Thursday, March 10, 2005

Franchise this!

Ever wondered what it would be like to be your own boss? If you were your own boss, you'd be able to take as much time off as you wanted, and you'd be able to give yourself a raise whenever you felt like it. All things considered, doesn’t it make sense for anyone with any ambition to quit their job and start their own business?
Question is, what kind of business? Obviously it has to be one with next to no start-up costs, as little paperwork as possible, and absolutely staggering returns on a minimum of investment and effort. But where does a Canadian entrepreneurial go-getter go to get such a business?
They go to the London Franchise and Business Opportunities Expo, that's where.
Every year, Prestige Promotions brings this event to the city. This year it was held at the London Convention Centre, and I was there.
There were 28 exhibitors at the exposition, all of them brimming with enthusiasm and optimism. Even the guy selling financial planning businesses could barely contain his excitement over the riches to be harvested from this "anything but dull" field of endeavour.
After a few minutes at the event, it became clear that the only thing that stands between a Canadian self-starter and unlimited success is lack of imagination. The expression that was heard more than any other was "Each transaction will bring around 25 per cent profit!" Next to that was "This is to the most incredible business opportunity you will ever encounter!" followed by: "There is absolutely no risk!"
So what kinds of businesses are no risk, have 25 per cent return on investment, and are the most incredible business opportunities you will ever see? Well, there were more coffee-vending franchises than you could shake Juan Valdez's donkey's tail at. And there were machines that would print on anything. One exhibitor was printing pictures and words on the shells of walnuts! Who wouldn't want a machine that can do that?
Yuk Yuk's was there - you know, the stand-up comedy people. They weren't selling stand-up comics, exactly. What they wanted people to buy were little machines about the size and shape of a condom dispenser, only these machines dispense jokes. Slip a loonie into one of these devices, and it will tell you four jokes. There are jokes for kids and jokes that are triple X rated. The idea, apparently, is that these machines will be located in bars and restaurants. Then, when conversation starts to run dry, somebody could scoot off to the machine, memorize a couple of ice-breakers, come back to the table and become the life of the party by telling these jokes - provided he could remember them.
This is how it might work:
You’re sitting at the table, and the conversation dries up. "scuze me,” you say, “I'll be right back..."
Minutes pass. You return.
"Say, have you heard the one about the Canada goose and the squirrel?"
The people at the table all turn to look at you expectantly "No, gosh, please tell us!"
"Well, it appears that this Canada goose goes into a bar and orders a glass of... no, wait, that was the squirrel... Yeah, that's it. A squirrel goes into a bar and orders a Canada goose, which is a kind of drink, and the bartender says.... Shoot. Now I've forgotten. Hang on a sec, I'll be right back. Anybody got a loonie?"
OK, so maybe the joke machine franchise needs some getting used to. But if none of this years’ franchise ideas caught the visitor’s fancy, there is always next year. Maybe they will bring in the lady who will show you how to make coffee tables out of caskets – I think she calls them coffin tables. Surely that franchise would get you out of your dead-end job.
Still working on the Canadian Dream, I’m Otte RosenKrantz.

Monday, March 07, 2005

It's not gambling; it's business.

It is becoming increasingly clear that many Canadians want other Canadians to gamble. Gambling is, apparently, good for the economy. True, a lot of people are hurt by the effects of gambling - what is commonly referred to in spin doctor circles as "the downside" of gambling - but even when all those broken homes, lost investments and addicted souls are factored into the equation, gambling is pretty much all "upside" for the economy.
Fundraisers are also cashing in on people's love of easy money. A hundred dollar charity lottery ticket will buy you a one-in-27 chance of winning either a brand new monster home, or a CD player. And, of course, your hundred bucks goes towards building new schools or hospitals or jails or whatever - the things which were once upon a time paid for by the government.
But let's face it. Sitting at a one-armed bandit at Casino Rama or in Windsor or wherever, pumping loonies into a machine which may spit back $25 bucks from time to time, is really pretty small time for serious gamblers. And a one-in-27 chance of winning a kayak or a television isn't exactly going to raise the blood pressure and heart rate of the true dyed-in-the-wool gamester.
No. For those requiring the full-bore, high octane, take-no-prisoners-show-no-mercy, double-espresso hit of true risk-taking, there is now the delight and excitement of on-line stock trading.
Yes sir, in a development that would make P.T. Barnum weep with delight to see his adage of "there is a sucker born every minute" proven out, anybody with a home computer, Internet access and access to unlimited resources such as the family home or the employee home retirement fund, can now log on, 24 hours a day, and buy and sell stocks with the best - or worst - of them. Mind, it would be helpful if potential players first learned the meaning of words such as "margin", "wired funds", "leverage buy-out" and "insolvency."
Here is how it works. Through on-line trading companies such as E*Trade Securities or InvesTrade, anybody can fill out an application online and, after receiving a password and account number, proceed to gamble away the family fortune by buying and selling stocks and mutual funds. If you think that, say, Novell, the software maker, is likely to be a popular up-and-comer, you can buy stocks in the company, watch the market rise and fall for a few minutes, and when the stock is up enough, you can sell out and make money. Simple, right? Or you can buy stock in a pharmaceutical company, watch it rise and then plunge suddenly towards oblivion, at which point you can panic, cut your losses and run, and lose all your money. Equally simple.
One such "trader" who had decided to quit his job and spend all his time playing the market says that on his best day he made $30,000 US. He went out and bought a BMW by way of celebrating. Of course, his worst day was when he lost 80,000 US. But in this business you have to learn to take the bad with the good, right?
So isn't this more like it? Now we are talking true excitement with high risk and the chance of phenomenal returns. If on-line trading won't get your adrenaline pumping, you are obviously too dead to have a computer in the first place.
To a generation raised on Nintendo and Sega, this trading game should be familiar territory. The screen even looks a little like a computer game, with lots of images and crawling numbers and high speed, reflex driven action. The only difference between this and a rousing game of Riven or Doom is that if you lose to the market you can't just reboot the game. You only get to re-enter after you sell your house.
Naturally, there are all sorts of costs attached to playing the home trader version of the stock exchange. There are signup fees, account transfer fees, wired funds out fees and certificate withdrawal fees; safekeeping fees, annual fees, de-registration fees and account research request fees. And after it is all over, there will undoubtedly be lawyer fees and therapist fees. But these are all small potatoes when compared to the rush and potential gain of true gambling excitement.
I have to admit that I have not actually been able to play the home trader game: I still have 546 payments left on my 1991 Chevy Lumina. But once those payments are finished, I plan to make a fortune on the stock market. With the car paid for, I will at least have a place to live.
Boring but solvent, I'm Otte Rosenkrantz.
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