In a particular happentrack...

There are no napkin dispensers in fast-food restaurants. Instead, after you've ordered your burger and fries, the attendant asks you "Do you want a Towelora with that?" It's a big, slightly fuzzy paper towel with the world-famous Towelora logo on it. You get one. It costs about 75 cents. It's faintly scented with an unmistakable citrusy perfume. The Towelora special absorbency is sure to get your fingers keen-clean -- the advertising jingle says so -- but if it doesn't, well, you have to buy another one.

Of course, the huge Towelora paper-processing plants can make Toweloras for about a tenth of a penny each. Everyone knows that. But people still buy them for $0.75, because it's the way to get your hands clean. When you think "hand wipe", you think think Towelora. That's just the way it is.

Even Towelora's biggest competitor, Handiklin, isn't half their size. (Although they do have contracts with a few fast-food places, which serve only Handiklins. Of course, people still go in and ask for a large Towelora with their meal. The staff have to say "Is a Handiklin ok?" or they get fired.)

Anyway, the prices are exactly the same. Nobody would get anywhere trying to undercut the hand wipe industry prices. If you tried to sell generic napkins for half Towelora's prices, customers would ignore you. Even restaurants wouldn't be interested, because (1) their customers ask for Toweloras by name, and (2) wholesale Towelora rolls cost them practically zilch anyway. The restaurants are already making a hundred-to-one markup on the deal. Towelora's profit margins on restaurant sales are pretty small, but they make it up in volume, name recognition, and the direct-to-customer sales (in grocery and convenience stores) of single-unit Toweloras and five-packs.

Yes, you can go into a fast-food joint and ask for a plain napkin with your meal. The attendant will look at you funny and give you a three-inch square of scratchy recycled brown paper. It's free (but provided only to paying customers -- don't try walking in just for a free napkin.) And the attendant may try to convince you to buy in. "Our Combo Bonk Meal comes with a free medium Towelora for only fifty cents more!" Don't try to figure out the logical flaws; just stick to your guns.

Or you could buy a big roll of plain paper towels at the grocery store, for about a buck and a half, and carry them around. But who wants to do that? Besides, lots of places have signs saying "No outside food or hand wipes." Particularly movie theaters. (All their popcorn is greased, right, and they make half their money on the Towelora concession.)

Let's not even talk about the Towelora t-shirts, the Towelora sponsored sports events, the multi-billion-dollar Towelora advertising budget which keeps the shine on the logo... Well, you get the idea.

Footnote: On this happentrack, every restaurant has a table in the corner with a machine that dispenses flavored seltzer. For free, of course. It's just flavored water.

-- September 14, 1998.

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