Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Destroy…a Billion Dollar Business

Yes, I’m playing off of the name of Trent Reznor’s new band, How to Destroy Angels.  I love Trent Reznor, and Nine Inch Nails is at the top of my list of favorite bands, but I’m not quite sure what to say about HTDA.  “Strange” probably best describes it.  I need a beat to my music, and so perhaps that’s why I have mixed feelings for his new band.  Trent, please work on some beat-driven hard music.  Your wife’s vocals are cool, and I could listen to Lucia Cifarelli (Kapt’n K’s aka Sascha Konietzko’s wife) sing all day long with KMFDM, so I’m totally into female vocalists.  But please give us a tempo that we can bang our heads to!

Anyway, I need to comment on a major issue of today—something that is affecting my happiness levels.  Before I get there, let me tell you a little story.  It takes place in Harrisburg, PA, where my in-laws loved to frequent a Vietnamese restaurant.  They knew the owners, the food was good and similar in taste to how they prepared it themselves, and eating there cut some stress on busy weekends when my mother-in-law could not spend the time cooking a huge meal for all of her children and their families.

One day we went to this restaurant, and things had changed.  The pho tasted bland.  We noticed the owner scrambling around the place as if he was doing all of the work—waiting on customers, working the register, cooking, cleaning, etc.  My mother-in-law asked him what was going on, and he stated rather bluntly that his cooks all quit.  Apparently they weren’t getting paid enough and were being asked to work long hours.  I think some of the wait staff had quit as well, so this guy was running the place all by himself.

As you can imagine, shortly thereafter the place closed down.  And we moved on.  There were plenty of other restaurants out there.  We missed his place, sure, but what could we do?

Then the place opened again a year or so later with new cooks and wait staff.  The owner promised it would be so much better.  And of course we began eating there again.  And the owner was right.  The pho was great.  The goi cuon was fantastic.  The guy had done a phenomenal job with hiring new cooks that were quite talented.  And we were very pleased each and every time we ate there.

But alas, it did not last.  After about a year, we noticed another downturn.  The food didn’t taste so great.  The pho seemed watered down.  The veggies weren’t very fresh.  We waited forever for service.  Something was wrong—again.

And again my mother-in-law asked the owner if he was having problems, and again his cooks had left him.  And again, he decided to shut the place down.  We heard that the cooks that had left struggled to find jobs.  They were in the States on work visas, and many returned to Vietnam.  The owner lost a ton of money.  We were, once again, disappointed.

I can’t say one way or the other who was to blame.  Perhaps the owner should have paid his workers better.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have required them to work ten hour shifts.  For those workers that ended up back in Vietnam, sure they were back home with their families, but the reason many of them came to the U.S. was to earn money for their dependents.  The exchange rate between Vietnamese dong and the US dollar is crazy.  For 5000 dong in Vietnam, you can buy a bowl of pho.  In US dollars, that’s the equivalent of 24 cents.  So imagine if a guy working in the US sends over $500 to his family.  That’s over 2000 bowls of soup—enough to practically feed a family of 4 for over half a year.  And these guys were making that much in about a week.  Yet they wanted more money.

And so now all of them are out of work.  The owner isn’t making any money.  Neither are his workers.  I heard that the guy was trying to reopen again, but seriously, who is going to go back?  Nobody will want to start eating there regularly again.  And even if some seats are filled with patrons, it won’t be like it was before or the time before that.  Maybe if the owner had at least kept the place open, things might be different.  Yeah, many Vietnamese people may notice that the food is sub-par, but at least they could keep making a profit.  At least other patrons would be able to enjoy the food.

Business owners are in it to make money, but you can’t make money when you alienate your customers.  When you keep closing up your business, you lose your loyal patrons, and then you have to rely on spotty income—which never works out well.  For this restaurant owner, the business-sense was severely lacking.

Does this story sound familiar to any hockey fans out there?

I can’t even begin to explain how disappointed I am with the NHL and the NHLPA.  I’ve been a hockey fan my entire life, but more so in the past few years since the resurgence of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Prior to the birth of my son, my wife and I would attend 3-4 games per year.  We love Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, and company.  We love teasing relatives and friends who root for different teams.  Since the 2005-2006 season, I’ve tried to watch every single game—missed a few due to travels or important errands, but Penguins games were absolutely a mainstay on my TV whenever I was home.

This year, with my son being old enough to actually watch and enjoy the games, I was hoping to take him to see the action live.  My wife is 7 months pregnant, and so we were really looking forward to squeezing a game in between October and December of this year, because who knows when we’ll get to go back with our new baby.  I’d been planning this all year.

And then the NHL and NHLPA became a bunch of greedy jerks.  Seriously, hockey is a joke of a sport in the US because of these labor issues.  In 1992, a strike postponed 30 games.  In the 94-95 season, teams only played 48 games because of a lockout.  In 04-05, the entire season was cancelled.  And now we’re looking at no hockey at least until probably January, and even then we might have nothing.

NBC put down some money for Sunday hockey games.  The Islanders will be calling the new Barlclays Center home.  The Penguins have Consol Energy Center that is only two years old.  Millions are made off of the sale of jerseys and gear.  And billions are made from ticket sales.  And yet the NHL owners would rather lock out the players and rob themselves of all that revenue than give in a little and keep the season alive.  And the players don’t care because they’ll just go to Europe and play there.  And with 75% of the players coming from other countries, who can blame them?  They aren’t making the money they would have made in the NHL, but they are still playing hockey.

But who is hurting the most?  Not the owners.  Not the players.  It’s the fans.  And seriously guys, if you expect to have the same fan-base when you come back—after your 4th work stoppage in the past twenty years, you are the dumbest businessmen on the face of the planet.

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