Saturday, June 25, 2016

"You have to be burning with an idea,

or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you're not passionate enough from the start, you'll never stick it out.”   
~Steve Jobs

As the season starts here at the shore, it is always interesting to consider what business will be like.  So far, I have to say that things are good, but it does reflect the changing consumer.  Years ago, collectors would come through looking for specific things to complete their collection.  Now, it is buying for use not for shelf-sitting...or curating (I mentioned that last week--remember where you read it that word in the excerpt below.  I was reading an article about small retailers, and these thoughts caught my attention...
       A smaller, but more carefully edited and curated store is more likely to succeed than a midsized location with a hodge-podge of items. Make every square foot of space as profitable as you can. Consider retail kiosks or small “pop-up” (temporary) locations as ways to try out new product lines or concepts...the retail environment is becoming increasingly “experiential.” brick-and-mortar shopping is a social activity.  If you want your retail business to stand out from the big-box pack, offer unique products, deep knowledge of your products and an experience that is enjoyable and memorable.

I guess there is support for the method in my madness.  As I was busy curating this vase and other
treasures, I looked up Red Wing Pottery to add information to the tag on that vase...and found quite a tale!  Red Wing started as a stoneware pottery in Minnesota...the name Red Wing comes from a Dakotah Tribe chief to the settlement of Europeans who came to live by the Mississippi River (imagine if the Indians had built walls! Oops!). 

The land around Red Wing was rich with clay. In 1861 a German immigrant named John Paul discovered a rich pocket of clay on the land that he intended to farm. A potter by trade, he used this clay to make the first Red Wing stoneware.  After Paul came Philleo Pottery, established in the heart of Red Wing in 1868, it was followed by Hallem Pottery. Both went out of business – the former destroyed by fire, the latter by the drastic price cutting of established eastern competitors. It was in 1877 that the Red Wing Stoneware Company was established.

When refrigerators came into the homes around 1913, stoneware crocks and jugs were no longer needed.  Even though a refrigerator was over $700 compared to a Model-T Ford at $450, they became popular and worth the price. 

By then,  the Red Wing Union Stoneware Company began producing flower pots and vases, dinnerware, and art pottery, and it became simply Red Wing Potteries.

By 1967 less expensive dishes were being imported in great numbers by American companies. Combined with a union strike, this spelled the end of production for Red Wing Potteries. R. Gillmer (the last president of Red Wing Potteries) purchased the company from the other shareholders during liquidation and operated it as a retail business. The name was changed again, to Red Wing Pottery.
In 1984, when the technical records were acquired by J. Falconer, the Red Wing Stoneware Company was reborn.  In 1996, Red Wing Pottery hired potters to throw clay pots and salt glaze fire them.  In 2013, they considered closing, but the new owners of Red Wing Stoneware (who had just purchased that company) decided to merge.  Now the plot thickens...the company behind the iconic Red Wing Stoneware jug shut down its salesroom the end of last year due to harassment and threats against the owner’s family. Bruce Johnson, the owner of Red Wing Stoneware & Pottery, said an ongoing trademark dispute and lingering tensions from a 1967 labor strike against the previous owner of the business created a hostile environment.

“We’ve had all kinds of crazy things happen to us,” said Johnson, saying he’s been made to feel unwelcome by the city leadership, business community and tourism groups.  A threat to his family made to his face referenced the 1967 strike, he said. He’s had people walk into the business and tell him he doesn’t have the right to own it, he added.  Johnson said he and his family will probably move away from Red Wing because, despite the friendships they’ve made with a lot of town residents, “the people in power in this town don’t want us.”

“It goes back to that strike,” he said. “There was so much violence and anger in the community.”

He’s not giving up the names or the brands, for which he “paid dearly,” he said, and in February, a lawsuit that pitted the Red Wing Stoneware factory against a group of stoneware collectors has been settled with both sides claiming victory.

The federal trademark infringement lawsuit alleged that the collectors, through their Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation, were infringing on the trade name and wing logo of the iconic Minnesota company.  The suit was filed amid claims from factory owner Bruce Johnson, who said that he was the target of personal threats and vendettas from unnamed stoneware collectors, and at one point had feared for his life.

Johnson said Monday the settlement was a "win for both parties."

"The whole thing started over an organization using our name without our permission," said Johnson, who added that the agreement ensures that the Collectors Society will abide by terms that prohibit it from using his company's name. No damages were awarded, and the settlement didn't require the collectors to change any of their practices.

There is a little insight into American mentality from this story...that a strike from nearly 50 years ago would still haunt a community boggles my mind!  But, it does highlight some interesting thoughts...from the Indians who welcomed immigrants to the people who buried an American business over a to quote André Maurois:
            Business is a combination of war and sport.

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