E-letter: Big box forever? Not so sure

Whether in trade, association or consumer magazines, newspapers and broadcast, a good editor is a skeptic. Being a skeptic means not accepting everything people try to tell you at face value. Sometimes people lie.

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

Unfortunately, the vast majority of current journalists are not skeptics. They are either lap dogs for special interests or they are cynics. Or both. A cynic is not a skeptic. Skeptics do the research; cynics presume that everybody lies so research is not necessary.

I may have been born a skeptic, destined by fate to question. I recall being very young when I wondered why breakfast cereal was being sold on the basis of how loud it was. It made no sense to me.

 

Later, I recall watching an old “variety” television show hosted by Ed Sullivan. Sullivan was introducing a new act from England called The Beatles. Like young males across the world, I was not so amazed by The Beatles’ talent and skill as I was by their effect on pubescent girls. I even considered buying a guitar.

As with nearly anyone of my generation, I still enjoy singing along with some of the old Beatles’ classics, as long as I am alone in my car with the windows rolled up. My impression is that I still have a good singing voice, and I don’t need any skeptical millennials dashing my dreams.

However, my skepticism kicked in when the Beatles’ popularity moved up the age ladder and the oldies (people, not songs) starting remarking on the unbelievable musical richness of the lads from Liverpool.

In a quest for musical excellence, how do we rate, “In the town where I was born lived a man who sailed to sea. And he told us of his life in the land of submarines.”? Somewhere around Grade 6, I assume? Or how about the eternal wisdom embodied in “Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9.”?

We can argue that the lyrics are secondary (with some offence to Universal Art), but then we are stuck with making a case that 4/4 time, three guitars and a drum opens up a new universe. If that were true, it would still be expanding, and it’s not, which is why there are so many covers of rock-and-roll songs launched between 1965 and 1970.

So I don’t think The Beatles were musical geniuses, at all. They were, however, marketing geniuses of the highest order. Far from accidentally falling into the collective teenybopper lap, picking a few and getting married, The Beatles hired a good manager, observed their market responded with a product that got sales (yeah, yeah, yeah) and took it to the bank. Even The Beatles were stunned at their success – an attribute rare among musical geniuses.

Therefore, from my perspective as a skeptic it is clear The Beatles did not rise to success on the waves of superior art; they rolled in the dough on the basis of selling to the lowest common denominator and sent the instrumental strains of Michelle into corporate elevators worldwide. Eat your heart out, Bach.

 

The advent of the big-box stores is not unlike the rise of The Beatles. Mass communications, mass marketing, integrated logistical systems and instant invoicing and inventory control made it possible and marketers that were either savvy or lucky (or both) picked up on the option. I can wish it was me, but it wasn’t. Much like my chances of learning to play guitar, somebody else got there first, and wishing only works for adolescents.

However, even The Beatles could only eat up so much of the pie. This left room for virtuoso musicians to rise along the same established lines of commerce The Beatles created, and it provided the energy for such instrument providers as Gibson, Fender and Ludwig to cash in on the dreams of teenage heartthrob wanna-bes. And it provided off-ramps for jazz, reggae, samba and, yes, Vivaldi to enter the mainstream musical experience. It is arguable that The Beatles’ influence on speakers, receivers and turntables made it possible for other, less overwhelmingly popular, musical trends to exist in the common market.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen a huge exodus of raw materials to the Pacific Rim and elsewhere, where companies can create, account and redeliver goods to North America. This has put economic pressure on classical approaches to goods for the “occupied space” in Canada.

But, while intercepting the economic stream in raw materials and mass production, the uniformity of design, the lack of any true artistic resonance in the products and the total anonymity in which the sellers operate creates a void.

 

Business, like nature, abhors a void, and we can expect as incomes rise and populations age, the attraction of having your fifth Home Depot kitchen or living room will decrease. Already, boutique answers to new decorating ideas are springing up worldwide, filling a need that flat-pack and self-install simply cannot answer. It’s something like viewing a photo of a Beatles’ concert taken with an Instamatic from the back row. You can tell what it is, but it’s nothing like being there.

Canada’s building permit situation remains strong, as does our supply of natural resources. I have placed a graph below showing our production of hardwood over the past 10 years. You can see the ups and downs, but you can see we’re still in the game. And China, in particular, does not have a harvestable resource in hardwoods.

From my perspective, the current growth in incomes, resources, building permits and other factors will continue, new answers will become clear to individuals (not corporations) and current resources in logistics, accounting, raw materials and marketing will become more available as the bottleneck of low-cost demand moves on.

Ages, if you will. It’s been a hard day’s night, but I feel alright.

Total Canadian hardwood production 7-2006 to 4-2016

 

 

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