standards, fulfilling an order was slow, often taking weeks. Back then, it was revolutionary.
Just as Amazon used the Internet to lower costs and offer a wider selection, Sears and its catalog offered folks in rural communities access to a wide product selection at lower prices. Sears would later build brick-and-mortar stores but eventually fell behind more efficient competitors like Walmart and tech-savvy companies like Amazon.
Business tips from the greatest showman
Learning from one of the greatest showmen in history is certainly a good place to start if you want to learn how to grow your business. P.T. Barnum is still a household name, even though his famous circuses are no longer so popular with audiences. While Barnum is most famous for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the entrepreneur dabbled with running a newspaper and museum, among other things.
In 1880, Barnum published “The Art of Money-Getting or Golden Rules for Making Money,” and to this day, many of the insights remain helpful. For one, Barnum recommends that whatever you do, make sure you do it with all of your might. Many markets are crowded, and if you put in only a half-hearted effort, you’re only going to get half-hearted results.
Given his own eclectic career pursuits, you might think that Barnum would champion throwing lots of things at the wall and seeing what sticks. In practice, however, he urged focus, stating, “Many a fortune has slipped through a man’s fingers because he was engaged in too many occupations at a time.”
Barnum also urged entrepreneurs to follow developing events. In his day, that meant reading the newspaper. Today, many folks prefer podcasts and visiting news websites. But the medium doesn’t matter — the content does. By staying abreast of developments, entrepreneurs are in a better position to tap into opportunities and mitigate threats.
P.T. Barnum passed away in 1891, but the Barnum and Bailey Circus lived on, bought out by Ringling Bros. Circus in 1907. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shut their doors in 2017 following declining ticket sales and animal rights protests. However, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are set to return in 2023. This time around, animals won’t be used in the acts.
4 strategies for retaining your employees
As the job market becomes increasingly competitive, it can be challenging to retain your employees. Here are four strategies to help keep your talent.
1. Focus on communication. Communicate openly with your employees. Listen to their concerns and be open to new ideas. Let them know they’re heard and that you take them seriously.
2. Think about development. Employees often quit because of a lack of advancement opportunities. Therefore, provide training so your employees can develop their potential, avoid boredom and take on new challenges.
3. Offer benefits. Ask your employees what your company could improve and add these to their benefits and perks. For example, you could include group insurance, paid holidays, yoga classes, flexible working hours, and telemedicine.
4. Get out of the office. Create opportunities for your employees to socialize and have fun in a context that doesn’t revolve around work. Use the opportunity to celebrate their successes.
Employee retention also depends on effective recruitment. Therefore, use a specialized agency to start your talent search today.
Odd jobs: How the mud man makes baseballs fly right
It’s a closely guarded secret, passed down from generation to generation. It helps save lives and is integral to a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s mud. Yes, mud. And Major League Baseball (MLB) currently depends on this mud to provide ball traction and to ensure a strong grip, thus reducing errant balls.
You see, baseballs fresh from the box are quite slippery. And if pitchers lose control of the ball, someone could end up hurt or even killed. Mud can be used to increase grip while still maintaining the classic look of a white baseball.
But not just any old mud will do. In fact, the mud all comes from a specific place, a top-secret spot on a New Jersey river. And the MLB depends on one man, Jim Bintliff, who may be the only person alive who knows where to find the mud.
Bintliff learned the secret of the mud’s location in 2000 when his parents passed it on to him. An MLB player, Russell “Lena” Blackburne, first discovered the mud and its deglossing properties in 1938. The mud quickly became popular throughout the league, and barrels of it can now be found in every MLB stadium.
In 1968, Blackburne passed on the secret location of the mud to a close friend, who just so happened to be Jim Bintliff’s grandfather. Grandpa eventually passed the location on to Jim’s parents, who then passed it on to him.
Mudding new baseballs is now a time-honored tradition. That said, the mud’s days may be numbered. MLB is exploring ways to create a baseball that will provide excellent grip without mud and without interfering with the baseball’s many properties.
Cloud computing: the environmental impact of the virtual world
The internet is often referred to as the virtual world. Despite its intangible nature, it relies on many tangible resources, especially when it comes to cloud computing. Here’s a look at the environmental impact of the cloud.
What’s cloud computing?
Numerous companies make a living by storing personal files like photos and videos on internet servers instead of physical devices. This storage space is called the cloud because the data is suspended and readily accessible from anywhere.
What are the environmental impacts?
The growing popularity of cloud storage has led to the need for massive data processing hubs. These systems use a lot of energy and produce a lot of heat, which requires environmentally unfriendly cooling processes.
Moreover, these installations must be fail-safe, requiring large battery backup systems and generators. In short, storing information in the virtual world requires many resources. It also creates quite a bit of industrial waste.
However, cloud computing does have its advantages. For example, software programs can be downloaded from the cloud, eliminating the need for millions of compact discs. Additionally, this technology makes it easy to work from home, which helps reduce fuel consumption.
Despite these pros and cons, we need many more studies to measure the true environmental footprint of the cloud.
How buying local can help your business
You often hear about the advantages of buying local from a consumer’s perspective, but what about from a business perspective? Here are four ways your business could benefit from buying locally.
1. Logistical benefits
It takes a lot of time and resources to ensure your supply chain runs smoothly. The longer the chain, the greater the risk of encountering obstacles like sudden shortages, volatile exchange rates, and miscommunications. Buying local gives you more control and flexibility over your supply chain, saving you money.
2. Networking opportunities
Opening your doors to companies in your area creates exciting business opportunities. Buying local means contributing to the economic vitality of your region and being appreciated by your community.
3. Environmental advantages
Buying local is one of the keys to reducing your company’s carbon footprint. Today, products often travel thousands of miles when alternatives exist nearby. Therefore, your decision will be an inspiration to many.
4. Improve your brand image
Many consumers prioritize companies that take concrete steps to uplift their community and protect the environment. Many large businesses proudly publicize their local purchasing policies. Therefore, why not take advantage of this powerful marketing tool?
Buy local if you want your business to prosper and stand out from the crowd.
Canning history: How canned food revolutionized society
You might not realize it, but the humble cans of soup gathering dust in your pantry helped revolutionize the world. And believe it or not, canned food started as a war weapon.
Canning was invented in 1809 by Nicolas Appert in response to a request by the French army to create a method for preserving foods for a long period of time. Large armies require lots of food, especially if they are deployed for extended periods. And if armies are operating far from their home territory, securing supplies and food, in particular, can be difficult. Canning made it far easier to preserve food. This, in turn, made it easier to supply armies, explorers, and others who had to rely on preserved foods.
While Appert invented the canning process, he didn’t actually understand why it worked. It would take another half a century for Louis Pasteur to unwind the mysteries of canning. When food is canned, it is placed in a can or similar container, such as a glass jar. The container is then sealed, which prevents outside organisms from getting in. Next, the canned food is heated to kill off any germs still alive inside. Pasteur was the first to prove that microbes caused food to spoil.
Ultimately, canned foods made it easier for explorers to travel through the American West and cross oceans the world over. For better or worse, canned foods made it easier to deploy large armies for longer periods. This may have made the American Civil War and Crimean War in Europe, among other conflicts, bloodier as armies were able to march farther and stay in the field longer.
By the early 1900s, canning food was a popular home technology, adopted by women worldwide after the invention of new sealable jars by Charles Ball and Alexander Kerr.
Canned foods also help make food in general cheaper. Up until the 20th century, food took up a much larger portion of the average family’s budget.