The Costco Pizza Sauce Robot

Reader’s Digest: “Costco works hard to make sure their pizza is practically perfect every time, and it’s all thanks to a secret pizza robot. This magical machine evenly distributes their sauce on the pizza dough… The gourmet gadget is actually pretty mesmerizing to watch in action.”

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The New ‘Choice’ in Convenience Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “In 2,700 square feet, about the size of a Chipotle, Choice is open 24 hours a day and sells staples like pasta, milk and yogurt, specialty items like quinoa, and an array of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also find beer and kombucha on tap, and snacks that skew toward multigrain chips and seaweed but also include Doritos. The interior sports white subway tile, reclaimed wood and other design codes that telegraph hip sustainability. What is Choice? A restaurant? A grocery store? Neither, said founder Mike Fogarty. It’s a convenience store.”

“Choice Market, Green Zebra Grocery in Portland, Ore., Foxtrot in Chicago, the Goods Mart in Los Angeles and Amazon Go in Seattle are open long hours (if not 24) and use the same small spaces to offer a wider range of options. You could meet a friend for coffee, pick up a few reasonably wholesome items for dinner or even fill up a growler of beer … Traditional players, too, are adding hardwood floors and more attractive lighting. Wawa, the mid-Atlantic chain famous for its hoagies, is rolling out customizable salads across their 790 stores and testing delivery.”

Lisa Sedlar, the founder of Green Zebra Grocery, comments: “People will come in and say this isn’t a convenience store, And I say, ‘Of course it is.’ We are redefining what it means to be a convenience store in America.”

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Heaven’s Door Whiskey: Don’t Knock It

The New York Times: “In late 2015, an unexpected name popped up in the liquor industry press: Bob Dylan. A trademark application for the term ‘bootleg whiskey’ had been filed under Mr. Dylan’s name. Among those who noticed the news was Marc Bushala, 52, a lifelong fan and a liquor entrepreneur … So he reached out, and after being vetted by Mr. Dylan’s representatives, Mr. Bushala … talked to Mr. Dylan by phone, and proposed working together on a portfolio of small-batch whiskeys.”

“Next month, he and Mr. Dylan will introduce Heaven’s Door, a collection of three whiskeys — a straight rye, a straight bourbon and a “double-barreled” whiskey. They are Mr. Dylan’s entry into the booming celebrity-branded spirits market, the latest career twist for an artist who has spent five decades confounding expectations … Heaven’s Door is meant to conjure a broader idea of Mr. Dylan that is part Renaissance man, part nighthawk. The label design is derived from his ironwork sculptures, with rural iconography — crows, wagon wheels — in silhouette. And in promotional photos lighted like classic movie stills, a tuxedo-clad Mr. Dylan, 76, gazes off in a dark cocktail lounge or lonely diner, glass in hand.”

“Mr. Bushala and Ryan Perry, the chief operating officer, struggled to interpret Mr. Dylan’s wishes. Often they came in the form of enigmatic comments or simply glances … He and Mr. Perry recalled Mr. Dylan’s tasting a sample of the double-barreled whiskey and saying that something was missing. ‘It should feel like being in a wood structure,’ he said … Months later, the men returned with a sample that they felt embodied ‘that sweet, musty smell of a barn,’ Mr. Bushala said, and presented it to Mr. Dylan, who commented approvingly.”

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Chipotle’s ‘New’ Recipe: Back to Basics

The Wall Street Journal: “Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s new chief executive said his recipe for reviving the burrito maker is simple: focus on improving the fast service and relatively simple menu that made the chain so popular to begin with. Brian Niccol said in an interview … that he is taking a measured approach to turning around Chipotle’s business after more than two years of weak sales in the wake of food-safety and customer service problems.”

“He said the company is hiring new field managers and restaurant employees from outside the company rather than only promoting people internally. He said Chipotle will more rigorously test new menu items and add longer hours, pickup windows for mobile orders and potentially drive-throughs at some restaurants. And he said Chipotle won’t introduce combo meals or cut prices to entice new customers.”

“Mr. Niccol, who was the chief executive of Taco Bell before taking the top job at Chipotle in March, has shrugged off calls for Chipotle to franchise stores or add breakfast items. Activist investor Bill Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management is Chipotle’s largest shareholder with a stake of about 10%, has publicly urged Chipotle to serve breakfast. Mr. Niccol said he has told Mr. Ackman Chipotle needs to focus on turning around its current business first … Mr. Niccol said Chipotle can instead open restaurants earlier and keep them open later without making major menu changes.”

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The Color of Money: Bias & The Brand Experience

Alexandra C. Feldberg and Tami Kim: “Over the past two years, we have investigated discrimination in customer service by conducting large-scale field experiments in the hospitality industry. We have repeatedly found that front-line workers exhibit racial bias in the quality of customer service they provide. In one experiment, we emailed approximately 6,000 hotels across the United States from 12 fictitious email accounts. We varied the names of the senders to signal different attributes, such as race and gender, to the recipients.”

“Overall, hotel employees were significantly more likely to respond to inquiries from people who had typically white names than from those who had typically black and Asian names … Hotel employees provided 20 percent more restaurant recommendations to white than to black or Asian people. Employees’ politeness also varied by race. When responding to white people, employees were more likely to address them by name and to end their emails with a complimentary close (e.g., “Best,” “Sincerely”) than they were when responding to black or Asian people.”

“Instead of relying primarily on trainings to remedy bias, if they truly want to transform the way they serve customers, companies need to make structural changes. For instance, they should standardize scripts and provide employees with specific protocols for managing these situations. Such efforts can institutionalize norms of behavior for employees when they interact with customers … To detect bias in these behaviors requires quantifying different aspects of customer service and comparing treatment quality across a range of customers … It is only after identifying these disparities that companies can develop targeted interventions to combat biases.”

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Micromerch: Statements for Daily Life

The New York Times: Here comes micromerch:”personal merchandise for niche public figures and celebrities (or even not-yet celebrities) made possible by innovations in manufacturing and distribution, and with mechanisms greased by the ease of the internet. Consider it the modern-day equivalent of the private-press LP or the small-batch zine, amplified for social media and very late capitalism … small-batch merch — a couple dozen to a couple thousand items — can be made available for almost anyone, from emergent social media or reality TV demicelebrities to casual dadaists who toy with the dissemination of ideas in the modern marketplace. In an era when personal branding is presumed, no following is too small to monetize.”

“Want to show support for Sean Bryan, a.k.a. the Papal Ninja, an American Ninja Warrior contestant and lay minister? There’s a shirt (and laptop case) for that. Enthralled by the 1980s sunglasses worn by the rubber-legged teen social media star Roy Purdy in his absurdist dance videos? For a while, he sold them, too. Obsessed with Gordie, the French bulldog owned by Alex Tumay, who engineers Young Thug’s records? Buy a shirt.”

“Peloton, the home indoor cycling business, has a stable of a dozen instructors, and sells merch inspired by each. Jill Foley, Peloton’s director of boutique apparel, said the company has sold hundreds of T-shirts and tank tops with instructor catchphrases like ‘It’s Not That Deep’ (Cody Rigsby) and ‘Sweat Sing Repeat’ (Jenn Sherman).” She comments: “We’re getting messages to people in this micro way. We’re in people’s homes in their daily life.”

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Ocean Medallion: Smooth Cruising on a ‘Smart’ Ship

Quartz: John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer of Carnival Cruises, “previously worked for Disney, where he was instrumental in the creation of the MagicBand, a wristband meant to help reduce the aggravations of the typical Disney vacation … At Carnival, Padgett and his team quickly set out to create Carnival’s own version of the Disney MagicBand, called the Ocean Medallion. It uses AI to take the MagicBand technology to another level. Instead of just alleviating the ‘friction’ of typical travel experiences (lines, room keys, paying for things) it will use data to anticipate what you want to do, eat, and see.”

“The Medallion, offered first on Carnival’s Princess cruise line, is about the size of a quarter … It facilitates boarding and cuts down on wait times. It can be used to pay for things on the cruise, it unlocks the door to your room as you approach, and can be used on the ship-wide gambling platform. Carrying the Medallion means the staff knows your name and where you are. If you order a drink, they can come find you to deliver it. If you go to another bar on board, the staff already knows what you like. The Medallion also updates your information, keeping track of your likes and dislikes, what activities you enjoy, and what you consume. It anticipates other activities you’ll enjoy and the side trips you’ll want to take.”

“In many ways the Medallion is a beta launch of the first fully wired smart city. What it takes to make it work could one day be used on land. Padgett says the technology is innovative because the preferences you reveal are updated in real time. You order a Martini and every crew member on the ship instantly knows more information about you, and is that much closer to determining whether you might enjoy trying scuba diving—or just kicking back in your stateroom with an old episode of The Love Boat.”

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Branding The Brandless Brand

Business Insider: Brandless, “which sells food and consumable essentials all for $3 and pitched itself as the “Procter & Gamble for millennials,” first launched in July … The brand is now moving into the physical world with a pop-launching in May, called ‘Popup with a Purpose.’ It will be a ‘three-dimensional experience of the values of what Brandless is really about,’ according to CEO and co-founder Tina Sharkey. The Brandless brand will be on display, but no products will be for sale. Instead, the 3,500 square foot location on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles will be offering samples, and opportunities to “live, learn, and love with intention,” according to a press release.”

“The pop-up will be interactive and there will be panels, workshops, and talks by experts in the fields associated with the areas of food and wellness that Brandless has staked out. Along with the pop-up, Brandless is also launching a lifestyle blog that will be focused on educating consumers of the claimed benefits of, for example, ‘tree-free toilet paper’.”

“Sharkey sees Brandless as filling gaps where the ease of shipping and low point of entry can allow people to try new things — like gluten-free baking mix — that would otherwise be either too expensive or just hard to find locally in some areas … The B.more membership program, which previously only lowered the free shipping order threshold to $48 dollars, now makes all orders ship free. The company has since started focusing on offering B.more to repeat Brandless customers.”

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Short Edition: The Literary Vending Macine

The New York Times: “Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.”

“Here’s how a dispenser works: It is shaped like a cylinder with three buttons on top indicating a “one minute,” “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a button is pushed, a short story is printed, unfurled on a long strip of paper. The stories are free. They are retrieved from a computer catalog of more than 100,000 original submissions by writers whose work has been evaluated by Short Edition’s judges, and transmitted over a mobile network. Offerings can be tailored to specific interests: children’s fiction, romance, even holiday-themed tales.”

“Short Edition, which is based in Grenoble and was founded by publishing executives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 machines worldwide … The dispensers cost $9,200 plus an additional $190 per month for content and software. The only thing that needs to be replaced is paper. The printed stories have a double life, shared an average of 2.1 times.” Kristan Leroy of Short Edition comments: “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”

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Wearhouse Hero: Boosting App-arel Sales

The Wall Street Journal: “Like many traditional chains, Men’s Wearhouse has had better luck converting store visits into sales than it has with shoppers browsing its website. Executives say they are turning to new technology created by a startup called Hero in hopes of improving results while still using the company’s existing workforce. Over the holiday shopping season, the company tested out the app in about 100 stores. It found that online shoppers were more likely to buy an item after chatting with a store worker, prompting an expedited rollout to the company’s remaining stores.”

“By September, more than 3,000 workers across both Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A Bank will be able to chat with online shoppers. The employees can wave their phones over product tags to generate web links to purchase the items and set up appointments through the app … The app connects an online customer with an available salesperson in the nearest store. To ensure that employees don’t become too pushy, it lets shoppers rate them, much in the same way an Uber passenger rates a driver. The video chat is one-way: Shoppers see into the store, but workers can’t see the customers.”

“Alistair Crane, the CEO of Hero, said his technology is built on the fact that store workers were already texting customers and using social media sites, like Instagram, to showcase products.”

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