Tattoo, Ink.

The Wall Street Journal: “While job-hopping is rampant, a surprising number of American workers are expressing a bond with their employers in permanent ink. Employees at such companies as tech’s Red Hat Inc. and sportswear icon Nike Inc. have brand logos plastered on their ankles, shoulders and arms … Like pulling an all-nighter at the office, a company tattoo can signify devotion in a way that impresses colleagues and breeds trust with clients.”

“Paul Bosneag, a manager who works with franchise-holders of the Anytime Fitness gym chain, said he opted for the needle in 2010 as job security. At the time, he said, he recalled thinking, ‘What kind of a jerk would fire an employee that has the logo tattooed on him?’ It turns out Chuck Runyon, chief executive of Anytime Fitness, has fired around seven people who got company tattoos. Performance, he said, is more important than loyalty.”

“Red Hat tech worker Thomas Cameron got reimbursed for his $100 tattoo by filing it as an office supply expense. ‘It’s ink, right?’ he said, ‘and you need ink in the office.’ Mr. Cameron plans another trip to the tattoo shop soon. The company recently announced it was changing its logo.”

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1916: When Department Stores Featured Hospitals

The New York Times: “Lord & Taylor, New York’s oldest luxury department store, founded in 1826, boasted ‘one of the most attractive and completely equipped of the small hospitals in New York City,’ according to an article in The Modern Hospital magazine in 1916. The store operated the hospital when it was located on Broadway and East 20th Street before moving to its new building on Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets in 1914. On Fifth Avenue, the entire 11th floor was devoted to employee health and welfare, from the hospital to various medical and dental clinics, a roof garden, gymnasium, a schoolroom for boys and girls and an employee restaurant.”

“B. Altman, between Fifth and Madison Avenues and 34th and 35th Streets, operated a 12th-floor emergency hospital that by 1916 was handling as many as 18,000 cases a year, according to Hospital Management magazine. A 1914 brochure celebrating the store’s expansion said, ‘The 12th floor of the new addition has been given over in its entirety to the use of the employees.’ Separate dining rooms served men and women, and a physician and two nurses oversaw a large medical suite and surgery. Also, in a sign of those times, there was a men’s smoking room.”

“Welfare services for department store workers began with John Wanamaker … He wanted to keep his workers healthy and happy, and so in an era of rapacious capitalism, child labor and male privilege he introduced half-day-Saturdays off, medical benefits and a retirement system … His competitors soon followed with medical facilities, employee exercise and lunchrooms, educational training, vacation programs and medical clinics. When Macy’s on West 34th Street expanded in 1924, the new 16th floor included an employee dental clinic with chairs for six dentists.”

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Vexillology: Fun With Flags

The Wall Street Journal: “Defenders of the Milwaukee city flag love its picturesque collage of factories, Lake Michigan, a church, giant barley stalk, clock tower, steamship, sports stadium, Indian chief and genie’s lamp. Haters point to the same things … The North American Vexillological Association, which tracks flags, ranked Milwaukee’s 147th worst out of 150 cities surveyed. Only three were worse: Rapid City, S.D., Huntington, W.Va., and Pocatello, Idaho … Stung by the criticisms, Milwaukee set out to overhaul a municipal symbol that many residents learned about only after it became the target of ridicule.”

“Graphic designer Steve Kodis is ready to plant the ‘People’s Flag of Milwaukee,’ a gold and navy banner with a white orb and three blue lines, an image of the sun rising over Lake Michigan meant to symbolize the city’s rising economy.Two years ago, it was the top vote-getter in a contest to chose a new symbol for the city. It won the most votes out of 1,006 entries … Supporters of the original Milwaukee flag aren’t, well, flagging … Tyler Maas, co-founder of a Milwaukee news blog, is more than a little attached to the old flag. ‘It’s not this perfect thing’ but it reflects the city’s industrial past, Mr. Maas said on tape as a tattoo artist etched its image into his skin. In a recent email, Mr. Maas said he stands by the flag. ‘No regrets at all. I love the tattoo’.”

“Milwaukee, for now, flies two flags. The city has yet to take official action on replacing its old banner. Advocates for new flag and the original are lobbying the City Council … The original flag still flies over some businesses downtown and at least one college campus. The alternate Milwaukee flag has spread all over town—it now hangs in shops and restaurants, and flies over some gas stations. The new flag’s image is emblazoned on bottles of a new IPA released by the Milwaukee Brewing Co.”

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How The Cubs Recruit Free Agents

The Wall Street Journal: “Tyler Chatwood thought he knew what to expect when he met with the Chicago Cubs … He assumed he would hear plenty about the Cubs’ recent on-field success, their plan for him in the starting rotation and, of course, the boatload of money they could offer to lure him. Instead, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took the conversation in a direction that surprised and disarmed him: They recommended the best physicians and hospitals in the area for his pregnant wife … He signed a three-year, $38 million contract with the Cubs shortly thereafter.”

“Granted, the Cubs routinely have one of the largest payrolls in baseball, giving them an undeniable financial advantage over a large portion of the league. They can simply outbid the competition much of the time … ‘If the Yankees offer $130 [million] and the Red Sox offer $130 and the Cubs offer $125, most guys would pick the Cubs’,” one agent said.

“This is the secret weapon that enables the Cubs to practically hand-select talent: a compelling personal touch that goes beyond players’ value on the field. In many cases, that means appealing to the people most important in their lives—their families … This approach has helped transform the Cubs into the most attractive free-agent destination in the sport, an organization that players in its sights rarely turn down … More often than not, players buy it, rushing to join an organization where they believe they’ll be happy.”

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The Grand Hotel in Kosovo: World’s Worst?

The New York Times: “The Grand Hotel in the Kosovar capital of Pristina is regularly reviled in internet reviews. Here’s a sample: ‘disgusting,’ ‘a ruin’ and ‘an absolute horror. Probably the worst I have ever been at.’ But the managers seem unfazed by the online abuse. They do not take web bookings and barely offer access to the internet; their hotel has no email account … even Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, usually an eager booster of everything his country has to offer, struggles to find anything nice to say about it … ‘I don’t think it is the worst hotel in the world, but that is because the world is very big,’ the president said.”

“With 13 stories and three adjoining concrete blocks in a prime location, the hotel accommodates flocks of pigeons on the upper floors and has rented out its basement, once used as a prison by Serbian paramilitary thugs, to a health club. But it is otherwise deserted, a maze of dimly lit corridors that are littered with pigeon feathers, strung with cobwebs, lined with doors of dark wood and haunted by even darker memories of Kosovo’s past. Two floors have been reduced to rubble, the remnants of a remodeling program that ran out of money.”

Service is minimal to nonexistent, the marble lobby stinks of cigarette smoke and the green carpeting that covers most of the floors is stained and scarred. And then there are the cockroaches … The president, who has only bad memories of the hotel in the past and despairs at its current condition, harbors big plans for its future. ‘Perhaps we could build a Trump Tower there,’ Mr. Thaci suggested.”

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How Levi’s Perfects Imperfections

The Wall Street Journal: “Levi Strauss & Co., plans to use lasers to create the holes, fraying and fading that give trendy jeans their worn look, a previously labor-intensive process that required garment workers to brush the fabric with sandpaper, rotary tools and chemicals. A laser can finish a pair of jeans in 90 seconds, compared with up to 20 minutes for hand-finishing. The new technology will cut the production and distribution cycle in half, enabling the San Francisco-based company to better match supply with demand. The goal: reducing end-of-season markdowns.”

“The lasers, which etch off layers of fiber, reduce the number of steps in denim manufacturing to three from as many as 20 … Levi Strauss expects that almost all of Levi’s jeans will be made using the laser technology by 2020, a company spokeswoman said.”

“The company partnered with Jeanologia, a Spanish technology company, to upgrade its existing laser technology, which will be rolled out by its suppliers in coming years. It also developed software that allows its designers to create the holes, whiskers and other detailing on a computer and send a digital prototype to factories with the push of a button. With the automated system, the finishing is done after the denim is washed, which allows Levi Strauss to make last-minute style changes. Once the jeans go into production, they can arrive in warehouses in three months, down from six months.”

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Supermarket Future? Not Plastics!

The New York Times: “A supermarket in the Netherlands wants to make it easier on the planet and easier for its customers to avoid adding to the mountains of plastic waste generated every day … the supermarket, Ekoplaza, an upmarket chain, introduced what it billed as the world’s first plastic-free aisle in a store in Amsterdam. There, shoppers found groceries, snacks and other sundries — but not an ounce of plastic. The items are packaged in compostable materials or in glass, metal or cardboard.”

“Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, an advocacy group that has pushed the concept, said the initiative was ‘a landmark moment for the global fight against plastic pollution.’ The plastic-free aisle contains about 700 items, including meats, sauces, cereals, yogurt and chocolate. The opening of the supermarket aisle comes as the idea of banning plastic, or at least making more of it recyclable, gains supporters around the world.”

“In the Netherlands, free plastic bags were banned two years ago, after a European Union directive was passed in 2015 to phase them out. At the time, the country of about 17 million used around three billion bags each year, most of which ended up in the trash. Ekoplaza has promised to expand the plastic-free idea to all of its 74 stores by the end of the year.” Ms. Sutherland comments: “There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic.”

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Alexa Challenges Brand Loyalty

The Wall Street Journal: “For decades, the makers of packaged-food, personal and home-care brands have bought shelf space at retailers like Walmart Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. that guarantee them nationwide exposure. They have poured billions into branding to make their products instantly recognizable. Selling on websites offers some of those same advantages: Brands can pay for placement on a webpage and display their packaging and logos. Voice shopping, which currently offers customers just one or two product options, could chip away at that tried-and-tested model.”

“In a test conducted in October, Bain & Co. found that for customers making a first-time purchase without specifying a brand, over half of the time Alexa’s first recommendation was a product from the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ algorithm, which implies a well-rated, well-priced item that ships with Prime. Bain also found that in categories in which Amazon has a private brand, 17% of the time Alexa recommends the private-label product first even though such products make up just 2% of volume sold.”

“For now, brands can’t pay Amazon to offer their products to customers in response to a generic request for a product, like detergent or paper towels …Without that paid-search option, P&G has been tinkering with ways to get noticed by shoppers using voice assistants, such as a Tide-branded Alexa app that doles out advice on how to clean over 200 stains but doesn’t suggest Tide products … Unilever, owner of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Domestos toilet cleaner, has developed Alexa apps that give free recipes and cleaning tips that may or may not incorporate Unilever brands. Unilever sees the apps as a way to market its products by offering customers useful information when they need it most.”

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