Stadium Goods: Getting Kicks From Luxury

The New York Times</strong>: “To walk into the 3,000-square-foot Stadium Goods store in SoHo is to be confronted by rows and rows of pristine, shrink-wrapped athletic footwear. Look closely and you might be a little stunned by the price tags. On a recent afternoon, for instance, a pair of white Nike Jordan 1’s by the fashion designer Virgil Abloh (Off-White, Louis Vuitton) originally priced at $190, was selling for $2,750 … Nearby was a rare pair of Adidas PW Human Race NMD TR, designed by the musician Pharrell Williams. Price tag: $12,350.”

“Sneaker fanatics have been around for decades, with swaps and buys largely happening on eBay or as personal transactions. But it’s only in the last few years that the reseller market has accelerated and gone sharply upscale. John McPheters, who co-founded Stadium Goods with Jed Stiller, says the shift has been driven by ‘men who are now learning from childhood how to treat fashion as a sport — the way that women have always treated fashion’.”

“The partners believe the future of sneaker retail will be a hybrid model combining traditional channels and aftermarket selling. ‘We’re a microcosm of what’s hot,’ Mr. Stiller said, noting that in the sneaker world what’s trending is not necessarily the newest item. ‘Where a lot of retailers are dependent on what brands are releasing at the moment, we’re not. Ninety-five percent of our stock are styles that are no longer on the market’.”

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The Caviar Sandwich is Back!

The Wall Street Journal: “The caviar sandwich at the Grand Central Oyster Bar is back … the under-$15 sandwich, a novelty item that served as a kind of low-rent riff on the luxury lifestyle, disappeared from the menu several months ago. The reason? The cost of the bowfin caviar, a cheaper variety of fish eggs used for the sandwich, had suddenly soared. That left the restaurant with two options: Increase the price for the sandwich threefold or nix it from the menu altogether. Given that the whole point of the sandwich was the caviar-on-the-cheap aspect, the Oyster Bar chose the latter.”

“And Oyster Bar executive chef Sandy Ingber figured the situation would remain that way because he wasn’t finding any caviar purveyors cutting deals … The menu item, a fixture for more than 15 years, had never been a huge seller, as a typical day saw up to 10 orders. But those who liked it really seemed to like it, Mr. Ingber said. The appeal went beyond the novelty aspect, he added. The dish, with the caviar served on plain white toast and paired with chopped egg with a dollop of sour cream on the side, is a perfect study in contrasting textures and flavors: salty, creamy and crispy.”

“But Mr. Ingber still needed to find a source for low-cost bowfin caviar. Fortunately, one turned up at a trade show in Boston last month. The product is the same quality, he said, and only a tad more expensive when factoring in shipping. Mr. Ingber was able to reinstate the sandwich to the menu two weeks ago, raising the price by only a dollar to $13.95.”

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Hotel Shampoo: Losing its Lather?

The Wall Street Journal: “Those little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash in hotels—icons of travel—are disappearing, replaced by bulk dispensers mounted on shower walls. And some travelers are in a lather … some road warriors say wall-mounted racks look low-class. They’re steamed that removing their prized individual bottles looks like just another in a long string of amenity cuts from hotels, like mouthwash, stationery, sewing kits and pens.” David Lennox, a frequent traveler, comments: “What’s next, getting rid of the packs of coffee and making us scoop out of a can? I think it’s cheap, incredibly cheap.”

“Marriott says its change allows it to offer higher-quality bath products at lower cost and reduce waste … And the landfill waste can be significant, says Liam Brown, who is responsible for Marriott brands like Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn and Springhill Suites in the Americas. Little bottles are never refilled and rarely recycled. The initial 450 properties where Marriott will make the change use 10.3 million little bottles a year, or 113,000 pounds of plastic, he says. When the change reaches 1,500 hotels it means 34.5 million bottles, or 375,000 pounds of plastic a year.”

“Noelle Nicolai, who leads marketing for Wyndham Hotel Group’s upscale brands, likens bath products to bread at restaurants. If it’s mediocre, you forget it. ‘If done right, it can be one of the top drivers of delight and guest satisfaction,’ she says.
Wyndham did extensive research and decided to increase the size of some of its bottles from 30 milliliters to 50 milliliters to encourage guests to take them home. ‘Maintaining that bottle experience…was really important to us,’ Ms. Nicolai says. Wyndham and most other large hotel companies send leftover soap that’s been sanitized and repackaged to a charity called Clean the World for recycling.”

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Airport Lounges: From Perk to Pathetic?

The Wall Street Journal: “Airport lounges were once a perk for business travelers and high spenders, a haven from the chaos of modern travel. Then more rewards credit cards started offering lounge access. And what was once an oasis now is more like a mall food court. Losing that ‘1%’ feeling has been jarring. Grousers say gourmet meals once on offer are now finger foods, and beverages are more likely to be guzzled than sipped. Overcrowding means seats often aren’t available.”

“Travelers say a turning point came in 2016 when JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched its Sapphire Reserve credit card. It became a huge hit, offering big rewards to offset a $450 annual fee. One of those was a Priority Pass membership that provides entry for the cardholder to around 60 lounges at U.S. airports and around 1,200 world-wide—with as many guests as desired.”

“Lounges are trying to rein things in. Following complaints from cardholders, AmEx is expanding some of its Centurion lounges and restricting access to holders of Platinum and Centurion cards, which carry annual fees of $550 and $2,500, respectively, and some business cardholders. Priority Pass, meanwhile, is dealing with the crowds in a new way. It’s offering food and booze credits of around $28 per person, with one catch: People have to leave the lounge to use them at restaurants in the airport.”

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Ocean Medallion: Smooth Cruising on a ‘Smart’ Ship

Quartz: John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer of Carnival Cruises, “previously worked for Disney, where he was instrumental in the creation of the MagicBand, a wristband meant to help reduce the aggravations of the typical Disney vacation … At Carnival, Padgett and his team quickly set out to create Carnival’s own version of the Disney MagicBand, called the Ocean Medallion. It uses AI to take the MagicBand technology to another level. Instead of just alleviating the ‘friction’ of typical travel experiences (lines, room keys, paying for things) it will use data to anticipate what you want to do, eat, and see.”

“The Medallion, offered first on Carnival’s Princess cruise line, is about the size of a quarter … It facilitates boarding and cuts down on wait times. It can be used to pay for things on the cruise, it unlocks the door to your room as you approach, and can be used on the ship-wide gambling platform. Carrying the Medallion means the staff knows your name and where you are. If you order a drink, they can come find you to deliver it. If you go to another bar on board, the staff already knows what you like. The Medallion also updates your information, keeping track of your likes and dislikes, what activities you enjoy, and what you consume. It anticipates other activities you’ll enjoy and the side trips you’ll want to take.”

“In many ways the Medallion is a beta launch of the first fully wired smart city. What it takes to make it work could one day be used on land. Padgett says the technology is innovative because the preferences you reveal are updated in real time. You order a Martini and every crew member on the ship instantly knows more information about you, and is that much closer to determining whether you might enjoy trying scuba diving—or just kicking back in your stateroom with an old episode of The Love Boat.”

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Music Deluge: Is More Less?

The Wall Street Journal: “It has never been easier to listen to vast quantities of music, discover new artists and create, distribute and promote your own tunes. But there’s a downside: It is harder for artists to break through the cacophony of today’s global pop-music machine. And some fans, already struggling to keep up with television, social media and other entertainment, are feeling overwhelmed.”

“The amount of music released globally in 2017 is roughly seven times the amount released in 1960, according to data from Discogs.com, a user-generated database of physical recordings. Nearly 150,000 new albums saw at least one physical or digital sale in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen. While older Nielsen figures aren’t comparable due to data issues, they show the number of new albums rising from 36,000 in 2000 to about 77,000 in 2011.”

“Not long ago, record labels operated on a less-is-more strategy, seeking to avoid cannibalizing an artist’s album sales by putting out yet another one too soon. In the CD era, the costs of producing and distributing each album made it important to make higher-grossing albums to ensure profits. With streaming, those costs aren’t as high, and labels have a greater incentive to own, release and re-release more music … Mark Mulligan, a music-industry analyst at MIDiA Research, says distributors are making money based on quantity, not quality.”

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Eateries Experiment with Split-Menu Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “When the Michelin-starred, Paris-based chef Joël Robuchon opened his high-end L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant in the Meatpacking District last November, he had it share space with his “elegant, yet approachable” Le Grill de Joël Robuchon concept. At the former, a main course can cost as much as $135 and tasting menus run $145 to $265. At the latter, there is a three-course prix-fixe menu for $65. All prices include tipping.”

“Agern, the Nordic-inspired restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that also offers $100-plus tasting menus, has taken another approach to pricing. In recent weeks, it has expanded its a la carte offerings—even going so far as to add a burger and chicken wings, albeit in gourmet-minded versions. The $26 burger, for example, is made with a secret-spice mix, according to chef Gunnar Gíslason, and is served on a bun seasoned with smoked salt and vegetable ‘ash’.”

“Ultimately, each restaurant may have its individual reasons for adopting lower-price models and approaches. But if there is a common thread, it is the increased emphasis on casual dining in our culinary culture, says Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based hospitality consultant. Today’s diner ‘doesn’t want the restaurant to tell them what to wear or how much to spend,’ she says. ‘They want to feel welcome whether they are in jeans or tuxedos’.”

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Ac2ated Sound: The Car is the HiFi

The New York Times: “Continental, a German auto-components supplier, has developed technology that makes parts of the car’s interior vibrate to create high-fidelity audio on a par with any premium sound system on the road now. The approach turns the rear window into a subwoofer. The windshield, floor, dashboard and seat frames produce the midrange. And the A-pillars — the posts between the windshield and the doors — become your tweeters, said Dominik Haefele, the leader of the team that developed the technology.” He comments: “It’s a 3-D immersive sound, and you’re experiencing the music in a very different way. You’re in the sound. You feel it all around you, like you’re adding another dimension to it.”

“The key components are transducers — small devices that use a magnet wrapped in a copper coil to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy. Run current through the wires, and the transducer vibrates. Continental has figured out a way to implant transducers in a car’s interior and use them to turn interior panels into speakers.”

“The system, which Continental calls Ac2ated Sound, should begin appearing by 2021, Mr. Haefele said. He declined to name the carmakers that will offer it, although Mercedes, BMW and Audi are all big customers — and frequent adopters — of Continental’s technology.”

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The Grand Hotel in Kosovo: World’s Worst?

The New York Times: “The Grand Hotel in the Kosovar capital of Pristina is regularly reviled in internet reviews. Here’s a sample: ‘disgusting,’ ‘a ruin’ and ‘an absolute horror. Probably the worst I have ever been at.’ But the managers seem unfazed by the online abuse. They do not take web bookings and barely offer access to the internet; their hotel has no email account … even Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, usually an eager booster of everything his country has to offer, struggles to find anything nice to say about it … ‘I don’t think it is the worst hotel in the world, but that is because the world is very big,’ the president said.”

“With 13 stories and three adjoining concrete blocks in a prime location, the hotel accommodates flocks of pigeons on the upper floors and has rented out its basement, once used as a prison by Serbian paramilitary thugs, to a health club. But it is otherwise deserted, a maze of dimly lit corridors that are littered with pigeon feathers, strung with cobwebs, lined with doors of dark wood and haunted by even darker memories of Kosovo’s past. Two floors have been reduced to rubble, the remnants of a remodeling program that ran out of money.”

Service is minimal to nonexistent, the marble lobby stinks of cigarette smoke and the green carpeting that covers most of the floors is stained and scarred. And then there are the cockroaches … The president, who has only bad memories of the hotel in the past and despairs at its current condition, harbors big plans for its future. ‘Perhaps we could build a Trump Tower there,’ Mr. Thaci suggested.”

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Nordstrom Doubles Down on Bricks

The Wall Street Journal: “Many retailers, beset by online competition and shifting consumer tastes, are slashing costs and closing hundreds of stores. Nordstrom Inc. is doing the opposite … It is revamping some of its 122 department stores and spending more than $500 million to gain a toehold in Manhattan. It has snapped up e-commerce companies including flash-sale website HauteLook and subscription service Trunk Club. And it has launched new concepts, including a store in Los Angeles called Nordstrom Local that doesn’t stock any clothes. So far, those efforts have failed to pay off in rising profits.”

“Nordstrom says it is different from its peers. It has fewer locations than rivals, and most are in the nation’s top malls, which continue to draw shoppers … While other department stores are retrenching, Nordstrom has shown a willingness to take risks. It is jumping into the competitive New York City market with a men’s store opening in April followed by a women’s store next year … At a store in Irvine, Calif., Nordstrom recently completed a test of a showroom that carried samples of 19 brands such as Rag & Bone and Veronica Beard in every size and color; they could be tried on but had to be ordered online. For shoppers, it solved the problem of visiting a store only to find their size sold out.”

“Other changes meant to appeal to customers are smaller. In November, the company unlocked the fitting rooms in its department stores … Although theft has increased slightly since Nordstrom made the change, executives say, the retailer is sticking with the new policy. ‘Analysts don’t like it,’ Jamie Nordstrom said. ‘But I’m thinking about the next 50 years, not the next quarter’.”

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