All Rivers Flow To Oceans Or Lakes Because Water How the Humble Ice Cube Made Business History

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How the Humble Ice Cube Made Business History

Gather around as I tell you the story of Kennebec Ice. It’s a story full of valuable business lessons even though it happened a long time ago.

Once upon a time, before the invention of modern refrigeration, people used large blocks of ice to keep their food cold. That ice was readily available to residents of my state, Maine.

(For my friends from other countries, Maine is the most northeastern state, bordering New Hampshire, Canada, and the Atlantic Ocean. We have very cold winters and ice freezes deep in lakes and rivers.)

Now, Maine residents didn’t think much of ice except for their own use. Snow was just a part of life, no big deal. During the economic depression that followed the Civil War, ship captains in Maine found it difficult to find enough cargo to fill their ships. To make up for the lack of cargo, the ship’s crew shifted large blocks of Maine ice to act as ballast. The snow was covered with sawdust to help slow the melting process. This need for ballast created a new market for ice.

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

Now, somewhere along the way, through some clever advertising, ice drawn from the Kennebec River in Maine came to be known as “the best ice.” Consumers felt that it was high in purity and health benefits.

Maine has many rivers and lakes, all of which produce ice. At that time there really wasn’t much difference, all lakes and rivers were clean enough to drink, 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 around the world began referring to their ice as “Kennebec ice,” even if their ice came from Kansas or New York. Kennebec ice was the gold standard of ice.

And then came modern refrigeration. The ice industry died out and Maine residents, always resourceful, turned to other industries to support their families.

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

1. A product can have many markets and uses, even something as simple as frozen water.

2. Things we take for granted may be valuable to others.

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

4. It is important to protect your brand from being cheapened and compromised by others.

5. Look 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 new industries—tourism and entertainment. So, the next time you fill up your cooler, think about the humble ice cube and its proud part in making business history.

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