Free Meals in Coach Make a Comeback

The New York Times: “It seemed to be extinct. The airlines stopped offering it on domestic flights more than a decade ago, along with other amenities that once made air travel an adventure rather than an endurance test. And yet it has reappeared in recent months: a free meal in coach. Continuing their emergence from hard economic times, some airlines have begun adding complimentary breakfast, lunch or dinner on some of their flights in the United States.”

For example: “Delta’s snacks have gotten an overhaul, moving on from ’40 years of unbranded peanuts and pretzels,’ said Lisa Bauer, Delta’s vice president for onboard service, to a variety that includes sweet, salty, healthy and gluten-free choices that will be rotated every six months … The company tried to replicate what the customers would naturally choose for themselves “if they weren’t at 35,000 feet,” Ms. Bauer said. And that includes local and seasonal foods.”

“Ms. Bauer said a free meal alone might not change a customer’s mind. But she said she hoped that given a package of amenities and service, a customer faced with two flights might choose the one run by Delta, even if it costs a little more.”

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Surge Pricing: The Customer is ‘The Boss’

The New York Times: “When Bruce Springsteen decided to do a run of shows at a Broadway theater with fewer than a thousand seats, he appeared to reject the laws of economics — or at least what would seem to be in his financial best interest. He limited ticket prices to between $75 and $850 and has been allocating them through a lottery that includes identity verification. His goal was to prevent scalping. Yet not everyone who sought tickets got them at those prices. The tickets that have leaked onto the open market on StubHub ranged in one recent search from $1,200 to $9,999.”

“Fans don’t want to think their favorite artist is gouging. And the entire concert experience may be better if raucous superfans are in the front rows, rather than whoever is able to pay four figures for a ticket. The goal is to create an experience that makes everyone leave with a warm glow, their fandom of that artist that much deeper. If artists did raise prices sharply, there’s a risk they would need to discount prices later to fill up the arena. Research shows that when people find out they overpaid for something, they buy less in the future.”

“That might be a lesson for the other industries where variable pricing could make a lot of sense … What the successful examples of variable pricing have in common is that they treat customers’ desire for fairness not as some irrational rejection of economic logic to be scoffed at, but something fundamental, hard-wired into their view of the world. It is a reality that has to be respected and understood, whether you’re setting the price for a highway toll, a kilowatt of power on a hot day, or a generator after a hurricane … one view of the Springsteen approach is that it is economically irrational. But another is that it is part of a long-term relationship between a performer and his fans.”

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Broadway Bargains: There’s An App For That

The Wall Street Journal: “A veteran Broadway producer is instituting what he believes is an industry first: A best-price guarantee on show tickets. Ken Davenport, lead producer of the revival of ‘Once on This Island,’ … says the guarantee will ensure that ticket-buyers won’t have to scour the web for deals through theater sites advertising discounts. Instead, they can go to the show’s website.”

“While Mr. Davenport says the idea is to make pricing fairer and more transparent, he also allows that he stands to benefit from the guarantee. If theatergoers come to see the show as the best source for a discount, he says he doesn’t have to spend as much time and money marketing various other deals. Moreover, when theatergoers go to discount sites in search of cheaper seats, they often learn about deals for other Broadway productions, Mr. Davenport says. In turn, that could lead them to buy tickets for a different show.”

“But while Mr. Davenport’s strategy may resonate with theatergoers tired of the bargain hunting, not everyone thinks it will pay off. Larry Compeau, a Clarkson University professor who specializes in consumer psychology, says Americans have become accustomed to the hunt. He notes failed experiments by prominent retailers and manufacturers to simplify pricing and do away with discounts. “The general American consumer values the deal,” he said. Others say Mr. Davenport could be sacrificing revenue from ticket-buyers who don’t necessarily worry about deals.”

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Columbus: The Silicon Valley of Retail?

The New York Times: “A combination of demographics, geography and luck turned Columbus into the nation’s consumer laboratory. This Rust Belt city has historically been a microcosm of the national population’s age and ethnicity, ranking fourth among metropolitan areas in its resemblance to the United States over all, according to data compiled by WalletHub.”

“Ohio State University’s 65,000 students mean young shoppers are always on hand. Columbus is within a day’s drive of nearly half of the United States population, making it a convenient hub for distribution. The city’s relatively small size and contained media market make it affordable for companies to run advertising campaigns and measure their effectiveness. And its relatively low profile allows brands to try something and fail — without the scrutiny they would draw in New York or Los Angeles.”

“Perhaps most important, a robust network of retailers and service providers — from big brands like Abercrombie & Fitch to small design firms that focus on store layouts — has taken root in Columbus. Today there are more fashion designers in Columbus than in any other American city besides New York and Los Angeles.”

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Richie’s Guitar Shop: (212-253-7643)

The New York Times: “Got a gig downtown in two hours and there’s no sound coming from your ’68 Stratocaster? Action need adjustment? Are you afraid your bass is possibly haunted? ‘Call Richie’ is the mantra — if you’re connected enough in the music world to have the business card with the phone number for Richie’s Guitar Shop, which has been promoted solely through word of mouth since Mr. Baxt started teaching himself to fix guitars in 1978. Upon calling (212-253-7643), Richard Baxt will tell you where to go — to a modest one-bedroom apartment on East 11th Street.”

“If you are a new customer, you will be handed a single-spaced, double-sided sheet of paper titled ‘The Richie’s Guitar Shop Philosophy.’ These are the rules of engagement, which include both the practical and unexpected — from the importance of appointments, to the $15 surcharge if Mr. Baxt has to clean ‘blood or other bodily fluids’ off the instrument.”

Mr. Baxt says big retailers “‘charge you $100 just to change the strings and make a few adjustments. To me, that’s unconscionable. I try to charge as little as possible’ … Customers’ needs vary. Mr. Baxt recalled a job he performed for a man convinced that there were demons inside his guitar. The man asked Mr. Baxt to carve the outline of a swastika into his pick guard, which he hoped would scare them out. ‘I did it,’ said Mr. Baxt, who is Jewish, with a laugh … The man called several weeks later, swearing that the demons had been exorcised. As it says on the guitar shop business card, ‘Psychotherapy extra’.”

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Wag The Dog: The Canine Ivy League

The Wall Street Journal: “In many American cities, though, landing a job as a dog walker is tougher than earning entrance to an elite university. Rover, a Seattle-based pet-care app with more than 120,000 walkers, accepts only 15% of applicants. At Wag!, which serves 298 U.S. cities, the acceptance rate is 5%. In New York’s Manhattan, which employs more dog walkers than the rest of America combined, the acceptance rate is slimmer still.”

“Ethan Judelson, 21, a film student at Emerson College, applied to walk for Wag! in New York City last year. He passed the initial screening questionnaire, but he was abruptly dismissed during a phone interview. A Wag! representative asked Mr. Judelson whether he would look a dog in the eye if the animal was hesitant to leave for the walk.” He got it wrong and was rejected. “Turns out a dog may perceive looking into its eyes as a threat, according to Yuruani Olguin, a certified professional dog trainer in New York. Even so, she says, the question asked Mr. Judelson during the interview was ‘so general, it would be hard to give a one-size-fits-all response’.”

“Wag! receives ‘many tens of thousands of applications’ a month, says chief executive and co-founder, Joshua Viner. When weeding out applicants, some executives say their companies give an edge to applicants who say their love of dogs outweighs their need for money.”

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Leinenkugel: Cult Classic or Soda Beer?

The New York Times: “Leinenkugel’s and its parent company, MillerCoors, would like to make the brand more than just a cult or local favorite. And they have largely succeeded with Summer Shandy, a breakout hit released in 2007 that has inspired a whole line of flavor-enhanced brews — watermelon, pomegranate, cocoa-raspberry — and, for the first time, brought the country’s seventh-oldest brewery to taps and store shelves nationwide.”

“But for some longtime drinkers, including many among the 11,000 who gathered in Chippewa Falls for the anniversary party, watching trendy shandies eclipse the workingman’s beers their grandparents once enjoyed is disorienting. During a question-and-answer session with the company’s brewmasters, one wistful Leinie’s drinker shouted, ‘When are you going to brew some beer that tastes like beer?'”

“In August, MillerCoors released Leinenkugel’s Original nationwide for the first time, part of a fall sampler pack of Leinie’s classic brews … with light-bodied German beers enjoying a resurgence, Leinenkugel sees an opportunity to attract new drinkers to the clean, malty lagers beloved in Wisconsin — particularly the 35 percent of shandy drinkers who, company research suggests, didn’t previously drink beer. It won’t be easy. ‘That’s a tall order,’said Ryan Schmiege, assistant brewmaster at the 29-year-old Deschutes Brewery in Oregon and a Wisconsin native. ‘Shandies are the soda of beer. They’re fun, but I wonder whether they’ll really convince people to try the old stuff.'”

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Down Under: Introducing Vegemite Blend 17

The New York Times: “Vegemite, the classic condiment found on breakfast tables in every corner of Australia for nearly a century, is going posh. Bega, manufacturer of the iconic — if divisive — yeast extract spread, released a new and more expensive version of the product this week, raising questions about whether the brand had abandoned its humble roots in favor of a more affluent demographic.”

“The new variety, Vegemite Blend 17, is sold in achingly artisanal packaging that includes an unnecessary cardboard box, a gold-colored lid and a price tag more than double that of a traditional jar, coming in at 7 Australian dollars, or nearly $5.50 … Anthony Agius, a Melbourne resident who says he has eaten Vegemite for 32 years, purchased the new product out of curiosity … Mr. Agius said he could not easily distinguish the new blend from the original.”

“When asked whether the new product may be a cynical, short-lived marketing ploy to draw attention and stoke lighthearted controversy, (marketing director Ben Hill) simply encouraged Australians to ’embrace the taste.’ The company, he said, did not plan to reissue the product after its initial run of 450,000 units. But if the new blend proved popular, Mr. Hill said, Bega might keep making it.”

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Is DIY DOA for Millennials?

The Wall Street Journal: The Millennial “generation, with its over-scheduled childhoods, tech-dependent lifestyles and delayed adulthood, is radically different from previous ones. They’re so different, in fact, that companies are developing new products, overhauling marketing at companies such as Scotts, Home Depot Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. , Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s West Elm and the Sherwin-Williams Co. are hosting classes and online tutorials to teach such basic skills as how to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color. and launching educational programs—all with the goal of luring the archetypal 26-year-old.”

“J.C. Penney Co. says the group is willing to hire others for projects. The retailer has pushed into home services, including furnace and air-conditioning repair, water-treatment systems and bathroom renovations, and expanded its window-covering installation … Home-furnishings retailer West Elm offers service packages, which start at $129, to provide plumbing and electrical work, painting, installing a television and hanging wall art and mirrors.”

“Home Depot executives want to establish stores as an education center so young adults can learn household maintenance for themselves. Snagging a new homeowner’s first purchases, says Ted Decker, Home Depot executive vice president of merchandising, helps drive return trips and represents potentially ‘thousands and thousands of dollars’ in lifetime sales … In June the company introduced a series of online workshops, including videos on how to use a tape measure and how to hide cords, that were so basic some executives worried they were condescending.”

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Airbnb Antidote: Hotels Take Aim At ‘Self-Worth’

The New York Times: “With competitors like Airbnb nipping at their heels, hotels are rolling out experiences to their most faithful customers that go far beyond extra nights and room upgrades. Want to improve your cooking skills? How about a class with a Michelin-starred chef? Or snorkeling in Hawaii with Jean-Michel Cousteau? Or basketball tips from the N.B.A. standout Dwyane Wade? … In offering such exclusive experiences, hotels are looking to establish deeper connections with their customers in the face of growing competition from start-ups.”

“Marriott is trying to differentiate itself by focusing on self-improvement activities, in part because its own research suggests this is how people will increasingly spend their money when traveling … Such experiences not only increased travelers’ self-worth and satisfaction, the research found, but travelers sought to share the interactions with experts on their social channels.”

“The large hotel brands are mindful that right over their shoulder, Airbnb, in particular, is reinventing what travelers expect from a local stay by introducing smaller-scale experiences and classes, which people can bid on through its site even if they are not staying in an Airbnb rental. One in Paris, for example, offers to teach patrons how to sculpt a head from clay, taught by an artist who studied at the Louvre museum. Another offers a class in San Francisco on creating a French macaron.”

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