Monday, January 5, 2015

new year? it's 1889 all over again!

Just catching up with a bunch of stuff that accumulated while I was too busy with the end-of-semester chaos & then the holidays. First one goes back to last Black Friday & reminds me of the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same. "

Here's an "amazin'" pic I saw in a post-Thanksgiving article on BBC.com about how Amazon UK had their busiest day on record:

Workers pack orders on the warehouse floor at the Amazon UK Fulfilment Centre in Peterborough in November. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA
My first reaction: Organized chaos. Vast organized chaos.

My second reaction: I've seen this before...somewhere...not exactly, but...

Then it hit me–I'd been on an architectural walking tour in Chicago a few years ago and they showed us the old Montgomery Ward building on Michigan avenue. They were the Amazon of their day, but using mail and train delivery instead of the Internet & Fedex. It was 1872, for pete's sake!  (14 years before Sears started up to become their rival)

By 1883 their catalog was 240 pages and offered 10,000 items!

In 1889, the cover of the catalog showed a drawing of their building with the outer walls stripped off to show the "beehive" inside–all the workers packing up all the goods for the orders–bicycles, sewing machines, clothing, dishes, etc.–just like today. Here's the picture from a site called "Chicagology":


See the resemblance?
So, Montgomery Ward was the quintessential entrepreneur that innovated the business model, not Jeff Bezos. 125 years went by and about the only thing that changed is the way people access the catalog & order, seriously!

Montgomery Ward was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872. Ward had conceived of the idea of a dry goods mail-order business in Chicago, Illinois, after several years of working as a traveling salesman among rural customers. He observed that rural customers often wanted "city" goods but their only access to them was through rural retailers who had little competition and offered no guarantee of quality. Ward also believed that by eliminating intermediaries, he could cut costs and make a wide variety of goods available to rural customers, who could purchase goods by mail and pick them up at the nearest train station.
And get this–he introduced the phrase "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back" to the world and how many times have you seen that since?

They ruled for decades but they basically died in 2000. Amazon will die too someday, hard as it is to believe now. Bound to happen someday.

Anyway, it turns out Montgomery Ward was also a great guy & he basically, single-handedly saved Chicago's Lake Michigan waterfront from being totally developed for business. There's a vast beautiful park there today, thanks to his efforts. Here's me standing under the crazy & stunning, giant mirror-covered bean in the park:

Yeah, it's shaped like a giant kidney bean!
You can see my reflection above me, in the mirror, reversed. But I digress...

Anyway, just a little history repeating for you. Hope you have a great 2015. Cheers.

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