Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My New Favorite Company

I absolutely adore entrepreneurs. I even more absolutelier adore entrepreneurs who love doing what they do so much that you can practically see the joy and pride all over the company. The employees wallow in it--you can tell by the grins on their faces in those company pictures. The websites are vibrant and very user-friendly. The stores are clean-swept, fresh-smelling and bright. The products almost zing! out of the packaging and immediately begin to change your life for the better.

Some examples: Dyson vacuums, Apple, Disney (I mean the resorts and parks), our local Johnny's Pizza franchisee owners, IKEA

As you may be aware, we are participating in a charity walk to raise money for food allergy research at the end of this month. Last year, I noticed that many other teams had custom-designed t-shirts for everyone to wear and I suffered horribly from t-shirt envy from the moment we got there until many months afterward. (Sometimes it's hard for me to let go!)

So I wanted t-shirts for our team this year, especially because I LOVE our team name ("Ryan's Peopleguys") and also I want other people to envy US. I guess it's all about the envy, isn't it?

I found Customink through a Google search (oh hey, Google!) and, poked around a bit on their website, stumbled onto their design lab and the next thing I knew....there were t-shirts! It was so incredibly easy and there are so many options. Ryan even got in on the design action. And it is inexpensive, too. I got a dozen shirts, one for everyone walking on our team plus some extras for family and friends for about $13 a shirt. Really, that's what you pay for a t-shirt anyway--and these say what I told it to say! (envy envy envy)

But that isn't the best part--oh no! That's just the regular old how-they-do-business part. A few days after I placed my order, I received an email from one of their CSRs, who wrote:

I noticed that you have designed shirts for the upcoming FAAN Walk
charity event. We think it’s awesome that you are participating in such
a worthy cause, and we would like to sponsor you and your team by
contributing a small donation.

Could you please reply to this e-mail with the link to your individual
sponsorship page, team page or an address to which we may send a check?

Um, okay! I wrote her back with our team fundraiser link and she wrote back a very nice note and complimented me on how good-looking my little boy is (he is, isn't he?) and how she really hopes they fix all that peanut allergy stuff really soon, and by the way, Customink has made a donation to our team! She told me that they contribute a small amount to every group participating in a fundraiser who uses them for their t-shirts.

I was really impressed--basically, they lowered my total shirt cost by about a shirt and a half but they gained an enormous amount of goodwill from me, and loyalty, too! And lots of word-of-mouth advertising (consider yourself advertised at). It's one of those small touches that goes a really, really long way....waaayy beyond the actual monetary cost at the time.

So, just thought I'd share. I can't wait to receive our shirts--should be tomorrow! And then you will.....envy! Or, possibly not.


Qwertz said...

Dyson sucks! I've never used a suckier vacuum cleaner. Thing sucks like it's going out of style. And nothing you do can make it less sucky. It just keeps on sucking.

In this case, that is, of course, a good thing.


Rational Jenn said...

Okay, you're funny! You must come back and funny some more!

Charlie said...

Not fer nuthin' (I think that's a Rhode Islandism), Consumer Reports said that the Dyson doesn't actually vacuum better than any other vacuum in its class. It just has really good marketing and an elevated price. Their ratings put the Dyson on par with most major brands.

That's why we bought a Eureka, or Hoover, or something (no recollection) rather than pay an extra $200 for a Dyson. And the one we got still actually sucks. In a good way.

Of course, it would help if we vacuumed more than once every leap year. Oy.

Rational Jenn said...

I tend to believe Consumer Reports on these matters, so I don't doubt what you say is true. We have been happy with our (on sale) Dyson and it's such that even I can vacuum with it despite my allergies. Yes, Dyson's vacuums are very good--but that's only half the reason I like them so much.

The other half is the fact that they were innovative enough to create some of the (if not THE) world's first bagless vacuums and changed the industry forever. Dyson spent all kinds of time approaching Hoover and other manufacturers, trying to sell them his technology. They refused. Vacuum companies made most of their revenue through the sale of the bags, not the machines:

"James Dyson offered his invention to major manufacturers. One by one they turned him down, apparently not interested in new technology. They seemed determined to continue selling bags, worth $500 million every year. Later, Hoover's vice president for Europe, Mike Rutter, said on U.K. national TV, "I do regret that Hoover as a company did not take the product technology off Dyson; it would have lain on the shelf and not been used."

That attitude by Hoover is just, well, shudder-inducing to someone like me. But Dyson stuck it to them in the end, created his own company, and now you'll notice that most vacuum manufacturers have bagless machines. Dyson was (haven't checked recently) making money hand over fist. Hope he still is.

Charlie said...

Cool! I didn't actually know anything about Dyson other than the ads. Had no idea about the backstory.

BTW, the Eureka vacuum we have is bagless, and it works quite well. I guess I have Dyson to thank for that.

About the "shudder-inducing" comment: if Hoover had correctly identified at the time that the bagless technology was viable, and a major threat to their business model, I'd be fine with them buying it and burying it until they were ready to use it, if at all. I'm sure that happens all the time, and it certainly makes sense from Hoover's perspective, at least short term. If you know full well that something is going to cost you $500M a year, and you have the power to stop it, why not do it? Even if it's a cool idea you'll be killing? I'd sure do that. And then I'd keep in the back of my mind for awhile, trying to figure out how to use it without hurting my revenue stream.

Of course we all benefited from the fact that Dyson was rebuffed and he had to start his own company. Had he not, and Hoover bought it, perhaps in 10 years or so Eureka or Oreck or someone would have come up with something similar and the Hoover would have had to play catch up again.

So am I missing something? I just don't see a huge philosophical issue here. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter (fully recognizing that you may have just made an off-the-cuff statement relating to anyone who would try to stop innovation).

Rational Jenn said...

What you said:

(fully recognizing that you may have just made an off-the-cuff statement relating to anyone who would try to stop innovation).

I think it would have been within Hoover's right to shelf that technology, of course. It sucks (vacuum-related humor!) when competitors come along with market-changing technology and if you have enough at stake and enough resources to keep the market on your terms, then by all means, do so. But companies who do that probably need to beware that a true innovation will probably not be able to be held back forever.

Hoover made a strategic error in not buying Dyson (the guy) out. Then they copied his design, Dyson sued and WON (from the website):

Then in 1999, Hoover UK tried to imitate a Dyson and James was forced back to court to protect his invention again. After 18 months Dyson finally won a victory against Hoover UK for patent infringement.

Dyson has really battled long and hard and I'm happy to see him successful--do wish their machines were a bit cheaper though. From what I can tell, Hoover acted like a whiny beeyutch from the beginning to the end and they got a nice smacking down. This all mostly happened over in the UK (where "hoover" is a generic word for vacuum) so I'm not quite up to speed about all the specific legal ins and outs that occurred.

I think Dyson has written a book--the whole reason this company sticks out in my mind is someone did a presentation on them in one of my grad school classes and also there was some kind of after-school special on the History Channel or somesuch. Plus, I like my purple vacuum!