By John Matonich
I have always enjoyed answering trivia questions. I am no expert on the subjects they typically cover but many of the questions can really make you think. Sometimes, though it might make you think about how businesses can make changes that may not be better for the consumer.
I remember reading a question a number of years ago that has stuck with me. The question was about an airline that is no longer around. It asked how TWA saved $50,000 a year in a single move by making a change in their menu without advertising the change. I thought about it long and hard, but couldn’t come up with the correct answer.
The answer was that TWA went from putting three olives in their martinis to 2 olives. I am not a martini drinker and don’t like olives so this change wouldn’t have mattered much to me, but it sure made me wonder how many other businesses did something similar without making a big splash about it.
I was getting a bowl of raisin cereal the other evening while binge watching Netflix when I noticed a slight void in the number of raisins in my bowl. The TWA change came to mind and I wondered if the cereal company’s management had made an unannounced change in raisin volume or if the box we had purchased just was in the wrong spot in line when getting filled. It made me think of how many other things could slightly change and still increase profits by a wide margin.
I know many if not most of things sold are held to a weight standard and are subject to some testing, but that wouldn’t really account for a minor change in content. I don’t think a few less raisins would significantly impact the weight of a cereal box, but given the number of boxes sold each day, the total impact could be pretty substantial.
I think about this just about every time I go to a gas pump to fill up. Whatever the price of gas is, it is charged by some cost per gallon. When the pump clicks up to the next penny, you are entitled to some fraction of that gallon. If you go over that amount, it clicks up to the next penny. All of us stop the pump at some point, pay the bill and head on our way. That small amount of fuel still credited to your last penny that you didn’t use is not worth doing much about until you think about how many customers use fuel pumps each and every day.
The amount of money collected, but not used, across the country may not be much to the oil companies, but I wouldn’t turn it down. If there are 40,000,000 people pumping gas each day and each is leaving one half of one cent of unused (but paid for) fuel at the pumps, it amounts to a cool $200,000 of extra profit for someone.
I am probably making too much out of this, but the next time I pump gas, I am going to take the extra time to get as much of that last penny before it clicks over as I can. I suspect over my lifetime those one half cents could add up to an extra olive or two.
And that’s the situation as I survey it …
After a 35-year career downstate livin’ amongst da trolls, during which he built a successful engineering and surveying business, John Matonich is back home in da U.P. His column will appear here occasionally, don’tcha know. His book “Surveyin’ Da Situation” is available on Amazon.com.