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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How Whole Foods Steals Walmart Shoppers

Business Insider: “When Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods formally went through in August, the e-commerce giant immediately made some changes — most notably, significant price cuts … The biggest source of foot traffic for Whole Foods were regular Walmart shoppers. People who visited Walmart at least twice a month accounted for 24% of new Whole Foods customers the week of the price cuts.”

“Across the board, the customers who defected to Whole Foods from grocery rivals were wealthier than the retailers’ average shopper … Walmart’s regular customers’ average income is $59,264, according to Thasos data; the average income of a regular Walmart customer that is defecting to Whole Foods, however, is $71,697 … While Walmart has aimed for more aspirational customers as Whole Foods cuts prices, Thasos data proves that both retailers are competing for the same shopper: the upper-middle class customer who is increasingly important as wages stagnate for much of the US.”

“All of this means that wealthier shoppers are increasingly influential, forcing bargain-centric retailers like Walmart to expand into more aspirational brands … Walmart is gearing up to cash in on wealthier customers, especially as it expands its e-commerce lines. Whole Foods winning over high-income customers could force Walmart on the offensive in this battle — one that both retailers are determined to win.”

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Costco Knockoffs: It’s Cruel to Be KIND

The Wall Street Journal: “Kirkland Signature, Costco’s store brand, is challenging manufacturers hoping to earn or retain a coveted spot at the warehouse retailer. Since 1995, Costco has used its Kirkland products to attract shoppers, building a reputation for quality and low prices on milk, toilet paper, men’s shirts and golf balls bearing the unassuming red logo. About a quarter of Costco’s $118.7 billion in annual sales come from Kirkland Signature products, and the percentage is growing, company executives say.”

“Costco often introduces a new Kirkland product when its buyers or executives believe a brand isn’t selling at the lowest possible price.” For example: “Kind Bars sold for about $18 for a pack of 18 … When almond prices dropped in 2016 … Costco developed the Kirkland Signature Nut Bars, made by Leclerc Foods USA, which is owned by Leclerc Group, a Canadian manufacturer, and now sells a 30-pack for $17 in stores.”

“Kind Bars are still carried at Costco, though mostly new varieties, including fruit bars, mini nut bars and a peanut-free bar. ‘We look forward to continuing to grow with them,’ a Kind spokeswoman said.”

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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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Eataly Regulars: Try Some & Buy Some

The New York Times: “Eataly NYC Flatiron, which opened in August 2010, has become a popular attraction for tourists. They pack the 50,000 square-foot Italian food emporium, cameras in hand, to buy Italian imports and dine at its several restaurants. But in the produce section, there’s nary a tourist in sight. This is where regulars … stock up on their fruits and vegetables. Produce is delivered and restocked twice daily. Some of it, like blood oranges, Italian frisée and radicchio di Castelfranco (a red-streaked, bitter yellow leafy vegetable) is shipped in from Italy while the rest is from around the United States and nearby farms.”

“On the hunt for fresh baby corn or purple baby cauliflower? They’re here. So are about 17 kinds of mushrooms, including lobster and blue foot, and all sorts of radishes like Easter egg and Cincinnati. The staff of 14 is well-versed on the produce, and tasting is encouraged.” Produce manager Lenny Espinal comments: “I’m a big believer in the try-before-you-buy philosophy. If you don’t like it, you won’t waste your money buying it.”

“One of the department’s most interesting features may be the vegetable butcher, Nicole Williams, who stands at a counter with a sink at Eataly’s vegetarian restaurant, Le Verdure. She washes and chops customers’ fruits, herbs and vegetables for free. She also prepares samples. Recent offerings included watermelon chunks and jicama rounds dressed with olive oil, salt and lemon.”

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Academy Sports: First-Responder Retailer

The Wall Street Journal: “A sporting-goods retailer found itself at the center of the rescue effort in flooded Houston, first opening its stores to rescuers in need of boats, life preservers and other supplies, and then converting its headquarters into temporary residences for hundreds of police and other emergency responders. As of Wednesday morning, retail chain Academy Sports + Outdoors was hosting more than 400 rescue-team members at its corporate campus west of Houston, with people coming to work in 12-hour shifts from as close as Waco, Texas, and as far away as Connecticut.”

“Academy has a history of contact with law enforcement because it sells firearms in its chain of 235 sporting-goods stores. Dealing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies is a daily part of its business. So when the first call came in Sunday from the Houston Police Department requesting flat-bottomed jon boats and paddles, Academy brass weren’t all that surprised. But the calls kept coming … they wanted kayaks, canoes, ponchos and pontoon boats. In many cases, Academy opened the doors of closed stores so first responders could grab what they needed.”

“As waterlogged evacuees made it to dry land, they needed more. Sleeping bags, air beds, backpacks, fresh T-shirts, socks, shoes and underwear. Rescuers needed all those goods, too, and a safe, dry place to rest. So Academy opened up its four-story sport-themed headquarters, which hasn’t flooded and still has power. It also has gyms for sleeping and places to shower … Academy is offering financial assistance for immediate needs like hotels for about 150 employees … (and) is deciding where to donate $1 million worth of clothes and shoes later this week.”

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Brands Go Local To Beat Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “As Amazon.com Inc.tightens its grip on retail sales, a growing number of brands are pushing back by championing local retailers. Some manufacturers are enforcing minimum advertised prices to make it harder for online sellers to undercut local merchants, while others give local stores first dibs on new products or funnel customers from their own websites to local outlets.” For example: “Luxottica Group SpA last year launched a minimum advertised pricing program that restricts the price at which its Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses can be advertised … The average discount on Ray-Ban sunglasses on Amazon has shrunk to about 3% as of this month from 37% in April 2016, according to Luxottica.”

“Free stroller tuneups are one way UPPAbaby, a Hingham, Mass.-based maker of baby strollers and car seats, draws customers back to local retailers carrying its products after they buy one of its strollers, which cost up to $900 … Running gear maker Brooks is testing a new app that uses an iPad connected to a treadmill to help local retailers determine which Brooks shoe best suits a runner’s biomechanics … Orb has a program designed to encourage local retailers to try out new products without worrying they might be saddled with excess inventory. At the end of each quarter, local stores can donate slow-selling items to a favorite charity. Orb then replaces the donated goods with new items selected by the retailer at no extra charge.”

“Arc’teryx salespeople use e-commerce sales data to help merchants determine which styles of clothing, shoes and backpacks are best sellers in their local market … If Simms Fishing Products had its way, the company’s waders and other fishing gear would never show up on Amazon’s website. The Bozeman, Mont., company doesn’t sell directly to Amazon, and its dealer policy specifically prohibits sales on third-party platforms … Simms employees visit local independent retailers and use computer-assisted design software to create customized Simms shops within each store.”

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Slow Dollars: Key to Local Grocery Success

Anne Kadet: “It’s a mystery. Local markets clearly are losing business to national outfits such as Whole Foods Market , Trader Joe’s and Target. So why don’t they up their game? To my surprise, Enrico Palazio, who co-owns the Montague Street Key Food with his uncle, says he doesn’t view Trader Joe’s as competition. It doesn’t have a deli, butcher or even a respectable detergent section. ‘This is one-stop shopping,’ he says of his store. The real competition, he notes, is FreshDirect.”

“Mr. Palazio “spent a lot of money on last year’s renovation, aiming to outdo FreshDirect by making his store a pleasant place to shop. His markups reflect that investment, he says, but his prices are still lower than FreshDirect. Because his 10,000 square-foot Key Food is too small to carry products at every price point, Mr. Palazio caters to neighborhood preferences. He doesn’t sell the cheapest ice cream brand, for example, but he does stock McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream.”

“To handle more customers, Mr. Palazio says, he’d have to cram the store with more cashiers, baggers and stock clerks. The busy, hectic atmosphere wouldn’t appeal to his clientele, he believes. Burt Flickinger, managing director of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, says this strategy is typical of many local supermarkets. ‘It’s the slow dollar versus the fast nickel,’ he says.”

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Technology Cannot Hug a Customer

The New York Times: “Technology, some hotels are finding, has its limits. ‘Technology cannot hug a repeat guest,’ said George Aquino, the vice president and managing director of AHC+Hospitality … That is the reason his company, which manages several hotels, has been running a training program for some of its managers and other staff members to improve their hospitality skills, connect with local business leaders and learn more about local tourist offerings.”

“Similar programs are sprouting in other cities, involving not just hotels but also restaurants and even cities themselves, which see the personal touch as giving them a competitive edge. For business travelers, in particular, talking to someone knowledgeable about a city can lead to a good restaurant. And it can also help expand business leads.”

“A consulting program based in Tucson, Certified Tourism Ambassadors, trains hospitality workers. Mickey Schaefer, the chief executive and founder, said she had developed the idea in 2006 while working for the American Academy of Family Physicians to plan its conventions. Hospitality workers sometimes did not know their own cities, leading to bad experiences, she said … The program, she said, ‘is more than just helping the customer. It is helping them find the richness of whatever they are interested in.’ She added that the program also instills civic pride.”

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Nike Hears Adidas’ Footsteps

The Wall Street Journal: “With the retail sector in flux, Nike Inc. is looking for new ways to sell sneakers and shirts, but some industry watchers worry that the company’s efforts to broaden its reach could damage its cultural cachet … Frequent online releases of coveted Jordan shoes could make them less rare and not as much in demand anymore, some industry watchers say. By making certain shoes available only through Nike channels or big chains such as Foot Locker, the company is diminishing the mom-and-pop shops that have served as community stewards of cool.”

“Matt Halfhill, founder of sneaker-news site Nice Kicks, which chronicles new releases across major shoe brands … said he has been involved in sneaker culture since the 1990s, believes the push toward direct sales actually hurts Nike’s connection with consumers.” He comments: “It’s a great way to sell commoditized shoes, but most boutiques even discourage you from buying on the phone. They only sell shoes in stores to customers, where you see everyone in line waiting for shoes talking to each other,” he said.”

Meanwhile: “Adidas’s resurgence includes new ‘franchises’—such as the NMD and Kanye West’s Yeezy line—that have gained a youthful following and made inroads on Nike’s cultural dominance. Nick Santora, a former sneaker-store owner and editor of online sneaker magazine Classic Kicks, said Adidas is more on point with youth culture of late.” He comments: “Kanye, for some people, for certain kids, that brand is now acceptable. Nike was always ‘sports, sports, sports,’ but if you’re over 11 years old right now, musicians are where it’s at.”

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