Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

November 2001

Business as usual

It’s business as unusual. While many of us are opening our mail a bit more carefully and rationalizing our travel plans, business goes on.

Not unlike the Tylenol scare that brought on “tamper-proof” containers, I imagine we’ll all get used to whatever threat-answering protocols are established while being bombarded with dubious protective products and services. When bad things happen some products are all the rage but in my experience most are not very good businesses for the long run.

Remember the first big gasoline crunch? It was the early ’70s and there were all kinds of really weird programs. Odd and even license plates fillup days, remember? So what did the dudes with vanity plates do? I forget.

Anyway, I remember visiting a company for sale. It was then teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because it did extraordinarily well during the gas crisis. The company had a product to deter gas siphoners. It was a coil you threaded into your gas tank. The idea was that while gas could easily trickle through the coils rubber hoses couldn’t. The company got an order for 5,000 units followed by a 15,000 unit reorder a few days later. There were maybe 50,000 of these coils (all carded and priced) piled in the corner of a warehouse waiting for the next purchase order that was never going to come.

Similarly, a company I had an interest in had a product called an “Alarm Guard.” It was a lockable chain-door guard that had a buzzer that would sound if the door was forced while the “Alarm Guard” was armed. The product had a rather pathetic sales pattern. It was sold through hardware stores and mass merchandisers. A typical first order was a dozen units and a little POP (Point-Of-Purchase display) that allowed consumers to get the picture how this klugey little gizmo worked. Reorders were low, slow and nonexistent until some horrific crime preceded by a forced entry took place, then we couldn’t restock the neighborhood stores fast enough. Every once in a while, in high-crime cities like Houston, Texas, we’d sell a ton. Then, it would be quiet for a while. Another break-in slasher attack would be reported and we’d sell another ton. Alas, Houston remains, to this day, a high-crime city.

Neither worked particularly well. In the case of the crazy coil, it was possible to do some real damage to your tank and/or patience during the installation process and a locking gas cap was probably cheaper and just as effective. People desperate enough to siphon gas would probably just skip right by a locked gas cap but become enraged if frustrated by the darn coil.

The “Alarm Guard” was more a mental health placebo than an intruder-deterent. The locking feature allowed a user to engage the chain when leaving the premises unlike a simple chain door guard which, by design, actually requires the door to be completely closed in order to put the chain in its keeper. Locking chain guards (there were many manufacturers of this type but without our nifty alarm) failed most often when the returning dweller opened the door before remembering to unlock the guard. Our guard could be distinguished from their guards because ours beeped as it lay on the floor.

My advice, don’t blow your hard-earned money on masks, pills, guns, dried beans, gold bars or chain-door guards.

    Smile.

    Work harder.

    Buy a little advertising.