Books for the News

Chocolate (New York) City

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A little over a year ago, on a return flight from Boston, your correspondent became engaged in a conversation with her seatmate, who offered her samples of some kind of dark chocolate with seemingly miraculous health benefits. I began to fidget and reached for my book in the seat-back pocket in front of me when she procured a brochure from her carry-on and proceeded to tell me how I could make extra money each month selling these chocolates to my friends and coworkers. The marketing materials went unread and the chocolates uneaten.
But, it turns out that others, including Real Housewife of New York City Jill Zarin have become chocolate acolytes. In a trend piece about the product, which has been turning up in the hoity-toity echelons of Manhattan society, the New York Times reported yesterday, “Xoçai (pronounced show-SIGH) is a cousin of the humble Amway products, [and is] among the newest in a seemingly endless series of network-marketing ventures.” To understand the new acceptance of this Tupperware-party-like marketing scheme in ladies-who-lunch New York, the Times turned to our very own Peter M. Birkeland:

Peter M. Birkeland, an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago and author of Franchising Dreams: The Lure of Entrepreneurship in America (University of Chicago Press, 2002), said New Yorkers have been historically loath to try similar businesses in the past.
“I think New York has always kind of looked down its nose at something that’s lowbrow, that’s crass,” Professor Birkeland said. “They can make their money in other ways.”

But evidently, this has changed. And Birkeland is an expert on emerging consumer and business trends. Birkeland’s book follows the rise of franchising in America. One-third of the U.S. gross domestic product flows through franchises, and one out of every sixteen workers is employed by one. But how did franchising come to play such a dominant role in the American economy? What are the day-to-day experiences of franchisees and franchisers in the workplace? What challenges and pitfalls await them as they stake their claim to prosperity? Franchising Dreams, a documentary-like look into the frustrations and uncertainties that entrepreneurs face in their pursuit of the American dream, answers these questions and more. Through extensive interviews and research, Birkeland not only discovers what makes franchisees succeed or fail, he uncovers the difficulties in running a business according to someone else’s system and values. Bearing witness to a market flooded with fierce competitors and dependent on the inscrutable whims of consumers, he uncovers the numerous challenges that franchisees face in making their businesses succeed.
You can read an interview with the author.