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The economics of big boxes and small items

Years ago, the little rubber feet on my Dell computer fell off, and I got the company to send me a set of replacements.

When they arrived, I was struck by the inefficiency of what I was looking at, a small item in a box that was about 1,000 times too big for it.  How inefficient, I thought, and what a great example of our wasteful society.  It looked similar to this, but worse.

Perhaps 5 years later I took a crack at optimizing the supply chain for boxes for my day job.  We had about 1,500 part numbers and did a poor job at keeping some 120 different box part numbers in stock to ship them.

Part of our problem was that we had no stocking program for boxes, they basically rush ordered them when they went to get one and we were out.

The other part of the problem was that we had far too many boxes, some of which we rarely used.  This took up quite a bit of warehouse space, captured unnecessary working capital tied up in inventory, and made it harder for the shipping & receiving personnel to find the correct box.

I started by going through the drawings for all 1,500 parts and capturing the outside dimensions.  Then I captured the number of  each part number we sold per year in the last few years. With that as my input data set, combined with a current list of boxes we had had ordered any of in the last several years, I wrote a software program that progressively tried out different combinations of boxes to both minimize how many we needed and the space wasted, giving priority to the most frequently shipped parts (meaning, we should have boxes that fit them the best.

The result was that I was able to go from 120 box part numbers down to 45, a much more manageable number.

However, this necessitated the case that occasionally, we would ship a one-off item that we did not have a good fit box for.  Occasionally, we would ship an item in a box that was way too big for it.

While this might seem a waste, overall, we probably wasted much less cardboard because the majority of items we shipped were in boxes that were the correct size.

So, the answer to why sometimes you get an item in a box that is WAY too big is that. overall, it leads to better resource and cost efficiency if in some cases you are willing to be inefficient.

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Instant Pot? Yea, Revere Ware had that in the 80’s

In the last few years, the Instant Pot has become all the rage.  My wife loves hers.  Here is how one review describes them:

Instant Pot is a multi-cooker that does the job of a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot. It’s a single appliance that does the job of seven different kitchen appliances or tools. Sounds kind of impressive, right? And I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t have the space to store all seven of those appliances.

Revere Ware actually had an appliance in the 80’s, the Meal-n-Minutes, that could do all that.

Electric pressure cooker with delayed start – check
Cook rice- check.
Steamer – check
Browning – check
Warming – check
Slow cook – yup, on low pressure mode

I’m not sure about yogurt, but it could probably be used to make yogurt on the warming setting.

My take?  I suspect that in the 80’s, a phenom like the Instant Pot wasn’t as likely, given that a big part of why it seem successful is the availability of lots of recipes, and the type of social media marketing buzz that is only possible now.  In the 80’s, recipes would had to come from best seller cookbooks, and there just wasn’t buzz like there is today.

So cheers to you, Meal-n-Minutes, you were the instant pot before the Instant Pot.

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What the heck is a carborundum nano sponge?

One of the latest fads in cookware cleaning seems to be the carborundum nano sponge.  There are tons of YouTube videos that purport miracles they can perform, and a wealth of different vendors selling them on Amazon.com.  They claim to be able to perform cleaning miracles.

Here is a typical before and after photo.

Always being one to find a better way to clean my Revere Ware, I thought I’d give it a try.

So what is it?  Well carborundum (that’s a mouthful) is another name for silicon carbide, the second hardest substance known to man.  a carborundum nano sponge is just a sponge with a layer of carborundum along the outside.  Carpenters will notice these look and feel suspiciously like similar spongy sanding blocks they use.

The sponges do in fact feel just like a spongy block with some sandpaper on the outside.  From looking at them, I suspected they were going to function just like any other abrasive scrubber, and that is pretty much my take-away; they are just another abrasive scrubber.

Can they perform miracles?  Soundly, no.  The ability to remove gunk comes at a price, namely, you will scratch your cookware, as you might expect.  And they with the amount of elbow grease required, the results can hardly be called a miracle.

Here is an aluminum baking sheet before, and after a few minutes of scrubbing in the center.

Better, yes.  Significantly so, no.  And the swirl marks from the abrasive nature of the scrubber are clearly visible in the aluminum.

So what about some really caked on great on the bottom of a Revere Ware pan?  Here is another before and after, also after a few minutes of scrubbing.

If you are struggling to see much difference, don’t worry, it’s not your eyesight.  Making progress with this sponge is pretty difficult.

I also tried the sponge on a the outside stainless part of the pan.

The first picture above shows an untouched area.  The second shows an area I scrubbed with the carborundum nano sponge; you can clearly see the swirl marks it created in the stainless steel.

Now, there are two things to consider here.  First, these sponge are almost all certainly made cheaply by Chinese companies.  For all we know, the material on the outside may not be (and probably isn’t) carborundum.  If it is, it probably isn’t “nano”, whatever that means.  Second is, does anyone really think that scrubbing a polished surface with the second hardest material know to man WON’T scratch it?

My advice is give these sponges a pass.  If you want to get the burned on gunk off the bottom of your pan, try the method outlined in our cleaning guide for better results that won’t scratch your polished stainless finish.  Or, try one of the new methods we came across recently for items too big to dunk in a big boiling pot.  We’ll get around to trying those ourselves one of these days.

 

 

 

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The economics of small business – running an eCommerce site

Our website provides a wealth of information for Revere Ware enthusiasts, and we also sell our parts through it.  But operating a small-business eCommerce site continues to be more and more challenging.

For starters, it costs the customer more because of shipping.  With many retailers offering free shipping these days (most notably Amazon.com) customers sometimes are outraged that we charge around $4.50 per order to ship, which can look pretty unreasonable if you order a part that costs $4.00.  But the economics are such that, if we charge $4.50 for shipping (the bulk of which goes to the USPS and a little goes against our fulfillment service) we actually lose money on shipping; on average, it costs us $6-$7 to fulfill an order.

When we first started out, and most of our sales were through our website, it was less, and the shipping charges roughly offset the fulfillment cost.  But as more of our sales moved to Amazon.com, and our volume through our website dropped, the fixed part of our fulfillment service started to drive the cost per shipment up.  The fixed cost is what they charge just to have the service, hold the inventory, etc.  With high volumes, this is very little per order, but as the volume drops, it starts to be a significant cost for each order.

Our sales are shifting away from our own website to Amazon.com for a couple of reasons. The first, of course is that people enjoy the convenience of buying from Amazon – the 1-click ordering (not having to enter all that information) and the free shipping are great.  The second is, given the alternative, some people have a lack of trust for a website they don’t know from Adam.  Lastly, we discovered last year that Amazon.com actually advertises using Google Adwords to capture the business that might actually have been destined for our website.  Yes, they compete with us to drive our sales to their website, even though it is us selling in both places.

But there are a lot of good reasons for us to continue to sell through our own website.  The first is insured availability.  Amazon.com Marketplace is pretty one-sided against the merchant.  Often times, Amazon.com will suspend one of our listings because of high return rates.  This happens because, as a third party selling on Amazon.com Marketplace, we have no ability to set rules about returns; people often buy our parts, without bothering to read the description, and then return them when they don’t fit, providing some lame excuse that makes it seem like the part is defective, so they don’t have to pay a return shipping fee.  This makes it looks like we have an abnormally high return rate at times, which causes Amazon.com to periodically suspend a part listing here and there.

Second, Amazon.com can for no good reason suspend a sellers account, and often does according to this article.  If that were to happen to us, at this point, the economics of our business (we work hard to provide parts you can’t get anywhere else, because we care, and make a little money off of it) would be hard to justify.  If we didn’t continue to sell through our own website, it would make no sense at all, and our parts would likely no longer be available.

Third, we have much less control over the content of our listings on Amazon.com, and our interactions with customers, than on our own website.  The listings are not considered our own, and it often takes some finagling to change the content, because someone occasionally resells a part they purchased from us through our listing on Amazon.com.  And, despite the fact that our own website has a wealth of information on dealing with issues with our parts when they occur, we can’t direct people there or risk having our seller account suspended.

There is a large movement in the US right now to buy local, in response to the difficulties that online shopping presents to local businesses.  In my own town, there is an 11% vacancy rate in our main shopping district, where 10 or 20 years ago 1-2% was typical.  The move to buy local is to support small local businesses that are valuable to the community in more ways than just what you buy there; they provide jobs and help support the local tax base among other things.

Similarly, in light of the increased dominance of eCommerce by just a few large platforms, perhaps there needs to be a similar movement to support small business websites like ours.  I believe businesses like ours provide something valuable that just wouldn’t exist if everything was dominated by Amazon.com and the likes.  Yes, it cost more to buy through our site, but it makes more sense if you purchase multiple items, and consider that when you do buy from us, you are supporting something worthwhile.

So yes, by all means, buy local, and, when you do shop online, buy from small business websites.

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Another option for Revere Ware mixing bowl lids

We often get requests for the lids for Revere Ware mixing bowls; apparently the original lids tend to fail after a while.  We did fine a crowdfunding campaign for some universal lids some time back, but a simpler solution may just be already available stretchy silicone lids that are pretty inexpensive.

Here are the mixing bowls.

The sizes are 9.75″, 8.5″, 6.75″, and 5.25″.

Here is a set of stretch silicone lids:

 

According to the listing, here are the sizes that they will fit:

❶ Special XL size 9.5” to14”
❷ 7.9” to 11”
❸ 6.5” to 9”
❹ 5.9” to 8”
❺ 4.7” to 6”
❻ 3.7” to 5”
❼ 2.8” to 4”

For 15 bucks, I think it is worth a shot.

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I see red

Growing up, we had a chair that one half of our family claimed was green, and the other half brown.  These handles recently listed on eBay (here and here) are similar, I see red, but also admit to the possibility that they are orange.

If you are one of the Revere Ware collectors who shares the fascination with colored handles with the people that seem to bid these up quite high, now is your chance.

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The cycle of Revere Ware

My mother-in-law passed away a couple of weeks ago; she was a wonderful lady and will be sorely missed.

As we were going through her things with the family, there were some interesting insights into Revere Ware cookware.

My wife’s parents were married in 1953, about in the middle of the period (1939-1968) where Revere Ware cookware was the preeminent cookware of the day.

Here she is opening a wedding present – a Revere Ware skillet.

I believe that Revere Ware was quite a popular wedding gift back then, as we have heard lots of stories from our customers about still using the same Revere Ware they got as a wedding gift.

Here is her cookware now with all new Bakelite parts from us of course.

As it is, I believe these are the same pieces they had all through all these 65 or so years.  However, what is conspicuously missing are any skillets.

As it turns out, we found a stack of non-stick skillets under the stove.  Teflon was approved for use in cooking in 196 and I believe became quite popular starting in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.   I suspect some time during this period my mother-in-law (who did all the cooking as was typical for that generation) got rid of the Revere Ware skillets and replaced them with Teflon ones.

I think this is the point at which a lot of The Revere Ware we see for sale on eBay and in thrift stores comes on the market, at the death of the original generation that bought it.

Let’s consider the demographics of the generations that might have purchased Revere Ware in its heyday.

The best quality Revere Ware was made between 1939 and 1968.  Starting in 1968, Revere Ware cookware started being produced in Korea (and then China) and was made much more cheaply, with about half the metal as the prior version.  That is the period when other types of cookware started eating into the market share of Revere Ware.

The average age of (first) marriage for women was 21.5 in 1940, and about 20.8 in 1968.

The average lifespan of a woman born in 1930 (which would make them or marriageable age in the early 1940’s) was 61.6.  For someone born in 1950 (marriageable in the late 1960’s) it was 71.1.

That means that people would would have gotten their first Revere Ware cookware at the start of Revere Ware popularity would have started passing away in the mid-1990’s.  Someone who got their first Revere Ware towards the end of the popular period would on average pass away around 2010.  This can very nicely explain why we have seen in terms of the total number of Revere Ware listings on eBay over the last 9 years.  Here is a graph from 2009 to today.

While we do see “seasonal” dips over the last few years” it appears that up until a few years ago, the amount of pieces listed at any given time (which peaks around the holidays, just as our sales do) kept going up.  It would seem that now, we are past the peak of the passing of the Revere Ware generations.

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Where is Revere Ware headed?

About two months ago, we did a post tossing out the theory that Corelle Brands (which World Kitchen, who owns the Revere Ware brand, became last year) looked like they might be preparing to dump the Revere Ware brand.  Here is a good indication of why.

Consider their organic search ranking for revereware.com.

Now look at ours.

That’s right, the big company that actually sells the cookware only has 4 times the organic search traffic as we, the little guys that just sell a few replacement parts, do, and going down.

We one multiplied our annual revenue times 4, their revenue would not amount to much at all.

I can see why they might consider dumping the brand.

It does look like they tried to increase their traffic based on paid search around the time that Corelle Brands bought World Kitchen.

But this could be just to drive traffic to their other brands as well.

 

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Tweener

Here is an interesting piece currently for sale on eBay, a 10 quart stock pot.

First of all, what a great starting price for a new in box (NIB) item, only $35.  If you are looking for a nice Revere Ware stock pot, I’d jump on this.

What makes this interesting is the confluence of styles.  On the one hand, it has the vintage handles.

On the other hand, it does not have the process patent stamp, which I’ve always seen on this style stock pot (with those handles).

I also don’t believe I’ve ever seen a 10 quart stock pot with those style handles.

My guess is that this is something that was produced around 1968, just when Revere Ware was transitioning from the vintage era to the newer (cheaper) era of cookware.

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