Paper Tigers: Calendars Keep Their Cool

The New York Times: “It may seem counterintuitive that a print product can thrive in the digital age. But the continued success of some paper calendars mirrors that of printed books, an industry that several years ago was confronting what seemed like the very real possibility that e-books would outsell the printed variety. Instead, a Pew survey this fall found that most readers still preferred their reading material printed on paper.”

“Bertel King Jr., in a blog post last year for Make Use Of, a technology and productivity site, made the case for paper calendars.” He wrote: “Having to open another tab, fire up another piece of software, or launch another app to access my calendar amounts to one more onscreen thing vying for my attention. Suddenly a paper planner starts to make sense.”

“Melissa Ralston, marketing director for BIC Graphic, said in an email that companies have found paper calendars to be an effective advertising vehicle with a mass market appeal. She said studies have found that 82 percent of recipients enjoy getting a calendar as a complimentary gift and 70 percent plan to do business with the company that provided the calendar.”

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Sneaker Culture: The Politics of Footwear

The Atlantic: “Though it’s been touring the U.S. since it opened in Toronto in 2013, the exhibition Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture generated frantic curatorial discussions … As the exhibition shows, over the last 200 years, sneakers have signified everything from national identity, race, and class to masculinity and criminality; put simply, they are magnets for social and political meaning, intended or otherwise, in a way that sets them apart from other types of footwear.”

“Politics … fueled the rise of sneakers as much as athletics … Mass exercise rallies were features of fascist life in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But sneakers could also represent resistance. Jesse Owens’ dominance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games stung the event’s Nazi hosts even more because he trained in German-made Dassler running shoes … Sneakers became footnotes in the history of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965, I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to feature a black actor—Bill Cosby—in a lead role. His character, a fun-loving CIA agent going undercover as a tennis coach, habitually wore white Adidas sneakers, easily identifiable by their prominent trio of stripes.”

“The growing popularity of sneakers on both sides of the political divide set the stage for a raging culture war over the shoes’ ties to criminality, or lack thereof … sneakers evolved from symbolic consumer objects into small-batch vehicles for unambiguous social commentary. In one notable example, the artist Judi Werthein designed the 2005 Brinco cross-trainer to assist with illegal border crossings from Mexico. Werthein distributed Brincos to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border for free, while also selling them to sneakerheads for $215 per pair at a San Diego boutique.”

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Beltway Plaza: The Future of Malls?

The Washington Post: “At Beltway Plaza, Spanish rings out from every aisle and the food court is populated by not Taco Bells, but various immigrant cuisines … Mostly, Beltway Plaza has found a niche as a large — and faintly 1980s — urban souk, hawking the necessities, and the oddities, of immigrant life … In a retail landscape that is increasingly bleak, could this be this the future of malls? … It’s the quintessential American mall, once flush with people, now scraping along as national retailers shudder.”

“Local real estate magnate Sidney J. Brown opened Beltway Plaza as an open-air discount mall in 1963 in Greenbelt, one of only three garden-filled towns in America developed for low-income families in the late 1930s under the New Deal … Greenbelt, envisioned as city filled with smartly manicured greenscape, eventually came to look more like a thicket of concrete and strip malls. But the mall, with its awfully affordable S. Klein Department store, a two-screen movie theater and a pizza parlor, was a hit.”

“At Jo-Ann Fabric, the sewing aisle, a beacon of immigrant industriousness, was humming … We trek to Import Cottage, where you can purchase brazen replica Louis Vuitton suitcases, large laundry bags emblazoned with ‘Charm of Africa’ and untarnished Indian costume jewelry … A stroll across the mall’s dated white-tiled corridors takes you past a cookie place that is not Mrs. Fields and a restaurant that is not Panda Express but Jodeem African Cuisine, offering the Ni­ger­ian specialties ogbono soup and fufu. There’s an El Taco Rico, about as large as a broom closet and just as dark.”

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Food Trends: Buddha Bowls & Ugly Fruit

The New York Times: “Each December, lists of culinary forecasts pour forth from public relations companies trying to elevate their profiles, food companies looking to sell more food and professional associations hoping to guide chefs as they try to translate the zeitgeist into menu items. Social media wonks have jumped into the pool, too, eager to show off their powerful search analytics.”

“Meals in a bowl are … driven by … yoga, Gwyneth Paltrow, the gluten-free movement, a new appetite for Asian street food and the demand for grab-and-go convenience … It doesn’t hurt that food in bowls can be visually attractive, perfect for an Instagram feed. At Pinterest, which is used by 150 million people a month, Buddha bowls filled with simple vegan or vegetarian ingredients are among the top items that users post. The name evokes the mindfulness with which a monk holds a bowl of food.”

“Lynn Dornblaser, the director of innovation and insight for Mintel, has been trend-spotting for 30 years … The most important development on her list, she said, is the idea that healthful food and drinks are not luxuries … pointing to the growing sales of imperfect fruits and vegetables, often marketed as ‘ugly produce.’ She comments: “People who earn less than $50,000 a year are not buying gourmet olive oil or having Blue Apron delivered. But they’ve got a need for quality products just like everyone else does.”

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Holiday Seasonings: Egg Nog is Cool Again

The Wall Street Journal: “Pumpkin sprawls its way through supermarkets from September to November, appearing in foods from English muffins to yogurt. But many consumers reach pumpkin saturation by Thanksgiving. Food companies are trying to extend shoppers’ enthusiasm for a limited-time seasonal flavor into December to eggnog … Eggnog is appearing as a limited-edition flavor in other foods and beverages from Turkey Hill Egg Nog Ice Cream to an Eggnog Stout beer by Spring House Brewing Co … Starbucks sells an Eggnog Latte starting in November, while Peet’s Coffee’s Eggnog Latte pulls in customers during the holidays who are less likely to be regular coffee drinkers.”

“Eggnog may be a full-fat beverage, but that is less of a turnoff now that full-fat yogurt and milk are back in fashion among health-conscious shoppers … Its quirky, retro vibe is particularly appealing to consumers in their 20s and 30s.” Food consultant Amy Shipley comments: “There’s a whole rediscovering eggnog is cool again. People love something that they indulge in for just a few weeks.”

“Jelly Belly Candy Co. reintroduced its eggnog jelly bean flavor two years ago. Sales of the flavor are up 20% this year, says John Pola, vice president of specialty sales. ‘It has become the identifiable seasonal flavor,’ he says. While pumpkin jelly bean sales still outpace eggnog jelly beans, Mr. Pola sees that shifting. The company’s Christmas business is five times Halloween and Thanksgiving put together, he says.”

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Primark & The Art of Bargain Shopping

The Wall Street Journal: “Shopping at Primark stores, stylish Brits know, requires strategy and skill. As many retailers struggle, the destination for trendy $5 sweaters and colorful $3 T-shirts is planning to expand in the U.S. beyond the handful of stores it currently has in the Northeast. The store doesn’t sell online, but operates in nine countries outside its home in the U.K. and Ireland. Its six U.S. stores include one at the original site of Filene’s Basement in Boston.”

“To visit Primark is to navigate throngs of people. They hunt through crammed racks for jeans that look almost like a pair spotted on the runway but at a fraction of the price, with the fear that they may disappear into another shopper’s arms in minutes … Primark stores are large, and product moves quickly. The largest store, in Manchester (UK), occupies 155,000-square feet over three floors.”

“On a recent tour around London’s flagship Primark store on Oxford Street, David Latham, commercial director of Primark, said products are generally organized into three categories. First, there are ‘basics,’ such as plain T-shirts and undergarments that might go for around £2. Then, there are ‘essential’ items like denim roughly in the £8 range. Finally, there are fashion items, which likely have higher price points and more in-demand looks. He recommended mixing and matching across these three categories. Savvy locals, said Mr. Lathan, come into the store ‘three to four times a week’.”

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The Drop: Fashion, Media & Millennials

The New York Times: Kylie Jenner “is part of a growing cohort of both individuals and brands that have embraced the sales strategy known as the ‘drop.’ It works like this: A seller controls the release of exclusive new items outside the traditional fashion cycle, cleverly marketing the impending arrival of the product to build demand. Pioneered almost two decades ago by the American skate wear brand Supreme, which took its cues from the Japanese street wear scene, the trend has gained particular momentum in recent years thanks to its adoption by some in the booming limited-edition sneaker industry: Kanye West’s Yeezy line with Adidas, for example, and Nike’s Air Jordans.”

Avery Booker, the chief executive of Enflux, comments: “They are excited not just by a product’s rarity, but also by what credibility owning that product can give them within their social media communities, as well as its possible resale value.”

“The flourishing secondary markets, fueled by online resellers and prompted by the growing clout of drop culture, has been one of the most significant changes to the retail landscape in recent years. Mere hours after the latest Kylie Lip Kit, Supreme sneaker or H&M/Alexander Wang piece has sold out on official distribution channels, these items are often available elsewhere on the internet, though with one or more zeros added to the price … The overwhelming majority of drop customers, whatever the product, are younger than 30.”

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Mall Shopping: Cool as School?

The Wall Street Journal: “Move over restaurants and movie theaters. Mall landlords are turning to education providers to fix their tenant mix. The goal: to add tenants that can engage people in creative ways or teach new things in a casual environment. This will keep customers coming back on a regular basis, the thinking goes.”

“Cookware retailer Sur La Table, which has more than 100 stores across the country, now offers cooking classes such as pizza making and knife skills, while home-goods retailer Williams-Sonoma offers cooking and junior chef classes. Both are being courted by shopping center landlords, analysts said. In areas where outdoors enthusiasts abound, stores that sell hunting and camping gear also offer classes on firearms safety and emergency survival.”

“Likewise, merchants offering cooking, performing arts, crafts classes and lessons in rock climbing are gaining traction in enclosed malls and open air centers around the US … Crayola Experience, launched in 2013, offers live shows on how crayons are made in the factory, and rotating shows on the science behind color and Crayola products, such as Silly Putty … Crayola’s executives like malls that are easily accessible with road and highway access and offer ample parking and safety.”

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Children’s Museums: Nightclubs for Grown-Ups

The Wall Street Journal: “Across the country, children’s museums and family-oriented exhibits open for ticketed, adults-only special events that allow grown-ups to clamber up three-story climbing structures, sit atop bulldozers and spell out words on giant light walls—often while enjoying a cocktail. Museum administrators say it serves as an extra revenue stream, and a way to reach an audience of younger adults, many of whom don’t have children but are potential future family guests and philanthropic donors.”

“Thinkery, the children’s museum in Austin, Texas, hosted its sold-out adult holiday party, coined JingleBooze, earlier in December. With giant red and white candies hanging from the ceiling and walls covered in wrapping paper, about 650 guests paid between $17 and $40 to get in. They sipped Whiskey A Ho Ho Ho cocktails, decorated gingerbread houses and hugged puppies provided by the Austin Humane Society.”

“One of its most popular events this year was The Science of Sex, pegged to Valentine’s Day. The multilevel tunnels and slides of its outdoor playscape were reimagined as the female reproductive system. Another event, Transformations, included instruction on the aging of cheese, information about the history of Austin and a drag show. Among Ms. Barnett’s favorite guest responses, she says, was a woman who happily pointed to the stage featuring men in gowns and heavy makeup and said, ‘My 4-year-old was standing there yesterday’.”

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Roobox: The Amazon of Meal Delivery

The Wall Street Journal: “Just as Amazon figured out how to mail extra-large TVs to customers within a day, meal-delivery services are racing to get your favorite burrito—previously available only at that downtown taquería several gridlocked miles away—to your home within 30 minutes. Amazon.com Inc., Uber Technologies Inc., GrubHub Inc. and Postmates, as well as scores of smaller competitors, have all jumped into the business.”

“Deliveroo has so far set up one brick-and-mortar kitchen and seven shipping-container sites across the mostly residential areas of Battersea and Dulwich in south London. Chefs from some of the city’s restaurants cook up meals in the new spaces, called RooBoxes, turning them into mini-distribution hubs for Deliveroo’s fleet of moped- and bike-riding delivery contractors.”

“Rohan Pradhan, Deliveroo’s director of special projects, said the company crunched data to figure out which neighborhoods had demand but not enough supply, and to identify restaurants most likely to succeed in those areas … The RooBox concept still has kinks. Deliveroo is trying to cheer up chefs accustomed to a dining room’s bustle by adding a break room with a Playstation.”

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