Delta’s Creepy Marketing, the Porta-Potty King, a Wave of Bankruptcies

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Good Thursday Morning,


If you’ve ever had a marketing misfire,  you can feel better. It probably wasn’t as bad as this one. Delta Air Lines and Coca Cola have apologized for a promotion that included “creepy in-flight napkins that featured a spot for passengers to write their phone number to pass onto their ‘plane crush.’ The airline said in a statement that it was already in the process of removing the offending Diet Coke napkins from flights even before a social media outcry from passengers.

“‘We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one,’ Delta Air Lines said in the statement to USA TODAY. ‘We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January.’”


In Sweden you can take a leave of absence to start a business: “For the last two decades, full-time workers with permanent jobs have had the right to take a six-month leave of absence to launch a company (or alternatively, to study or to look after a relative). Bosses can only say no if there are crucial operational reasons they can’t manage without a staff member, or if the new business is viewed as direct competition. Employees are expected to be able to return in the same position as previously.

“Sweden, with a population of just 10 million, has developed a reputation as one of the most innovative countries in Europe in recent years. The most commonly-cited reasons its start-up scene has grown so quickly include strong digital infrastructure, a culture of collaboration and affordable private unemployment insurance, which provides a larger social safety net than in many countries.”


Food trucks have been cool at least since Roy Choi invented the gourmet Korean taco truck, but they continue to evolve creatively. For example: “Last October, a development team created a new dining concept in an up-and-coming neighborhood of Charleston, SC. Called the Container Bar, it features a bar constructed from a shipping container with space for four food trucks that rotate daily.

“‘Charleston has a reputation of being a culinary mecca, but it is unique in that there are no spaces for food trucks to congregate,’ said Brad Creger, one of three Container Bar owners. The others are Mike Veeck, president of the Charleston RiverDogs, a minor league baseball team, and the actor Bill Murray.

“‘One need go no further than Austin or Portland to see how food trucks have evolved into the culinary culture,’ Mr. Creger said. ‘Charleston is a little behind in that regard, but we’re catching up very quickly.’”

Delivery is no longer an afterthought for Uber; in fact, it’s a “secret goldmine”: “Uber Eats is on track to deliver some $10 billion worth of food worldwide this year, up from an estimated $6 billion-plus last year. Uber takes a 30 percent cut and a delivery fee, then pays drivers, suggesting that Uber Eats could generate at least $1 billion in revenue this year, or an estimated seven to ten percent of the total. That means Uber Eats is already among the planet’s largest food-delivery services and ranks second in the US behind rival Grubhub (likely $1 billion in 2018 revenue) and ahead of competition like Caviar, Postmates and DoorDash.”


Nationally, porta-potties are a $2 billion business, and in New York City, Charlie Howard is the porta-potty king: “You can’t get denser routes than in New York City, which makes it a major prize. But the market is a nightmare to navigate—traffic, tolls, angry unions, toilets that need to be lowered by crane from skyscrapers. A small group of competitors controls the industry: ‘the big five:’

“Mr. John is clean-cut and corporate. Abe Breuer, a wiry Hasidic Jew, runs John to Go from Rockland County. A Royal Flush owns the special-events market and enjoys an enviable 7,000-toilet contract with New York Road Runners to clean up after nervous, caffeinated runners. Johnny on the Spot is now part of a national chain. Over a four-decade career, Charlie’s Call-a-Head has held its own.”

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A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the farm belt: The rise in bankruptcies “represents a reckoning for rural America, which has suffered a multiyear slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities touched off by a worldwide glut, made worse by growing competition from agriculture powerhouses such as Russia and Brazil. Trade disputes under the Trump administration with major buyers of US farm goods, such as China and Mexico, have further roiled agricultural markets and pressured farmers’ incomes…“‘I’ve been through several dips in 40 years,’ said Mr. Duensing. ‘This one here is gonna kick my butt.’”


Instacart, the Silicon Valley unicorn that delivers groceries and other household items to customers through an app, has reversed a tipping policy that had outraged workers: “Instacart’s workers had taken to Reddit forums and private Facebook groups to express their anger with the policy, which counted tips toward the guaranteed minimum payments the company offered to shoppers. In some cases, the more customers tipped, the less Instacart paid them.

“‘It’s offensive, it’s unethical, and in this climate it’s a very dumb thing to do,’ Matthew Telles, an Instacart courier in Chicago, said this week before the reversal.”


Not every business has to be built on new technology; there’s a typewriter repair business in California: “Twenty years ago, Martin Quezada was told the end was nigh. The sun was setting on the typewriter. Computers were king. Twenty years later, Quezada’s shop, International Office Machines in San Gabriel, is still in business…

“He had loyal customers—small-business owners set in their ways, retirees unwilling or unable to learn to use a computer. He branched out into copiers and printers. He held on. Then young people took an interest in antique typewriters. A group of street poets brought Quezada several to repair. The typewriters were used to write poetry on demand for passersby…

“‘In a world that’s too fast and too easy, a typewriter slows you down,’ he said. ‘If you type a word wrong, it’s wrong. If you miss a space, you missed it. That’s endearing to people now.’”


Talk about voting against your interests. Sunderland in the UK overwhelmingly voted for Brexit a few years ago. But the townsfolk at the time didn’t quite get the consequences it would bring to its top employer: “Nissan and other carmakers are concerned that Brexit will disrupt the flow of components and finished vehicles across the UK border. They’re particularly worried about the possibility of a no-deal split, which would introduce customs checks and tariffs under World Trade Organization rules, jeopardizing their just-in-time manufacturing processes.”


A cautionary tale to never go overboard with your resume. Author Dan Mallory, writing under the pen name AJ Finn, had his debut novel open at number one. Then a New Yorker piece exposed a timeline of repeated fabrications of his professional and personal life. Of those claims were that he worked with Tina Fey at Little Brown & Company, read a JK Rowling manuscript, and he studied at Oxford University, even going as far as to say he had brain cancer.


A startup has been caught up in the FBI-Huawei debacle. The Bureau has targeted the smartphone screen maker Akhan Semiconductor in its continuing investigation into Huawei’s violations of US sanctions. “Akhan’s executives were enlisted by the FBI for a sting operation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.”


Walmart’s online mattress brand Allswell has a new retail strategy, going from digital to mini stores. It is introducing a rolling showroom that will go on tour starting in New York. “A year ago, Walmart introduced Allswell, the retailer’s first homegrown digital brand. Until now, Allswell, has only sold through its own website, Walmart’s main site, and on Jet and Hayneedle. …

Other online mattress brands are also opening brick-and-mortar stores. Tuft & Needle, Leesa, and Purple have recently expanded distribution at retailers like Target, West Elm, and Mattress Firm.

Stores and pop ups help retailers acquire customers, raise brand awareness, and encourage impulse spending, according to Barbara Kahn, marketing professor at Wharton.”


Oxford Commerce Dinner

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cooks & Soldiers Restaurant

691 14th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318

Contact for more info and to RSVP.

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