Sunday, May 23, 2010

Russia Sends Sweet Satellites

I think of myself as a candy connoisseur. I like to try new varieties and alternate brands. I sometimes rate candy on categories like texture, lasting flavor, flavor peak, replay value, and, of course, tongue stain. The bluer the better.

(This odd opening has an even stranger transition into capitalism)

Our American economic system is a marvel. It ranks as both the best country in the world to do business with, and the best country for entrepreneurs. It was just in the late ‘90s that Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, one of my favorite companies along with Amazon, Facebook, and any firm that makes 3-pound bags of gummy bears. Now, Google ranks 102 in largest American companies by revenue (Forbes), but way higher in terms of profit and market capitalization.

Capitalism has its downsides, though, and none more observable than in the candy industry. Once upon a time there were thousands of confectioner companies making unique candies and chocolates. Because of the internet, all of those local brands could bring joy to anyone in the world. Sadly, most of the treats made by smaller companies are no longer available because the giants like Hershey and Nestle gobbled them up. The biggest losers in this case are us candy lovers.

Some people don’t like our capitalist economy and try to paint large corporations as greedy thieves that lack ethics and function solely to increase the bottom line and shareholder dividends. Sometimes, though, that isn’t the case.

Hamburgers’ dad wore a single pair of Ray Bans for 10 years before they broke. He then wrote a letter to Ray Ban expressing how valuable his purchase had been, and how durable Ray Ban’s products were. Ray Ban then sent Mr. Hamburgers a shiny new pair for free. They valued him as a customer and wanted to “do the right thing” even though Mr. Hamburgers probably would have purchased a new pair, anyway. Ray Ban’s behavior was not based on reducing costs or increasing revenue.

Now, I’ve had my own experience with a huge company that sells extremely durable products, and acts nothing like a greedy thief.

My parents bought me a black JanSport backpack when I was in high school. It lasted at least 10 years. Last month one of the straps finally ripped away from the top stitching. JanSport offers a lifetime warranty on its backpacks—it will repair or replace damaged ones in most instances. So, I mailed it to JanSport with a letter showing my gratitude with the product. I also mentioned that I had bone cancer many years ago and my left hip was removed. Because of my injury, I wrote, it is easier for me to carry force straight down (like from a backpack) as opposed to from my side (like from a laptop bag or briefcase). Because I often bring my laptop to work, I wondered if JanSport could upgrade me to a bookbag which also had a sleeve to carry a laptop.

I received a call from a JanSport representative one week later. The woman said JanSport could easily repair my backpack, but instead they were going to upgrade me to a brand new Sputnik model which also contains a laptop compartment. They don’t normally do that, but they wanted to help me out. I suspect this will last another 10+ years.

Dammit, now I’m hungry for vanilla Tootsie Rolls and cherry Twizzlers and LifeSavers Fruit Splosions and Starburst Jelly Beans and a three pound bag of gummy bears. I could really use some high-fructose corn syrup right now.

JanSport Sputnik bookbag