June 18, 2008
Part 1 is here but I haven’t linked it yet.
This is yet another attempt to explain my continuing expat saga of living among z’Germans. Please forgive me in advance for any misleading soliloquies and I appreciate every effort on your part, dear worst-reader, to try and find humor where there is none. With that in mind, I started Part 1 so long ago with the premise that I had I found out what is (was?) wrong with the locomotive of Eurowasteland. Of course, I didn’t actually find out anything. But that’s not the point of writing in a blog that no one reads, or wanting to be funny but can’t, and living with the personality trait of taking myself way to serious(ly).
The Germans have done a few things right since the days of doing all things wrong. For one, they build pretty good cars. No. Wait. Let me start again.
I’m still quite angry that Germans do not have one, NOT ONE, alternative fueled vehicle in the production pipeline. Also, since I’ve been driving various German (luxury) cars since the early nineties, as far as build quality is concerned, they are doing the same thing Detroit did back in the seventies. They are making the cars cheaper and cheaper and cheaper and… The difference to American cars, though, is that even as the Germans make them cheaper, they still go like a bat outta hell. And the reason for that isn’t a passion for making great cars, nor is it great engineering. Just look at what the Italians build. They build awesomely beautiful cars that are questionably engineered. So. The reason the Germans do what they do is much simpler than just making something pretty. What the Germans do (what they build) has nothing to do with the cars themselves. No. Not at all. Instead. What the Germans do they do because of z’Autobahn.
No? Make no sense? Nomatter. I’m not starting over again.
Now. Germans build cars not because they have a passion to do so. They build them to justify having really, really great roadways. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been here a long time. The roadways the Germans build are deteriorating, that’s a given. But compared to the road ways around Chicago… To justify those roads being good, z’Germans have to at least offer a car or two that can drive on them. On the other hand, I wonder if the reason Germans don’t have alternative powered cars is because they know something about gas supplies that other countries don’t know?
Wait. I’m tangent-ing again. Bare with me, dear worst-reader.
In order for Germans to build good cars they first have to build great roads. Enter Autobahn heaven, baby. Even though currently most of their Autobahns serve as government subsidized work placement programs, there are still parts of the A3, the A2 and my particular favorite the A27 (between Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven), where you can drive so fast that the horizon snaps shut before your eyes have time to blink. Seriously. At the risk of bragging and making a fool of myself because of the outrageous carbon footprint that I leave behind, I comfortably admit, when possible, I drive at speeds of and around 240km/h. It’s an absolutely crazy thing to do. If I could afford it, I would take the train. But Germany, like so many other western countries, is a slave to whatever it needs to keep the status quo going. Thereby the train system, that once might have been good, now sucks and is in no way competitive with the Autobahn. What a shame, eh.
Let me put the speed-thing in perspective. For you NASCAR lovin’ mama-boys out there, get this: when I’m in a good mood, when the weather is sparky and I have no family members in the vehicle, when my contact lenses are clear and there’s no stress ringing in my ears, I sometimes drive a well-powered Audi at speeds (on public highways) faster than those who win at Dover International Speedway. Now if that won’t motivate young men (with a driver’s license) to come over here and experience Oktoberfest, I don’t know what else should.
Warning: this is not an advert—seriously.
The last thing Germans do right that I’ll address here has nothing to do with cars either. It has to do with the only other invention that should be recognized as its industry’s VW Bug. I’m talking, of course, about Aldi the discount supermarket chain where practically every continental German speaking person has at one point or other in their lives bought something. I have a thing for Aldi (and not because it rhymes with Audi).
Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount. The little stores have also been called ”Albrecht’s Fine Foods” or ” Albrecht Delicatessen”. I’m not kidding. Today every continental German speaking person buys something at Aldi at sometime or other. That’s a business taking in money from well-over a 100million people. Such success has made the founders of Aldi, the Albrecht brothers, the richest men in all of Germany—and they regularly make the Forbes richest schmuck list. Say what you want about rich people, Bill Gates included, but there’s good reason the Albrecht brothers are swimming in cash. It boils down to Aldi just being plain good at what they do. Which is not something you can claim of companies like Wal-Mart. I’m a regular Aldi goer and I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from that store that was necessary to throw out because it was junk. Do I need to mention Wal-Mart again? Wait a sec…
Oh no, that’s not true. I’m just exaggerating because this is potentially a post that a German might read and then say, hey, this (American) guy complaining about Germany all the time ain’t all that bad.
I did buy one of them multi screw-drivers at Aldi once and I had to throw it out after a day or two of use. But hell, it only cost something like five Euros. It worked up until I used it to try and unscrew some heavily rusted bolts while replacing a thoroughly rusted exhaust pipe. The thing snapped in two pieces. I went through two other tools during that escapade, as well. But I don’t remember where I bought those tools.
Aldi’s secret of success (according to Tommi) is this. Dictate to manufactures a certain quality and then buy & sell volume. Nothing unique there except maybe the dictate part. The thing that Aldi seems to do different than other discounters is that it retails fairly good quality stuff.
Cheap is one thing, but cheap quality is another.
Btw, Aldi was the first “discounter” of its kind to sell real Champagne? Seriously. I’m talkin’ Champagne as in the bubbly from real Champagne, France. Aldi to this day sells a bottle of it for something like 15,- Euros. It’s a bit sweet, but what the heck—chicks love just the idear of drinking Champagne. So you can accredit Aldi for helping weak-ass German boys getting laid. Aldi also gets North East American fisheries to ship over frozen, whole Lobsters and then sells them for something like 7,- Euros. I’ve had them. They’re great. Needless to say, when the lobsters arrive there’s a run on all the stores. But then there’s the wine. I’ll keep it short and just say, Aldi features some of the best wines from Chile to Italy and they cost half of what they’d cost elsewhere. Dictate away, Aldi!
A bit more Tommi-2cents on wine here.
When I was still working as an industry analyst for various consulting companies I was giving the task of researching Aldi. Of course, like many other analysts, I got nowhere. It’s not because I couldn’t find the information. I was a great researcher and analyst. The problem was (is) Aldi is collectively tight lipped. It is a private company and therefore not required to release any information—at least there’s a serious clamp on info regarding how it makes so much damn money. Even the people that work the registers are told that they should never answer any questions about the business.
And now on to the ANALOGY that would never be.
Businesses that make the kind of money that Aldi does usually fall to the whims of cycles and downturns or whatever. Or does that only apply to companies that are dependent on the loan-capital derived from being on a stock exchange? Didn’t UPS used to be one of the most successful companies NOT trading a stock? In fact, it wasn’t till 1999 that UPS went public. But I’m not here to bash the current and obvious ill-nature of the stock market and/or the western world turning to speculative finance to keep its fail-upwards ways afloat. Aldi pushes along and just keeps making more and more money—and is not publicly traded. It is simply a no-frills company which is reflected in its stores the world over and seems to focus solely on a level of end consumer quality that is, in my opinion, unmatched—at least in the German market.
So what am I really addressing here going from z’German autobahns and Audi to Aldi and outrageous profits? This may be both a bit pretentious and naive but what the heck. Aldi represents not just an untapped business principle but also a principle that could/should apply to life. That principle is balance. It seems that a company like Aldi can balance the madness of running a bidness above and beyond just being a profit center. In fact, in my whacked-out way of seeing things (aka Stough-ism), most corporations and their constituencies are only interested in annihilating at least one part of the supply and demand equation that has ruled our lives since Adam Smith first blew his nose. Obviously, I’m no economist. I only worked in management consulting for the better part of ten years. I might be way off base here. It’s just that when I sit back and look at how things work in the western world these days, I’m worried. Our corporate driven, survive to consume situation is way beyond unsustainable—and not just because of the way we’ve compromised productivity via outsourcing labor. So I’ve been looking for examples that potentially are sustainable. I mean, come on, Aldi is rarely in the press for any controversy and more importantly, its employees all seem to be content with their earnings. Wow. Talk about balance. Business Balance? Oh, and before I forget. Make cars based on the roadways that they can drive on them. Now there’s a thought!
I’ve heard some say that the reason Wal-Mart pulled out of Germany was because of Aldi. The thing about Euro business is that companies have to yield (the word ”yield” is not part of the German language which you can also see on the Autobahns) in some way or other to governments. Where American neo-con/Republicans hypocritically claim to be all about reducing government in the markets, Euro companies gladly oblige governments as at times governments seem to fill the employer/employee gap that has so obviously been part of the downfall of corporate American’t. For companies like Wal-Mart, balance is completely irrelevant.
I have to go to Aldi and get some bubbly.