Posts Tagged ‘product variety’

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? You apparently are not alone in procrastinating.  Shoppers are buying later and that is causing problems for firms trying to make sure they can get the right items to the right markets. Take, for example, toy maker Lego (Predicting Holiday Sales Poses Issues for Lego, Dec 13, Wall Street Journal).

The Christmas shopping season is getting trickier to navigate as buyers are waiting longer to purchase holiday gifts, Lego’s chief financial officer said Friday, and the trend is creating a need to get more immediate buying data from retailers, particularly in the U.S. …

In a telephone interview, John Goodwin said “this year is going to be the greatest stress test we have ever had.” While a late Thanksgiving contributes to the stress, “people are pushing off their gift buying later and later into their calendars.” …

[A]ccurately tracking buying patterns during the December shopping rush is of critical importance to a company such as Lego, which holds out as long as possible to package its bricks for shipping to individual markets. Many of Lego’s basic bricks are the same, but buyer tastes rapidly change, Mr. Goodwin said. So the company waits to decide what volumes of specific play sets to assemble.

“It increases the importance of getting very good data, so we can supply the retailers with the right products at the right time. We have to be as close to the ultimate purchase as possible in order to respond…nobody wants a disappointed child on Christmas.”


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A few weeks ago we had a post on 100th anniversary of Ford’s moving assembly line. Now the New York Times has an article on how the assembly line has evolved at Ford and other automakers (100 Years Down the Line, Oct 29). What stands out is how Ford and others are seeking to manage variety.

Flash forward to today, inside Ford’s five-million-square-foot, ultramodern Michigan Assembly Plant in the city of Wayne. Nearly 5,000 hourly workers staff the plant in three shifts. The assembly line is three miles long and features more than 900 robots. In the last four years, Ford has spent more than $500 million to refurbish the plant, which dates from 1957.

What makes the plant unusual is the variety of vehicles it makes. Its primary product is the Focus, one of the best-selling cars in the world. But the factory does not just build Focuses with traditional gasoline engines. It can also build them in electric and plug-in hybrid versions.

And the company recently added production of the new C-Max Hybrid — a smallish wagon that shares many parts with the Focus but has an entirely different shape and style.

Recently, as Focuses and C-Maxes hummed smoothly along the line behind him, Mr. Fleming, the Ford executive, said that the company was intent on making all its plants as flexible as Michigan Assembly.

“Within the next five years, our plants globally will be able to produce an average of four different models or derivatives of a model,” he said.

So how is Ford able to manage so much variety on one line? (more…)

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Most of us think of IKEA as “just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norsemen selling furniture for college kids and divorced men” but they also move a boat load of food. The Wall Street Journal reports that with food sales of around $2 billion per year, they are around the same size as Panera and Arby’s (IKEA’s Path to Selling 150 Million Meatballs, Oct 17). Just why and how did IKEA get into the meatball business? Check it out.

And here’s the reporter with a little more information explaining how IKEA has grown its food business.

[audio http://podcast.mktw.net/wsj/audio/20131017/pod-wsjwnhansegardikea/pod-wsjwnhansegardikea.mp3]


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When I was a kid, I loved Legos. So I was, of course, pleased when my kids started playing with them. In the last year or so, my kids have outgrown them. And while having all the Legos put away makes it a little safer to walk barefoot across the family room, it does make me a litte sad. Which is why, I guess, I have a soft spot for stories about Legos.

Like, for example, a BBC story asking just how many Legos can you stack on top of each other (How tall can a Lego tower get?, Dec 3). Turns out, you can make a pretty tall tower.

Ian Johnston and the team do two more tests to be sure we hadn’t just happened upon the strongest Lego brick in existence. And in fact they were impressed at the consistency of Lego manufacture.

The average maximum force the bricks can stand is 4,240N. That’s equivalent to a mass of 432kg (950lbs). If you divide that by the mass of a single brick, which is 1.152g, then you get the grand total of bricks a single piece of Lego could support: 375,000.

So, 375,000 bricks towering 3.5km (2.17 miles) high is what it would take to break a Lego brick.

Here’s a graphic to help visualize 375,000 Lego bricks.



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So Girl Scout cookies are very big in my household. Thin Mints in particular. And they are a very big business nationally. Wikipedia says that 200 million boxes are sold per year. However, change is afoot! According to the Wall Street Journal, the Girl Scouts are testing out reducing the number varieties that are offered from eight down to six (Cookie Cutters: Girl Scouts Trim Their Lineup for Lean Times, Jan 27). As is mentioned in this video (that is mostly about the over-professionalization of Girl Scout cookie sales), the goal is to cut cost and raise revenue:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

So what the fortunate six flavors? The list starts with the five most popular flavors (this is take from the Girl Scout Cookies FAQ):

25% Thin Mints
19% Samoas®/Caramel deLites®
13% Peanut Butter Patties®/Tagalongs®
11% Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos®
9% Shortbread/Trefoils

The sixth flavor is Lemon Chalet Cremes. It along with the other also rans make up just 23% of total sales. The flavors getting the ax include Thank U Berry Much and Dulce de Leche.

Now is it reasonable that this will make a significant difference in the Girl Scouts’ profit? (more…)

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My office sits in Nathaniel Leverone Hall. I never gave any thought to who Mr. Leverone was until on a visit to my parents in upstate New Hampshire I drove past Dartmouth’s Leverone Field House. That got me wondering who the guy was. It turns out that Mr. Leverone was from New Hampshire and went to Dartmouth but made his fortune in Chicago. He was a vending machine magnate.

I got to thinking about Mr. Leverone again because of a Wall Street Journal article on the technological evolution of vending machines (Restocking the Snack Machine, Aug 3). Companies who sell through vending machines, like almost everyone else, has been under pressure of late. Margins are thin and a number of typical sales points (factories and offices) have closed.

The response, at least among those that own a large number of machines, has been to go high tech. Imagine, essentially, an Internet enabled Coke machine that tells its owner what has been selling.

“It’s only natural that, when times get tough, people search for new and better ways to do things and take risks on doing things they might not have done when times were going well,” says John Mitchell Jr., an owner of Treat America Ltd. of Merriam, Kan., which has about 12,000 vending machines in the Midwest.

Treat America’s drivers used to stock machines with the most popular foods in their regions, based on sales tracked manually by category rather than individual items. It was difficult to know how different products were selling in particular machines.

Since January, Mr. Mitchell has outfitted about 40% of his machines with systems that record and transmit real-time sales data in each of a machine’s 45 slots. Mr. Mitchell says he now knows that about 40% of the slots are what he calls “dead spirals,” dispensing less than one item per week.

While packs of Cheez-It crackers sell the most of any item in a vending machine in a Kansas City, Mo., call center, they don’t even reach the top 10 in a hospital three miles away.

“You’re catering to a population that might be as small as 30 or 40 people,” Mr. Mitchell says. “The unique preferences of that population can drive sales significantly.”


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There is a commonly observed phenomenon that consumers can be happier with less choice.  Fewer options makes it easier to decide and customers are generally happier with their final decisions. That is the starting point for a story on Marketplace (Stores offer less so we can spend more, May 13). Customers may be just as happy with less options and firms have been hard up for cash so there is alignment of the stars and retailers have been cutting their assortments. Walmart, for example, has announced plans to cut the number of items in the store by 15%. But as the article notes, this isn’t just huge firms like Walmart.

Lorrain Schuchart is the Head of PR for craft supplier Jo-Ann Fabrics.

Lorrain Schuchart: The retailers were just trying to give the customer everything, and I think now we’re trying to find out what it is that they actually want and let’s not give them 20 selections when they really only want three.

And it’s not just a matter of removing items from shelves; Jo-Ann’s is completely redesigning 75 of its locations this year.

So far, Schuchart says the new stores are outperforming the old ones by 12 percent.

The article goes on to discuss a loyal Jo-Ann’s customer first visit to a redesigned store. She gripes about how her usual store is cramped and that the aisle layout makes no senses. She then gushes that the new store is so much easier to get around etc etc.


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