Late & Great: Russ Solomon

The New York Times: “Russ Solomon, who died on Sunday at 92, created what for many music fans was the ultimate music emporium: Tower Records, whose yellow-and-red color scheme, ‘No Music, No Life’ slogan, and wide aisles stocked with LPs and CDs defined the retail music business in the pre-digital era. At its peak, the chain had nearly 200 stores in 15 countries and more than $1 billion in annual sales, before debt and shifting consumer habits forced it to close in 2006.”

“Starting at his father’s drugstore in Sacramento, where he sold used jukebox records as a teenager, Mr. Solomon built a retail empire that became known as much for its selection — vast by brick-and-mortar standards — as for the culture that surrounded it. Employees were opinionated aficionados, and Tower stores, open till midnight, were gathering places for fans. The locations on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and on Broadway in Greenwich Village became tourist meccas.”

“The shops even made devotees of the stars. Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler were regular visitors, but Tower’s most famous patron was Elton John, for whom the Hollywood store would open early … Despite Tower’s disappearance from most of the world, it still has a major presence in Japan; the company sold its Japanese locations in 1999 to raise cash. The flagship store in central Tokyo is like a time warp for travelers, with nine floors of music, in-store performances and, out front, a comforting sign in yellow and red with a familiar message: No music, no life.”


Wasted Food Eats Retailer Profits

The Wall Street Journal: “Grocers, restaurants and food-service companies waste food worth $55 billion a year, according to ReFED, a nonprofit working on food-waste reduction. Food retailers are responsible for food waste worth some $18 billion a year, roughly double the sector’s profit from food sales.”

“More investors are pushing companies to change food-waste and packaging practices that they see as a potential drag on profits in a low-margin business. Many companies are responding. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Walmart Inc. and other food retailers are working with shareholders who have raised such concerns. Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp. and Chipotle Mexican Grill , Inc. have acknowledged similar investor requests.”

“Amazon has struggled for years to profitably deliver groceries in part due to the logistical complexities of shipping perishable items and low customer density outside big cities. Last year, the company eliminated delivery to some ZIP Codes as it also acquired the urban-focused Whole Foods Market chain.”


Forget Smellovision: Samsung Intros Invisiblevision

Quartz: “Samsung’s new QLED line of 4K TVs features a technology the company is calling ‘Ambient Mode.’ Before you mount the TV, you’ll snap a picture of the wall it’s going to hang on—it doesn’t matter if it’s brick, wood, patterned wallpaper, or just a white wall—and then after it’s up, you can set that picture as the TV’s background. The result is something that looks like a floating black rectangle mounted on a wall. Samsung even includes a digital version of the shadow this black rectangle would cast on the wall, as if there really wasn’t a large LED panel sitting in the middle of the thin metal strips.”


The Beauty of Millennial Fashion

The Wall Street Journal: “Makers of clothes and cosmetics are starting to keep highly sexualized or unrealistic images of women from their advertising in response to pressure from millennial women and their younger counterparts in Generation Z. An ad campaign by New York-based designer Alexander Wang debuting March 5 will show no women’s faces or bodies. Instead, it will display the clothes and what Mr. Wang calls ‘the spirit’ of the women who wear them … Just last fall, his label’s ads included an image of a scantily clad model sprawled atop theater seats with an Alexander Wang handbag between her legs.”

“Even before the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, many of the millennial and Generation Z women these brands are courting had been protesting the stereotypical, highly sexualized or unrealistic depictions of women in ads.” Rachel Saunders, of research firm Cassandra, comments: “Part of it is the modern push for gender equality, but also because a super sexualized ad is going to make [the brand] seem uncreative and outdated to them. For young women, buying beauty and fashion products today has less to do with attracting a partner than it did with previous generations. They see it as self-care or being my best self.”

“Before, women opposed to such depictions didn’t have the megaphone of social media, she added. They also had fewer alternatives if they decided to give up a particular brand. However, the internet has shifted the balance in the shopper’s favor, giving her more clothing choices and a voice to influence brands.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”