Kicks: How Sneakers Sneaked Up

The Wall Street Journal: “How on earth have people who make freaking footwear apparently managed to reduce athletic powerhouses like USC and Louisville to the role of glorified money launderers? It all comes down to the outsize importance of sneakers in popular culture. In his expansive, thorough and entertaining book ‘Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers,’ author Nicholas Smith traces the history of this $20 billion industry, arguing that the power and allure of the shoe have shaped American business and fashion for decades.”

“Their manufacturers have thus become economic forces larger than the sports they’re supposedly there to support. In many ways, to hear Mr. Smith tell it, the shoes have been wearing us.’Kicks’ serves as a comprehensive look at how much the sneaker became a signature indicator of cool, from Chuck Taylor and his Converse All-Stars to Clyde Frazier’s Pumas to Run-DMC and their Adidas to, of course, Michael Jordan.”

“Today, the author suggests, sneakers have essentially replaced music as the go-to investment for companies looking at getting into the youth market. They have become so popular that most manufacturers make limited-edition shoes that exist solely to become valuable and are almost never worn. The shoes aren’t for wearing; they’re simply for having.”

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How Ben & Jerry’s Creates Flavors

Fast Company: “Ben & Jerry’s tastemakers don’t just rely on their own judgment … After assembling a couple hundred ideas, the Gurus then turn to a surprisingly low-tech yet crucial source in order to whittle them down: email surveys. Close to 200 flavor possibilities enter the ‘reduction’ stage. Only about 15 make it through. The team sends out a short survey to a representative slice of its massive email list of ice cream enthusiasts. The survey is extremely straightforward; it consists of a one-sentence description of each of the 200 flavors, followed by the same two questions apiece: How likely are you to buy this flavor? How unique is this flavor?”

“Respondents are asked to rank their answers on a five-point scale. According to the Flavor Gurus, the goal is to zero in on flavors that are both familiar and novel.”

“The second question, ‘How unique is the flavor?’ helps Gurus ensure they’re maintaining enough novelty in the flavor pool. Based on the survey data, the team settles on the 15 flavors they believe have the ideal balance of novelty and familiarity. This is the reduction step, and it’s likewise a key part of many creative processes. To generate ideas that stick, you need to go from a wide-ranging list of plausible ideas to a data-driven subset of the ones that have the strongest likelihood of succeeding, based on whatever metrics for success you’ve outlined.”

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Ikea Future: (Not) Plastics!

Fast Company: “By 2020, if you order ‘Nordic fruit water’ with your vegetarian meatballs at one of Ikea’s in-store restaurants, you’ll no longer be able to drink it with a plastic straw. The company will stop using single-use plastic including straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers in its cafes … It will also remove single-use plastic products, like garbage bags and 200-packs of straws, from the shelves of the store.”

“It’s a small part of the company’s sustainability strategy. Ikea is already planning to phase out virgin oil-based plastic in its products, moving to either plastic made from renewable materials or recycled plastic. It was the first major retailer to stop using plastic bags, in 2007. It invested in a plastic recycling plant in 2017 to help with that goal.”

Sander Defruyt, who leads the New Plastics Economy initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, comments: “I think the approach of Ikea is interesting in that they take a full-systems perspective. They recognize the need to eliminate some of the most problematic or unnecessary plastics where possible, and at the same time, also make sure that they decouple the plastics they do use from virgin fossil fuel plastics by using recycled plastic as much as possible and for the remainder switch to renewables. It’s a nuanced and quite comprehensive strategy.”

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Chick-Fil-A: The Harvard of Fast Food

The Washington Post: “Carrie Kurlander, vice president of public relations for Chick-fil-A, said the Georgia-based chain receives more than 40,000 inquires per year from people interested in becoming restaurant operators (the company’s term for ‘franchisee’). After filling out an initial “expression of interest” online, they complete a formal, written application. From there, the company conducts recorded live-video and in-person interviews with applicants, taking business experience and leadership skills into consideration.”

“The chain opens 100 to 115 new restaurants a year, Kurlander said, and operators typically run one restaurant each. The company runs more than 2,200 restaurants in 47 states, and the average restaurant makes more than $4 million in annual sales. Again: that’s 40,000 people who hope to become operators, and about 100 to 115 who make it through. To compare, of Harvard’s 42,749 applicants for the school’s incoming freshman class, it admitted 1,962.”

Kurlander comments: “We are very intentional with our selection process as we believe this model is the key to ensuring our customers receive the best care and experience possible.”

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Wendy’s Cultivates Better Tomato Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “By largely moving production to the U.S. from Mexico, where Wendy’s currently gets the majority of its tomatoes, and using the more controlled setting of greenhouses, the company says it expects to be able to deliver more ripe—and therefore more flavorful—tomatoes to its restaurants. There are also fewer insects and plant diseases to contend with when tomatoes are grown inside.”

“Whether consumers will care about the change in its tomatoes remains to be seen. Although fast-food rivals have been touting the quality and freshness of their food, consumers still want their meals at a low price.”

“Some tomato purists say nothing beats the flavor of a tomato grown in the soil. But field-grown tomatoes sold for commercial use are often sprayed with ethylene gas, a plant hormone that occurs naturally in fruit, just before they reach supermarket shelves or restaurants so that they appear ripe.”

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Quote of the Day: Jim Farley

“When we ask people around the world what they think of Ford, they say Mustang. Mustang means freedom. It means taking a road trip in a convertible down the West Coast. That’s what people all over the world imagine America to be. Why would we ever give that up?” – Jim Farley, president of global markets, Ford Motor Co., quoted in The New York Times.

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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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Ohm: The Mantra of Deli

The New York Times: “You could spend your life walking past the Ohm Deli Corporation in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and not pay it any mind. It’s just a deli. Maybe it has the brand of salsa you like. So do three other places in the neighborhood. Or you could step inside and find a man named Rick Patel, who has owned and run Ohm for 25 years, and a group of regulars who come for a social cohesion sometimes lost in the swirl of change in the neighborhood.”

“Ramsay de Give moved to Williamsburg 10 years ago and made the deli a part of his daily circuit: greeting Mr. Patel, getting to know some of the regulars, scoring a carton of eggs when he needed it … At the right time of day, he could count on seeing a crowd gathered around the television, yelling at the Lotto numbers. Of such scenes are neighborhoods built.”

“Four or five years ago he started hanging out in the deli on New Year’s Eve, and encountered ‘an intense sense of community I’ve never seen before,’ he said … New, fancier shops and restaurants popped up or changed hands almost weekly, but Ohm did not change … If anything, Mr. de Give said, it just got firmer in its character. ‘I wanted to capture the tedium of being open from 7 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year,’ he said.”

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