March 29, 2020

Japan’s E-Reader Industry Struggles to Keep Up as Amazon Takes the Lead

It was a T-shirt emblazoned with “Beat Amazon.” Mr. Mikitani wanted to signal that the two companies had no intention of slugging it out in a print-versus-digital fight in Japan.

The alliance did little to help them defend against Amazon. Four months later, Amazon brought its Kindle e-reader to Japan. It quickly became Japan’s top-selling e-reader, gaining 38.3 percent of the market, according to the MM Research Institute, a data firm in Tokyo. Even though Rakuten’s Kobo had beaten Kindle to market by nearly five months, it grabbed only 33 percent of Japan’s e-reader sales during the same 12-month period. Sony, which had stated its goal of selling half of all e-readers by 2012, managed to hold only 25.5 percent with its devices.

Amazon sells its Kindle in 14 countries, Japan being the very latest. Misao Konishi, an Amazon spokeswoman, declined to talk about the company’s goals for the Japanese market, but she did offer some insight into Amazon’s ambitions. “Every book ever printed, in every language, available to buy in 60 seconds,” Ms. Konishi said. “There are many things to accomplish in order to achieve that vision in Japan.”

The Kindle’s quick success is a stark contrast to the Japanese companies’ efforts. Until Amazon showed up, e-readers failed to live up to expectations. Sony brought out the first reader using E Ink technology in Japan in 2004, the LIBRIe.

Buyers of the LIBRIe, which like early Kindles showed black text on a white background, suffered from a convoluted marketplace that allowed them only to rent e-books, not buy them. Amazon, which developed its Kindle with digital books people could buy from — where else? — Amazon.com, found instant success after its introduction in the United States in 2007.

Sony stopped selling its device that year. The company’s subsequent e-readers, even after Sony developed a library of books to buy, have met with limited success.

Japan isn’t a big contributor to global e-reader sales, estimated at around 19.9 million units by IDC, a market research firm. MM Research said that a total of 470,000 devices were sold there last year, and that it expected sales to climb about 10 percent to 520,000 units in 2014.

Amazon’s victory over Sony and Rakuten, which got into the e-reader business when it bought the Toronto-based Kobo in November 2011, began with aggressive pricing. Amazon sold the Kindle Paperwhite, a color-screen tablet, for 7,980 yen, or about $80. Not only was its price about $40 less than it was in the United States, it also matched that of Rakuten’s Kobo and Sony’s PRS-T2, both color-screen tablets.

In a bid to gain market share, Rakuten dropped the price of its e-reader in July to to 5,480 yen, and will continue to focus on this basic model, even as the company launches the new high-end Kobo Aura HD in Europe and the United States in September.

But Amazon wasn’t winning just because of price. It also gave consumers another reason to prefer the Kindle. “The reason for the Kindle’s success in Japan is the same as it was in America,” said Munechika Nishida, author of “The Truth About the E-book Revolution” and a technology analyst. “The Amazon Web store is the easiest to use, the easiest to understand.”

Sony and Rakuten’s e-readers are not technologically inferior to the Kindle, Mr. Nishida said, but buying e-books on the Kindle marketplace takes fewer steps. Rakuten and Sony’s devices make browsing and purchasing more difficult, he said.

The Japan Kindle store, which opened last October, offers more than 140,000 Japanese-language titles. It added 7,000 more titles in just the last 30 days. Kodansha now has 10,617 e-book titles available on the Kindle marketplace.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/02/business/global/japans-e-reader-industry-struggles-to-keep-up-as-amazon-takes-the-lead.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

A New Chevrolet Malibu, Aimed at G.M.’s Rivals

It is unusual for a carmaker to make major changes to a new model so soon. But with the Malibu still lagging behind its competitors in the important midsize car category, G.M. is moving uncharacteristically fast to improve it.

G.M. has a lot riding on its success. The revamped Malibu, along with new pickup trucks coming this summer, is part of its effort to emerge from years of retrenching after its financial collapse and become a growth company again.

“In the past, we would have defended it and justified it and waited for it to sell,” Mark Reuss, head of G.M.’s North American operations, said of the Malibu at a news conference here on Friday to show off the new model. “But we’re not going to sit around and wait. We’re going to react to the marketplace.”

That marketplace has been decidedly cool to the car, even after last year’s revamping. Its sales have dropped nearly 12 percent from a year ago, even as G.M.’s overall sales in the United States are up about 10 percent.

G.M. has made some incremental gains this year in market share in the United States. In the first four months, it reported an 18.1 percent share, compared with 17.7 percent for the same period in 2012.

Better sales of the Malibu are considered essential to further bolstering share. To attract customers, a honeycomb-style grill was added to the front end, and the rear seats were redesigned for better comfort and more leg room. G.M. will also offer a more fuel-efficient engine that shuts down and saves gas when the car is stopped at a traffic light.

Analysts reserved judgment about the changes. “We’ll see how it does,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at the auto research site Edmunds.com.

She said that despite improvements in other areas of the business, G.M. still had a lot to prove in the midsize car category, which accounts for about one out of every six vehicles sold in the country.

“G.M. needs to be much more competitive in this segment,” Ms. Krebs said. “It’s still the biggest segment in the market, and they need to play stronger in it.”

Malibu sales have slipped considerably in recent years, particularly after work on a new version was suspended during G.M.’s bankruptcy. A fresh Malibu finally arrived in showrooms last year, powered by a new engine and sporting a better interior and more technology.

But consumers were not impressed. Despite the changes, sales fell further behind the Toyota Camry, which leads the midsize sedan segment, and the Honda Accord. And the Malibu fared poorly in a head-to-head comparison with the Ford Fusion, which has had a 25 percent increase in sales this year.

“We knew there were competitive pressures,” Mr. Reuss said. “And we knew we needed to get a better car out there.”

The new version goes on sale this fall. Until then, G.M. will try to generate interest in the current model with hefty rebates. The average Malibu incentive in April was the biggest in the midsize segment, at $3,793, compared with $592 for the Honda Accord and $1,946 for the Fusion, according to Edmunds.com.

Pre-bankruptcy, G.M. often relied on rebates to move unpopular cars. But Mr. Reuss said the company was committed to improving its products, so big incentives are unnecessary.

“We’re trying to address the concerns of the customer,” he said. “We have got to hit home runs with everything we put out there.”

The rush to fix the Malibu reflects G.M.’s overall struggle to remake itself after its bankruptcy and $49.5 billion government bailout.

While the company contends it has made great strides with most of its new products, its financial performance has been spotty. Its net income in the first quarter declined 14 percent from a year earlier, and its North American profits significantly trail those of the Ford Motor Company, its smaller hometown rival.

But investors appear to see a brighter future ahead. G.M.’s stock recently hit $33 a share, the first time the company achieved the share price of its initial public offering in 2010.

The government, meanwhile, is in the process of selling off its remaining shares in G.M., which should help the company shed its nickname of “Government Motors.”

Mr. Reuss said that in the past, G.M. would not have bothered to poll consumers about why they did not like the current Malibu.

But the days when G.M. would let a new model languish are over, he said.

“We are a company that lost the will to win during the bankruptcy,” he said. “We need to know that feeling of winning again.”

Industry analysts expect G.M. to report another slight gain in market share for the month of May, when the industry reports sales figures on Monday.

G.M.’s sales in the United States during May are expected to improve about 8 percent from last year, which would be a bit more than the overall market, according to the investment firm Sterne Agee.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/business/a-new-chevrolet-malibu-aimed-at-gms-rivals.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

China Data Show Uptick but Fail to Impress

HONG KONG — Chinese factory activity and retail sales picked up a notch in April, according to data released Monday, regaining some steam from weak showings the previous month. But expansion remained underwhelming, analysts said, and underlined that the once red-hot Chinese economy is in the throes of a long-term transition toward slower growth.

Industrial output, the data showed, expanded by 9.3 percent from April last year, compared with the 8.9 percent reading in March, while retail sales grew 12.8 percent, from compared with 12.6 percent in March. Fixed-asset investment, an important engine of economic growth, disappointed, with growth of just 20.6 percent in the first four months of this year, data also released on Monday showed.

Analysts cautioned that the improvements did not represent a substantive pickup in growth and that the momentum in the Chinese economy remained muted. “This is not the start of a rally, it is a sputtering whimper as momentum continues to fade,” Xianfang Ren and Alistair Thornton, economists at IHS Global Insight in Beijing, said in a research note. Although they stressed that “fading momentum is not the same as collapsing growth” and that the government is likely to be able to engineer full-year gross domestic product growth of more than 7.5 percent this year, they added, “we feel the risks remain firmly on the downside.”

The figures out Monday were the latest of a series of disappointing indicators from the Chinese economy in recent weeks. Data released last month showed the economy had expanded by 7.7 percent in the January-March quarter, compared with the same period last year – far less than the 8 percent that analysts had expected. Two surveys of purchasing managers in the manufacturing sector showed that April activity was disappointing, thanks in large part to weakness in new orders for exports. And last week, the Canton Fair, China’s biggest export event, announced that export orders placed at the spring session had fallen 1.4 percent from a year ago.

In part, the weakness stems from the euro zone’s festering debt crisis and austerity measures, which have eroded the ability and willingness of European customers to spend, thus denting exports from China. Rising wages in China and a gradually appreciating currency also have started to erode the country’s international competitiveness.

China is putting its own brakes on the economy with reforms that are likely to ensure that the double-digit expansion rates seen over much of the past three decades are now a thing of the past. Aware that the economy cannot continue to grow on the back of exports and heavy industry alone, Beijing has begun to steer China toward a growth model that is based on domestic demand and urbanization. While this should help raise living standards and productivity, it will also mean less fast-paced growth, analysts say.

At the same time, Beijing is trying to keep a lid on risk factors, like the expansion in local government debt, which some analyst fear could turn sour, and shadow banking activities, which have been an important source of funding but are relatively nontransparent, loosely regulated and carry elevated credit risk.

Moody’s underlined the concerns about shadow banking in a report released on Monday. The credit ratings agency welcomed recent regulatory steps to tighten controls and restrict the growth of shadow banking, but it said that “the opacity associated with shadow banking products and the threat of loss and contagion outweigh their potential benefits in terms of diverting riskier borrowers from the formal banking system.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/business/global/china-data-show-uptick-but-fail-to-impress.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

I.S.M. Services Sector Index Shows Slower Growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two reports showed Wednesday that American service companies grew more slowly in March and private employers pulled back on hiring. The declines suggest businesses may have grown more cautious last month after federal spending cuts took effect.

The Institute for Supply Management said that its index of nonmanufacturing activity fell to 54.4 last month. That is down from 56 in February and the lowest in seven months. Any reading above 50 signals expansion.

Slower hiring and a steep drop in new orders drove the index down. A gauge of hiring fell 3.9 points to 53.3, the lowest since November. That means companies kept hiring, just at a slower pace.

The group’s report covers companies that employ roughly 90 percent of the work force. It measures growth in industries that include retailing, construction, health care and financial services.

A separate report from the payroll processor ADP also pointed to slightly weaker hiring in March. ADP said private employers added 158,000 jobs in March, down from 237,000 the previous month. Construction companies did not add any jobs after three months of solid gains.

Economists were not overly concerned with the weaker reports. Several noted that ADP’s figures were less reliable than the government’s more comprehensive employment report, which comes out on Friday.

Still, many say the pace of hiring has probably dropped off from the previous four months, when employers added an average of 200,000 net jobs a month. And a few reduced their forecasts for March job growth after seeing the two reports.

Jim O’Sullivan, chief United States economist at High Frequency Economics, now expects just 160,000 net jobs in the March employment report, instead of 215,000. Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said her group had lowered its forecast to 155,000, from 220,000.

Ms. Lee said businesses might have temporarily suspended hiring because they wanted to see the impact of $85 billion in government spending cuts, which began on March 1.

Still, most economists say any slowdown is likely to be temporary. Most say growth accelerated in the January-to-March quarter to a 3 percent annual rate, buoyed by a resilient consumer and a steady rebound in housing.

And even if growth slows in the April-to-June period to roughly 2 percent, as some predict, that would still leave the economy expanding at a solid pace in the first half of the year.

“For now, there is still a lot of good news on the economy,” said Paul Edelstein, an economist at IHS Global Insight. “Home construction and demand are growing, and jobs are being added.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/business/economy/survey-shows-158000-new-jobs-in-march.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Sales of Existing Homes Hit a 3-Year High

The association said sales increased 0.8 percent to an annual rate of 4.98 million units last month, the highest level since November 2009. The January sales rate was revised up to 4.94 million units from the previously reported 4.92 million units.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected sales to rise to a five-million-unit rate. Homes took about 74 days to sell in February, according to the median estimate, down from 97 days a year ago.

In another report, the Labor Department said the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid barely changed last week, while the average over the last month fell to a five-year low. The decline in layoffs is helping to strengthen the job market.

Weekly unemployment benefit applications rose just 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000, the department said.

Over the last four weeks, the average number of applications has dropped by 7,500, to 339,750. That is the lowest level since February 2008, just three months into the recession.

In a third economic report, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index rose to 2 from minus 12.5 in February, topping economists’ expectations for minus 2.

Any reading above zero indicates expansion in the region’s manufacturing. The survey covers factories in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware. Before March’s gain, the index had contracted in three of the last four months.

New orders rose to 0.5 from minus 7.8, while inventories rose to zero from minus 10. The gauge of the number of employees gained to 2.7 from 0.9, but the average employee workweek dropped to minus 12.9 from minus 1.6.

The survey is seen as one of the first monthly indicators of the health of manufacturing in the nation. Survey respondents’ view on the coming months perked up slightly with the gauge of business conditions for the next six months rising to 32.5, from 32.1.

The rise in home sales last month was the latest indication that the housing market was gaining more ground. Data this week showed builders broke ground on more houses in February and permits for future construction approached a five-year high.

“With buying conditions remaining very supportive to demand and overall economic fundamentals continuing to improve, we expect the momentum in housing activity to improve further, providing a supportive backdrop for the recovery more generally,” said Millan Mulraine, a senior economist at TD Securities in New York.

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, holding mortgage rates near record lows, is helping to lift the housing market and bolster the economy.

Last month, the inventory of unsold homes on the market increased 9.6 percent to 1.94 million. That represented a 4.7 months’ supply at February’s sales rate, up from 4.3 months in January, the first increase since April. Inventories typically rise in February.

Still, the months’ supply remained below the six-month level that is normally considered a healthy balance of supply and demand.

Since surging in August, home resales have increased only modestly, an indication that tight supplies in some parts of the country are constraining sales.

The median home sales price in February rose 11.6 percent from a year ago, to $173,6000.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/22/business/economy/claims-for-jobless-benefits-inch-higher.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

NBC Rides ‘The Voice’ to First Place

Apparently so, as long as the hit is on for more than 40 hours in four months.

NBC has managed that unexpected turnaround from worst to first this fall, largely — competitors suggest almost exclusively — on the strength of the addition of a single show: “The Voice,” the singing competition that features swinging chairs and big-name musical artists as coaches.

Yes, NBC also has “Sunday Night Football,” but that powerhouse was on the schedule last fall, when NBC had a 2.6 rating among the viewers preferred by many advertisers, ages 18 through 49. Each rating point in that age category equals 1.26 million people. With those 40-plus hours of “The Voice” added (as well as vastly improved ratings for adjacent shows), NBC is up 23 percent to a 3.2 rating.

On Mondays, when the first of two weekly editions of the show plays, NBC is up a staggering 206 percent.

“We built our strategy around ‘The Voice,’ ” said Paul Telegdy, the president of reality and late-night programming for NBC. “We wanted to use Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to build momentum, and we’ve successfully done it.”

The show’s most recent edition started in February, coming out of a big introduction on the night of the Super Bowl. With its prime-time in tatters, NBC decided to insert the series twice this season, something its most similar antecedent, “American Idol,” has never done.

But the show’s executive producer, Mark Burnett, has done it before with shows he produced. “I knew it would be a challenge, but it was a challenge to take ‘Survivor’ to twice a season and ‘The Apprentice’ to twice a season, and that all worked out,” he said. The pressing question for NBC is what happens after Dec. 18, when this edition of “The Voice” has its finale. (Or, for that matter, when the N.F.L. season ends.)

Senior executives at two competing networks said NBC was taking a risk by being carried by one show. That immediately conjured comparisons to “Idol,” which for years lifted the Fox network almost single-handedly to first place, and — more ominously — to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the game show phenomenon that blazed at ABC and then flamed out from overuse.

“You do wonder if this is the NBC version of ‘Millionaire,’ ” said Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media.

Mr. Burnett questioned that premise, noting that his “Survivor” has been on twice a season and is now in its 25th edition.

Still, “The Voice” does occupy a singing genre crowded with Fox’s two entries, “The X Factor” and “Idol.” Both have had recent ratings declines for their latest editions.

“The Voice” will also go through a test when it returns in March with two new coaches, the singers Shakira and Usher, replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, who are taking off that cycle. Blake Shelton and Adam Levine will remain in the four-coach mix.

Preston Beckman, the longtime senior program executive at Fox, said, “I do think they will feel the loss in January and February, and it gives ‘Idol’ the sole ownership of the genre for a few months. The real test will be what it does when it returns, especially with the two new judges. That will determine what happens to the network next year.”

Mr. Telegdy credited the success of “The Voice” to the power of the format, which was created by the Dutch producer John DeMol. It is now produced in more than 50 countries, and has been an explosive hit in many of them. “The finale of the Chinese version attracted 300 million viewers,” Mr. Telegdy said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/business/media/nbc-rides-the-voice-to-first-place.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Little Clarity on the Jobs Front

The jobs report for November has something for every side of the current economic argument. Are you convinced the economy is growing decently? The adding of 146,000 jobs in November sounds good. So does the unemployment rate falling to 7.7 percent.

FLOYD NORRIS

FLOYD NORRIS

Notions on high and low finance.

Are you convinced the recovery is in peril? The previous two months’ job numbers were revised lower, and the unemployment rate went down only because the labor force declined. The number of manufacturing jobs fell for the third time in the last four months — a string not seen since the depths of the credit crisis in 2009.

At the heart of the confusion is that there are two separated surveys every month, one of households and one of employers. To make things a little more confusing this month, the household survey covered the week of Nov. 4-10, a week earlier than it normally would have, so that the survey would be finished before the Thanksgiving holiday. That meant it covered the week after Hurricane Sandy, which must have had some impact in the affected states. The household survey also tends to be more volatile.

Over time, the two surveys give similar pictures, and that is true now. Over the last 12 months, the household survey says we have added 2.6 million jobs. The establishment survey puts the figure at 2.0 million. (That figure is after adjusting for the coming benchmark revision, which will add 386,000 jobs in the 12 months through March 2012. For purposes of this analysis, I assumed those jobs were spread equally over the period.)

The numbers will not get the fevered debate they did when they came out before the election, for reasons that are obvious. But on balance they indicate an economy that is growing, but that could be threatened if the European recession deepens, reducing the demand for American manufactured exports, or if the Congress and president end up slamming the brakes on fiscal policy with a combination of slashed spending and higher taxes.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/07/little-clarity-on-the-jobs-front/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Corner Office: Lynn Blodgett: Lynn Blodgett of ACS, on Entrepreneurship in a Big Company

Q. What were some early lessons for you?

A. I come from a family of nine kids — six boys and three girls. Because it was a large family, we didn’t have a lot. One of the things that we did every Christmas was that my parents would say we had to earn our Christmas money. And so they were the venture capitalists.  They’d give us $5, and then we would go buy wholesale wrapping paper and take orders and resell them and turn that $5 into $25.   

It was a great thing, because you learned about customers, learned about keeping your word, getting the orders delivered on time. 

Q. What about your first kind of formal management role? 

A. We worked for my parents, and I did kind of supervisory things there, and then worked for the company that bought my parents’ business and actually ended up running that business.   

Q. What was the company?

A. My parents started a computer business back in the ’60s and grew that into a nice little regional business.  There’s a story behind that. Earlier, my mother worked for the phone company and worked at night, and she had a baby daughter, her seventh child — her name was Nancy. When she was four months old, her heart stopped. And I was 10 years old. I grabbed her and went to my brother, who was 12, and we got her to this clinic and they got her heart started again.  But she had a lot of brain damage from that, so she had to have somebody taking care of her and feeding her all of the time. [She died at 13 from cardiac arrest.]   My mother wanted to work, but she needed to be at home, and so she leased a key punch machine, put it in my sister’s bedroom and started to do data entry, and that’s where many of the principles that we operate on today were formed — how to compensate people, data controls and process control. 

All the kids in our family learned data-entry key punching in my sister’s bedroom, literally at my mom’s knee.  We grew up on a computer farm, as my parents called it, because it was back in the ’60s and it was one of those rare moments when, as key punch machines evolved into computers and our business grew, we were able to associate with these brilliant people from M.I.T. and Harvard . It was a wonderful education. 

Q. You mentioned that you ran your parents’ business after it was sold. How old were you, and how many employees did you have?

A. I was 27, and we had close to 1,000. 

Q. How did you handle that big leap into management?

A. You know, I just used a lot of the stuff we really kind of formulated back in my sister’s bedroom.  We eventually had a key punch machine in each of our bedrooms, so the trick question was, well, how do you pay the kids?  Because if you pay hourly, you’re going to have to have a lot of verification and that kind of thing.  So they came up with an incentive system that was essentially self-policing.  I believe that a really important management principle is that if you get the incentives aligned, people will motivate themselves far better than you’ll ever motivate them. But, again, you have to get the incentives right.   

Q. Just the financial incentives? 

A. It’s not only financial.  It’s being able to feel like they have a level of control over their destiny, that they are valued in what they do, that they’re being successful, that they’re contributing.  Those things are actually probably more important than the money.  But you’ve got to get the money right, too.   

Q. So how did it work in your house with the key punch machines?

A. I was terrible. I’ve never been a good typist. But all my brothers and one of my sisters were exceptional.  So my brothers resented me for getting paid the same as they did even though they did three times as much. Pretty soon my mom and dad both said: “Well, we have to make this more fair. We have to tie it more to what you do.” And because it’s a computer, it can provide all the evidence of the work — productivity and quality — that’s accomplished. 

What happened with that incentive program was that I learned very quickly that that was not for me. I was never going to make any money doing that job. And so this notion of self-nominating is crucial in management. If you can get a person to self-select, that’s a lot better than a supervisor having to come and say “You know, Lynn, you’re just not good.” 

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/business/lynn-blodgett-of-acs-on-entrepreneurship-in-a-big-company.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: Confused, a Family Business Turns to a Coach

Courtesy of BariJay.Susan Parker (left) and Erica Rosenfeld: “Nobody knew what to do.”

She Owns It

Portraits of women entrepreneurs.

Susan Parker and Erica Rosenfeld, who are sisters, have run BariJay together since 2008. But during the last meeting of our business group, Ms. Parker said they have only recently settled into clearly defined roles that allow them to work together happily and effectively at their company, which manufactures bridesmaid and prom dresses. In the beginning Ms. Parker said, “It was kind of a free-for-all and nobody knew what to do.”

With an M.B.A. in finance, Ms. Parker immediately gravitated toward BariJay’s books. Ms. Rosenfeld, who has a background in publicity, took on advertising and marketing. But there were plenty of responsibilities left, including production. Ms. Parker said she tended to fill the void. “I wanted to learn production and was excited about it,” she said. With responsibility for finance and production, key aspects of the business that played into her background, Ms. Parker said she sometimes felt she was taking on too much.

The lack of clarity also caused confusion. “You didn’t know who was supposed to do what, and you never knew when you were stepping on someone’s toes,” said Ms. Parker. “I’d have a meeting with someone and my sister would say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about it?’”

As the sisters struggled to define their business roles, the chaos began to affect their personal relationship. Finally, about four months ago, they decided to hire a business coach. Ms. Parker got the idea from the members of her Entrepreneurs’ Organization forum, a group of owners that meet monthly to discuss business issues. By the end of their first day-long session with the coach, each sister had a clearly defined role that took advantage of her skills and interests. Ms. Parker handles finance and production. Ms. Rosenfeld handles advertising, marketing, and sales. “Design was a little tricky,” said Ms. Parker. Ultimately, because the dresses must be designed in a way the company can produce, that function went to Ms. Parker.

“We got big lessons on the difference between accountability and responsibility,” said Ms. Parker. “We realized that if I’m accountable as the head of the company, it doesn’t mean that Erica doesn’t have her responsibilities, and that if we make her accountable for sales, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have mine,” she said.

Working with the coach was a great experience for both sisters, said Ms. Parker. In addition to helping them define their roles, he convinced them to create BariJay’s first business plan. Garment center businesses are run “old school, by the seat of your pants,” said Ms. Parker. When her father ran the business, BariJay had no formal policies or standards. She said she and her sister are working to change that.

The coach also emphasized the importance of daily “huddles,” said Ms. Parker. During these five- to 10-minute morning check-ins, the sisters meet with their assistant designer, a sales liaison, and the heads of production, bookkeeping and customer service. Each person has a minute to describe their biggest accomplishment from the previous day, their most important goal for the current day, and any issue that might require someone’s help.

These three points were carefully chosen to prevent participants from focusing on minutiae. “I don’t want to know every little thing they did,” said Ms. Parker. So the emphasis is on accomplishments, not tasks. Ms. Parker said she has been amazed by the level of teamwork these meetings have facilitated. Now, instead of operating individually, departments are making important connections. Over all, said Ms. Parker, the changes suggested by the business coach have made BariJay more proactive.

Have you had a good — or bad — experience with a business coach? Do you have thoughts on the best way to find one?

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=94600561811772bdfabfe760969ad6ed

Shortcuts: Avoiding the Misery of Remodeling by Choosing the Right Contractor

Then, we did everything you’re not supposed to when planning construction. We hired a contractor who had previously worked on our apartment building without checking references. We had no idea if he was licensed. We started the project when I was six months pregnant.

Still, despite some setbacks, the project was finished on time. In fact, the living room floors were being varnished when I was in the hospital giving birth. The place looked good, and we even received a baby present from Dave, our contractor.

Dumb luck. And dumb might be the operative word here. As more people are turning to remodeling instead of moving — and with the decline in new construction meaning more eager contractors to chose from — it makes sense to know how to choose a general contractor.

“People shop for cars more carefully than contractors,” said Mario Barbuto, who has been a general contractor for the last 25 years in the New York area.

A remodeling experience gone wrong can make your life hell. Patricia Maier, a retired teacher, signed a contract in July 2008 for an addition to her house in Lexington, Mass., which was built in 1884.

Almost three years later, she is still coping with a job that was supposed to take four months. She hired an architect who was the husband of a colleague and used a general contractor he suggested.

The builder quickly did much of the exterior work, then took a 10-day trip to the Caribbean. Things never got back on track. Newly installed floors warped, were reinstalled and warped again. French doors that had been put in weren’t sealed correctly. Gutters didn’t drain properly. The architect dropped out of the process.

“Things looked good superficially but there were so many problems,” she said. Now Ms. Maier is seeking redress through various state offices.

“Never hire a friend,” she said, referring to the architect. “It will always backfire.”

Do you even need to hire a general contractor?

No, said David M. Dillon, a general contractor based in Dallas. Any competent person can oversee construction, he said. But if several subcontractors are involved, a lot of time will be spent by a homeowner managing details and personalities.

Should you decide you want a general contractor to run your project, how do you find one?

Word of mouth is always a good option, as is contacting your local government’s public works and building departments.

“They’re full of opinions about who is good and who is not. They’re looking at their work every day,” said Mr. Dillon, who has self-published a book this year called, “Homeowners, It’s Time to Think Like a General Contractor.” (CreateSpace, $7.99)

Online referral sites are another option to find contractors. Some are free, but Angie’s List, which is one of the better known, charges membership fees. The cost starts at under $10 a month, and opinion online is divided on how good these sites are.

After narrowing down a list, what do you do? Most people would say ask for references and photos of previous work, but that’s just the beginning. References are important, but how do you know they’re genuine customers? Web site photos are nice, but a lot can be hidden.

So it is much more important to ask to physically see work that has withstood the test of time.

“I show jobs that are six or seven years old, because new jobs always look good,” Mr. Barbuto said. And he’s happy to ask former customers if he can do a walk-through for potential clients.

“After all, everything looks pretty in a picture,” he said.

When visiting a completed project, take the time to talk to the owners there and get a sense of how happy they were with their contractor.

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