Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Microstory 1718: The Cassiopeia Pivot

In the United States, the prohibition of alcoholic beverages began in 1920, and ended in 1933. During this period, a number of bootleggers sprang up in order to both satisfy the country’s desire for alcoholic drinks, and also capitalize on the scarcity of this commodity. One such of these opportunists was a man named Dawson de Felice. He and his family started their new business in 1930, after The Great Depression devastated their farm’s produce sales. It became public knowledge in 1934, and grew into one of the largest liquor and beer companies in the world. For decades, the de Felice name was synonymous with high quality, low-cost beer and spirits. They were also known for fighting hard against anti-drug movements. They did not specifically deny the consequences of drinking, or underage drinking, but they did suggest that all those issues were the responsibility of their customers. Either the drinker was old enough to drink responsibly, or they were young enough to have a guardian who should have better controlled their alcoholic intake. They lobbied against laws that would raise their taxes, or otherwise limit their customer base, and they regularly dismissed any suggestion that they ought to help curb drunk driving, and other risks. Many pointed out that they actually would have saved money by producing an ad about responsible drinking, rather than spending it on a defamation campaign against their socio-political opponents. Despite these detractors, sales numbers continued to rise, along with their once affordable prices. Their method of rejecting all responsibility seemed to be working in their favor, and no one had any reason to believe that they needed to do anything differently. To them, the idea of recommending anyone ever not drink was irrational, and out of the question. Sure, dead people can’t buy beer, but if they died from the beer they bought from De Felice, then they probably spent a lot while they were alive. That was the unspoken reasoning anyway.

In the 21st century, a woman named Cassiopeia De Felice became majority owner of De Felice Beer and Spirits. She decided to take the company in a radically different direction, and there were good and bad consequences to her actions. She was a recovering alcoholic, and never would have wanted to take over in the first place if she had not gotten the idea to change its business model completely. They would continue to sell alcohol, but no longer for human consumption. They were going to sell rubbing alcohol now, as well as hand sanitizer, and even fuel. She figured there was plenty of room in these industries, they already had the infrastructure set up to accomplish this, and she didn’t want to endanger people’s lives anymore. Customers were bewildered. Shareholders were outraged. Everyone was stunned. Never before had a company attempted to pivot so drastically. It would prove to be their downfall, but also the beginning of a new trend. The world would thank them later. Perhaps her plan would have worked if she had started them out slowly, introducing themselves to the new products gradually, and eventually letting go of their beverage division. Instead, she tried to make one big move, and no one knew what to do with it. The failure would come to be known as The Cassiopeia Pivot, and while it began as a derogatory term, the term itself would pivot to become a point of pride. Other companies made similar moves, hoping to better the world, and the lives of their customers. Oil companies switched to renewables. Weapons manufacturers switched to plumbing. Even a ballpoint company began to focus on augmented reality devices. Though, that last one was less abrupt. The other examples happened quickly, but were just as successful. The world was ultimately better for De Felice’s sacrifice. It didn’t become a utopia, but they helped a little, and not much more could be asked of an alcohol company that just wanted to do the right thing.

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