‘Please Mr. Postman’ Bring Me a New Wardrobe/Makeup/Pet Item/Toy

Delivery

The masses were familiar with hearing “Avon calling” at the doorstep in the 1950s and 1960s as employees of the skincare company went door-to-door offering samples and direct sales of makeup products.

Fast forward to today and the person bringing makeup samples, clothing, luxury products, wine and other items is the postal worker, delivering subscription boxes full of goodies.

The service gained popularity a few years ago with companies such as Birchbox, which delivers high-end skincare and makeup samples monthly for $10. Numerous other companies have followed suit with monthly subscriptions or on-demand services. The services run the gamut from specialty pet items to STEM-related toys for kids to disposable razors and meal kits, to name a few. (There are 2,500 companies that sell subscription boxes, according to a 2016 Bloomberg article).

But what are the benefits of these services, and are they sustainable business models?

We all probably have an anecdote about someone telling us about the service they subscribe to (I can think of two: one of my co-workers subscribes to monthly makeup samples through IPSY; another has tried Hello Fresh as an easy and quick way to get a foolproof homecooked meal on the table on busy evenings).

And I’m quick to recommend my own experience with personal styling company StitchFix. As someone who would never initiate or pay for a personal stylists’ services at a department store, I absolutely love being able to have the service delivered to my doorstep. Not one to follow fashion trends (and at 6-feet tall), the company sends me five pieces tailored to my size, shape and style preferences for a $20 styling fee. I keep what I want (the $20 comes off the top of the price of clothing) and send back the rest for free.

There are a few reasons these services are popular, one being they are personalized experiences with the convenience of not leaving your home. There’s also the anticipation factor – you don’t know what you’re going to get until you’re opening the box and pulling back tissue paper.

But can the practice sustain? Particularly as large companies begin to capitalize on the idea, can start-ups survive stiff competition?

This Forbes article gives a good in-depth look at growth in the industry, demographics of the targeted audiences and up-and-coming companies, as well as the major challengers getting into the subscription box game.

Scaling niche businesses is also a challenge. How do you keep the products personalized and quality high when you start marketing to a broader audience in order to grow? And with the highly-personalized nature of these services, can automation ever play a role in the manufacturing process?

Bloomberg recently focused on meal delivery company Blue Apron, which went public earlier this year. The article notes company shares have fallen by half in about two months’ time.

Five-year-old Blue Apron, which raised close to $200 million in venture capital before its IPO, has warned it may never be consistently profitable. And that isn’t just a Blue Apron problem: The business model for subscription boxes turns out to be much tougher than it sounds, because of the high costs of getting and keeping customers. “You’re coming into an area where margins have always been thin, which makes turning a profit a huge task,” says James Wester, an analyst at researcher IDC. “Just applying new technology on top of traditional industries doesn’t work.”

About 2,500 companies sell different kinds of subscription boxes in the U.S. alone, with the top handful generating nine-figure annual revenue. Profitability, however, is a different matter, and the past year has been littered with box companies that couldn’t work it out. The recently shuttered services have names like Treatsie (for high-end candy and other sweets), Fair Treasure (jewelry and other accessories), and Blush Box (beauty products, lingerie, and sex toys).

Now that Blue Apron has gone public, its numbers are more transparent than most. In pre-IPO filings, the company said it had spent an average of $94 in the past three years to acquire each subscriber, that each was paying an average of $236 a quarter for about 24 meals’ worth of preportioned ingredients, and that those numbers had dipped slightly since 2016. Counterintuitively, scale hurts subscription-­box makers, because getting big means they have to spend way more on marketing. (Blue Apron spent $144 million on marketing in 2016, a 182 percent increase from the year before.) Among subscription boxes in general, “the pricing is not smart given the price of acquisition being so high,” says Ross Blankenship, a venture capitalist at Angel Kings.

As with any relatively new service or company, only time will tell if this section of the retail industry can last. Until then, tell us about your experience (in the comments section) with subscription box services.

Playing the Federal Numbers Game

government employeeQuestion: Exactly how many people work for the federal government? Answer: It depends.

A new study titled “The True Size of Government” puts the number at somewhere between seven and nine million. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 2 million employees
  • 3.7 million contractors
  • 1.6 million grant employees
  • 1.3 million active duty military
  • 500,000 Postal Service

Military members are not always included in such calculations. Same with the Postal Service, which does not receive congressional appropriations. The grantee and contract numbers are estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis

Study author Paul C. Light of New York University says an important takeaway is “the study reminds us that the nation depends on a very large blended workforce that includes many more contract and grant employees than federal civil servants. It is easy to say the civil service is too big, but it is only part of the workforce needed to faithfully execute the laws.

“The question is not whether we have too many government employees, but do we have the right blend to deliver the mission at the best price, value and performance. … This means we should be counting all the heads when we get into debates about cutting performances.”

That blended workforce actually dropped from 11.3 million to 9.1 million between 2010 and 2015, according to a separate study published by the Volcker Alliance.

Light doesn’t question the value of contract and grant workers. He does note that while cost savings are often cited for their increasing use, that is not always the case when “indirect costs such as supplies, equipment, materials and other costs of doing business enter the equation. Add overhead to the total and contract employees can cost twice as much as federal employees.”

Small Business Revolution Offers Chance to Win $500,000 Revitalization

What can $500,000 and a lot of publicity do for a small city of 10,000 people in Indiana?

That’s what the team from the Small Business Revolution – Main Street series wanted to know when it revisited Wabash to see the impact of the program one year after the city won the contest.

For a quick recap on what happened in Wabash and some of the results a year later, watch this video of the team returning to the city:

The second season, which just debuted, focuses on Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania. Deluxe Corporation, which created the contest, is accepting nominations for the third season of the video series and a chance to win a $500,000 investment for your town and small businesses.

The series stars Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank, who gives the winning town and its small businesses one-on-one guidance, while upgrading public spaces and access to marketing and business services from Deluxe. The town’s business owners are the focus of individual episodes.

Nominations are open through October 19 and the public will determine the winner through voting. To be eligible, the city or town must have less than 50,000 residents. Anyone can nominate a town (even if they don’t live there).

To watch the whole Wabash series, visit www.deluxe.com/small-business-revolution/main-street/season-one/.

Chamber Unveils New Web Site

Our new Indiana Chamber web site is here! It’s been months in the making and we hope that you agree that it’s an improved platform.

The new site is more streamlined and user-friendly, yet still showcases all that we do – from events and products to public policy efforts to the benefits exclusively for our member companies and much more!

The new site is also responsive and should allow for a full Indiana Chamber experience on all mobile devices.

One aspect that should help desktop visitors easily locate items is our drop-down menu, which shows all the main pages for the site with one click. 

Also, we added a bottom menu (for desktop and mobile) that makes things quicker to find.

We would love to hear your feedback about the new site, so leave a comment below or hit us up on social media on Twitter or Facebook.

Tax Reform the Talk of Fly-in

More than 100 of the state’s top business leaders descended on D.C. this week for the Indiana Chamber’s Fly-in event with our congressional delegation.

Attendees received meaningful and timely information from their representatives and senators through policy briefings, special dinner discussions and office visits.

Tax reform was the hot topic. How ironic that while we were D.C.-bound that President Donald Trump would be heading to Indianapolis to roll out his tax reform plan for the first time, and taking nearly half of the Indiana delegation with him on Air Force One for the announcement. But almost all Hoosier delegation members made it back in time to address their business constituents.

The tax reform message the Indiana Chamber contingent delivered to lawmakers in D.C. was that failure should not be an option – this needs to get done!

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio wraps up his remarks on tax reform – turning the floor over to Sen. Todd Young and Sen. Joe Donnelly for a Q&A session.

What caught our attention was how deeply committed everyone is to have tax reform cross the finish line. We felt that from our guest speaker, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, considered the Senate fiscal expert, to Indiana members in the House and Senate, including Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.

They know it’s important not only to them politically but they also realize that it’s much needed policy.

President Trump’s tax reform framework, which assuredly was done in tandem with congressional leaders, includes actions that the Indiana Chamber and business community at-large have been championing for some time:

• Lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% – the highest in the world today, which drives investment, jobs and even corporate headquarters overseas
• Lowering the top personal income tax rate – which now offers disincentives for initiative, investment and risk-taking while reducing the number of brackets
• Eliminating the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which is overly complex and ineffective, and the estate tax, which endangers many family farms and small businesses
• Adopting a territorial system in which income earned overseas is not taxed in the U.S.

In our Q&A with Sens. Donnelly and Todd Young, they were asked to handicap the likelihood – on a one to 10 scale – of a meaningful tax reform package making it through Congress. Donnelly gave it a fairly hopeful six, while Young said he’s more confident today than even a few months ago and now puts the chances for success at seven-plus.

Young added: “At a time when the rate of business creation is lower than at any period in my own life, I feel like the time is now for tax reform. And the President made a compelling case in what I thought were pretty accessible terms (for Americans).”

Donnelly summed up his thoughts on the matter: “My view on tax reform is simple: I want to try to get to ‘yes’. I think it’s much better if it’s bipartisan. … I think it’s a much better message to the country.”

At our legislative briefing, Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) offered his assessment as well. “As long as both sides don’t go to our corners and stick with our traditional talking points – trying to win an election in 2018 – we are going to get this done.”

Tax reform, if done correctly, would broaden the base while lowering rates across the board – spurring new investment, job creation, economic growth and, ultimately, tax revenues, without increasing the federal deficit.

Our tax code should look like it was designed on purpose for strategic economic growth.
We are hopeful that’s what will happen in the coming months.

A big thank you to our D.C. Fly-in sponsors for making the event possible: Zimmer Biomet (dinner sponsor), Allegion (cocktail reception sponsor), Build Indiana Council (legislative briefing sponsor), AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

We hope to see everyone who attended – and more – back next year!

A Glimpse into Indiana’s Private Equity Industry

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maggie Musgrave is a corporate development associate with LDI, Ltd. This viewpoint originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal. You can find out more about LDI here.

When I tell people that I work in private equity, I get a range of reactions, from “what’s that?” to “like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman?” The reaction that gives me pause is, “Really? I didn’t know we had private equity in Indiana.”

I’ll concede that private equity may have a marketing problem. Somewhere along the way it got a bad rep, which is a shame when you consider the impact private equity has had in Indiana. Our private equity industry is both healthy, and growing.

Private equity invests capital for ownership positions in mature, stable companies. This capital can be a key ingredient to unlocking a company’s growth potential. At LDI, we work with companies that can see the path to growth, but are constrained by lack of capital or expertise and need a partner to drive their development. This can mean funding for greater production capacity, new product development, or expansion through strategic acquisitions.

Good private equity partners take time to understand a business and its growth potential, rather than focusing on balance sheet engineering to provide risky, artificial returns for outside investors. By investing capital and expertise, especially over a long-term investment horizon, private equity partners like LDI give average companies the chance to become good, and good companies the opportunity to become great.

Why is this important to Indiana? Because private equity means stronger companies, and stronger companies mean stronger economies and better communities. When a business finds a great capital partner and is finally able to turn the key on more expansion and growth, they’re not just investing in their bottom line. They’re investing in a community-wide ripple effect of more jobs and services. In fact, according to ACG Indiana, over the past 10 years private equity backed businesses grew jobs at a rate of 11.4%, compared to 9.5% for all businesses in our state.

Private equity comes in many different flavors, from traditional funds to family offices. Regardless of its form, private equity’s underlying goal is to support business growth and increase value, regardless of a company’s location or perceived sophistication. It’s a myth that companies need to be large multinationals, located in a big city or have a management team with prior M&A experience.

For example, this month Schafer Industries in South Bend partnered with a St. Louis based private equity firm to fuel future growth in their driveline and gear business. Before that, Champion Manufacturing in Elkhart found a new Toronto-based private equity partner that will invest in expanding its line of medical seating products. Both of these examples will see more employment and more growth in their communities.

Lately, I’ve had the chance to meet with promising, established companies in Fort Wayne, Warsaw, and Evansville. They are on the verge of taking their businesses to the next level, but encounter roadblocks on their way. Often these challenges can be overcome with the support of an equity partner. Support may come in the form of capital to fund working capital investments or to purchase new equipment. Management may also be in need of less tangible, but critically important, strategic guidance and operational support from a partner, born from years of working with similar businesses within an industry. A private equity partner is often able to work with the established company and provide the financial and intangible support needed for growth and expansion.

Frequently, private equity investment is positive for businesses and communities. Remember Pretty Woman? By the end, Richard Gere’s private equity firm was infusing cash and expertise to help the shipping company grow, re-energize, and build more ships. As Indiana moves forward, private equity should be seen as a valuable resource for creating growth. We have a number of good capital partners in Indiana – let’s keep the capital and growth at home.

100+ Business Leaders Going to D.C. This Week for Chamber Fly-in

A record group of more than 100 of the state’s top business leaders and government affairs executives will be attending the Indiana Chamber’s annual D.C. Fly-in on September 27 and 28. The timing couldn’t be more perfect with a potential health care reform vote, rollout of a tax reform plan and the end of the fiscal year all taking place.

This year, legislative briefings will be conducted by congressional members, who will be highlighting key public policy areas that line up with their committee assignments and expertise:

  • Tax reform – Indiana 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski
  • Regulatory reform – Indiana 9th District U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth
  • Health care reform – Indiana 8th District U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon
  • Infrastructure and transportation policy – Indiana 4th District U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita
  • Education policy – Indiana 6th District U.S. Rep. Luke Messer

There is still time to register for the D.C. Fly-in; go to www.indianachamber.com/specialevents.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @IndianaChamber or #ICCinDC for up-to-the-minute important information on what’s happening in Washington.

Zimmer Biomet is the Fly-in’s dinner sponsor. Allegion is the cocktail reception sponsor. Build Indiana Council is the legislative briefing sponsor.

Event sponsors are AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

New Senate Health Care Bill An Improvement for Employers

The U.S. Senate appears to be gearing up for another health care vote, with a measure from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) headed to the floor as soon as the middle of next week.

At its core, the Graham-Cassidy proposal creates a block grant program, taking much of the funding provided in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and sending it to the states for them to set up their own health care systems and determine where to direct the funds.

It also does away with several pillars of the ACA, including the mandate for individuals to have insurance or pay a penalty. The true ramifications of that are uncertain, but could mean higher premiums for those in the health care exchanges (aka those who don’t have insurance through their workplace).

From the standpoint of employers, the Indiana Chamber believes Graham-Cassidy is an improvement over the ACA. This is primarily due to two changes:

  1. The removal of the employer mandate to offer coverage. If that goes away, so too does the ACA’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week; this has negatively impacted businesses and workers – many of whom saw their hours reduced.
  1. The permanent elimination of the medical device tax, which is detrimental to vital Hoosier employers like Cook Medical in Bloomington, Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw and many others.

Overall, those in favor of increased state control are more receptive to the Graham-Cassidy effort.

As Vice President Mike Pence put it on Fox News yesterday: “…The question that people ought to ask is, who do you think will be more responsive to the health care needs in your community? Your Governor and your state legislator, or a congressman and a President far off in the nation’s capital?…”

 What has opponents worked up is two-fold: affordable coverage for pre-existing conditions isn’t specifically guaranteed; and population size will determine the amount of the block grant, which will reduce funding for a number of states – including some in the Rust Belt and more rural states in general.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told MSNBC on Thursday he has absolute faith that governors will keep pre-existing condition protections, because of the severe political cost if they don’t. Opponents are less convinced.

At this point, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the lone Republican who has sworn opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill publicly – in part because his state appears to be set to lose funds in this model.

Likewise, Indiana is expected to see less federal dollars, but the Hoosier state has been preparing for what it saw as an eventuality for several years – setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize its Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0.

The HIP model is unique in the country; it requires participants to have “skin in the game” with their health care decisions and allows for capping the number of participants. Both of these make it an inherently more nimble program. And ultimately, the state Legislature can also determine to put more funds into HIP 2.0, if it’s deemed necessary.

These facts and the lure of more state control were likely factors in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to sign a letter supporting Graham-Cassidy; he was one of 15 state executives to do so. The reality is other states may not be as fiscally prepared for a possible funding reduction as Indiana is.

That leads us to who may end up being the pivotal figure in the floor vote: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She joined Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and Sen. John McCain (Arizona) in voting no on the last health care reform measure. Collins is seen as a likely “no” again, joining Paul, while McCain is a predicted (or at least hoped for) “yes.”

As a result, the bill authors are pulling out all the stops and making special accommodations for Alaska in the bill to woo Murkowski’s vote – because they can’t lose her and have the bill survive for Vice President Pence to break the tie. If no specific provisions for Alaska are made, the state would be a big loser in the bill in funding because of its size vs. population and geography.

The Indiana Chamber plans to talk about health care reform with Sen. Joe Donnelly, who has announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy, and Republican Sen. Todd Young during Wednesday’s D.C. Fly-in event.

UPDATE: This afternoon, McCain announced he would oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, making passage of the bill seemingly very difficult.

Donnelly, Walorski Working to Define Full-Time as 40 Hours Per Week

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers in Indiana and across the country have been forced to cut employees’ hours due to the law’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week.

The Indiana Chamber recognizes this as a significant issue for the Hoosier business community and has been pushing for a change back to the 40-hour work week. We are pleased to see that our delegation is leading efforts to make that happen.

Recently, Sen. Joe Donnelly reintroduced a bipartisan proposal that would change the definition of a full-time employee under the ACA to someone who works an average of 40 hours per week. Donnelly partnered with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on this legislation.

Senator Joe Donnelly and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski greet Vice President Mike Pence as he arrives in South Bend to deliver the May commencement address at the University of Notre Dame (photo courtesy WSBT).

“I believe that we can work together to fix issues with the health care law and improve our health care system. I have heard from part-time workers across many industries, like school cafeteria managers to grocery store employees to adjunct professors at colleges, that have seen their hours cut to comply with the health care law,” Donnelly said.

“In Indiana, common sense holds that a full-time employee is someone who works an average of 40 hours a week, and the health care law should reflect that. I’m proud to partner with my friend and colleague Sen. Collins to reintroduce the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, and I am hopeful the Senate will consider this bipartisan bill soon.”

Meanwhile, a similar effort was introduced Thursday in the House led by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorksi (IN-02) and Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL).

The Save American Workers Act (H.R. 3798) also would restore the traditional 40-hour work week under the ACA.

“Obamacare’s burdensome employer mandate and its redefinition of full-time workers are hurting middle class American families and crushing our job creators,” Walorski said. “The Save American Workers Act will provide much-needed relief to hardworking Hoosiers who have faced reduced hours and fewer jobs. This bipartisan, commonsense bill will give businesses the certainty they need to create jobs, and it will give workers the opportunities they need to succeed.”

Background
The ACA currently requires employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent workers to offer health insurance to full-time employees (working 30 hours weekly) or face a penalty. This requirement has forced businesses to reduce hours and slow hiring in order to avoid unaffordable new costs or the ACA’s substantial fines. The 30-hour definition has affected workers in the private sector as well as city, state and school employees, with a particularly severe impact on hourly, part-time, and seasonal workers.

Report: STEM Message Not Getting Through

It seems as if everyone is talking about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent shortage, but the message is apparently not being heard. Randstad US conducted a study to uncover key motivations, beliefs and perspectives of STEM-related topics among kids aged 11 to 17.

The research shows that despite high interest in STEM studies and confidence in STEM skills at a younger age, interest dwindles as children grow older. Students 11 to 14 years old are 18% more likely than students aged 15 to 17 to consider math one of their favorite subjects. Fifty-six percent of young people also said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting.

“The term ‘STEM’ needs a rebrand and awareness campaign to get the next generation of talent excited about pursuing these careers,” said Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer for Randstad North America. “Young people are self-selecting out of higher STEM education classes because they can’t see how these skills apply to different professions and employers they’re excited about. It’s a misperception and a serious economic problem, as a rapidly growing number of jobs now require STEM competencies. If we don’t find a way to guide and prepare the future workforce for these positions, we run the risk of the need for these skills escalating and the hiring gap expanding.”  

The study revealed not only a lack of students’ awareness of what types of STEM jobs exist, but also a lack of personal connection to STEM professionals and how STEM jobs are defined.

  • 52% of students say they don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, and more than 1 in 4 students (27%) say they haven’t talked to anyone about jobs in STEM.
  • Almost half (49%) of respondents say they don’t know what kind of math jobs exist and 76% report not knowing a lot about what engineers do.
  • 87% think people who study STEM work at companies like NASA; far fewer associate them with mainstream consumer brands like Instagram (40%) and Coca-Cola (26%).

Young people reported high enthusiasm for careers not explicitly defined as STEM but requiring related skills, suggesting the need for broader education as to how STEM skills can be applied in fields beyond math and science.

  • 64% of students rate creating video games for a living as very fun, while 90% rate it somewhat fun.
  • 54% of respondents think it would be very fun to earn a living working with marine life, with 89% rating it as at least somewhat fun.
  • 47% think it would be very fun to make web sites for a living, with 86% saying it would be at least somewhat fun.