Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

June 2002

Hook, Line & Sinker

There are several products that depend on people’s buying more than they need each time they need it and then misplacing, losing or throwing away the leftovers. As I look at my keyboard, I know I need one of those cans of air. Every time I need to blow the dust off my computer keys, pieces and parts, I buy a can, which is sold in two-packs. I've never used up a single can but have always left that can plus its mate somewhere else. I then have to go out and buy more.
I don't begrudge the canned-air people their clever marketing, packaging, merchandising or whatever it’s called, because for several years I kept shoes on the babies and food in the dog's dish with a similar product: cup hooks.

Cup hooks are those wonderful little brass or steel wire forms threaded on one end and curved on the other. The cup hook can be screwed in vertically or horizontally to shelves, wall boards, studs, bulkheads and door jambs and then you hang a cup, key, loop, picture or apron on it. People buy hooks on cards, use as many as they need and then throw the rest into a junk drawer (often the one closest to the kitchen phone). When they get another cup and can't find an empty hook, they buy another card of hooks, use one and toss the leftovers in the drawer with the other hooks and broken pencils, buttons, pennies, lint brush, batteries and the lapsed guarantee on the microwave oven.

The company I worked at had been making cup hooks for many years by the time I joined the firm. A predecessor company had made the hooks for a couple of decades before that. As a bulk manufacturer of cup hooks, my company didn't spend any effort with packaging or the like. We simply made cup hooks, at a rate of a million per week. Sizes and finishes were juggled around to accommodate order patterns.

During periods when orders equaled production, we had about one and a half weeks’ worth of production on hand (economic equilibrium seemed to occur three times for about two months each time during the 10 years I listened to the four-slide machines on the other side of my office wall). When the economy slowed, inventories built up; when the economy boomed, inventories disappeared and the order backlog built up.

Memory serves to tell me that we once had an 11-week backlog (that's 11,000,000 hooks on order) and a record inventory at the bottom of a cycle of about seven weeks. Although I can't claim the operation was totally automated, I can assure it was not over-managed. No one made any sales calls; our old customers called in their orders. New customers found us through the Thomas Register and we fit them in if their credit checked out. What I'm telling you is that this cup hook business was a perfect economic indicator. No one tried to jiggle it; it was a pure reflection of the market.

This magazine has a similar indicator, equally reliable and basically unmanaged. It's our snake! The snake is that part of the editorial content that is driven by press releases from area businesses. When the snake grows (measured in column inches), local businesses are booming; when it shrinks, they aren't. The snake's been looking pretty good lately. I think I'll splurge on a new air can.