It is strange what an insignificant comment can start. Or maybe I’m just strange. A while ago I noticed a statement on the “Years Ago” page of the November 2011 Scientific American magazine. In November of 1911, “it has been estimated that, for each minute of time, the civilized world strike three million matches.” It went on to note that matches were a lot easier to carry and faster than the flint and steal that had been used before. Then just last week a friend pointed out some old marketing films from Burroughs Corporation in the 1960s. They showed a lot of history and some people I knew from back then, but the thing that jumped out at me was people smoking cigarettes and, in one case, a pipe in a computer room.
The Chinese had a “fire inch-stick” in 577 A.D. that required a spark of your own devising. The friction match was invented in 1826 by John Walker, an English chemist. He dipped a small wood splint in a paste composed primarily of sulfur and potassium chlorate. To light, simply pull it through a fold of sandpaper. It did have one minor problem: it tended to drop flaming balls to the floor, setting carpets and dresses on fire. It was banned in France and Germany. Sulfur was replaced with white phosphorus, which unfortunately had very bad side effects, afflicting those who made the matches with serious bone disorders. There was enough white phosphorus in one pack to kill you. Eating the heads of matches became a “popular” suicide method. An International agreement in 1906 banned white phosphorus in matches. Meanwhile, in 1898 two French chemists patented a match based on phosphorus sesquisulfide and potassium chlorate. In 1899 two Englishmen developed a safe way to make commercial quantities of phosphorus sesquisulfide. The Diamond Match Company obtained the rights to manufacture the chemical in the US in 1900. In 1911 at the request of President William Howard Taft, the Diamond Match Company released the patent “for the good of mankind.”
All of these matches were “strike-anywhere” matches. Suzy remembers her great-grandfather striking a match on his shoe to light his pipe, and I think we’ve all seen the smart alecks who could strike a match with their thumbnail.
“Safety matches” can only be struck on the rough side of the box or pack. That is because the two reactive agents are separated: one on the match and the other in the rough surface on the container.
By the end of World War II, Diamond was making ten million matches a day, and they were just one of many matchmakers in the US. In 1951, Diamond Match Company had over US$100,000,000 sales in matches. They still make matches, but also toothpicks (obvious expansion), straws (hollow toothpicks?), and disposable cutlery. They are now part of a conglomerate, Jarden, which does not break out revenue or sales by components.
There has been pressure against matches. Zippo started manufacturing lighters in 1933. You can get your very own 80th anniversary edition. BIC was founded in 1945 to manufacture parts for fountain pens and mechanical pencils, and launched the BIC lighter in 1973. Their lighter sales grew 25% from 2009 to 2010. Perhaps the most significant pressure has been the 2% a year decline in smoking in the US since 1998. Perhaps the least significant pressure has been the surge in battery-powered candles for tables and other decorations. The 1980’s saw the collapse of the American match industry, caused primarily by rising production cost along with decreasing demand. Diamond is now the only remaining US matchmaker.
In reality, Diamond was not selling matches. They were selling advertising. They made a lot of their money by selling matchbooks with company logos and messages. Almost all of Diamond’s advertising was to sell these ads to business, not to sell matches to consumers.
Are matches an important product? Sure. Like the World War II c- and k-rations and the MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual) used in Korea and Vietnam, the current US military’s MRE (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) each contain a couple of matches. We still buy matches, usually the package of ten boxes of 32 matches each from Diamond every five to ten years. Does it make sense to add matches to your product line? Probably not. Are matches unique in having a declining market caused by factors outside of the manufacturers control? Also probably not.
Demand for products grow and shrink influenced by events and influences outside of our control, resulting in chaos for many businesses.
But there is even more chaos for businesses. In 2010 Chris “Spence” Spencer, an IBM Emerging Technologies Strategist, published some interesting numbers about the amount of data that we all create.
The world is complex, and the amount of data that is generated every day is growing. In 2010, that number is expected to exceed 988 exabytes of information. It’s as if every man, woman, and child on the planet wrote 294,620 novels. This year. It’s also more than every grain of sand on every beach on the planet. In fact, it’s about 131 times more.
That was back in 2010. A petabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, or a thousand terrabytes. An exabyte is a thousand petabytes.
We send about 200 billion emails every day. There are a billion people on the Internet every day. There are nearly 4 trillion RFID events every day.
The Internet is capable of handling over 65 exabytes every day, the equivalent of every person exchanging six newspapers every day. Google alone processes about 24 petabytes every day.
There is great potential value in all this data. That is, after all, how Google increases their power and revenue, by combining and interpreting all of that data. Like Diamond, Google is in the business of selling advertising.
Your customers can watch their kids come home, turn on the lights, shut the garage door, and lock their car all over the Internet. They watch TV, read books, and have video conference calls with their far-flung family on their phone. The tablet, or more appropriately, the user interface of the table will soon replace the current desktop and laptop computers. Look at Apples new Lion OS X – a desktop / laptop operating system with many of the user interface capabilities of your smart phone. In their private lives, people are more connected than ever before. They can “talk” to their friends and family at any time. They know where they all are.
Does your company fit into these new models? Can your customers “talk” to you anytime they want? Can they reach you from their smart phone? Are you part of their social media network?
Most companies are growing their internal storage requirements at around 20% a year. I have worked with one organization that is growing their data at 20% a month – they will increase their storage needs by a factor of 8 this year.
How can you keep up with demand and the new technologies? For most companies, the only viable answer is the Cloud. The Cloud can grow to exactly match your storage and processing needs. The Cloud can keep your business running 24/7 through its disaster recovery capabilities, at far less cost than you could do it yourself. Events like Katrina can impact locations 500 miles apart. The Cloud can allow you to get into new geographic markets with a “local” presence, enabling you to compete with local companies.
The last word:
Do you periodically check your product lines for matches, a product or service with declining demand?
Do you periodically look at how you can take advantage of the new technologies your customers have to give yourself a competitive advantage?
Have you figured out how to take advantage of the Cloud?
Keep your sense of humor.