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How Disney built Marvel into a multibillion-dollar culture



Summer is here and blockbusters are back on the silver screen. Many of the biggest movies so far have been Marvel flicks. You can bet that they’ll continue to rack in many millions in the weeks ahead. Marvel is so now ingrained in pop culture that it’s easy to forget that the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe movie and show collection has only been around for about 15 years. And in many ways, the MCU is unprecedented.

In total, MCU films have brought in more than $25 billion in box office receipts, making the franchise now the most successful in history, blazing past the second-ranked Star Wars and its $10 billion.

Many credit Kevin Feige, the current president of Marvel Studios, for building the franchise into the behemoth it is today.

Kevin Feige (48462887397) (cropped)

Kevin Feige


Perhaps the most important superpower Feige and Marvel have brought to battle is tying together the numerous characters, storylines, worlds, and plots into a vastly interconnected web of assets.

Traditionally, movie studios limited overarching plots to only a few key characters and a couple of films. MCU movies, however, function as a TV miniseries of mega proportions, tying together nearly 30 movies (plus shows) over about 15 years. The movies alone run more than 50 hours combined.

Extensive run times and high-quality movies may help strengthen bonds between characters and audiences. Experts note that the MCU’s core characters, like Thor and Captain American, are beloved by viewers. Further, the MCU is careful to select top-notch directors and to continually challenge and reformulate their formulae. Rom-coms, space operas, period dramas, heist flicks — diverse genres reign supreme.

The result? Marvel can reel people with diverse tastes in, and if hooked, there’s a good chance they’ll check out other films and shows as well.

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In pursuit of the well-trimmed lawn



Few things say Americana like a well-trimmed lawn. Yet the modern lawn is a modern invention. Throughout most of history, trimmed yards were a luxury for the wealthy, who could hire people to cut and trim by hand. Most regular people only cleared land for farming or other agricultural purposes. Sometimes, grazing animals, like goats, were used to keep nature in check. By and large, however, people didn’t cut the grass in the modern sense.

In 1830, Edwin Beard Budding introduced the lawnmower to the world, taking inspiration from local clothing mills. This early lawnmower looks comical by today’s standards and was too heavy to easily use. However, Budding’s ideas cut the way for human-powered reel-type mowers, which while less common, are still used today.

In 1859, Thomas Green created a chain-driven mower. Squint really, really hard, and this mower looks vaguely similar to the motorized push mowers found in many garages and sheds today. A steam power motor appeared in the 1890s, and a large commercial combustion mower hit the turf in 1902. The first gas power mower started cutting in 1915.

These days, many folks opt for riding lawnmowers. Why push when you can rest? The first self-propelled riding lawnmower, the so-called “Triplex,” was introduced in 1922. Still, while mower technology advanced, many folks skipped cutting lawns. In 1952, as modern lawn care sensibilities were emerging, Briggs and Stratton developed a lightweight aluminum engine, which, in turn, allowed for light and easy-to-handle mowers.

The next several decades saw modern push and riding lawnmowers become more effective, cheaper, and easier to handle. Thus, more and more people started cutting their lawns. Now, you can purchase automated lawnmowers guided by AI to trim your grass. And rather than pushing or driving, you can enjoy a glass of lemonade on your porch while the mower does the work.

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Brick-by-brick: How LEGO solved financial struggles



Luke Skywalker ignites his lightsaber, a faint blue against a dark, alien Cloud City. But look closer and it’s not silver screen Luke but instead, a LEGO mock-up. This past spring, “LEGO STAR WARS: The Skywalker Saga” leaped into hyperspace, topping video game charts.

Once known simply for plastic bricks, LEGO has sold over 200 million video games and pulled in more than $1 billion at the movie box office. Meanwhile, LEGOLAND theme parks bring in more than 15 million visitors annually.

Yet in 2003, LEGO was about $850 million in debt and racked up $240 million in losses in 2004 alone. At the time, LEGO pulled in less than a billion dollars per year and simple plastic bricks no longer seemed good enough. Now? Lego’s revenues have topped $7.5 billion.

How did LEGO turn things around? First, LEGO brought in Vig Knudstorp as CEO, who sold LEGOLAND to the Merlin Group for about $260 million. Increased mold and production costs had smothered LEGO’s finances, so Knudstorp streamlined a bloated portfolio of LEGO parts to 6,000, leading to substantial cost savings.

Knudstorp also shut down LEGO’s computer game division. However, the company partnered with external developer TT Games to develop new games. Now, LEGO video games sell millions of copies. Julia Goldin, LEGO’s CMO, notes that video games move bricks, with some kids video gaming before they even get into physical LEGO sets.

Building partnerships with major franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter, also drove sales with some collector’s sets targeted for adults, retailing for hundreds of dollars. And in 2019, the Kristiansens, LEGO’s founding family and controlling owners, bought Merlin Group, bringing LEGOLAND back into the fold.

Thus, brick by brick, LEGO has emerged as a leading amusement park operator, film franchise, toy company, and video game franchise.

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Will automation shake up food and beverage industry?



When you think of automation, your mind’s eye might first envision manufacturing plants with robots whirling about, assembling the many gizmos that make up the modern world. Robots have increased productivity and helped lower the relative costs of various goods. And now, automation could shake up the food and beverage industry.

Back in 2015, McDonald’s installed its first self-serve kiosks. These days, amid a tight labor market, many companies are turning to automation to make up for hard-to-find workers. Still, when McDonald’s announced a rapid expansion of these kiosks in 2018, it was largely because they found that kiosks increased ticket size by an average of 30 percent.

Companies like GRUBBRR, meanwhile, offer self-service kiosks to small businesses and report that their customers have seen ticket size increase by as much as 50 percent. With kiosks, consumers are more likely to customize their orders, making upselling easier.

Automation can also improve efficiency and cut costs. As reported by CNBC, THAT Burger Spot!, a small burger chain in Georgia, saw average sales per labor hour reach $85, up from the high $50 range after installing kiosks and online ordering. Robots are also increasingly found in kitchens, flipping burgers and frying wings.

CIO Dive reports that half of the American restaurant operators plan to deploy automation within the next two to three years. Adoption challenges remain difficult as setting up systems requires calibration, but experts say AI may be able to help. While big chains led the charge, more automation providers are targeting and designing solutions for small businesses.

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Shark Tank host Daymond John’s keys for success



Tune into Shark Tank and you’ll hear advice from Daymond John, the founder of clothing brand FUBU, who has amassed a fortune stretching into the hundreds of millions.

Daymond John

And in many ways, his story encapsulates the American Dream.

Short, terrible at basketball, and dyslexic, Daymond realized early on that the surest path to prosperity was entrepreneurship and he had to champion his own success.

Want to discover his keys to success? Here are some tips:

* First, be resourceful. Looking for a big break, Daymond convinced LL Cool J, then an emerging rapper who grew up on the same street, to pose for a photo wearing a FUBU shirt. Word quickly spread and interest in FUBU skyrocketed.

* Next, find a mentor. Entrepreneurs don’t have to do everything on their own. Indeed, one of Daymond’s rules is to find a mentor who can teach you the fundamentals.

* Invest your time. He also urges people to recognize how valuable time is and to put every moment to good use. With that in mind, make sure you schedule yourself first.

* Cultivate patience. That’s important because success usually doesn’t happen overnight.

* Focus on improvement. For Daymond, success means constant growth and improvement. This might mean acquiring new skills or discovering ways to save money that can then be invested.

* Work hard. As for putting your nose to the grindstone, envision what personal success looks like. Once you have a destination in mind, it’s easier to plot the course. That said, he believes money doesn’t equal happiness.

And for all those who strike it big, remember to give and love. Daymond notes that teachers, mentors, and family members played a major role in his journey. Daymond’s mother, for example, mortgaged her house to provide startup capital. These many helping hands perhaps explain why Daymond now focuses much of his efforts on helping other aspiring entrepreneurs via Shark Tank.

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What are stock buybacks and why do companies use them?



If you happen to read the Wall Street Journal or other finance journalism, you’ve probably seen stories about companies buying back their own stock. Curious why organizations would buy their own shares? Turns out, buybacks offer a variety of benefits for both companies and shareholders.

Stock buybacks have increased substantially in recent years, both in terms of the number of companies buying back and the total amount invested. Before the turn of the millennium, roughly 30 percent of U.S. firms were engaging in stock buybacks, yet over the past few years, more than half have, according to S&P Global. In 1996, these firms spent less than $200 billion on buybacks, but by 2018, spending approached $1 trillion.

Companies buy back stocks for myriad reasons, although at the end of the day, the aim is to benefit shareholders and the company itself. With economics, supply and demand are crucial. When a company buys back stock, it increases demand for its shares, creating upward pressure. At the same time, as the company purchases stock, it often decreases the number of shares available in the stock market.

Buying back shares can also signal to investors at-large that the company is confident in its position. If internal leaders were worried that a firm’s share prices were set to decline, they likely wouldn’t buy stocks, as doing so would rack up losses.

Often, when stocks are bought back, they disappear, absorbed into the company, resulting in fewer shares outstanding. As a result, shareholders who still own shares may see their ownership increase. Sometimes, companies will keep the shares and then sell them to raise capital.

Meanwhile, companies often want to avoid having too much cash on their books. Generally, investors like to see funds put to good use, not wasted away. Stock buybacks offer companies a straightforward way to use money while adding value to shareholders.

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Put purpose first to produce the highest profits



It’s easy to fixate on making money when running a business. And at times, doing so is the right move. However, research conducted by the Harvard Business Review and EY found that combining purpose with profit pays dividends, with companies espousing purpose regularly more profitable than firms lacking purpose.

Classifying businesses into purpose prioritizers, developers, and laggards, the study found that prioritizers enjoyed the best financial results: 58 percent saw revenues grow by 10 percent or more. Just 15 percent saw revenues flatline. Meanwhile, among laggards, 42 percent of companies flatlined.

Why does purpose outperform? Surveyed business leaders believe that purpose offers many benefits, including increased employee satisfaction, greater customer loyalty, and higher quality products and services. Achieve the above, and you stand a good chance of bolstering financial performance.

The findings echo Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, a classic business book written by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Chronicling visionary companies from 1926 to 1990, the authors found that firms that put purpose at center stage generated far greater returns for investors than those that didn’t.

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Purpose may inspire a vision that withstands the test of time. Importantly, a long-term mission, according to Collins and Porras, sustains companies and inspires better strategic planning — not just today but for years to come. Emphasizing short-term profits, meanwhile, may encourage mediocrity, like cutting corners to pump up quarterly reports.

That doesn’t mean companies can ignore profits, of course. As Collins puts it, “Profit is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.” So hone your company’s “point,” and you may establish a foundation that lasts a long time. But make sure you’re getting your square meals too.

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I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

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Upcoming Events

6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Jul 1 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
…and be sure to attend our Fourth of July event!
10:00 am A Tree-mendous Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
A Tree-mendous Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jul 2 @ 10:00 am – Jul 3 @ 11:00 am
A Tree-mendous Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sensory Explorers’ Trail. Join Shenandoah Chapter Master Naturalist Paul Guay and explore the rich natural history of trees along the park’s Sensory Explorers’ Trail. Discover the tips and tricks of basic tree identification and the[...]
11:30 am Declaration of Independence reading @ Warren Heritage Society
Declaration of Independence reading @ Warren Heritage Society
Jul 2 @ 11:30 am – 12:30 pm
Declaration of Independence reading @ Warren Heritage Society
On 2 July, at 11:30, the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution will read the Declaration of Independence on the porch of the Archives at the Warren Heritage Society. [...]
12:00 pm Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jul 2 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Settle's Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Log Cabin in the Historic Area. Follow your nose to the Log Cabin to see what tasty treats are cooking on the hearth. Watch as a Sky Meadows volunteer dons historic clothing and cooks delicious[...]
12:00 pm The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jul 2 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work in the Historic Area. Members of the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac have set up shop and are ready to show[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Jul 6 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Jul 8 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
…and be sure to attend our Fourth of July event!
all-day Great American Campout @ Sky Meadows State Park
Great American Campout @ Sky Meadows State Park
Jul 9 – Jul 10 all-day
Great American Campout @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Don’t miss your chance to camp out in the beautiful Historic Mount Bleak backyard. See all that Sky Meadows has to offer through activities beginning at noon on Saturday and running until noon[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Jul 13 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]