Quick tips: Offbeat business stories

by June 26, 2014

Maybe this column should be called “quirky tips” instead of “quick tips,” because I can’t resist sharing some of the interesting and offbeat jottings from my notebook.  Hopefully you can embrace the oddities and spin an idea or two into a colorful summertime business feature.

First off, my ears perked up the other day when a radio host jovially mentioned the “manure convention.”  Really?  Yep.

you udder buy some manure  sign

Apparently this scout troop in Glenayre sold pies rather than cookies.

I looked it up and there is indeed a North American Manure Expo (“Professionalism in Nutrient Management”) coming up July 8 in Springfield, Missouri.  It’s promoted by the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin (PNAAW), which promotes the environmentally friendly application of liquid manure to cropland.

No joke, manure management is an industry and one that increasingly is seen as important and complicated for farmers and growers in light of changing climate patterns.  This recent Dairy Herd Management article declares  “As we all know, manure management does not end when the manure leaves the barn” and goes on to talk about how climate trends affect the storage, use as fertilizer and other factors regarding the fate of animal waste.

Poultry farms and specialty livestock breeders might also find a market for their stock’s output; for those not commercializing their animals’ waste, specialty removal services can handle “up to 1,000 horses” as this hauler says.

This eXtention article notes on “Manure Value and Economics” says the substance is a valuable source of nutrients and fast becoming a source of renewable energy.  There’s even a smartphone “Manure calculator” app (99 cents in the iTunes store) to help farmers figure out the application rate and value of their herd’s waste. In fact if you’re on the tech beat, there’s an amazing array of software and spreadsheets available to farmers (like the “Odor Footprint Tool”) that could make for some quirky but informative biz pieces; see this University of Nebraska page for examples and check with your own state’s extension service and agriculture department.  What kind of businesses out there provide these tools?

Quirky tourism.

OK, if guano doesn’t grab you as a summertime feature, how about niche travel services and packages?  I saw mention the other day of a Carribbean cruise for old-time radio enthusiasts complete with radio-play stage shows and other activities.  There’s so-called “dark tourism” in which travelers seek out macabre or tragic spots to visit; here’s a recent Calgary Herald piece about assassination sites and there’s even an Institute for Dark Tourism Research.  What other oddball travel options can you scare up for readers?

On a lighter note, it seems that travel geared at accommodating single parents is on the upswing; here’s a recent press release from a Riviera Maya resort that waives the usual single supplement fee for adults traveling solo with their children.  Travel expert Peter Greenberg rounds up “the best travel package deals for single parents.” Why not check with resorts and attractions in your area, or those popular with folks from your region, about what they’re doing to accommodate this growing demographic.

School’s out, time to hit the back-to-school sales.

Yes, it’s finally happened; retailers are touting b-to-s sales before students have barely had their first Popsicle or run through a sprinkler.  As Time.com reports, a number of major merchants already have launched sales, and the Wall Street Journal says Staples has announced a “back to school” price matching program that aims to compete with Amazon.com as well as bricks and mortar competitors.  How do consumers feel about this sort of seasonal creep, and what do marketing experts think?  Can these bold attention-getting ploys backfire by exasperating potential buyers?

Here’s an interesting piece on Search Engine Watch about consumer habits that says July indeed is prime time for online searches related to the fall school shopping season.  And don’t forget while you’re at it to check on the status of any sales tax holidays in your state aimed at b-to-s business; some start in July and the peak seems to be the first week in August.

Putting the ‘fun’ in funeral.

In case you missed this home-page eye-catcher in the New York Times, it’s a piece about funeral trends that include posing the deceased as they were in life; complete with a cigarette and a can of beer in one recent New Orleans mortuary.

I couldn’t bear to set it aside for my annual “business of death” blog post this fall but one way you might spin it for a summertime angle is taking a look at the career possibilities in the death care industry, as high school and college grads ponder their occupational options.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 12 percent growth (about average for all occupations) for morticians and the American Board of Funeral Service Education offers a searchable database of mortuary science programs nationwide. It also offers scholarships.

NJ.com reported last week on a new mortuary science career program started at an area community college in anticipation of a Baby Boomer “death bubble” and says retired police and firefighters are going into the business as a second career.  More women are joining, too. It’s certainly an occupation that can’t be outsourced.  Keep in mind that cosmetologists often moonlight at funeral parlors preparing remains for viewing with make-up and hair services; that might be another angle to pursue in light of the “tableau” trend the NYT reported on.  What about the props and decorations; who provides those?

And here are some factoids about the industry from the National Funeral Directors Association.