BACK TO Home Page 50 CONVERSATION TOPICS Trade and Business

Stories you can use to start conversation or to add interest to speeches or presentations

Resources for Speakers - Anecdotes About TRADE and BUSINESS


Supermarkets make more money out of renting shelf space to suppliers than they do from selling groceries - ie their profit comes from suppliers not customers

Supermarket Buying

Often a customer struggling to decide which of two items is best ends up not buying either. A third 'decoy' item, which is not quite as good as the other two, can make the choice easier and more pleasurable, according to a new study using fMRI carried out by Akshay Rao, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota. Happier customers are more likely to buy. Dr Rao believes the deliberate use of irrelevant alternatives should work in selling all sorts of goods and services, from cable TV to holidays.

Supermarket Buying

Too much choice can be counter-productive - supermarket ran testing booth on new jams - when only 6 to choose from 30% of those who stopped to taste bought one; but when 30 jams to choose from, only 3% bought one

Retail Business

Retailers need to understand - and they really don't - that while there are a great many people, usually those with bosoms, who enjoy mooching about in the shops because it's safer and less complicated than shagging the gym instructor, the rest - those with zips down the front of their trousers - do not enjoy it much at all and would like the whole process to be over as fast as possible. Speed, then, is everything. (Jeremy Clarkson)

Shops using thermal printers to print receipts - fade within months so no proof of purchase (you can sometimes recver with hot iron).

Online retailers have to deal with mountain of returned goods (bracketing to get exact fit). Sometimes incinerated to preserve brand value, or labels cut off so can't be returned to store, or sold to secondary exporters who won't disturb home market.

Oldest Business

The oldest company still operating was founded in Japan in 578 - a temple builder. Oldest European business is a Chateau Vineyard founded in 1000

Many Japanese companies including Canon, Toyota, and Suzuki use adoption to declare the heir to the business. The current Suzuki CEO is a fourth-generation adopted child.

The high class London dept store Fortnum and Mason, was founded on candles. In the early 1700's, William Fortnum was a footman at Kensington Palace. The expensive candles used by royalty were replaced every night, so the half-used candles were distributed amongst the servants based on their seniority Fortnum sold his share to the ladies of the court, and saved enough to go into business with his landlord, Hugh Mason. Today the store's annual profits exceed £1 million.

American chewing gum industrialist William Wrigley Jr. began by selling soap and offered baking powder as an incentive to buy it. Finding the baking powder more popular, he switched to selling it instead and gave his customers gum as an incentive. Again, he found that the gum was more popular and began to sell it instead.

General Electric

General Electric is the only company remaining from the original Dow Jones index of 1896. Since then it has had just 4 CEO's.

TV Business

Time Warner makes more money out of Cartoon network than it does from CNN news channel

Movie Business

It's A Wonderful Life movie was a box office flop that caused the sale of its production company. It only became popular after the copyright holders forgot to file for a renewal and TV stations could play it all day and night without paying for it.

Beats, AirBnB, Hootsuite, Medium, and Flipboard all lifted their logos from the same 1989 design flip-book, "Trademarks and Symbols of the World: The Alphabet of Design."

Warranty void stickers have no legal standing in the US thanks to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Chinese Business

'Quality fade' as the Chinese factories transform what were, in fact, profitless contracts into lucrative relationships. The production cycle he sees is the opposite of the theoretical model of continuous improvement. After resolving teething problems and making products that match specifications, innovation inside the factory turns to cutting costs, often in ways that range from unsavoury to dangerous. Packaging is cheapened, chemical formulations altered, sanitary standards curtailed, and on and on, in a series of continual product debasements.

In a further effort to create a margin, clients from countries with strong intellectual-property protection and innovative products are given favourable pricing on manufacturing, but only because the factory can then directly sell knock-offs to buyers in other countries where patents and trademarks are ignored.

Daigu - commission buyers for milk powder, skin care, ugg boots in Australia or NZ for mainland Chinese. Sales arranged on WeChat. A new way for companies to penetrate Chinese market.

Farm Business

Cranberries great source of Vitamin C but only became worth growing commercially when someone figured out that you could cheaply harvest them by flooding the field then shaking the berries loose with an over-sized egg beater, then floating the berries to pack house

Dung Beetles

NZ scientist selling his farm to pay for research project. Farm ahd asideline - breeding and selling dung beetles at a dollar each. (Feed 'em shit then turn that shit into gold)


In his 2011 annual letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett discussed of “intrinsic value” – a favorite security analysis concept of Mr. Buffett and his investment hero, Benjamin Graham – he emphasized the importance of having the right chief executive in place. “The difference in outcome can be huge,” Mr. Buffett said. “A dollar of then-value in the hands of Sears Roebuck’s or Montgomery Ward’s C.E.O.’s in the late 1960s had a far different destiny than did a dollar entrusted to Sam Walton.”

Pop Up Business

Pop-ups are the epitome of our high-speed, short-attention-span culture. They are restaurants, bars, clubs and shops that spring up in unexpected locations, cause a storm, and disappear just before the fashion crowd moves on to the next big thing. It's a perfect concept for our hype-heavy society. Nowhere can be the hottest place to be seen in for more than six months, so by pulling it down and starting again, businesses can be constantly reinvented. Because they are temporary, pop-ups can take risks. They don't need as much polish, so they don't need as much investment - perfect for recessionistas

Need For Change

Article in Fortune magazine when Sony appointed a European as boss - 100% employees agreed that "company needs to change" but 90% asserted "I don't need to change anything I do"

US co Skybox (bought by Google) takes shots of store car parks to count no cars (and thus no customers). So can tell if trade trending up or down, and a competitor can see whether worth opening a new store nearby.

Govt Buying

The online retailer maintains a side business of operating massive Internet-capacity "cloud" farms and contracts out space to some of the world's largest entities, including U.S. government agencies. In a case brought to light in October by a U.S. Court of Claims ruling, Amazon had outbid (i.e., underbid) IBM for a cloud contract with the CIA but had gone a step further by actually improving the CIA's system and implementing a better plan--for the same price. In the bizarre world of government contracts, that created a "fairness" problem, as IBM argued that its rights were violated because the specified contract work was no longer exactly what was being done (i.e., the client's work was being done better). IBM has lodged a time-consuming protest, of which the Court of Claims decision was likely just the first step.

Drumming Up Business

Dentist Leopold Weinstein, 63, was arrested in February in Camarillo, Calif., and charged with suspicion of setting fire to three competing dental offices (one for the fourth time). One victim said the arsonist even drilled holes in the roof and poured in gasoline to accelerate the blaze. Later in February, in Hua Hin, Thailand, a 36-year-old woman was arrested for scattering screws on a busy street in order to increase business for her husband's tire shop.

In 1973, IBM offered its UPC barcode proposal to the grocery industry for free. The industry accepted a very close standard to their proposal. However, IBM also made the first technology capable of reading the barcodes and made tons of money selling the equipment to grocery stores.

Business of Oprah

CNBC's doing a special called The Oprah Effect on Thursday about how companies get their wares onto our Queen of Consumer Culture's show so it'll sell like mad. The documentary will tell us about folks who tried for seven years to get on the show and who were rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by an Oprah mention. I'm totally into this, if only so I can understand how I once ended up so desperate to buy a $56 plain white T-shirt that not only was I willing to pay $56 for a plain white T-shirt, but I returned to the website dozens of times over the next few weeks after finding that the second Oprah crowned it the best-fitting cotton garment of all-time, the thing was sold out.

Airline Business

Very few American airlines from 30 years ago are still around today - yet the best company of all in terms of returns to investors in years 1972 - 2002 was SouthWest Airlines

Business Jargon

Mission statements full of waffle and clunky company visions can turn off customers and alienate workers, according to a study. Academics from Oregon State and Texas Universities suggested that bosses should swap gobbledegook for genuine human warmth.

So instead of aiming to “deliver robust solutions to empower communities”, managers should ape the more vivacious slogan of Toys’R’Us, which looks to “put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces”. The study also praises Bill Gates’s ambition of putting “a computer on every desk and in every home” and Lush Cosmetics’ slogan “We believe in long candlelit baths . . . filling the world with perfume”.

Unexpected Consequences

Clipper ships cut the Atlantic crossing from 5 weeks to 12 days, but it turned out that an American potato virus which cdn't survive 5 weeks but cd live for 12 days, successfully made it to Ireland, where potatoes were not resistent to it, and 6 million people died in the ensuing famine when the potato crop was wiped out.

Advertising and Marketing

The Monty Python team have become fed up with the terrible quality clips pirated from their stuff and put on You Tube. So now they have put the clips up themselves, allowing free access to their content. They have this to say: We're letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there! But we want something in return. What is that they want? For viewers to buy their DVDs. The Pythons obviously gain publicity and draw in viewers with their clips. But they may also be gaining from our need to reciprocate gestures. And what happened? There was a 23,000 per cent increase in Python DVD sales.

Advertising and Marketing

Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric and fallacy used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics and propaganda. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor's product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival. FUD techniques may be crude and simple. Alternatively they may be very subtle, employing an indirect approach. The term originated to describe disinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry and has since been used more broadly. FUD is a manifestation of the appeal to fear.

Advertising and Marketing

The best way to win a price war, then, is not to play in the first place. Instead, you can compete in other areas: customer service or quality. Or you can collude with your putative competitors: that’s why cartels like OPEC exist. Or—since overt collusion is usually illegal—you can employ subtler tactics (which economists call “signalling”), like making public statements about the importance of “stable pricing.” The idea is to let your competitors know that you’re not eager to slash prices—but that, if a price war does start, you’ll fight to the bitter end. One way to establish that peace-preserving threat of mutual assured destruction is to commit yourself beforehand, which helps explain why so many retailers promise to match any competitor’s advertised price. Consumers view these guarantees as conducive to lower prices. But in fact offering a price-matching guarantee should make it less likely that competitors will slash prices, since they know that any cuts they make will immediately be matched. It’s the retail version of the doomsday machine.


Woodworm cricket bats - company only started in last few years but captured 20% of what you would think is a static market. Did it with very high advertising spend and by sponsoring a few big hitting batsmen. Just 5 employees - everything outsourced - bats made (of English willow) by Indian company.

Advertising and Marketing

Billboards on buildings in Times Square NY generate more income than the rent from the retail shops inside the buildings

Advertising and Marketing

Great TV ad where a woman comes on screen and says "I'm about to talk about periods, so if you're a guy feel free to watch the right side of the screen (window opens to show clip of car racing) ... woman gives her spiel .... "Thanks guys, just like normal, it's as if nothing happened."

Gambling Business

Paddy Power, the Irish bookmaker, gave Tongan RWC team some money. One of players tried to change his name to Paddy Power but IRB refused to alter their team lists. Then they tried to dye their hair green, but again IRB stopped them. Paddy Power known for taking unusual bets. One book he ran was on the next high powered US politician to be arrested. Al Gore was at very long odds, but unfortunately he has a son, also named Al Gore, who got arrested for drug possession, and PP had to pay out $10,000

Advertising and Marketing

With spread of TiVos, more people FF thru adverts. But they are actually concentrating more, to be able to restart prog at end of ads, so actually register some info - key is to have a single recognizable image or logo in centre of screen for most of ad

Advertising and Marketing

At height of airline war between Virgin Atlantic and British Airlines, BA sponsored the London Eye, which suffered long construction delays. So Branson hired a blimp to carry message "BA Can't Get It Up"

Book Extracts on Trade and Business