Public Hotel: Ian Shraeger’s Airbnb Killer?

The Wall Street Journal: “Stroll into Public, a full-service, 367-room hotel that opened this summer on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and it quickly becomes apparent that certain features are nowhere to be found … Guests check in via a series of self-service tablets along a wall, where they can find their reservations, create their own room keys and proceed up an elevator to their rooms. If questions arise, they’re answered by a handful of roving, jack-of-all-trades staffers known as ‘Public advisors’.”

“These cost-cutting efficiencies are all part of an attempt by Ian Schrager, the veteran hotelier and night life impresario who owns Public, to fight back against Airbnb Inc. on behalf of the hotel industry, which he believes hasn’t properly assessed the challenge posed by the tech upstart … he aims to better compete with Airbnb on nightly rates and offer superior amenities such as bars and other places to socialize … Mr. Schrager’s new concept fuses a sprawling bar and restaurant operation onto the property, deriving revenue and profits from amenities that are meant to attract a much larger crowd than just the hotel’s guests.”

“Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor at New York University’s hospitality program, said Mr. Schrager’s concept flips the traditional role of food and beverage in hotels. Rather than being a less-profitable service that a hotel must provide as an amenity to guests, Public’s food-and-beverage offerings are meant to be a centerpiece that can ultimately drive more room occupancy, he said … The hotel’s rates officially start at $150 and increase during high-demand times, such as fashion week. In early August, rates started at $250, with some last-minute online rates as low as $180—well below the rates of upscale, full-service Manhattan hotels, which typically range higher than $500.”

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Kmart #7749: A Throwback Experience

Anne Kadet: “The unassuming entrance fronting Penn Station’s lower concourse is easy to miss. But hang a right at the beauty aisle and suddenly you’re confronted with a vast, multistory array of merchandise that feels totally unexpected. Who knew you could buy fishing rods and beanbag fill at Penn Station? Not only is the Kmart #7749 dreamlike in size and scope, it’s also a bit of a time capsule. From the scuffed linoleum to the signs promoting layaway plans, it recalls a simpler era, before big-box stores started with the self-checkouts and baby kale. It functions almost like a three-story bodega.”

“Now, it’s fascinating to compare Manhattan’s Kmarts to, say, the new Target store in Downtown Brooklyn … Target gives the impression that every inch of shelf space was carefully planned by a team of Wharton business school grads. Kmart’s displays often look like what your mom might create after too many hits of espresso … you can buy a 3-foot-tall lion garden sculpture or find a “Deal Flash” on audio Bibles. A display of 2018 calendar planners sits next to the houseplants, which abut a bin of leopard-print boxer shorts.”

“Moreover, with their often relaxed pace, the Manhattan Kmarts are perhaps the most peaceful locations in their respective neighborhoods. The regulars say they appreciate that … Kmart wouldn’t comment on the stores’ performance relative to other locations, but district manager Richard Trksak said sales have grown due to the tourist-focused shop added to the front of the Penn Plaza store, and a convenience store tucked into the Astor Place location that sells snacks, drinks and apparel from nearby NYU.”

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J. Press Store Revives Its Yalie Roots

The Wall Street Journal: Preppy clothing retailer J. Press said it is trying to ignite U.S. sales by opening a store in the Midtown Manhattan building that houses the Yale Club this October … The proximity to the Yale Club represents a homecoming of sorts for J. Press, which began by selling ties, belts and odd trousers near the school’s New Haven, Conn., campus in 1905. The brand is known in preppy circles for its embroidered collegiate logos and cocktail-themed accessories such as needlepoint martini-themed cuff links.”

“The move near the Yale Club is one of the biggest investments for the brand in a long time, according to Jun Murakami, chief executive officer of Japanese company Onward USA, whose parent owns J. Press. He added the Midtown space is expected to generate 25% of total U.S. sales. Mr. Murakami also said he forecasts 30% of J. Press’s sales will be generated online in the near future, and the company hopes to increase that number to 50% by relaunching its website and boosting its presence on social media.”

“Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group, believes J. Press has a ‘tremendous opportunity’ because the brand is still strong with U.S. consumers.” He comments: “The challenge is that they’re climbing up a hill selling tailored clothing in a casual environment. But there are times when the younger generation needs to get that job or go to a wedding, even in a less dressy world.”

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Late & Great: Lotfi Zadeh

The New York Times: “Lotfi Zadeh, the computer scientist and electrical engineer whose theories of “fuzzy logic” rippled across academia and industry, influencing everything from linguistics, economics and medicine to air-conditioners, vacuum cleaners and rice cookers, died on Wednesday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 96 … Emerging from an academic paper Mr. Zadeh published in 1965 as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, ‘fuzzy logic,’ as he called it, was an ambitious effort to close the gap between mathematics and the intuitive way that humans talk, think and interact with the world.”

“If someone asks you to identify ‘a very tall man,’ for instance, you can easily do so — even if you are not given a specific height. Similarly, you can balance a broom handle on your finger without calculating how far it can lean in one direction without toppling over … Rather than creating strict boundaries for real world concepts, he made the boundaries ‘fuzzy.’ Something was not in or out, for example. It sat somewhere on the continuum between in and out, and at any given moment a set of more complex rules defined inclusion.”

Fuzzy logic “could provide a way for insurance companies to assess damage after an earthquake, for instance. Is the damage serious, moderate or minimal under company rules? Fuzzy sets could help … The method could also help build machinery and electronics that gradually move from one state to another, like an automobile transmission, which shifts smoothly from first gear to second, or a thermostat, which flows just as smoothly from hot to cold. Hot and cold need not be precisely defined. They could exist on a continuum.”

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Nordstrom Local: Manicures, Not Merchandise

The Wall Street Journal: “Nordstrom Inc. is opening a new store next month that is a fraction of the size of its typical locations, where shoppers will be able to enjoy services such as manicures and on-site tailoring. Something it won’t carry: clothes … Nordstrom Local, scheduled to open Oct. 3 in West Hollywood, Calif., will span 3,000 square feet, far less than the 140,000 square feet of one of Nordstrom’s standard department stores.”

“It will contain eight dressing rooms, where shoppers can try on clothes and accessories, though the store won’t stock them. Instead, personal stylists will retrieve goods from nine Nordstrom locations in Los Angeles, or through its website. The stylists can also pull together looks for shoppers through a ‘style board’ app.”

“In addition to manicures, Nordstrom Local shoppers will be able to order wine, beer, coffee or juice from an in-store bar, and those who place orders on Nordstrom.com by 2 p.m. can pick them up there that day. They will also be able to return items at the store that they bought online or from other Nordstrom locations. Tailors will be available for alterations or to help members of Trunk Club, an online clothing service that Nordstrom acquired in 2014, select fabrics for custom garments.”

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Perennial Seller: Make Connections, Not News

The Wall Street Journal: In Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday “emphasizes the value of low prices and word of mouth over press coverage. Raymond Chandler, he writes, became the ‘quintessential detective author’ because he encouraged his publishers to sell his books as pulp paperbacks, for 25 cents a copy. Suddenly his books went from selling a few thousand copies in bookstores to hundreds of thousands in gas stations, train stations and cigar stores. Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe followed.”

“Likewise, the comedian Drew Carey’s long run on network television began with an invitation from Johnny Carson to appear on “The Tonight Show.” Validation by one person whose opinion is valued, Mr. Holiday argues, is worth all the press coverage in the world.”

“Iron Maiden has never relied on hit singles or frequent radio play, since its songs often run to 10 minutes, with solos from each of its three guitarists. Instead, the band has toured almost nonstop, building close connections with thousands of fans who now buy almost anything it puts out, from albums to beer to belt buckles. Its core of hard-core fans, Mr. Holiday writes, has allowed Iron Maiden to ‘endure through fads, technological shifts, and the fact that their music was never mainstream’.”

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As The Bombardier Bombs, So Bombs The Bombardier

The Wall Street Journal: “Four years after its maiden flight, only two small European airlines fly the Bombardier C Series of 100- and 145-passenger planes. Delta will begin flying the plane next year. While there are many reasons for the slow sales, the lack of interest highlights the low priority airlines and passengers place on comfort.”

“The two airlines currently flying the C Series—Swiss and Air Baltic—say most coach passengers won’t pay higher fares for comfy cabins. For a small fare difference, they’ll still pick less-comfortable airplanes. Airlines say cost is the No. 1 factor when evaluating new airplanes.”

Martin Gauss, chief executive of Air Baltic, comments: “Passengers get into anything that flies if the ticket is cheap.”

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The Color Blue: Why Does Everybody Love It?

Artsy: “Studies as early as 1941 indicated that bluish hues were the most preferred; just this summer, the world’s favorite color was declared to be a particular shade of greenish-blue (or was it bluish-green?) based on a 30,000-person survey canvassing 100 countries. It’s a predilection that isn’t limited to a particular geography or gender or even political affiliation—as it turns out, even Republicans generally prefer blue, too.”

“According to research conducted by psychologists Stephen E. Palmer and Karen Schloss over the last seven years, the answer isn’t found in our DNA. Their study, published in 2010, posits that a person’s preference for a given color can be determined by averaging out how much that person likes all of the objects they associate with that color … we associate blue largely with the sky and water (as well as more mundane, but neutral-to-positive, items such as ballpoint pens and blue jeans), raising the average preference for blue higher than the remainder of the rainbow.”

“Schloss has also found that color preferences vary depending on the time of year, pegged to the changing of the seasons. Typically, the colors of autumn—golden yellows, browns, dark reds—are the least-liked on the color wheel. But surveys conducted in the fall reveal an increased preference for these dark, warm shades, when participants most closely associate them with festive things like hayrides and pumpkin patches … And tastes can shift even more rapidly. On Election Day, for example, Republicans’ party-based preference for red spikes (during the rest of the year, their favorite color is actually overwhelmingly blue—surprisingly, in higher numbers than blue-state Democrats).”

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The Future of Toys: Dual Play

The Wall Street Journal: “Digital offerings aren’t threatening to wipe out physical toys anytime soon. Kids ‘are still reading books, still using Legos, people are making a place for physical toys,’ said Judy Ishayik, owner of Mary Arnold Toys, an independent toy shop in Manhattan. But, she said, ‘there’s more dual play,’ where physical toys are paired with a digital component. She pointed to Crayola, owned by Hallmark Cards Inc., which rolled out an app that turns coloring-book creations into animated online representations. Hasbro Inc.’s Love2Learn Elmo app provides children with a way of interacting verbally with their Elmo dolls.”

“Play on touch-screen devices outranks all other kinds of play in frequency—including with blocks, board games and puzzles—according to a 2014 survey by New York research firm Michael Cohen Group of 350 parents with children age 12 and under.”

“Some of Lego’s recent woes are because toys tied to movies have underperformed retailers’ and manufacturers’ expectations. Lego products tied to last year’s ‘Star Wars’ movie, ‘Rogue One,’ didn’t generate the same excitement as had the prior installment, ‘The Force Awakens,’ which was the first ‘Star Wars’ movie in a decade … Another big bet that didn’t fully deliver: the company’s second movie based on its toys, called ‘Lego Batman. Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. said toys tied to the movie missed sales goals, even though Lego spent heavily to try to boost interest.”

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Amy’s Drive-Thru: Meat-Free Fast Food

Fast Company: “Amy’s Drive Thru is America’s first vegetarian, organic, gluten-free-optional fast-food restaurant, and much to the surprise of the owners, it’s doing more than holding its own against its greasy competitors … Business has been so booming at Amy’s Drive Thru in its two years of operation that it’s beginning a chain.”

“For 29 years, the Petaluma, California-based Amy’s Kitchen has gained a cult following as a purveyor of family-style, vegetarian frozen meals, from macaroni and cheese to burritos, all handmade fresh in three operating facilities across California, Oregon, and Idaho, and shipped nationwide … The drive-through is powered by solar panels, and the tableware is recyclable. Using mostly organic and local produce for ingredients is more expensive, but it’s what customers expect from the company.”

“Whereas a standard fast-food restaurant has around 15 employees per outpost, Amy’s Drive Thru employs over 90 because it takes many more people to prepare the food … A true cross-country empire of Amy’s locations is still far off … The company wants to expand slowly, to ensure that they can partner with local farmers and producers around each location … and to understand where the drive-throughs could have the greatest effect in breaking up health-food deserts.”

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