Tag Archives: amway

HUGE Annoyance

I have a radio in my car.  No tape deck, no CD player, and no aux jack… so in my daily commutes I get stuck listening to radio.  With the West Michigan radio options already quite lacking, I struggle to entertain myself when a program I am listening to goes on commercial break.  There is often a lot of dial switching going on.

Not sure why the logo is cracking

Occasionally, I stumble upon WBBL 107.3  and if it’s in the afternoon I get to hear the HUGE (Bill Simonson) show… and I don’t like what I hear.  Maybe its the voice, or the whole on-air persona of all-knowing and talking down to callers of the show.  But those are minor things to what I really dislike… the constant barrage of sponsorships of everything, and all the ads that HUGE lends his voice over talents for.  It’s a constant to hear  Huge’s voice during the show, and throughout the whole commercial break.  Here is a small sampling of some of the advertisements that Huge does, and some of the sponsorships that I have heard:

Sponsored by The Ledger

Show sponsors include:

It’s a HUGE Deal!

For a casual listener it seems like there is a mandate that advertisers must use the voice of Bill Simonson in their radio ads or else.  Or perhaps that booming voice just helps in tough talking people to buy product xyz.  I know that a lot of radio shows do provide voice over services, but on the HUGE Show the percentage of those types of ads is vastly above and beyond what other shows do. Additionally, The Huge Show also goes over the top with having everything associated with the show sponsored like an inbox, or a website, or the phone lines… and then the constant reinforcement of this sponsor is out of control.

Sponsored by The Ledger on Twitter

Luckily, I am not the only one who feels this way, check out one of the more interesting blogs I have come across called Beeotch of The Day which seems to be run by someone in the Grand Rapids radio business.  Bill Simonson was twice nominated for Beeotch of The Day… once for his over use of sponsors and voice over ads , and nominated for the second time for just being plain lousy in the Radio rankings, and even getting bested by the other sports radio show in town on 96.1.  Furthermore, in reading over some of the MLive comments that were made on this story about the Free Beer and Hot Wings Show imitating and poking fun at Bill Simonson, many people also share similarly negative thoughts of HUGE, and notably commenter Thirdplanet who wrote the following “The reason this is so funny is because it is all so true. The Huge show is like one 3 hour commercial and apparently Huge will endorse anything. “

Photo sponsored by The Ledger on Facebook

Lastly, what bugs me about Huge is that his Amway Inbox can be reached through his “State Wide” email address, and “State Wide” website.  “State Wide” email addresses and websites are available to anyone globally… so stop saying it, it sounds stupid, and makes you sound even more ridiculous.

Just listen to his show, and count the number of ads, and sponsors, its HUGE!

Out of curiosity is it cheaper usually to have a company produce its own commercial or to hire an on-air personality to do the radio spot?

Making a Case – Direct Marketing in China is there a West Michigan Connection?

Recently I read an interesting article in The Economist.  In the story, “A Tale of Two Expats” expatriates from Western countries working in China are compared to Chinese expatriates working in the West.  The article follows a couple of ex-pats currently working in China, and immediately the following line from Mr. Smith (a pseudonym for the executive interviewed ) jumped out:

His firm operates through a network of locals who knock on doors and pester their acquaintances to buy lipstick and shampoo.

Very interesting start, and now that my interest has been peaked, I would like to find out who this firm is.  Almost immediately,  a couple of companies come to mind. (I like how the writer inserted his own feelings on this business model by using the word “pester”).

Reading further, I cam across this telling statement

These salespeople also recruit other salespeople.  Such “multi-level” marketing (also known as direct selling) is controversial in many countries…

There we have it, Mr. Smith works for a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) firm, and controversy seems to swirl around these types of companies. This is no different in China, in fact the controversy was intensified.

MLM companies in China, were allowed to operate in their normal business model up until 1998, when MLM companies were banned from selling in China.  The reason for the this ban was a large increase in pyramid schemes in which many people lost their life’s savings, which caused widespread riots.  This ban included both pyramid schemes and MLM companies since Chinese officials viewed them as one in the same.

The Chinese government was also concerned about MLM’s becoming a substitute for the Communist Party, and how they might even sway away loyalty.  The government went so far to label MLM’s as “evil cults, secret societies and superstitious and lawless activities”, though this statement is probably not limited to only China.  Even now the government keeps a close eye on large MLM gatherings as evidenced by this quote:

Large meetings organized by the company, by contrast, are viewed with suspicion. Direct-sales firms like to hold big pep rallies for their salespeople. In a democracy, this is no big deal. If throngs of herbal-diet-supplement peddlers want to get together and wax euphoric about their herbal diet supplements, the government could not care less.

Later in 1998 MLM firms were able to come to a compromise by negotiating with the Chinese Government.  MLM firms were no required to operate retail shops throughout the country, the direct sellers had to be direct employees of the MLM, and their wages were based on what they sell and not on how many people they recruit to sell their products.

Multi-level marketing companies are allowed to operate only under tight conditions designed to keep out scammers. For example, they must maintain bricks-and-mortar shops, so that disgruntled staff and customers have somewhere to go to make complaints.

The ban was further eased in 2005 when the Chinese Government began to allow some home to home selling by MLM firms, and they also eased other restrictions.  While the companies were allowed to operate in China again, there was still a huge gray area, as evidenced by Mr. Smith:

But when some of his employees started recruiting on a university campus, the students’ parents complained furiously and the government took their side, making it plain that Mr Smith’s firm had crossed an invisible line.

Although Mr. Smith would not allow the author to disclose sales information.  An impressive number is stated.  Apparently the “taipan” is a snake, but the reference is still lost on me.  But Mr. Smith provides a valuable clue about his employer and their current prosperity in China.

Mr Smith cites a figure for his firm’s annual sales growth that would make a taipan raise his eyebrows.

Based on all these juicy quotes, can you think of any West Michigan company that may fit this description?  Of course Amway/ Alticor, comes to mind.  I can’t say with certainty that the company Mr. Smith works for is Amway, but it is a prime suspect.

The biggest and most well known direct marketing firms that sell cosmetics are Mary Kay, Avon, and Artistry (the Amway brand).  All three firms are present in China, and operate physical stores in China, which was a provision of the compromised that MLM made with the Chinese government during the ban.

The main distinction between these companies is that Amway also sells other items like shampoo and “herbal-diet-supplements” with their Nutrilite brand.  If you remember herbal-diet-supplements was mentioned in The Economist story as an example rally, even though a majority of the article focused on cosmetics.  Was this an attempt of the author to provide an additional clue or to throw the curious readers off-track?

I feel confident that we can eliminate Avon as Mr. Smith’s possible employer.  Sales for Avon in China are slumping (in 2009 sales rose less than 1%), and four of their high level executives in China were suspended on bribery charges.  I doubt that one of their executives would be dumb enough to put himself out there and disclose this information.

So that leaves us with Mary Kay and Amway.  Mary Kay is going gangbusters in China by evidenced by this article in the New York Times, where Paul Mak, head of Mary Kay China, states that revenue at the end of 2009 has doubled to $600 million in the last three years, and revenue is projected to grow another 20%, next year.

Amway has done quite well in China.  Out of a global sales number of $8.4 billion, China, Amway’s top market had over $3 billion in sales.  Which had increase by 12% from 2008.  According to Eva Cheng, chairwoman for Amway China, they are forecasting double-digit revenue growth again in 2010.  I would imagine any executive would be quite happy with those numbers, but is it enough for a “taipan” to raise his eyebrows?

A couple of clues might help solve this case.  First, Mr. Smith is a high level executive has a Chinese wife.  Second, the firm in question once had an issue with the Chinese government when they tried to recruit university students to sell their products.  I searched the internets and could not find any information about Mary Kay or Amway having issues with China over approaching university students to become sellers.  Do you have any thoughts or theories on Mr. Smith’s employer?  Or do you wish to share your stories with MLM firms?  Perhaps you feel the China was onto something with their ban, share your thoughts below or email me.

Update: Amway’s 2010 results were released, here are some highlights

  • 2010 record sales of $9.2 billion
  • 9.5 percent increase in sales
  • Growth was fueled by strong results in China, which is Amway’s largest market
  • China accounted for more than one third of its global sales in 2009

It’s A Bird, It’s a Plane, No It’s ……

Mumbai, Minneapolis, and Grand Rapids, Oh My – What do they all have in common….. Skywalks!

So Grand Rapids has a Skywalk, which is an elevated enclosed walkway between buildings. The main point of skywalks is to give users a safe way to move between buildings (avoid traffic, congestion on streets) and to protect pedestrians from the weather.

The Grand Rapids Skywalk is 1.4 miles long, covers 7 city blocks, and connects multiple buildings.  The Skywalk starts at Devos Place off of Monroe, and snakes it way down Monroe, and heads East on Fulton and ends at the Van Andel Arena.  Here is a map and here is another map, and here is a confusing map with entrances and exits and non identified buildings.

It is hard to get information on the SkyWalk and so I took it upon myself through visual observation and Bing Maps and their Aerial View (which rocks) to create my own map of the Grand Rapids SkyWalk and identifying what buildings it connects (and the businesses inside those buildings).  But of course soon after I created that map I found this one which is perfect – oh well.  Please click on my map to make me feel better about not wasting my time.

I have been on the Skywalk once after a Griffins hockey game at Van Andel Arena, promptly got lost and exited as quickly as I saw an exit.  But luckily it looks like the City of Grand Rapids is fixing the Skywalk system with a series of wayfaring signs by Corbin Design out of Traverse City (the same company that did the street wayfaring system for the downtown).  Additionally according to this article they are also looking for ways to beautify the Skywalk.

With out further ado here is the path of the Grand Rapids SkyWalk (my map): Also note that the numbers below correspond to the Bing Map I created)

Van Andel Arena (#1)to 25 Ottawa SW Building (#3) to both 32 Market SW Building (#5) and the Parking Lot on Market/Fulton/Monroe (#7) to Courtyard by Marriott (#8) & Plaza Towers (#9) (at 11 Monroe NW) to Campau Square Parking Lot on Campau & Monroe (#11) to Campau Square Plaza Building (#13) (99 Monroe NW) to National City Bank Building (#15) (171 Monroe NW) then splits to JW Marriott (#17) and Amway Grand Hotel (#21) & Plaza.

The JW Marriott Route (#17) goes to Riverfront Plaza Building (#19)(55 Campau, 88 Campau) and ends.

The path to Amway Grand Plaza (#21) goes to Windquest Building (#24 my personal favorite) and  DeVos Place/Performance Hall (#25).

So it seems that this Grand Rapids SkyWalk may still grow in the future.  In fact the city of Grand Rapids as recently as 1/20/2010 in a Economic Development Corporate meeting was asking about viability of a skywalk at the Old Post Office, which it was told that a Skywalk is too expensive and not a part of the plan for the building (here is the link to the notes from that meeting).  But it goes to show that is still on the minds of city leaders and developers.

There  is a photographic slideshow of the Grand Rapids SkyWalk through Flickr.

Please share your SkyWalk stories and thoughts in the comments.  Does Grand Rapids even need a SkyWalk?  How did this all get started in Grand Rapids?

Brand OverKill – Windquest

WindQuest is a racing sailboat owned by Dick DeVos, of Amway fame.  Amazingly, this sailboat has been the inspiration for numerous companies mostly owned by the DeVos family.  It is interesting to see how this boat has become a branding tool for the family.  In my opinion. consistently branding unrelated companies with the same name dilutes the brand and can lead to confusion in the marketplace.

Let’s take a look of all the WindQuest branded companies in the DeVos portfolio:

  • Windquest – Is a MaxZ 86 boat, owned by Dick DeVos.  Dick along with his brother Doug race the Windquest in various races, including the Race to Mackinac Island, winning it in 2007, and placing 3rd in their division in 2008.
  • The Stow Company – Formerly named Windquest, the Stow Company is a home organization company, selling closet, garage, pantry, entertainment center, and other home organization solutions for the home.  They wisely rebranded in May 2010, by changing their name from something that conjures up images of sails, and boating accessories (things this company does not manufacture), to a word which defines exactly what home organization is all out “Stowing all your stuff, neatly and orderly in your house.”  This company has been in business in 25 years, and just recently celebrated that annivesary.  I wonder if they just got tired of people calling them asking them for sails.
  • Windquest Building – This is a building owned by the DeVos family, at 201 Monroe in Grand Rapids.  This building was rebranded from the  River City Building to Windquest building (bet you couldn’t see that one coming).  Now a building is one item that seems to be the total opposite image of Windquest, it’s a building, its stationary, its mostly impervious to winds.    This building has recently been remodeled, and redesigned, most likely to do with the renaming of the building.  Wonder if a bottle of champagne was broken on the façade of the building.  This building also houses the Windquest group (surprised yet?) which we will cover shortly.  Additionally it also houses Pomegranate Studios, a business incubator owned by Rick DeVos (son of Dick DeVos) which launched Spout.com and ArtPrize.  It also houses another Rick DeVos group Momentum, a venture firm investing in internet startups.  Lastly a new wine bar called Reserve owned by the Dick and his wife Betsy DeVos opened up on the ground floor.  In case you ever wondered what happened to Spout.com, a movie focused social media venture which was founded by Rick DeVos, it was acquired by SnagFilms in May 2010.
  • Windquest Group – Is an investment holding company which relocated to the new Windquest building that Richard DeVos along with his wife Betsy own.  The Windquest Group is involved in a number of thing and here is only a small sampling of what I found.  A joint partnership to produce HydrAid BioSand water filterCascade Engineering is working with International Aid to create a water filtration system for developing countries and Windquest is supporting this endeavor with capital.  Windquest is also providing financial backing to the Green Machine, a clean energy solutions. This is a joint partnership between ElectraTherm providing the technology, Pro Services has the  application, and Windquest providing the capital.  I am sure there is plenty more out there that the Group does, so if you know please comment or send an email.
  • Request Foods – Now Request Foods is not a DeVos owned company but take a wild guess on how Request Foods got its name. That is right, the founders were inspired by the Windquest boat sailing on Lake Macatawa.  Believe me I wish I was making this up.

I suppose branding all your various companies around one word which is not your last name or initials is a good thing.  Because I would much rather see something named Windquest over DeVos.  Just because last names are boring.  Maybe next time bring one of those marketing/branding people and pick their brain, maybe they can come up with something creative like maybe WaterMission.

So do you think about the use of the name Windquest?  Do you any other information of other Windquest Groups activities or investments, or any other DeVos companies that are housed in the new Windquest building?

Quaeris – An Example On When Not To Use Latin Names

Quaeris (QWHERE US) is Latin for “to seek”, is an organization of West Michigan employers and non-profit member groups (think chamber of commerce’s) which promote West Michigan as an employment destination and provide relocation support to professionals and their families.  When Quaeris made its public launch in early 2010, the first thing I thought was “Damn, why didn’t they have this program around when I relocated here back in 2005.”  The second thing was how interesting it is to see all these companies even competitors band together for this kind of initiative.  To me this arrangement seemed extremely unique, just take a look at the list of companies involved (check out the costs to join).

  • Amway
  • Blue Cross & Blue Shield
  • Davenport University
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Haworth
  • Herman Miller
  • Highland Group
  • Kellogg
  • Meijer
  • MSU College of Human Medicine
  • Perrigo
  • Powell Relocation Group
  • Priority Health
  • Progressive AE
  • Rehmann
  • SDI Consulting
  • Spectrum Health
  • Steelcase
  • Trinity Health West Michigan
  • Van Andel Institute
  • Varnum
  • Warner Norcross & Judd
  • West Michigan Relocation Specialists
  • Wolverine World Wide

You have competitors in a number of markets including office workspace, law firms, medical, and healthcare insurance.  But what I also wanted to find out if there are  any more co-company arrangements like Quaeris out there in different regions.  Trust me this was crazy difficult to find, go ahead and you try searching, it’s impossible.  Well through my awesome web sleuthing I have found this, FUEL Milwaukee.   FUEL Milwaukee was developed for the same reasons as Quaeris “talent attraction and retention”.  Right now FUEL has about 60 employer members.  What is interesting about FUEL is that it started out as a Young Professionals group (similar to area  GRYP and HYP) but morphed with the support of various regional economic groups to become both a membership organization for professionals and for companies as well.

Anyways back to Quaeris, I guess I should not be surprised that these companies are working together for the betterment of the region after all many of them play together already.  Examples like the Intern Olympics (see my post), or the GRid 70 design hub (which apparently only Raleigh and Austin have something similar) featuring Wolverine, Meijer, Amway,  and Steelcase, show regional collaboration at work.

The one marketing angle I want to mention about Quaeris is the name.  So besides the sophomoric humor some may find in the word Quaeris, my main issue is that it’s so non-descriptive.  It does nothing to signify what region this organization promotes.  I just question how prospective talents outside of West Michigan become aware of this organization.  What exactly do you Google to find out about Quaeris?  I tried a couple of quick searches on “West Michigan Business” , “West Michigan Companies”, “West Michigan Relocation” and Quaeris did not pop up on the first page of the search.  I do not have a good answer for how to solve this because I am not sure that something like “West Michigan Area Companies Uniting for Attracting Talent and Giving Resources to Their Spouses so That they are More Comfortable with Moving to West Michigan Organization” or WMACUATGRTSTTMCMWMO might just be a little too verbose.  Perhaps a simple Quaeris West Michigan would be enough.  What are your thoughts on the name or other suggestions?

So please help me if you know of any other regional organizations which feature companies working together to bring awareness and employee talent to their area, let me know.  I would love to dig into this deeper.

Company Fun Time!

Can West Michigan companies host fun activities for their employees?  Thinking back on the things that my company does there are a few, like an occasional summer picnic, game room which is “lightly used” and our most recent chili cook-off/Halloween event.  The chili cook-off was also held in conjunction with Halloween costume contest so your department could develop a theme around your chili entry.  Despite our contest not being fair and clearly having an inferior chili win the employee vote (need to think of some guidelines to prevent ballot stuffing next year), it was a good time, and it seems that everyone had enjoyed themselves.

So what other fun things are companies doing for their employees?  Back in August, six local West Michigan companies (Amway, Gordon Food Service, Meijer, Perrigo, Steelcase, and Wolverine World Wide) put together the West Michigan Intern Olympics, where 160 interns competed for their employers, to determine which company hires the most athletic interns!  Well not quite but they do get a trophy, and at least they get a small friendly rivalry going between the companies to keep things interesting.  For internal purposes, I am sure it is a nice little team building exercise and unifier.  I just want to know how they came up with this idea. Perhaps next year they can invite Herman Miller and Haworth to participate and see how competitive they get with each other and with Steelcase.  Anyone reading who participated in the Intern Olympics (you better comment)?

So what fun things does your company do or what have you heard that those other companies do behind their walls?  Let’s show those internet startups (pre-bubble) area how West Michigan represents!