Hotel Thermostats: Out of (Your) Control

The Wall Street Journal: First the elevator-door buttons, now this: “It’s not your imagination. Hotel thermostats often aren’t under your control. Unknowing guests around the world are left to push thermostats up and down in vain. Fixing the problem requires a degree—or six or seven—as well as a bit of a mischievous streak.”

“One Tumblr blog, thermostatbypass, collects bypass instructions. Travelers have posted YouTube videos on various thermostat models. A Disney hotel discussion board also has thermostat bypass instructions. On some Inncom thermostats, for example, hold down Display then tap Off then tap the Up arrow. That puts the unit in VIP mode, giving control back to the occupant … Overall, hotels say new systems increase guest comfort and reduce costs … The New York Hilton has a system that keeps unoccupied rooms at 78 degrees and then automatically sets the thermostat to 74 when a guest checks in. The system cools the room down in about 5 minutes.”

“Thermostat issues don’t rank high in Expedia or TripAdvisor hotel complaints. But some travelers are plenty hot. A reviewer of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Northeast in Wichita, Kan., complained of having to get up and wave at the thermostat. ‘This is a horrible way to treat a guest.’ The hotel responded saying the thermostat vendor ‘assured us that this will not be a problem.’ But after the complaint, the hotel decided to disable the motion sensors.”

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Layer 3: Luxury & The Set-Top Box

The Washington Post: “At a time when Americans are increasingly abandoning their cable companies — flocking to alternatives such as Netflix and Hulu — Layer3’s premise is that the big bundle of basic and premium channels that has sustained the industry for decades is still a viable formula.”

“It turns out that the most avid cord-cutters among us tend to be lower-income Americans … To help court those high-end customers, Layer3 is trying to improve on the reputation many cable providers have gained as stodgy, hulking corporations trying to nickel-and-dime their customers. It isn’t just rolling out red-carpet customer service … or a ‘white-glove’ customer experience, such as your ability to text the company whenever you have questions or concerns. It’s also trying to lure subscribers with the promise of next-gen technology embedded in its product.”

“Layer3’s wireless set-top box supports 4K-resolution video. It offers a curated feed that automatically learns what you like to watch, and it has integration with Facebook and Twitter, along with a few other bells and whistles … All of this is aimed at raising the bar for cable service, making it so that consumers feel they’re actually getting what they pay for — or more.”

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Silicon Valley Informs The Shopping Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “With online pricing and inventory easily accessible, consumers are increasingly becoming brand and retailer agnostic. So retailers are turning to Silicon Valley for everything from artificial intelligence to data to draw consumers in … Even the smallest changes online—facilitated by artificial intelligence and algorithms—can make a difference in sales, retailers are discovering.”

“Italian lingerie brand Cosabella gauged customer response to change the color of its ‘buy’ button to pink and its banner to specify it is Italian family-owned, bumping up revenue by 38%. It is also using image-recognition technology … tailoring its website to individual customers based on the advertising image they click to get to the site.”

“Retailers are also customizing the shopping experience in stores, where around 90% of U.S. purchasing still takes place … For example, Burberry Group PLC can ask for a customer’s name and type it into an app when the person walks in, giving access to personal data, including his or her last purchase and whether the person prefers still or sparkling water—and potentially some of his or her public social media presence, too.”

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Indie Theaters Reinvent Movie Experience

The Guardian: “From themed weddings to live-streamed operas and interactive movie nights, (UK) indie theatres are reinventing themselves as the new entertainment hubs on the high street – eating into the market share of the multiplex giants and in-home rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These independents accounted for almost a quarter – 23% – of all screens nationwide in 2016, up from 17% the year before, according to data from research firm Mintel.”

“Sam Neophytou would vouch for that. Together with a small group of actor friends, he founded the Arthouse in Crouch End, north London in 2014, converting a former snooker hall into an indie cinema. Its two 85-seater screens have been a huge success.” He comments: “People want to be in this kind of environment rather than a multiplex where there isn’t that intimacy.”

“When Lyndsey Holden, from Birmingham, was planning her wedding last year, she didn’t want a church or a register office … She and husband-to-be James Burrows ended up walking down the aisle of their local indie cinema, the Electric, flanked by half a dozen stormtroopers and a 6ft 7in Chewbacca … The cinema’s manager, Sam Bishop, says he is constantly thinking up new ideas … Special wine-tasting evenings have been staged in sync with the film Sideways, pausing the movie whenever the main characters have a drink and serving customers the same wine.” He comments: “You drink cathartically with their journey and leave as spiritually uplifted – and as drunk – as the main characters.”

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Costco Golf Balls: The New ‘Two-Buck Chuck’

The Wall Street Journal: Costco, the warehouse retail giant, first began selling golf balls last fall, under its Kirkland Signature brand that is affixed to a wide range of products and carries discount prices. Available for $29.99 for two dozen, the balls instantly ranked among the cheapest on the market … But what made the balls a hot item among fanatical golfers is the revelation that, by some accounts, they perform like rivals that sell for more than twice as much.”

“That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport’s long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for.”

“The balls were made at a factory in South Korea by a company called Nassau Golf, which also manufactures balls for TaylorMade, one of the major equipment manufacturers … the company had an excess supply that it sold to Costco through a third-party trader … According to a Nassau executive based in Europe … both Nassau and TaylorMade, its biggest client, are unhappy with the rise of the $1.25 golf ball and that the company won’t sell excess supply in such large quantities again.”

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Pottery Barn Catalogs: What a Mess!

The Wall Street Journal: “Shoppers have long wanted to live in the pages of a home furnishings catalog. Now brands are obsessing over shots that are just untidy enough that they look more like places where real people actually might live. It’s the décor equivalent of a model with bed-head hair or a partially untucked shirt … Pottery Barn’s January catalogs have photos of unmade beds and overflowing storage baskets. But there is a line they will not cross: A dining room scene doesn’t feature stacks of dirty plates, but it does have a chair pulled out with an unfolded napkin strewn across it.”

“The catalog from the Land of Nod, Crate and Barrel’s children’s division … makes sure its props include items found in many children’s rooms, such as a well-loved stuffed animal. There are shoes on the floor and books on the shelf. Toys are often tossed about, but in a controlled way—one that looks as if it could be tidied quickly if needed.”

Pottery Barn’s “makeover extends into its product design, with the introduction of shrunken, more affordable pieces. The collection aims to change the brand’s perception of selling only oversize , often pricey furniture designed for sprawling suburban homes. The new merchandise, including a $299 arm chair, is meant to appeal to two sets of new shoppers: young adults outfitting their first apartment and boomers relocating from the suburbs to smaller, urban spaces.”

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Crowd Cow: The New Digital Slaughterhouse

The New York Times: Crowd Cow is “an online service that sells whole cows from small ranchers, divided into manageable orders, usually about 10 to 12 pounds, and delivered to homes as frozen, vacuum-sealed cuts … Rather than putting its own brand on the meat it buys, Crowd Cow advertises the beef’s producers and allows them to tell the stories of their ranches on its website.”

“Joe Heitzeberg, the chief executive of Crowd Cow, which has sold nearly 200 cows online, founded the company with Ethan Lowry. He said their idea was to teach the consumer about the particulars of each ranch.” He explains: “We’re saying it’s like microbrews and wine. There are differences. We want you to understand the differences.”

“Most of the beef on Crowd Cow and similar websites is grass-fed, which research has shown has higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids … While even large commercial cattle operations now sell grass-fed beef and many supermarkets stock it, some consumers prefer the beef they get from small producers online … Much of its beef comes in variety packs: A recent sale from Step by Step Farm in Curtis, Wash., featured a $69 package that included four eight-ounce flat iron steaks, two 10-ounce chuck steaks and two pounds of ground beef.”

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Adidas Speedfactory: Robotic Innovation

The Economist: “Behind closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany … What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers (athletic shoes) … an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.”

“The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas … The machines carrying out this work will be highly automated and use processes such as computerised knitting, robotic cutting and additive manufacturing … Driven by software, the robots, knitting machines and 3D printers take their instructions directly from the computer-design program, so they can switch from making one thing to another quickly, without having to stop production for what can amount to several days in order to retool conventional machines and instruct manual workers.”

“Sneakerheads are likely to approve … Leaving behind manual production methods will allow Adidas to come up with novel shapes and finishes. One new material the firm has already experimented with is Biosteel, a synthetic silk made by AMSilk, a German biotech company. Production will also become more customised, perhaps even with bespoke trainers fashioned from a computer scan of how a person walks or runs.”

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Alit Crafts Winery Transparency

Quartz: Mark Tarlov’s “plan is to do for wine what Everlane has done for cashmere sweaters: eliminate distributors and retailers to bring what would traditionally be a $60-100 bottle of wine to online customers for a fraction of the cost. Also like Everlane, he wants to upend the status quo by publicly declaring his input costs—crafting the story of how he spends those dollars into an accessible course in wine appreciation.”

“Wine pricing is generally opaque—more an art than a science. But Tarlov clearly lists the input costs for his on Alit’s website, outlining just what customers are paying for when they fork over $27.45 for a bottle of his 2015 Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.”

“Alit’s Pinot Noir is still more than double the average price for wine purchased in the US—even if it’s relatively inexpensive for a French oak-aged Pinot from Willamette Valley. But Tarlov is telling customers the investment is directly reflected in the product.”

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Domino’s Dominates: Bigger Than Google

Quartz: “Domino’s pizza was once known as the pie with a cardboard crust whose sauce tasted like ketchup. In 2010, its then-new CEO, Patrick Doyle, decided to own those badges of dishonor in a series of surprisingly candid ads … According to Harvard Business review, facing the brutal criticism and revisiting its pizza recipe that year was partly why the CEO was able to rewrite Domino’s market history with the kind of turnaround story that investors love.”

“Doyle’s dedication to remapping the company’s delivery systems with new tech solutions was the other, and perhaps more influential, factor that led to rallying stock price. (The stock was trading at just under $9 per share in 2010; it’s now above $160.) … Charlie Billelo, an analyst, tweeted: “Two revolutionary companies went public in the summer of 2004. These are their returns…Google (Alphabet): +1,555% Domino’s Pizza: +2,401%.”

“Last year, Doyle said he believed Domino’s was one of the top five e-commerce sites in the world, and reported that more than 50% of Domino’s global pizza orders were digital. At the same time, clever gimmicks— allowing customers to order pizza by emoji, for instance—have given Domino’s a fresher image. Recently the company made the world’s first drone delivery. (Only available in New Zealand, for now.)”

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