I had a particularly great boss at one time in my corporate career, who taught me much about my own eventual specialty – what we call today corporate renewal (used to be called “corporate turnaround”, but I guess that had a too-negative implication for some….ahhh….political correctness!). I remember one occasion when we were buying a company on behalf of the multinational we worked for. We had met with the owners and done all the due diligence. The “books” looked good, and the price was right. Before going to the final stage, my boss asked the owners that we be allowed to take a quick stroll through the warehouse alone. Once there I noticed Jens kept stopping at different crates of product and running his finger over the top. I asked him what he was doing and he replied, “Oh, just doing the dust-test”. I was perplexed and asked him to explain. This is what he said: “I don’t really care how the books look, because they can be cooked quite easily. But when I see dust on so much of the inventory I know that product isn’t moving as well as they say it is”. Well, we didn’t buy that company…and I learned about the dust test – no matter how good anything is portrayed, or looks like on paper, you need to get down to street-level and take a hard look at reality. Perhaps Ernest Hemingway said it best when asked what it took to be a great writer. He responded: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”
There is a lot of media attention these days on global warming and the need for environmental responsibility at all levels: government, corporate, and personal. Environmentalists even propose that businesses should embrace this new awareness and profit from it by designing the more environmentally friendly products that consumers desire. Unfortunately, the dust test suggests that this recommendation is falling on deaf ears.
A couple months ago I was at our local Costco store where I noticed a 3-pack of Oral-B toothbrushes. I needed a toothbrush and I was in a hurry, so I grabbed the pack…the price seemed right. When I got home and opened the pack I noticed that these were Oral-B Pulsar brushes…each toothbrush contains a AAA battery which supposedly lasts about 3 months (mine lasted only 2) that makes the brush vibrate as you use it. When it no longer vibrates you just throw it out. This seems to be a trend these days….just look at the new Fusion Power razor….similar deal, although at least you can replace the battery. I don’t know if the vibration makes any difference in cleaning ability – despite the claim that it is “clinically proven” – these company-sponsored studies are generally done under less than impeccable scientific conditions. Consumer Reports’ evaluation of several electric models found no significant difference in results vs. a manual toothbrush however – the key seems to be how long you brush with any toothbrush. From a Marketing standpoint of course, it is brilliant. What a great way to reduce the life-span of a product than to have it tell you when it’s time to change it…even if its still perfectly good. Dentists and brush companies used to recommend changing your toothbrush every six months. But now the dead battery tells you to change it every 2-3 months!
But my question is quite simple: What the Hell are these companies thinking in designing and launching products that can’t be recycled and will fill garbage dumps with more toxic waste? Here I am collecting all my dead batteries to bring them to the quarterly toxic waste collection site, and these people are making and promoting stuff that is both useless and can’t be recycled! The dust test tells me that we are in big trouble!