Monday, November 30, 2009

Where Are The Deals

So Black Friday was down or slightly up or significantly down or .... who knows what numbers to believe these days. But either way, people are not buying much.

But no wonder! Where are the deals? And I mean REAL deals. Not 30% off some drastically high price. Go into Barnes & Noble - sure there are racks of books at "30%" off - but 30% off a $16 paperback is still $11+ - for some paperback book. Hey, show me a good paperback for $1.50 and that's a "deal" - and I'd probably buy it despite my spending being forced to very little this year.

Some might say $1.50 is absurd. But if iTunes can sell a song for $1 then so can booksellers. It doesn't have to be "Free" as one book claims - but it does have to be cheap. The days of throw anything out on the floor and EXPECT people to buy it are gone folks.

Even "Cash for Clunkers" was a bad deal for buyers - people got a govt credit for $4000 but auto dealers sold at higher prices - even Ford attributed their profit to a $2000 higher price per car than the previous quarter. Show me a car for 50% off - that's a deal.

And go into any Wal-Mart, Target, Home-Depot and where are prices really lower than last year ? Most of my groceries at Wal_Mart are from 20-40% higher! Oh, and the size of the package is 30% smaller. The smiling face is gone - it's now "Every Day Higher Prices". Deals ? - none in sight.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

USA in Decline: Welcome to the BCS

Okay, maybe Wall St was worse this year. But in keeping with the total decline of America, the NCAA Bowl Championship Series has to stand out. What could have been an exciting playoff series, simply declined into a whole bunch of meaningless, boring, terrible bowl games. Are Americans that bored with their lives that they are watching this? Or worse, paying $100's of dollars to go see this?

It just shows how low standards have gone in the USA. Let's see, of the "bowl" teams, several ended up with losing records, one with an even record, and a whole bunch with 7-6 records. "Toilet Bowl" is a more appropriate name for these games. But games are now decided by the complex math calculations - you know, the kind that brought us those famous Wall St derivatives (hell, even with an engr. Ph.D, I haven't figured out what a credit derivative swap exactly is or how Oklahoma is better than Texas, or USC, or Penn St, or Utah, or...).

New Years Day used to be exciting for college football fans - all the pageantry of the 4 big bowls and all the great teams played, one after another. But today, there is only 1 decent game (Rose Bowl). I guess sponsors feel they need to spread what little excitement remains over several weeks.

And like so much in America, it didn't have to happen this way. There are 12 great college teams this year and a playoff between them (over several weeks) would have been fantastic fun and yes, even good for business. Plain logic says at least USC, Penn St, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Utah, and Alabama all deserve to play for #1.

But now another American tradition (New Years Day football) has been thrown overboard in our "consumer driven" society. No wonder half the country is on Prozac. Meanwhile, my TV is off and I'll write more blogs before it too is discontinued.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Great Leaders Don't Wear Headphones

What is it with football coaches and their headphones? I recently saw one game where the headphones went dead and the coach started going bananas. One has to believe that a top 10 NCAA coach is good enough to do perfectly fine without ever touching a headphone.

Great leaders and coaches have never worn headphones whether it be Vince Lombardi, Joe Paterno, Dean Smith, or even military leaders like George Patton (oops I started to type George C Scott - but I bet he doesn't wear them on the set either).

And it stands to reason. Headphones clutter the mind with incessant noise (have you ever heard the yelling and screaming in the coaches box?). Headphones also block out the on the field noise - hearing the surrounding environment is one of the body's strongest senses.

A great leader takes input from his assistants only when he wants, otherwise he thinks to himself, relies on his own judgment, and leads, not micro manages. I wouldn't choose a doctor to operate on me if he had to listen to other people feeding him advice as he is cutting around my heart - I want him focusing on what he himself sees, feels, hears, and senses - if he's not good at that, I would want someone else who is.

I guess the headphones are part of the big show - and most coaches don't want to risk their multi-million dollar salaries to be independent enough not to wear the headphones. It's just one more sign of decline in our country. Joe Pa is more than a coach - he's a legend, and legends don't wear headphones.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Arkansas Gets It

In case the stock market hasn't been a clue, we're entering a really tough, competitive era - when only the fittest and most aggressive companies, cities, and states will survive. New York City is already forecasting a huge tax revenue hit, a precusor to what will happen all over the country.

Anyone who has tried to host a tech group meeting at a university or public owned facility knows how much hassle it is. While supposedly public property, it seems most schools and government entities make it difficult, if not impossible for small groups to get meeting facilities and create a positive tech environment (and you wonder why we're losing ground to other parts of the world?).

So last weekend, there was University of Central Arkansas and it's home city, Conway, going out of their way to sponsor a small software conference, pythonArkansas. What started out as a effort to host a small software meeting, ended up attracting 75 programmers from 4 neighboring states. Sure, central Arkansas doesn't exactly have a lot of tech buzz, but both the University and Conway seem to understand that the key to the future is to spur high-tech growth and education. The school waived all the bureaucracy found at most places and not only opened up several computer labs and classrooms, but even installed extra python software that was to be the focus of the meeting. The school even arranged the cafeteria to stay open to accommodate the meeting. And the Conway Chamber ensured hotel facilities and provided some cash sponsorship.

No place in DFW has been that accommodating where tech groups have to pay churches for meeting space. No place in Salt Lake has been that accommodating. Heck, all those places offer is higher costs and universities that could care less about the business community (except to collect donations).

Now that the internet allows small cities to be just as connected as big cities, the cities and universities that are accommodating and recruit tech will be the ones to win out. As a small business owner I came away with a highly favorable opinion of little Conway, AR and the University of Central Arkansas. They get what it takes to be a winner in the new business era. I like being someplace that appreciates us.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Honky Society

In a more and more desperate attempt to sell overpriced, gas-guzzling American autos, the latest gimmick from Detroit are remote door locks that honk the horn. Ah, now by disturbing everyone with loud horn honking, Detroit can allow the mass lumpen to proudly draw attention to the vehicle whose payments they cannot afford, in front of the house they probably cannot afford.

Indeed, on a recent trip to the once serene Jenny Lake, the birds were squawking and one must wonder if it was laughter or disgust at the horn honking visitors drawing attention to their over-sized 4-wheel drive needed for their "rugged" vacation between motels. Of course one wonders why they even need to remotely lock their doors since they can't seem to walk their overweight bodies more than 25 feet from the vehicle.

It's pathetically sad to think that obnoxious blaring horns is the best Detroit can do to sell cars. As for the folks buying or renting these cars, has our lumpen society has become so stupefied by consumer candyland that they just press the button, no matter what comes out?

In the past, people have tried to cover up their mistakes. But now the American public is loudly tooting it's horn, in fact, even waking up it's neighbors when it comes in too late at night, all to show off it's latest step in the mass consumerist lemming march to the sea.

Of course for those still wanting to be more discreet, Toyota's autos emit only a far quieter, less annoying squeak. And Toyota seems to be the only auto company selling a lot, duh!, is it only coincidence ?

But just wait, soon we'll have $2.99 downloadable ringtones for your auto locks.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Airlines Have Baggage Bassackwards

Once again, the major unprofitable airlines are doing the wrong thing. One of the biggest problems with airline travel has to do with carry-on baggage. It has created a nightmare at the TSA checkpoints; it creates a nightmare in loading and deplaning times and for the on-board staff, and it destroys the travel experience as your head gets banged and your suit coat gets managled by someone shoving a huge ski boot duffle bag into the overhead bin. Carryons cost the airlines lots of money.

So, now the major, money-losing carriers have worsened the problem by charging for checked bags, only encouraging people to carry on more junk. Maybe shareholders should have mandatory drug testing for the executives that dream up this stuff.

One only needs to look at NetJets to see how the process should work. Passengers flying NetJets are not hunched over carrying on a week's worth of supplies - instead they bring on maybe an overcoat and briefcase. Apparently, that's all successful people need on a flight. Other stuff is checked in the back. And of course, they are willing to pay a high premium for this "limitation".

So, shouldn't the major airlines try to copy this ? Doesn't Hyundai try to copy BMW? Now of course to limit carry-ons, airlines will have to stop losing checked bags, and reduce the 45 minute delay time to get it to the terminal - but that's not exactly rocket science.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Say No to Lousy Cafes

Eating/Coffee places have proliferated based on the idea of being community gathering places for young and old alike. This includes establishments like Einsteins, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Paradise Bakery, even McDonalds and Wendys. In fact Starbucks grew their entire business on the "experience" concept. Yet in my own experience of going to these places all around the country, Panera Bread is the only company to get it right. And a few McDonalds (depending on the franchise owner), are the only places I've had a manager stop by and ask how everything was. Otherwise, service outright stinks in most of these places making it a lousy customer experience. Amazingly, it seems to be the same several problematic issues across most of these companies:

1) Crappy Loud Music
Who want's "Jumpin Jack Flash" blaring when you're trying to read over coffee or conduct business or talk to friends. At one Starbucks I saw two tables of 30'ish people curse out the blaring music and leave. At another Starbucks the music was so bad I asked the manager to turn it down, then after he then went to the bathroom he came back and finally turned it down as if he couldn't be bothered, only to have another employee turn it up 5 minutes later - I haven't gone back to another Starbucks since.

2) Ear Piercing Oven Alarms
I just walked out of Einsteins for the last time this week after getting a splitting headache from the constant ear piercing alarm signals on their ovens, etc. Hey my microwave is not that bad, why is theirs?

3) Dirty Tables
This varies from place to place but too many places have employees who can't be bothered to clean the tables - I see customers wiping down their own tables, while paying a bunch of money for the pleasure - what lumpen fools.

4) Disruptive Employees
Either loud talking/yelling between themselves, loud banging of utensils, or even sweeping/mopping under your feet while you are seated is really pretty bad. Mostly it comes from unmanaged, undisciplined 19 year olds running the place.

5) Lack of Free Wireless
In today's world, free wireless should be a given. Every traveling business person needs to check their email, demo something, look up addresses, etc. The media made a big unfounded commotion over internet squatters hanging out in places all day but frankly, I have seen very little of this and even then all establishments need to do is simply hang a sign that advises customers of a 1-2 hr internet limit, and then just nicely remind violators of this.

6) Making You Do The Work
At Seattle's Best (in Borders) they hand you a full cup of hot coffee and expect you not to spill it while making you walk across the store to put a lid on it.

Notice I have not commented about the food / coffee - basically the food/drink product is pretty good in all these places - it's the management that's absent.