S4L Book Club – Cheap and ???

Here it is mid-January, and we haven’t named a book for February. I’m going out on a limb and naming Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, as our February book. I haven’t read this myself, but it’s on my TBR list, and comes highly recommended.

This is billed as a “novel in stories.” Thirteen connected stories, to be exact. Publishers Weekly says, “…the collection is easy to read and impossible to forget.” It was pubbed in 2008, so it should be fairly easy to find.

What do you think? Anyone willing and able to read and discuss this one with me?

Now back to Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.

As I mentioned before, I liked the biographies of various people in the Discount Culture. Eugene Ferkauf was in the leather business with his father before opening his New York discount store, E. J. Korvette.

When they were in business together, Ferkauf’s father discouraged him from deeply discounting their goods because it would upset their competitors. He believed their sales were sufficient and that enough was enough. He didn’t want to risk angering others to increase his own profits.

What do you think of this?

I admit I like it to some extent. I like the idea of playing fair and everybody doing well, having enough. But I don’t think that should prevent anyone from trying harder or trying to do better. I believe in doing one’s best. The problem is going to come in how we define “doing better.” It’s coming.

Ferkauf disagreed with his father and went his own way, opening E. J. Korvette, which sold mostly luggage, household appliances, and jewelry, all at deep discounts. He cut prices by following a low-service business model, but he also received products at deep discounts because he claimed his store was a members-only store. He and his employees handed out membership cards to anyone who would take them. If you walked in the door without one, they’d hand one to you. There. Now you’re a member, so you can shop here. There wasn’t so much as a form to fill out to become a member.

This tactic enabled Ferkauf to circumvent discounting regulations that other department stores had to abide by.

What do you think of this?

This is where I have a problem. I don’t consider this playing fair. Technically, he may not have broken any laws, but I believe he’s breaking the spirit of the law, and I don’t approve. I think his motivation is greed, and I think his selfishness is reprehensible. The problem is with the regulations he’s skirting, but he’s the one exploiting the weakness for personal gain.

I imagine plenty of people will claim that he’s also doing a service for his customers by making products they want and need more affordable. Anyone here think that?

I wonder if that isn’t short-sighted. There are underlying costs for selling those products at such deep discounts: costs like putting other stores out of business and thus their employees out of work. There’s the pressure on manufacturers to make deep discounts available so the likes of E. J. Korvette will purchase and push them, which may mean the manufacturers lower wages, cut benefits, send jobs overseas, etc.

It’s these underlying costs this book is all about, of course.

We’re Costco members. We pay a membership fee to shop there. I don’t know what purchasing advantages this gives Costco, but having read this, I’m now curious. I’ve always liked Costco. We tried Sam’s Club for a while, but I prefer Costco, because I prefer their products. Sam’s Club hours were better for us. I guess this means I value what products I buy over when I’m able to buy them.

Does the Korvette story relate to any of your personal experiences today?

You can read a bit more about the rise and fall of the Korvette company on Wikipedia.

Categories: Reading

2 replies »

  1. I’m taking suggestions for the March book. A volunteer discussion leader is more than welcome, too, and I’ll do whatever is necessary to help you participate.

  2. I have downloaded the Olive Kitteridge book. I have one chapter left in the Sheap book.

    The Book Bus arrives tomorrow and I will not be greedy in my book selections, so I have more time and place in my head for the S4L Book Club and writings of comments. It is New Years Resolutions, so I work on doing it in real life: write and read and doing healthy exhercises. Like lifting books in and out of shelfs, that will count as muscle building, right? just kidding…

    I may be able to lead the group in April? So Lady March is free… Best regards