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Business Trends: A Special Background Report On Trends in Industry and Finance

March 9, 1995

STUDYING THE COMPETITION pays off well for small businesses.

Market intelligence isn’t just for big companies: Many small shops routinely visit their rivals, question suppliers, socialize with competitors and scour trade papers for tips. Tom Coohill, a chef who owns two Atlanta restaurants, gives managers a food allowance to dine out and bring back ideas. Chip Gerken, a co-owner of Crossroads Trading Co., a used-clothing-store chain in San Francisco, asks workers to ``keep their ears open and mouths shut″ at parties.

In Hoboken, N.J., Russ Hebard put in a plain-paper fax unit at his Mail Boxes Etc. franchise after noticing the computer store down the block had one. Atlanta jeweler Frank Maier Jr., who often visits out-of-town rivals, spotted and copied a dramatic way of lighting displays. Big corporations ``may throw a lot of money at research, but it doesn’t mean they’re getting better information,″ says Leonard Fuld, author of ``The New Competitor Intelligence.″

The cost of technology drops so that small outfits can afford databases such as electronic phone books, he says.

USE YOUR MENTALITY as a business tool, urge enthusiasts of ``imaging.″

As knowledge of the brain grows (right side for creativity; left side for logic), so does the consulting business. BI Performance Services, Minneapolis, packages motivational programs with strong right-brain appeal. For instance, BI may suggest rewarding top staffers with a car, rather than cash. Why? It says the auto is ``imaged″ by the right hemisphere as a more-powerful motivator than money, which is processed by the more linear left side.

BI client Dr Pepper-Seven-Up Cos. finds travel has proved to be a great incentive for its franchised bottlers. ``I don’t care if it’s the left brain, right brain, front or back. It works,″ says John Albers, chairman. Separately, executive communications coach Terry Van Tell in New York tries to get her charges to develop right-brain creativity. Among other exercises, she urges people to do routines like imitating Elvis Presley, Groucho Marx and other right-brain artists.

LITTLE GIRLS keep the Easter outfit _ and some specialty retailers _ in the pink.

Easter is a time ``when the children’s dress market gets a vitamin-B shot,″ says Alan Millstein, publisher of Fashion Network Report in New York. Grandparents who shop by 800 numbers and send the presents via overnight delivery are ``a very important part of the upscale children’s-wear market,″ Mr. Millstein says. But the days when women bought Easter suits and bonnets for themselves each spring ``are just a memory,″ he adds.

Cloud 10, a children’s apparel shop in Palm Beach, Fla., gets about 45 percent of its business from grandparents, says owner Pearl Wortham. Among other strategies, Ms. Wortham mails grandfolks the Joan Calabrese catalog in which dresses range from $299 to $1,100 or more. Boys are another matter. Mudpie, San Francisco, carries clothes for girls to age 10 and for boys up to six years. Older boys ``are kind of a lost group,″ says Cheryl Perliss. Ms. Wortham notes: ``It takes five minutes″ to outfit a boy.

Both shops note strong demand for hand-stitched smocking on girls’ dresses.

DRIVE-BY SHIRTINGS are the latest brainstorm of the Shirt Store in mid-Manhattan. The shop institutes curb service for busy customers who phone in their shirt orders and later drive by the 44th Street store where an employee waits outside with the goods. Often, the staffer proffers a handful of matching ties for a quick pick.

MEDICAL SPEAK: Kaiser Permanente and the Mayo Clinic work to standardize the terminology and vocabulary used in medical records _ a must for creating a universal, computerized system. The project is funded by a $550,000 federal grant from the National Library of Medicine and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.

EXPATRIATE EMPLOYEES are on the rise, says consultant Foster Higgins, New York. It said 59 percent of surveyed employers expect to send more U.S. workers overseas in the next two years. Small firms led the way with 72 percent likely to add employees.

READY FOR ISO 14000? Global businesses now tackle environmental standards.

Just when you thought ISO 9000, the certification that shows manufacturers are observing international quality standards, was in place, the International Organization for Standardization in Geneva now aims for environmental management guidelines by 1996. The idea isn’t to make more green laws but to create a set of minimum requirements for environmental management systems.

Today, manufacturers such as Warman International Inc., a pump maker in Sydney, Australia, often must choose one country’s local standard, then ``try to convince the other country,″ says Bob Clevenstine, an executive in the U.S. unit in Madison, Wis. A single global standard is ``very, very attractive to us,″ he adds. New York consultant Grant Thornton says that 60 percent of midsize manufacturers also say such standards would be useful.

But questions remain on how to integrate voluntary guidelines with local compliance and regulation programs.

BRIEFS: Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, the Oakland, Calif., outfit that also makes Edy’s Grand, got 10,000 replies to its call for 28 tasters who will sample new flavors. ... Powerhouse Advertising and Friends, Litchfield, Conn., publishes a children’s book about a cottontail who celebrates Easter and Passover called ``Matzo Bunny.″

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