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AT LARGE: Jigsaw Buzzle

AT LARGE: Jigsaw Buzzle

Parramatta Road is one of the busiest throroughfares in Sydney, linking the city with Parramatta (obviously) and several important centres along the way. While years of poor management by successive state governments have made life difficult for small businesses operating on the Road, car yards and businesses that are large enough to offer customer parking have access to a huge base of "just passing by" customers, as well as repeat business. If you drive along Parramatta Road once, chances are you're doomed to drive along it again.

McDonald's is one of the more successful retail brands on the planet, particularly in urban areas of developed countries. Ask any citizen of Sydney, regardless of educational, religious or financial background, what a Big Mac is, and chances are you'll get an answer not too far from the truth. Anyone who says it's a flavourful, nutritional snack offering good value for money is lying - chances are you've found a vegetarian who's only ever seen the ads.

From the information above, you might logically conclude that a McDonald's restaurant (for that is the word by which they describe themselves) located on Parramatta Road would be fairly guaranteed of massive custom. All one would have to do as a franchisee is flip the burgers on the grill, turn the sign on out front, unlock the door and count the money, right?

Wrong, apparently. A huge McDonald's outlet on Parramatta Road near Strathfield, complete with parking lot and "drive-thru" window (customers in a hurry have not the time to read all the letters in "through") closed down recently after some years of service to the local community. As part of said local community, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. I could point to several of the many centimetres around my waist which were lovingly gained during happy jaunts to this place. Now the signs are gone, as are the cold, metallic representations of the advertising mascots, which bring small children so much happiness. All that's left is that unnamable McDonald's aroma.

So what went wrong? Have McDonald's products lost their appeal amongst the general public? The continuing epidemic of obesity suggests otherwise. Is Parramatta Road no longer a profitable concourse? The franchisee on Parramatta Road in Stanmore, reportedly the busiest McDonald's in Australia, might disagree.

No, the answer, unfortunately, is that sometimes McDonald's restaurants just don't survive. A few years ago, when the McDonald's in King Street, Newtown, shut down, it was front-page news in the Sydney Morning Herald. The article first said that a McDonald's closing down was "unthinkable", then confessed (a few paragraphs later) that three other outlets had shut down the same year. The Herald writer wanted to believe that the closure was an overwhelming disaster for McDonald's, symptomatic of a larger malaise that would bring the mighty corporation down, but had to admit in the end that sometimes these things just happen.

I'm reminded of the plight of McDonald's as I'm trying to get my head around the apparent collapse of Buzzle, the consortium of Apple resellers formed last year. Two to three years ago, if such a consortium had existed for less than a year and then failed, I would have done as others have done, and blamed Apple. Good products, but too little, too late to save the channel partners, and so on.

Now, I'm not so sure. Ask anyone in the key demographic of 18-35 what an iMac is, and you'll get an answer not too far from the truth. Anyone who says it's two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun has become confused. Pay them no mind.

Then there's the G4, with the writing the DVDs thing, and the Powerbook, with the Titanium and what not, and the iBooks people take to parties and don't get laughed at. I shan't say anything about the Cube. Odd. Very odd.

So what happened? Why is there more bad news for Apple, just as Mac OS X is finally released and the company could use some good press? Who knows. I had my own questions when Buzzle was formed last year. Like what if a few poorly performing businesses (not naming names) are trying to rope a few more successful businesses (not naming names) into a partnership to disguise their own sins? Next Byte bailing out more or less said maybe so.

Until the receivers have had a close look, and probably until a buyer is found for the group in whatever form, we'll not be told for sure what happened. The only thing for certain is that next time some of the people involved sell a Mac, they'll be offering fries with it.Matthew JC. Powell sometimes wonders what the lumps are in a Macca's "apple" pie. Don't tell him on mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au


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