Monday, October 25, 2010

Scary Business Plans

In order to get into the Halloween spirit, I’d like to search for the business tips lurking in the shadows of some of my favorite spooky movies.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

In this animated cult-classic, Jack Skellington decides he’s tired of running Halloween and conducts a hostile takeover of Christmas. Jack is armed with only enthusiasm and best intentions, so his plans lead to nothing but trouble. The only lessons here are learned from Jack’s mistakes:
  1. Always Do Market Research: You’ll want to know that children don’t like scary toys for Christmas BEFORE you manufacture and distribute all of those shrunken heads.
  2. Be Aware of Your Core Competencies: It can be tempting to start something new for the adventure of it all, but if you don’t have the basic skill set required, then you’re doomed to fail. Stick to what you’re best suited for. You’re not “Sandy Claws” -- you’re the Pumpkin King!
  3. Retain Key Staff: If you do want to take over a business, keep the old management team on for a while. They’ll be able to provide a valuable knowledge transfer. You’ll be glad that you have Santa Claus working for you to distribute toys instead of having him hidden away in a sack.

    Sweeney Todd

    Sweeney Todd is a case study in vertical integration. Sweeney Todd (of  Sweeney Todd’s Tonsorial Parlor) and Mrs. Lovett (of Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pies) join forces in a common venture. Specifically, he kills some of his customers and then she bakes them into meat pies.

    After you’re done gagging, consider what this does to their supply chain. First, look at the supply chain of Ms. Mooney’s Pie Shop, one of Mrs. Lovett’s competitors:

    The product moves down the supply chain towards the customers, while the money moves in the opposite direction towards the suppliers. In the middle of the chain, Mrs. Mooney only keeps of portion of the revenue and passes the rest upstream to her suppliers.

    Now look at Mrs. Lovett’s supply chain:

    Not only is she sharing the profits with her supplier, but she also has money coming in from both ends of the supply chains! The customers that Sweeney kills still pay for their haircuts, which is a lot of money when you remember that a Sweeney Todd haircut costs exactly the amount of money they have in their wallets. (And, since they won’t be needing their wallets anymore as they take a trip to the meat grinder, Sweeney and Lovett will keep the wallet, too.)

    Can this model be duplicated for a business that doesn’t involve cannibalism? To a point, but it’s tricky. A more modern/legal version of this would be a hub for user-generated content where one set of end users pay for the content and another set of users pays for the privilege of having their content distributed.

    The Rocky Horror Picture Show

    At the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Riff Raff successfully stages a coup to seize control from Dr. Frank-N-Furter. But how -- or why -- he does it is a mystery. “I’m your new commander,” he sings. But on whose authority? Apparently somebody deemed Dr. Frank-N-Furter unfit for leadership because his “lifestyle’s too extreme.” I can see the value of having a moral’s clause—and killing Eddie (Meatloaf) and serving him for dinner (also Meatloaf) is certainly extreme. But when you replace a guy like that, why would you choose Riff Raff as the successor? That guy is into some seriously inappropriate behavior with his sister.

    Odder still—why would Riff want to take over? He reports that Frank’s “mission is a failure,” but that mission is ill defined at best. What exactly is their goal? As far as I can tell, the mission consists of nothing more than traveling to a foreign planet (Earth) and seducing the aliens who live there (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick.) I don’t see any real way to profit from that.

    The only take away point I can find in Rocky Horror is that the best way to get your boss’s job is with a ray-gun. I can neither recommend nor condone that strategy.

    Little Shop of Horrors

    At last, Little Shop of Horrors provides us with a practical lesson that can be applied to legitimate business ventures! At the opening of the movie, Mushnik’s Flower Shop is a “God- and customer-forsaken place.” There isn’t a lot of demand for flowers in the shop’s Skid Row neighborhood. However, that all changes when Seymour Krelborn comes up with the plan to attract customers by placing the Audrey II – a “strange and interesting plant” – in the window. Before you know it, Mushnik’s is raking in the bucks hand over fist.

    The Audrey II doesn’t directly generate any money for Mushnik’s Flower Shop. All the revenue is coming from the sale of normal, non-alien plants. At the same time, Audrey II consumes a lot of resources.* Seymour puts a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into raising Audrey II (but mostly blood.)

    And yet without the Audrey II, Mushnik’s wouldn’t make any sales. This has many real-world parallels. Most marketing departments are like the Audrey II—they generates no revenue on their own, but if you don’t invest in them then your sales will wilt.

    Of course, you should learn something else from Seymour and avoid duplicating his business model exactly since his marketing gimick has a mind and a business plan of its own: Take over the world! Mwaa haa haa!

    Further Viewing: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sweeney Todd, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Little Shop of Horrors

    * …and dentists.


    1. One of your best, yet!

      "killing Eddie (Meatloaf) and serving him for dinner (also Meatloaf)"--brilliant!