Saturday, March 26, 2011


Some companies succeed because they help define their times. IKEA succeeds by going against them. Our era is defined by well produced trash. Junk food shows great uniformity and quality control. Reality TV shows have extremely high production values. By contrast, IKEA stands for good ideas badly executed.

Sample rooms throughout the store look perfect. Once you walk in, something is amiss. The prints on the walls tear easily. The mattresses are too hard like stacks of papers or too soft because they're nearly hollow. The floors are made of brown plastic, and they look it. Low grade laminates can't pull off the wooden look. The shelved Swedish books are uniformly small, so as not to strain the particle board. Lamps look great, but the displays start to fall apart in the store right away. The store is a series of movie sets.

With IKEA your home will look fine, but it won't be comfortable. Sit in one of their chairs. You can feel the cardboard box it came in. Everything is designed for shipping. "Ergonomics" is apparently, a dirty word. Knife handles are dangerously skimpy. Nothing feels quite right.

The most puzzling thing about IKEA is that they try too hard to be Swedish. Their furniture is Danish Modern. For tax purposes, headquarters has long been in the Netherlands. Still, they persist. Arrogant, highly paid Swedish executives occasionally walk the floors with an inflated sense of their own importance. The business model was set up long ago, and it's already going on without them. They are extras on the set, providing background noise and color by walking around and speaking Swedish. The books that line every shelf are as out of place as the executives. They were printed in Sweden, far in terms of geography and the hellish conditions that define contract manufacturers.

IKEA will end in one of two ways. A trend towards quality could drive the company out of business. If the cost cutting trend continues, someone will figure out that Swedish trappings are unnecessary for selling furniture historically associated with Denmark. Less visible, lower paid management from somewhere else will take over. The stores will become space efficient warehouses instead of the pleasant movie set collections we have today. Trivia buffs will occasionally point out the stores that used to be IKEA.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nike, Puma and Adidas

I remember seeing real athletic shoes for the first time. They were shiny and colorful, made from leather, nylon and lighter looking rubber than I had ever seen. A coach at my school had them, and everyone asked questions. They were ASICS Tigers, from Japan. They were only available at one small store. It was explained that they were for running. We were in awe for weeks.

Since then, I realized that the ASICS emblem was probably an outline of the striping used to identify Puma and Adidas, which I saw later. Nike came after them. Nike remains the first and only imitator I have ever seen break into the first tier. For the first few years, their swoosh was looked down upon. After all, their emblem just turned Puma's upside down.

All four of them were strongly connected to their countries of origin. All of them were worn by real athletes. For a long time, they were hard to find. They had as much brand equity as anyone ever has.

Since then, only ASICS has preserved their mystique. They don't plaster their name all over everything to be sold everywhere.

Nike, Puma and Adidas, on the other hand, might as well be the same company. All three are textbook cases of squandered brand equity, haphazard quality control, and perhaps worst of all in their business, no sense of style. Fans and dedicated amateur athletes might be able to keep track of their few offerings made for sports, but for the most part, they're lost in the piles of junk unloaded into stores every day. Today, they make generic products.

The worst example of their forays into every possible aspect of the shoe business is that all three put their names on rubber shower slippers. While there is nothing wrong with these products, they do nothing to inspire awe towards their brands. It's a strange contrast to how they burst on the scene initially. At first, they were light years ahead of anything else. Now, they are fighting a losing battle in gyms everywhere to generic flip-flops.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


What is a Porsche? The answer is obvious, but those running the company have willful amnesia. They are going down the road of General Motors. Like them, they will learn that their brand is not anything that they say it is.

For those who don't know, a Porsche is a reality based sports car built for Germany. You can contrast it with sports cars built in other countries. America's Corvette is the same, but built for the US, where gas prices have rarely been an issue. The great Italian sports cars are built for grand prix fantasies. Basically race cars with license plates, they are more suited to the track, but you can drive them legally on the street. British cars are also fantasy based. The motors are engineered for British weather, but the archetype style remains the roadster. What if the sun came out? Sometimes it does, and English drivers hammer their cars over green hills that match their British Racing Green paint. A Porsche is a two-seater coupe. You can drive it every day through German winters. The rear engine means that the weight is over the driving wheels for better traction through wet and icy weather. Air cooling meant that there was no water to freeze and break things. Water cooling has since improved, but simplicity and utility remain as the Porsche ideal. The company has three major problems:

  1. Pride. This is endemic to the German auto industry. Everyone else has standard parts. Porsches used to require a few special tools, but over the years, the entire country's industry has gone nova. It's a standard complaint that drives people away: Marque specific parts cost a fortune. It would be justified if some metric applied to cars were increased, but the plethora of such things does nothing for increased speed or reliability. An exasperated writer for Hemmings recently asked, "What next? BMW specific gasoline?" VW uses oil filters that are different from everyone else's. Porsche is the worst of all. The pursuit of difference with no measurable increase in utility needs to stop.
  2. The Panamera. This is not a Porsche. Porsches do not seat four.
  3. The Cayenne. See above. Also, I doubt that old Ferdinand dreamed of building a station wagon, then lifting it 50 feet in the air.
What needs to be done: The family in charge needs to figure out the difference between VW and Porsche. They also need to look at how other marques do things. For example, a handling package by Lotus is different from a Lotus. Marque specific parts must go. As it stands now, they do not show off German engineering. They just display the engineers' egos.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This blog

I've run out of ideas for the moment. Maybe I'll have more later.