July 28, 2014  
 
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How Mr Wise Guy Saved Mr Match a Fortune

Written by Jay Shapiro for Gaebler Ventures

Cutting production costs doesn't necessarily mean using lower quality materials or cheaper labor. Sometimes it's really just a question of thinking outside of the box. In this article the term 'outside of the box' has a literal meaning as it includes a story about matchbox manufacturing that, even if it is the stuff of legend or an urban/commercial myth, has merit.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin. Perhaps pull up an easy chair and sit yourself down in front of the fire.

It's all laid up ready to light. All you need is a match. There's a box right there on the mantelpiece. It's one of those longer style matchboxes with the sandpaper strike on only one side.

And by this little lead in and frankly obvious segue we have arrived at the key point of the tale that is to follow. The central focus of this story is the matchbox that only has a strike strip on one side. Not two sides as most matchboxes have. One.

So what's the significance of this?

Well, legend has it that this certain very well known brand of matches used to feature a strike strip on either side of its box. Until some wise guy called up the company director (yes, in legends people always get straight through to the main man on the phone) and told him, "I can save you X amount of dollars/pounds every year in a really simple way. (X amount of dollars/pounds = A lot!)

We'll call the company director Mr Match.

Of course because this tale is relayed in a fantastical way the conversation would have gone entirely in Mr Wise Guy's favor, with Mr Match inviting him round to meet the wife, dine with him and more importantly, get instantly hired so that he could save the company a fortune. Just like in the movies, the little guy so impresses the big one that they form a lasting and lucrative business relationship.

So how was Mr Wise Guy going to save Mr Match so much money?

Mr Wise Guy's idea was that the strike on both sides of the box was unnecessary and was also costing the company money they didn't need to spend. By forgoing having two strips of strike they would be cutting their 'strike' production costs by half.

Of course in legend this deal would have been sealed over a large brandy, no doubt in front of a roaring fire. Mrs Match probably made muffins.

In reality Mr Match might have countered Mr Wise Guy's suggestion with the problem of resetting expensive manufacturing equipment to assemble the boxes in a different way. You see the real savings aren't always in terms of material costs but in changing the way something is manufactured.

In addition, if Mr Match had been a cynic or even a sensible businessman and not a sort of fictional character he may also have pointed out that one strip of strike may not last long enough to be of service to the amount of matches contained in the box. It might wear down, as strike paper is prone to.

Is this a true story? It could have some elements of truth in it. But there's a flaw, a really big glaring flaw.

The matches in question were and still are of the non-safety variety. They are designed to light when struck against pretty well any slightly abrasive surface. Hey, you've seen people in old films light up by dashing a match across the sole of their shoe. Why then didn't Mr Wise Guy suggest ditching the strike strips altogether? And why too didn't Mr Match think of this either.

It's food for thought is all.

Jay Shapiro is a freelance writer based in the UK. Jay has a particular interest in the emotive aspects of the entrepreneur's character. "Alongside the nuts and bolts of business, the character of the person is often the ingredient responsible for success."

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