A Necessary Convenience

Q: What 20th century “convenience” is most taken for granted?


A: 69% voted for TOILET PAPER; 42% say the zipper; 38% say frozen foods

Q: If stranded on a desert island with only one “necessity,” what would you choose?


A: 49% of people surveyed chose toilet paper as their greatest island necessity ahead of food.

(From Toiletpaperworld.com surveys.)

History and Invention

Most of us alive in the United States today think that toilet paper has been around forever. Not so. Toilet paper as we know it today was not invented until 1857, and at that time it sold for fifty cents for a package of 500 sheets. This is not to be confused with a product that was used as toilet paper somewhere between AD 857 and 1391 wherein Chinese Emperors commissioned a product that measured two feet wide by three feet long. Because of its size, it is not a bona fide precursor to the product we use today.

In 1857, then, an American Joseph Gayetty invented what we know today as toilet paper. Mr. Gayetty was so proud of his invention that he had his name printed on each sheet before packaging it. Either the product cost too much, or the public wasn’t ready for it. The invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. His creation also failed.

scott-toilet-paperFinally in 1867, Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) successfully marketed toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper, which they sold from a pushcart along the streets. The product had come into its time, the pushcart had a certain allure, and the commercial success attracted venture capital to give birth to the Scott Paper Company. By 1890, Scott Paper became the nation’s leading producer of bathroom tissue; but even with that realization, toilet paper rolls were not used widely until after the First World War around 1918. There was a taboo or an embarrassment about such things and thus it was that my grandmother, who was born in 1889, probably didn’t use toilet paper until after she was twenty-eight years old at the earliest!

It’s hard to imagine what people used before toilet paper, and what clearly some peoples of the world use to this day. According to history, my aforementioned grandmother growing up in California may have used one of the following: newsprint, Sears Roebuck catalogue pages, corn cobs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, or sand, although we never talked about. In the Middle Ages, they may have used hay balls, or a scraper thing-y called a gompf stick that was kept in a container by the privy. Other historical “T-Precursors” included discarded sheep’s wool in the Viking Age in England; a frayed end of an old anchor cable by sailing crews of Spain and Portugal; straw, hay, grass, and the pre-described gompf stick in Medieval Europe; and water and your left hand, in India.

British Lords used pages from a book; early Hawaiians used coconut shells; and French royalty employed lace and hemp, as did other upper class peoples of the world at the time. Sponges soaked in salt water on the end of a stick served the common folk in ancient Rome while the wealthy folks in that same city at the time used wool and rosewater. With this list of uncomfortable-sounding accouterments, it’s no wonder that toilet paper was such an important invention.

To put the invention of toilet paper in historical perspective, here are some other events and inventions around the same time:

Events & Inventions

1829 First Railroad built in the U.S.
1834 McCormick reaper invented
1844 Telegraph invented
1857 Toilet paper invented
1860 Lincoln elected president
1861-5 Civil War
1865 Lincoln assassinated
1867 Dynamite invented by Nobel
1876 Telephone invented
1903 First airplane flight

In the scheme of things, toilet paper rates as one of the major inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, it is hard to think that Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, did not use toilet paper. Nor did he have a telephone, not to mention a smart phone.

* * * *

Truths and Particulars about TP


How many sheets are on a roll?

Some rolls are two ply and have

500 sheets of the two-ply, others have 1000 sheets of one-ply—so, basically 1000 sheets, either way.

  • The people at Charmin say a roll of toilet tissue will last about five days in a family-of-four American household bathroom. They base these figures on surveys indicating users average 8.6 sheets per trip over a family total of 23 trips. That’s 200 sheets per day or that magical 1000 sheets (one roll) in five days (and I say it depends on how many women are in the house, and how many bathrooms.)
  • How much TP is sold in the U.S. annually. What’s the TP per capita? How does this usage relate to other countries? And finally:

Q: Do most people hang the toilet paper roll with the sheet over or under?

A: 68% like to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the top, as in hotel rooms.

Why is Toilet Paper important? Because life without toilet paper would be certainly less pleasant, and one only has to remember the great TP shortage precipitated by Johnny Carson in 1973. The slightest mention of a possible shortage left shelves empty, the pipeline gutted, and people fighting in the stores. What a waste of time! Keep the cupboards full of TP, and try to imagine another invention that helped our civilization flourish by reducing discomfort and preventing the spread of disease all at the same time.

 

IKEA Virgin

Have you been to an IKEA store recently?

Back in 2006, we opened season on sending our last son to college. We went to IKEA. I had heard stories, the sagas of the seasons passing during an IKEA visit, but I thought these people must have been exaggerating. They were not. IKEA makes Costco look like a backyard excursion in comparison to the global circumnavigation posed by an IKEA store visit.

 We were in the store for 5 ½ hours.

It was an experience I did not soon reprise: I haven’t been back in nine years. The store was well organized, well lit, fairly well staffed, and clean. It is also cheap and, the 5½ hours notwithstanding, it saves time, which is a particularly important commodity in a working person’s life. For instance, my husband is a lot of things, but he is not a shopper. IKEA is a store for the shoppers of us, but in reality, it’s a store for non-shoppers as well. Why? Because it gets the entire shopping thing done in one, long, grueling, gut-wrenching, foot-searing, back-aching, self-helping, mind-numbing session. In short, you’re your own decorator, designer, shopper, warehouseman, and delivery boy. DON’T FORGET: Bring room dimensions, or you’ll probably end up back there again!

Also, come to your visit with an empty, large vehicle, room on your credit card, and a couple of able bodied, but skinny people that can heft the furniture pieces, but also squeeze into the leftover crevices in your “personal moving van” to get the stuff home.

It’s 2015 today and as I said, I haven’t been back there. I do remember being impressed by the organization and the high-tech environment nine years ago. Everything had a place. Touch screens dotted the pickup area to help you find your items in their vast find-it-yourself warehouse. Thank goodness for numbers! (Who invented those anyway?) Bin numbers, SKUs and part numbers managed the inventory; employees in yellow shirts managed the flow of parts and people.

The food offering (IKEA knew that they should feed customers who would be spending the better part of 24 hours in their clutches) counter-balanced the vastness of the store’s inventory by its marked sparseness: they were out of three food items. There were, however, piles of suspicious looking signature Swedish meatballs, which they promoted with massive colorful signage, take-home offers, and daily specials. I wonder if they’re always on special just to get rid of them.

The store we visited was 28,500 square meters, or about 306,711 square feet. A typical American football field is 57,600 square feet, so we’re talking about five football fields here. We slogged through the stupid thing at least twice, going back to look at different things so our son could mix and match and create his very own college room décor. I found myself biting my lip at some of his choices, but he was spreading his wings and I was grinning maniacally as the grateful almost empty nester.

So while I used to be an IKEA virgin, I am now knowledgeable in the ways of what was then a brave new retail world wonder. As with that other rite of passage, I feel somewhat sullied, but no longer afraid of the unknown. In this case I have sore feet to prove my passage…

Meanwhile, we did right by our college-bound child. He needed stuff, and stuff they had. Lots. Everywhere.

Packaging?!?!!!!

ImageReally? Seriously? Ah, come on… I don’t see how the boxes of crackers can get any smaller, the packages of cookies any littler, the ice cream containers any tinier, or the chip bags any more filled with air (and NOT product).  Do they think we don’t notice? Do they think we’ll be glad there’s less so we won’t eat as much? Do they think we appreciate that we don’t have to carry so many bags to the car from the grocery store? Do they think we are glad we have smaller boxes to clutter landfill? What?  I said REALLY????!!

I feel seriously ripped off. I just wanted to let them know that we are paying attention out here. Thanks for listening.

 

Curated Brands

Curated Brands

Image
The Getty

When is a post not a post? Hah. This post popped up on Twitter, but has yet to drop here.  It’s a mystery. Here it is today in my blog, and I hope it’s not a repeat for my followers.

Until now,  I did not tend to think of “brands” as being curated.  I think of museum pieces being curated. I think of a curator as in the Wikipedia sense:   “…from Latin, curare meaning “take care”). A curator is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g. gallery, museum, library) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. The object of a traditional curator’s concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort, whether it be artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections.”

More things are being curated these days:  I see in the business world the brand manager as curator, in that he or she is responsible for how that brand enters the marketplace and where it is placed relative to other brands. In the same way a museum only shows a selection of its collection, the brand manager strives to show the finest assets of the brand. Or they may choose to carefully and thoughtfully promote their brand to certain demographics, focused on a narrowly defined customer experience.

The curated brands in a recent USA Today article included Gilt, Target, and Apple. The piece was about AC Hotels by Marriott, and the journalist described the AC Hotel target audience as younger travelers, that the experience would essentially be more “tech-y” and hip. [my words]

Another place to look for curated material is at TED.com.  Nowadays, you can find someone you respect/love/would like to know/never heard of/ and see which TED talks they have in their curated collection.  It tells you a lot about that person by seeing how they would curate the thousands of TED talks.

My goal: to curate my own brand. Not there yet, but it is food for thought. Besides, it sounds so cool.

User Experience UX/Customer Experience CX

Some people argue that UX and CX are different. I don’t think so really. Whichever you call it, CX and UX may be the latest rage, but they are not new. It was called customer-centered business back in the 50s(!) as “invented” by Peter Drucker.  They called it TQM (Total Quality Management) or Six Sigma from the 80s and 90s. Maybe you could call it Steve Jobs from the 00s.

If CX/UX has been in the business lore for over fifty years, why is it renamed, rehashed, recycled and revisited every decade or so? By renaming it does the business community hope it will stick this time? Hah. It’s not the concept that is broken. It is the execution of the theory that is difficult.

Here’s what we know from The Customer Experience Revolution by Jeofrey Bean. Every muscle, brain cell, organ, and liquid part of every person who works for a company must have the same vision and energy. That is: to maximize their customers’ experience with their product or service, yielding one totally delighted customer.  Anything less undermines and weakens the role the company plays in the marketplace, leaving that company at the mercy of their competitors.

So while it sounds easy, the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone in the company from the CEO to the file clerk needs to be on board or CX will not work. In other words, everyone must drink the Kool-Aid.

It’s particularly hard because everyone doesn’t agree, and things change. But you must be strong.  If there are people or departments that do not follow your lead, it’s like lowering the drawbridge over your castle’s moat, allowing easy entry to your company’s unprotected bastion.

Windsor CastleAs CEO (or small business owner), you may be standing alone along the parapet, with your brave knights falling down around your heels, arrows through their hearts, piercing the armor they put on after their shower earlier in the month. Their shields were not strong enough. They did not defend the brand, the vision, the culture, because they did not believe it would work. But you must be tough because if you let the bridge down, even a little, your competition will know it. They will charge in and all is lost.  Don’t let the drawbridge down. Protect your brand with all your heart, and a re-commitment to CX.

UX/CX Part 2

Windsor CastleYour defenders ring the ramparts. You’re ready. Cannons are manned. Piles of extra arrows in the form of solid commitments to UX lay at the feet of your sales team. Customer service team leaders have plenty of ammunition. They are loaded down with careful, happy scripts and working headphones. Their computer monitors hold reactive inventory lists – selected from the best user-experience company roundtables in your industry.  We want this; we need that. Your company listened and acted.

Your competitors surround you astride headstrong horses, their breath visible in the cool morning air. These marauders are ready to tear down your hard-won market share. You have done your homework, though. Your customers are deliriously happy. The walls hold. Good job.