Saws and . . . envelopes?
The place and time? Chichicastenango, Guatemala in 2004, before I began documenting everything in pixels.
The source of the words? Cursive Spanish script painted in pale blue on the blindingly white exterior wall of a bricks-and-mortar store adjacent to the plywood-and-tarp outdoor market.
The speaker? A highly tentative me, reading aloud in Spanish-to-English translation mode. Questioning aloud, really. I mean, what sort of store sells saws and envelopes?
Against my expectation, my translation is bang-on. What *is* out to lunch is my business-school bias about what constitutes a coherent business model and whether it even matters.
Saws-and-envelopes: weird-in-theory combinations that work in boring old practice.
We see it in small stores in small communities the world over, selling whatever goods or services come to hand. Close to any lake resort, general stores sell beer, bait, bacon, and batteries. In a small town close to Ottawa a bakery-cum-gift-store-cum-Christmas-ornament-emporium is just up the street from an appliance-store-cum-meat-market.
Come in for a pork chop
and leave with a new washing machine.
We see it in larger centres. Some are so common (read “successful”) that the juxtaposition no longer even registers as odd. Airport stores sell books, snacks, and small gift/souvenir items.
Come in for the books,
leave with something with a higher margin.
Bookstores sell home decor (or is it vice versa?).
Improve your mind AND your home.
Pharmacies have beauty-product counters and embedded post offices.
Get better, look better,
write to your friends about it.
The saws-and-envelopes phenomenon extends beyond business. Consider bacon-wrapped dates. Or pancetta and Brussels sprouts. Or black-sesame ice cream (I have it on good authority).
Heck, consider men and women.
How did we get here? I will tell you. This week, Sycamore Partners, a New-York based conglomerate with holdings in clothing-and-footwear-and-handbag retailers, bought the home-improvement warehouse, Lowe’s.
T-shirts and t-squares?
Indeed, but wait: There’s more. They also own the office-products warehouse, Staples.
Yes! They now have a saws-and-envelopes division. I sure hope that figures somewhere in their corporate literature.
Post script: Thanks to reader JL Whitman for bringing Sycamore and the Lowe’s/Staples connection to my attention.