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Business: When Does It Get Too Big? You Tell Me

Tuesday, 28 Aug 2007 | 2:24 PM ET
The Villages, FL.
The Villages, FL.

Could this really become the fourth largest city in Florida? It's at 55,000 or so now and still growing and the folks in the pool this morning were talking about it doubling before it's all 'built out'. (My mother lives here, 'walks' in the pool every morning, it's a social gathering place, you get the picture.)

The Villages is a phenomenon, a 'one of a kind'. Fifteen years ago or so there wasn't much more here than a mobile home park and a dusty little town named Wildwood in three or four of the poorest counties in Central Florida. Wildwood is still dusty. The Villages is no mobile home park and the counties are no longer poor.

But that's not the point. The point is: how big is too big? The beauty of this place, beyond its fiscal viability, has been just that, its beauty. I'm still floored by how manicured it all is. It was charming when only 5 or ten thousand folks lived here. With 55 thousand it's more astounding. But see, it's that attention to detail that has made this place different. That 'stay the course' mentality.

Except, guess what they're talking about at the pool? There may not be as many attendants here now as there used to be. Minimum wage went up, the employee count went down. Funny, the bathroom IS just a little dirtier than I remember. Yes, things are going to change over time, as some areas get older, and tired and new ones sprout up and look 'shiny' in comparison. But could they be getting too big?

I have no idea if all the talk at the pool is right. I don't care. The fact that they're talking about it is what really counts.

There comes a time in every business when the quality curve meets the quantity curve and a decision has to be made. You can make a little more money by cutting just a little off the top. Who will notice?

Did you notice when McDonald's had so many outlets that you quit eating in them because every table had catsup on it? Every floor was sticky. Every parking lot was litter filled. Sure you did.

Even Howard Shultz of Starbucks has noticed. He expressed a concern not too long ago about his company perhaps getting too big, too many stores, too ubiquitous. But I don't think they stopped expanding. I rent more cars from Hertz than anyone I know. The last four or five times each car has been dirty. Each one.

So when is big too big? When the cup holders have spilled coffee in them? When the latte isn't quite hot enough, three or four times in a row? When you'd rather pee behind a tree than use the bathroom? When the petunias aren't quite as plentiful as they used to be?

I don't know. You tell me. Back in the pool.

Questions? Comments? mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com

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