If Martha Stewart sold routers instead of linens, would the financial press take notice? They sure aren't doing it now.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced third quarter earnings Thursday, but only a handful of publications reported it and only CNN's "Moneyline" interviewed her. One article got her last name wrong. Maybe they think Stewart's a big joke, but I'm sure she's laughing all the way to the bank.
It's not clear why they were so unimpressed. Her numbers were strong, exceeding analysts' expectations: Revenue doubled to $69 million for the quarter, up 24 percent over the same period last year. Her company is even profitable, for crying out loud! In the current climate of disappointing earnings, slow growth and outright bankruptcies, her performance is even more astounding. And she's in a notoriously fickle industry as well. In short, she kicked ass.
For many of us, the news isn't surprising at all. We've known about Martha's prowess for quite some time. As evidence, I'm heading out this afternoon to look at those pots and pans she's been hawking on television commercials. And believe me, that's no easy feat considering my last experience in that bastion of American discount stores, K-Mart. After wandering fruitlessly through aisle after aisle of that time-warped, circa 1950s store, it took about 20 minutes to pay for my one lousy purchase.
But the fact remains that I need some new pots and pans. And if Martha Stewart put her name on those pots, that's good enough for me. That's what you call marketing, a concept unknown to many companies today. Companies like that beleaguered and struggling Priceline, which spent a fortune on a nincompoop of a spokesman who doesn't even use the company's service. Of one thing you can be certain, a gaffe like that would never happen in Martha Stewart's company.
Perhaps it's easy to overlook her success because her company is devoted to domestic interests. But another peculiarity is the snide manner in which she's portrayed. For instance, in the company profile at Hoover's Online you can find this odd comment: "Mix equal parts Julia Child, Miss America and P.T. Barnum; stir in liberal amounts of ambition and chutzpah." P.T. Barnum? What's that supposed to mean? And one would think ambition and chutzpah to be natural, not to mention desired characteristics for an entrepreneur -- why bother mentioning them, unless to highlight how unnatural it must be for a woman to display them?
I remember when Martha Stewart's company was about to go public and Bryant Gumbel was interviewing her. Granted, Gumbel is a poor interviewer, but did he actually have to ask her if she was scared about her forthcoming IPO? Would he have asked Ted Turner that question?
It all boils down to this: The business arena -- predominantly male -- doesn't really understand Martha Stewart, doesn't quite accept the fact that a woman can be a shrewd businesswoman and cook a nice dinner and put on a great party at the drop of a hat. It's called multitasking, guys, and women have been doing it for centuries.