You Don’t Have to be Weird to be Weird

Slate: “About 15 years ago, an independent bookseller in Texas went to battle against the specter of mega-bookstore invasion. His weapon of choice was something a purveyor of books knew best: a word. And the word was weird … He printed 5,000 bumper stickers urging citizens to KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD … The stickers flew off the shelves. And the Borders bookstore was never built in downtown Austin.”

“Weird campaigns have spread to communities in more than a dozen states. What do they all have in common? The cities have fewer than 1 million people, but most are growing. Many are state capitals or county seats and most have a vibrant arts scene. They all seem to have a strong sense of what makes them unique, and a grassroots urge to stay that way.”

“Despite its countercultural bona fides, weird has economic power. From indie booksellers to microbrews and real estate, leveraging quirkiness is good for business. Weird isn’t just a way of being, it’s an economic strategy, one that has the rough-hewn, indie-rock air of an anti-strategy … Underneath it all, the affinity for weirdness harkens back to the oldest origins of wyrd, which conjured mastery over the fates.”

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Silver Screeners: A New ‘Golden Age’ in Cinema

The Guardian: “In America and Canada, 15% of over-60s were defined as ‘frequent moviegoers’ in 2015, up from 14% the year before and 10% the year before that. It is a similar story in the UK, where between 2008 and 2015 the share of over-55s in the audience increased every year (apart from 2011), hitting a peak of 12.5% last year.”

“More than the actual films though, it is the surrounding experience at the cinema that is pulling this generation through the doors … comfort levels have been rising dramatically as ‘silver screeners’ attend in greater numbers.” For example: “An increase in depth, as well as the width, of seats means that often you now don’t have to stand up to allow others to get by on their way to the toilet.”

” … Unlike in multiplexes, independent cinemas look to create a welcoming environment for older people by making sure sound-absorbent materials are fitted into front of house areas so that customers can ‘hear one another without difficulty’ … cinemas are also increasingly convenient for a mature audience to access … instead of making the traditional move to seaside resorts, a large chunk of well-to-do retirees … are instead opting for market towns where they can continue to be active. As wealthy pensioners increasingly live in urban hubs, going to the movies has never been easier for them.”

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Cracker Barrel Tries ‘Hipster’ Makeover

USA Today: “You might be surprised to find fashion-forward apparel and wooden platters hand carved by artisans in the Philippines next to Yankee Candles and Christmas decorations at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. But the restaurant chain known for Southern food and homey gift shops filled with trinkets has slowly expanded its retail mix to lure a new, much younger demographic.”

“It’s quite a change for the 641-unit chain started 47 years ago as a single store on Highway 109 in Lebanon, Tenn. Cracker Barrel’s attempt to reinvigorate its brand is visible across departments, from its use of social media platform Snapchat for marketing purposes to exclusive music releases with hot pop groups like Needtobreathe. Lately, younger shoppers have been drawn to the vintage soda wall with options that include Southern soft drink brand Cheerwine and Ale-8-One, artisan home decor, stained-glass lamps, retro T-shirts and vintage candies like Necco Wafers and Double Bubble.”

“The tricky part of the effort is attracting younger customers without putting off the older ones … The move to attract Millennials comes as Cracker Barrel faces the same dilemmas as many other traditional restaurant chains: a growing consumer preference for more casual dining concepts.”

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Grass-Fed Beef: Not a ‘Luxury’ Anymore

The Wall Street Journal: “Grass-fed beef, once a niche luxury, is now sold at ballgames, convention centers and nearly every Wal-Mart in the U.S. Beef labeled as grass-fed connotes much more than cattle that were raised in a pasture, say grocers and restaurateurs. Many consumers perceive grass-fed beef as a healthier, higher-quality alternative to conventional beef and are willing to pay more for it, no matter that labeling—and flavor—can be inconsistent.”

“Not every retailer is onboard. Costco Wholesale Corp., the country’s second largest retailer after Wal-Mart, doesn’t sell grass-fed beef, though it sells organic ground beef in every U.S. store. The definition of grass-fed beef is still too ambiguous, the taste too inconsistent and Costco consumers gravitate most to an ‘organic’ label for now, says Jeff Lyons, Costco’s senior vice president of fresh foods.”

“Theo Weening, Whole Foods’ global meat coordinator, expects demand for grass-fed beef to grow well beyond human appetites. ‘When a customer likes grass-fed beef and they have a dog, they want the dog to have grass-fed beef, too,’ he says.”

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Kola House: Pepsi Pushes Cola Buzz

The Wall Street Journal: Pepsi’s Kola House, a new bar in NY’s Meatpacking District is mixing kola nuts “into cocktails such as the Curcuma, billed as an ‘enhancing appetizer of African and arabesque aromatics’ with turmeric, lemon and honeydew, and the Kola Love, a ‘dessert elixir and libido enhancer’ with red wine, vanilla and whipped cream. ‘We like to give people a flavor experience they haven’t had before,’ said Kola House flavor chemist Alex Ott, who trained as a biochemist in Germany.”

“Beverage-industry observers say companies like PepsiCo … are making a push into the bar scene, particularly in the all-important New York market, to reconnect with consumers who have lost interest in sugary sodas. Bars are ‘a great place if you want to get soft drinks in front of millennials,’ said Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest, a trade publication.”

“The cola buzz is also being driven by bartenders who see it as a way to jolt cocktails with flavor, reminiscent of the complex, heavily spiced cola drinks of the 19th century. Q Drinks’s Kola soda, for example, incorporates cloves, nutmeg, coriander and citrus, among other ingredients. The flavor is tangy, sweet and savory, said Jordan Silbert, the company’s founder and chief executive, but also familiar.”

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Chase Sapphire Reserve & Millennials

Quartz: By one estimate, 63% of millennials don’t have credit cards, so it’s curious they’re suddenly fawning over a new, perhaps viral, card on the market. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been a hit since it was revealed in late August … The Sapphire Reserve, which is embedded with metal making it heavier than typical credit cards, proved so popular that Chase actually ran out, leading it to issue temporary plastic cards.”

“Banks have had a hard time courting millennials, but Chase believes it’s cracked the code by tapping into their wanderlust. The perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve include lounge access at airports, a $300 annual travel credit, a $100 credit toward an application for TSA Global Entry or Pre-Check (both programs expedite airport screening), and three points for every dollar spent on travel and dining.”

“These perks were carefully calculated by the bank to lure millennials. At a conference held by Barclays this month, JP Morgan’s head of consumer banking, Gordon Smith, gave a presentation that said ‘millennials spend more of their wallet on experiences than other generations,’ according to a deck obtained by Quartz. It defines “experiences” as travel, entertainment, and dining.”

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Time, Money & The Roots of Happiness

The New York Times: “Given the choice between more time or more money, which would you pick? … Which would lead to greater happiness — the money or the time? … For a research project, we put this question to more than 4,000 Americans of different ages, income levels, occupations and marital and parental status. In a paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, which we wrote with our student Uri Barnea, we found that most people valued money more than time. Sixty-four percent of the 4,415 people we asked in five surveys chose money.”

‘We had also asked our survey respondents to report their level of happiness and life satisfaction. We found that the people who chose time were on average statistically happier and more satisfied with life than the people who chose money … But maybe this result simply shows that the people who chose money are more financially constrained and therefore less happy. To check this, we also asked respondents to report their annual household income along with the number of hours they work each week (to measure how much time they have).”

“We found that even when we held constant the amount of leisure time and money respondents had (as well as their age, gender, marital status, parental status and the extent to which they valued material possessions), the people who chose time over money were still happier. So if we were to take two people who were otherwise the same, the one who chose time over money would be happier than the one who chose money over time.”

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Zalando: Fashion, Emotion & Ecommerce

The Economist: “One of Europe’s most interesting technology companies sells shoes and threads … Zalando has a Silicon Valley-inspired work environment, holding “f**k-up nights’ to celebrate failure and ‘hack weeks’ to cook up new ideas. It encourages its employees to abandon hierarchy and structure for what it calls ‘radical agility.’ It has a 1,350-strong, and rapidly growing, technology team. Among its other assets are its software, which it built itself, and its user-friendly apps (two-thirds of all traffic goes through mobile phones).”

“Zalando pays close attention to data. It gleans a wealth of numbers from the more-than-5m daily visits to its site, and some brands and retailers of the bricks-and-mortar sort give it access to their stock counts. Both sets of figures help improve the firm’s forecasting of fickle fashion trends, its use of targeted ads and the speed of its responses to shifts in weather patterns or fashion tastes. Through data-mining it can spot the trendsetters among its customers and stock up on what they buy. In future it wants to sell its insights to the rest of the industry.”

“Amazon is pursuing the more price-conscious shopper, whereas Zalando is after a higher-value, more brand-conscious segment. The company believes that for such customers, shopping for clothes, shoes and accessories is an emotional activity; shopping on Amazon is just a transaction.”

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Abercrombie & The Demographics of Fashion

Business Insider: “Abercrombie has been trying to save itself for a while now, reinventing its image and as a result becoming totally unrecognizable to the generation of kids who grew up shopping there in the late ’90s and early aughts. The goal was to appeal to older shoppers — 18 to 25 year olds, not teens … In theory, this was a smart idea … this would open the gates to a demographic with more spending money. The move would also help Abercrombie set itself apart from its more teen-friendly sister brand, Hollister … But the brand’s attempt to execute a turnaround is proving to be very difficult.”

Eric Beder of Wunderlich Securities comments: “While the shift to an older customer is a strategy for Abercrombie, we see limited reasons for older customers to shift back to a ‘teen’ brand and, frankly, there are better brands and lifestyles for the 20+ customer to focus on.”

Betty Chen, managing director of Mizuho Securities adds: “In the history of retail, it is very difficult when a brand tries to reposition itself anywhere along the age demographic. You can almost predict failure when you’re going older or younger.”

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Lowering The Bar: Soap Loses Lather

The Washington Post: “More than half of consumers — 55 percent — say bar soap is inconvenient when compared to liquid varieties, according to a new report by research firm Mintel. Among their chief complaints: Bar soaps leave residue in the shower, require a dish for storage, and aren’t as long-lasting as liquid options.

“An earlier study by Mintel found millennials are eschewing cereal for similar reasons. Roughly 40 percent of those surveyed by Mintel said ‘cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it,’ according to The New York Times. As a result, cereal sales have slipped by nearly 30 percent since 2000.”

“But when it comes to soap, the perception of cleanliness may also be a factor. Nearly half of those surveyed said they believe bar soaps are often covered in germs, a view that was more widely held among younger consumers than older ones.”

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