People of a certain age begin monitoring the
obituary section in their local newspaper to make
sure they don’t miss the passing of an old friend
or former colleague. As a relatively young person,
I’m nowhere close to establishing that ritual
myself, but I am morbidly fascinated by the lives
that are eulogized, daily, in the New York Times.
These are the stories of people who accomplished
something worthy enough to have been featured
in an international media outlet, the stories of
their lives offering a history lesson in microcosm.
For instance, a headline the other day,
“Samuel Glazer Dies at 89; Helped Create Mr.
Coffee,” caught my eye because I love a good
“inventor/business innovation yarn” and, well,
I still brew my own coffee.
Even as many of us turn to professional baristas
for our gallon of Joe in the morning, it’s hard to
imagine a world where a do-it-yourself coffee
making machine with requisite paper filter and
glass carafe were not de rigueur on every kitchen
counter in America. As the Times reported,
“before Glazer and Vincent Marotta came up
with the idea, the two most common ways to
make a cup of coffee at home were to percolate it
(smells good but can taste bitter) or to stir instant
coffee in boiled water (not as good as brewed).”
As the story goes, the two men, who were
good friends since high school, had been
partners in a series of businesses including one
involving coffee delivery in the Cleveland area
in the late 1960s. From customer requests they
realized that there was a demand for smaller,
home-style versions of the massive industrialgrade
coffee machines inside their delivery
trucks. Realizing this opportunity, they hired two
former Westinghouse engineers to bring their
concept to fruition, and by 1972, the Mr. Coffee
coffeemaker was a household name, literally.
To avoid the bitterness that boiling coffee can
cause, the machine heated the brew to only about
200 degrees. But it may have been the decision
to hire former Yankee Joe DiMaggio as their
pitchman that really put Mr. Coffee on the map.
He was the public face of the brand for 14 years
and is credited as one of the reasons why it would
gain and hold approximately 50 percent of the
market share for coffeemakers into the late ’70s.
A coffeemaker may seem like a pedestrian
technology compared with those installed by our
industry these days (especially the mini computers
most of us carry in our pockets.) But the ability of
Glazer and Marotta to recognize a market need
and go after it with a technical innovation to
simplify and improve on a daily consumer task
is at the heart of what most consumer electronics
manufacturers and custom installation integrators
do every day. There’s a lot of talk about where
our industry is headed and how it’s going to
survive the rapid evolution of technologies and
profit erosion. But, in my opinion, the future has
always been about building a better mousetrap
and solving new challenges that arise.
As an industry we need to keep looking ahead
and educating ourselves on the technologies of
the future, rather than dwelling on the products
that made us successful in the past. Find a way to
reinvent your business like the Mr. Coffee guys
did. The goods and services you sell can be as
essential to daily life as that morning cup.