The Flap Over Frangos
IT WAS THE OPPOSITE of a sweet deal.
The candymakers at Marshall Fields were so competent that the product they hand-dipped and sold so well ended up costing them their
jobs. When Field’s decided to unbolt the Frango operation from the candy kitchen on State Street and move it to a factory in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t because business was bad in Chicago. Frangos in all flavors
were moving off the shelf faster than you could say, “Chicago Tradition.” It was economies of scale taking hold: a bigger company can produce the product more cheaply and move more boxes.
A company spokesman, when asked that if sales had been more sluggish, would it have been possible to keep the operation in Chicago,
said, “Absolutely.” Lesson? If you work diligently and your performance is above reproach, your reward just might be a pink slip, and some crystal clear directions on where to hang your apron on your way out the
door. Workers in the candy kitchen were told at lunch that they wouldn’t need to come back to work. By the time 2:00 p.m. rolled around, the lights were off, and the kitchen was closed for good.
The Frango Flap was big enough to involve Mayor Daley. He pleaded his case with the bigwigs at Dayton-Hudson, the big company that now
owns Marshall Fields, talking about how Chicago has plenty of places that could handle producing whatever the candy kitchen on State Street couldn’t. The Mayor wanted the kitchen door to remain open, calling
Frangos a Chicago tradition that would no longer exist if the mints were to be made and boxed at some impersonal factory out East. Dayton-Hudson’s response: “Tough.”
The plug was pulled, and another Chicago tradition went swirling down the drain. The packaging will look the same. The candy
itself will probably have the silky coolness that Frangos are famous for, and there will be all the same flavors available, stacked in the same locations throughout Marshall Fields. But they won’t be Frangos.
They will never be the same, and the only way to get the point across to the big boys at Dayton-Hudson is to kick them hard right where
it hurts: in their wallets. Sometimes customers don’t feel as though they have much power to decide matters. They feel the marketplace is what it is regardless of any stand they might take. It’s like voter
apathy. In actuality, customers have the loudest and lustiest voice around, and they wield the most powerful influence in all of free enterprise.
And if the customers vote with their own wallet and keep with the good fight, Dayton-Hudson may wonder what hit them. This is the way
to do it. On Jackson Boulevard in Chicago’s West Loop, across from Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, is the Fannie May Company. On certain afternoons, you can get a waft of chocolate and mint cooking in big
kettles inside the building, mint that smells as fresh as the dewy sprigs outside a Kentucky veranda on a Spring morning. The aroma floats on the breeze, and you know in an instant that they’re making Meltaways in
there. They’re making them in Chicago. Meltaways are square and velvety and rich, a Chicago-style answer to Frangos. You could almost picture the two mints squaring off, trying to nudge each other out of the
winner’s circle like Sumo wrestlers, saying “Oh yeah? Try This!” They’re tasty, and they’re made right here in town. They probably will be made here for a good long time.
It may be difficult, but it is possible to wean yourself away from a two-box-a-week Frango habit when there is such a thing as
Meltaways around. “Just Say No to East Coast Frango.”
Dayton-Hudson claims that the Frangos themselves aren’t going anywhere, that they’ll still be around the Chicago Marshall
Field’s store – plenty of them, in fact, as many as you want.
The fact is, they won’t be. Not our Frangos. Instead, there will be a dark kitchen on State Street, and a lot of empty stainless
steel mixing bowls and trays for the company to depreciate, and several more Chicagoans in the unemployment line.
Sometimes Big Business just doesn’t get it. ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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The Real Cost of Internet Access
FOR A WHILE, the place where I work was featuring a free book on our web site written by the guy who runs the place. It was a
lightweight paperback, inexpensive to produce and ship, and it was designed to spread the word about the organization and the work that goes on there. Part of my job was to oversee the follow-up on the book orders,
to make sure the e-mail requests were downloaded and the books shipped.
Somehow our site got linked to something called Freaky Freddie's Freebies, and suddenly the book orders peaked like the North face of
E-mails were coming in from all over the globe - and I mean all over. Pakistan, Bombay, Indonesia, the Philippines, London, Singapore,
Japan, Australia, you name it. And of course, the orders rolled in from all corners of the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains of the U.S. continent as well.
What was astonishing (apart from the staggering daily numbers) was the fact that the orders came in right in the middle of the workday
from the location of the interested party. In the mornings, during the lunch hour, and in the middle of the afternoon, the orders unrelentingly showed up. My mailbox let me know when more good news arrived until I
disengaged that function. I've lost many sentences due to a warning box telling me that new mail has arrived and would I like to open it. The computer lets me do nothing else until I answer. It was the volume of
mail that made it occur to me that the real cost of Internet service in the workplace comes in the form of all these American and global workers taking the time out of their busy days to cruise around the web for
free stuff and laboriously fill in every blank on every order form they come across. If we had asked for PIN numbers and mothers' maiden names, I'm sure some would have been more than happy to oblige, as long as
they were getting something for nothing.
Freaky Freddie has a saying on his site: "If it ain't free, it ain't for me." That about says it all. And T. S. Eliot was
right in a way: this will be the way the world will end, not with a bang but with the whimper and click of a mouse. There are palm devices that let you trade soybean futures, without forcing you to wear a
nutty, garish sport jacket and stand on a trading floor waving your arms with a bunch of sweaty men. People make their living doing nothing more than tapping and clicking a few times on a computer the size of a pack
of Fig Newtons - and they make staggering amounts of money doing this.
The revolt is coming, Ladies and Gentlemen. How many times do you suppose it will take for that smarmy kid behind the counter at Burger
King to trade in his paper hat for a Palm IX and tell you to stick your onion rings where the sun don't shine? He's a Day Trader now!
And the "To Be Filed" boxes across the land will fill up faster than the playground at Portage Park on Dad's Visitation
Wednesday as all these folks sit at their desks making the world their pearl-encrusted oyster. They'll tap in a few key words and be teleported anywhere in the world their heart desires - into any store and any
other location that tickles their fancy. The world belongs to them! Yahoo! It's good to have the T1 line or the DSL, which lets you go from Williams-Sonoma to Ferrari in two seconds flat.
Anybody who's hooked up knows how tempting it is to look things up on the Internet. And anyone who remembers going to a stuffy library
and thumbing through a card catalog and scratching down the Dewey Decimal system code for a book with a pencil (A pencil! Imagine!) and then perhaps locating the book only to have to leaf through it to find the
information you needed can testify to this: Internet access is an amazing tool. And being an amazing tool, it's natural to be seduced by it.
I planted grapes in my yard. For a while I was worried about them because the leaves weren't as lustrous as I would have liked.
Before long, I was chatting with someone about a viticulture disease called leaf roll in www.grapetalk.com.
Then I thought about these figures my brother Jonny used to collect in 1962. They were green plastic - the color of Army Men, but they
looked more like something out of Mad Magazine and they were taller, around six inches. They were, in fact, called "Nutty Mads," And if you click into E-Bay sometime while you're at work, you'll find a
nice selection of them there being auctioned off. I was tempted to get the skin-diver. Jonny used to paint them with high-gloss enamel, and I remember the skin-diver's black wetsuit just glistened. It was beautiful.
I bid on it.
Then I went looking for an autographed picture of Vern Gosdin, the country singer. I bid on that too. Then I went to look for a garden
statue, but I went to another special lawn and garden site for that. I found this excellent thing, two cherubs holding a sunflower cup that you could fill with seeds "to share with their woodland friends"
as the copy described. I used Master Card to order it. When it arrived, it looked much smaller. I filled the little dish with sunflowers, and one of our "woodland friends," a beefy rogue squirrel tipped it
over and ate all the seeds off the ground. And the canvas tool bag I ordered from www.grainger.com to use as a briefcase was enormous. I would have felt like a blue collar version of Willy Loman.
This past week I was tempted to see what Freaky Freddy was featuring, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I started charging five
dollars for the book on-line. The orders ceased altogether. If it ain't free, it ain't for a lot of people, evidently
I'm always curious to hear Internet tales of shopping and other sites of interest.
If you happen on any, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be sure and e-mail you back.
While I'm supposed to be working. ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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