Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Story of Kennebec Ice

Today, I want to tell you the story of Kennebec Ice.
It is a story full of valuable business lessons even
though it happened long ago.

Once upon a time, before the invention of modern
refrigeration, folks kept their food cold by using
large blocks of ice. That ice was readily available
to residents of my state, Maine.

(For my friends in other countries, Maine is the
northeastern-most state, bordered by New
Hampshire, Canada, and the Atlantic Ocean. We have
very cold winter’s and the ice freezes deep into lakes
and rivers.)

Now, residents of Maine didn’t think too much
about ice other than for their own use. Ice was just
a part of life, no big deal. During the economic
depression that followed the Civil War, ship’s captains
in Maine had a hard time finding enough cargo to
fill their ships. To compensate for the lack of cargo
the ship’s crew substituted large blocks of Maine ice
to act as ballast. The ice was covered with sawdust to
help slow the melting process. This need for ballast
created a new market for ice.

When the ships arrived in tropics and sub-tropics, it
was discovered that the ice being used as ballast was
a valuable product to the residents of those regions.
They were willing to pay for that ice. Cutting and shipping
ice to other parts of the world became an industry for Maine.
This new market saw ice being shipped to China, India, Cuba,
and many other places.

Now, somewhere along the way, through some
clever promotion, the ice harvested from the
Kennebec River in Maine became known as “the
best ice”. Consumers thought it was higher in
purity and health benefits.

There are many rivers and lakes in Maine, all of them
produce ice. There really wasn’t much difference at the
time, all the lakes and rivers were clean enough to drink from,
but the perception was that Kennebec Ice was the
best. People were willing to pay more to get it.

Because Kennebec Ice was the best, ice companies
all over the world started referring to their ice as
“Kennebec Ice” even though their ice might come
from Kansas or New York. Kennebec Ice was the
gold standard for ice.

And then along came modern refrigeration. The
ice industry died out and Maine residents who are
always resourceful moved on to other industries to
support their families.

So, here are our modern day business lessons
from the story of Kennebec Ice.

1. One product can have many markets and
uses, even a product as simple as frozen
water.

2. The things we take for granted may be
valuable to others.

3. Becoming the gold standard increases
business and allows you to charge a
higher price.

4. It’s important to protect your brand to keep
it from being cheapened and compromised
by others.

5. Watch for trends that tell you it’s time to
get out of the ice business and develop new
products or services.

Of course, the ice business is still alive and well in
the modern world, driven by a new industry--tourism
and recreation. So, next time you fill your cooler,
think of the humble ice cube and the proud part it
played in creating business history.

Until next time,

Caroline Jordan
Get Knowledge. Get Focus. Get Results.
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