Visual Noise: The Open-Office Downside

The Wall Street Journal: “After taking down walls to create open offices and foster lots of interaction and collaboration, some companies are finding they’ve done the job too well. All of this social engineering has created endless distractions that draw employees’ eyes away from their own screens. Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity.”

“A loss of visual privacy is the No. 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers in 303 U.S. office buildings.”

“Some employers are dealing with such distractions by giving employees a lot of choices, allowing them to leave their desks and relocate to other kinds of workspaces over the course of a day … AT&T has installed about 20 Steelcase Brody workstations at its San Ramon, Calif., offices. They have privacy screens on three sides to block distractions … The company also has 66 ‘focus rooms,’ small rooms with a single desk. These are popular among employees because they allow them to close the door, turn away from the window and work facing a wall.”

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Flowlight: Giving The Busy Signal

The Wall Street Journal: “Interruptions are the bane of workers in open-plan offices, with some resorting to headphones, busy lights and other paraphernalia to ward off chatty co-workers … Academic researchers and collaborators at ABB have developed an automated solution: a light that turns red, green or yellow to indicate when interruptions are OK and when they aren’t. The team says that the system, known as FlowLight, reduced interruptions by 46% for 36 users who reliably logged such intrusions.”

“To avoid making red lights into status symbols, they were at first limited to going on for 18% of the workday … Not all interruptions are bad. Ill-timed or trivial ones tend to hurt productivity, but many interruptions lead to valuable discussions that can benefit a firm … So the idea isn’t to do away with them but to channel them between periods of intense concentration.”

“The researchers were also surprised by the extent to which FlowLight became a useful feedback system to encourage concentration by professionals whose jobs offer considerable opportunities for distraction. One user told the researchers, ‘If I see the red light, I sense I am in the flow, and I keep working’.”

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Pueblo Mall: An Outlier in the Amazon Age

The Washington Post: “The Pueblo Mall is an outlier in the age of Amazon.com, when socks and laundry detergent and televisions — nearly anything you can think of — can be delivered to your front stoop within hours … Despite Pueblo’s three Walmarts and the arrival of a Dick’s Sporting Goods and an Ulta Beauty store, the Pueblo Mall is bustling. On weekends, its nearly 3,000 outdoor parking spaces fill up … the mall’s average sales per square foot are healthy, holding at around $400 over the past six months.”

“… When the mall was built, downtown Pueblo suffered and many of its stores closed. The mall became Pueblo’s new town square … Now it’s among the city’s main employers … Civic pride and tradition also play a part. In some markets with older regional malls, people buy from a traditional anchor store such as a Sears because it’s American.”

“Shoppers in southern Colorado are often more willing to drive longer distances for their retail purchases, especially for ­durable goods such as refrigerators and other appliances … Two other factors work in Pueblo’s favor: the distance to other shopping centers and the small-town demographics. Pueblo’s median household income is $36,367, according to the most recent 2015 statistics, compared with the state’s $63,909 … The mall holds community events throughout the year, including a ‘Walk with a Doc’ mall-walking program, health fairs, school concerts and, recently, a Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Day and a ‘Pueblo’s Got Talent’ showcase.”

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Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”

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Southern Comfort: Now With Real Whiskey

The New York Times: “Sazerac Company bought Southern Comfort from the liquor conglomerate Brown-Forman last year … A new-and-improved Southern Comfort will hit the shelves in July, with a redesigned label and bottle. Flavored versions like Lime Comfort and Caramel Comfort will be phased out. But, most important, Southern Comfort will get back the one ingredient that many people have long assumed it contained: whiskey.”

“Once upon a time, Southern Comfort did include whiskey, though the complete formula has always been kept a secret. It was created by Martin W. Heron, purportedly while working at a New Orleans saloon … But by the time Brown-Forman bought the brand in 1979, the kick inside the bottle was provided not by whiskey, but by grain neutral spirit — basically a generic alcohol free of character, not unlike vodka.”

“In addition to the existing 70-proof and 100-proof versions, the company will introduce an 80-proof Southern Comfort that is considerably more whiskey-forward. Sazerac is also working on other whiskey-focused renditions, including Southern Comfort Rye and Southern Comfort Barrel Select … Sazerac thinks that the drink’s future depends on consumers’ thinking ‘whiskey’ and not ‘liqueur’ when they buy or order it.”

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When Apple Designs a Pizza Box

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Wired: “Through Apple’s new headquarters, Steve Jobs was planning the future of Apple itself—a future beyond him and, ultimately, beyond any of us … As with any Apple product, its shape would be determined by its function. This would be a workplace where people were open to each other and open to nature, and the key to that would be modular sections, known as pods, for work or collaboration. Jobs’ idea was to repeat those pods over and over: pod for office work, pod for teamwork, pod for socializing, like a piano roll playing a Philip Glass composition. They would be distributed demo­cratically. Not even the CEO would get a suite or a similar incongruity.”

“And while the company has long been notorious for internal secrecy, compartmentalizing its projects on a need-to-know basis, Jobs seemed to be proposing a more porous structure where ideas would be more freely shared across common spaces. … perfection here will inspire its workforce to match that effort in the products they create, that the environment itself is meant to motivate engineers, designers, and even café managers to aspire for ever-higher levels of quality and innovation. (Francesco Longoni, the maestro of the Apple Park café, helped Apple patent a box that will keep to-go pizzas from getting soggy.).”

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Kroger Kits Curate Dinnertime Solutions

Business Insider: Kroger is diving into the fast-growing meal-kit business. The supermarket chain is offering meal kits — or packages that contain recipes and accompanying ingredients — at a handful of stores and launching them nationwide over the next year.”

“Kroger has two major advantages compared to Blue Apron. First of all, Kroger’s boxes are cheaper, costing about $14 for a meal that feeds two people. Kroger also goes a step further than Blue Apron by doing most of the food prep for customers. No chopping, slicing, dicing, grating, or other work is necessary — all the ingredients are ready to be cooked. This means the meals can take a lot less time to make. Kroger says its meals take about 20 minutes to prepare ‘from kit to fork,’ whereas Blue Apron meals tend to require about 45 minutes of prep and cooking time.”

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DoughDici: $38 Pizza, By Reservation Only

The New York Times: “Sofia Pizza Shoppe, in the well-heeled Sutton Place section of Manhattan, is (introducing) a $38 pizza that requires an online ticket purchase and is available only a few nights each week, for a limited number of seatings. Only one pie will be made for each seating.”

“The pie, called the DoughDici, is a two-inch-tall, puffy-crust pizza with a crisp edge and a blanket of red sauce, fresh mozzarella and grated cheeses. Pizza obsessives may liken it to a soufflé for its dough, which traps air to form an elevated structure … The first round of four tickets, for two nights this week, sold out on the day they were announced.”

Sofia’s Thomas DeGrezia comments: “We didn’t set out to create a pizza event, but once we realized that we wanted it to be an in-house-only pie to best ensure quality, we decided it needed to be a bit more experiential. Since our shop is so small, we added the stools, reservations and drinks.”

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Apparel: The Ecommerce Tipping Point?

The New York Times: “If there are tipping points in retail — moments when shopping behavior swings decisively in one direction — there’s a strong case to be made that apparel is reaching one now, with broad implications for jobs, malls and shopping districts. Those moments often occur around the time that online shopping reaches about 20 percent of total national retail spending in a category, the research firm L2 has concluded after studying the evolution of e-commerce. Online clothing and accessory shopping’s share of retail hit 21 percent last year, according to estimates by Cowen and Company, a stock research firm.”

“Apparel has been something of an e-commerce laggard. In years gone by, buying clothing over the internet was only for the fearless, with most shoppers unwilling to take the risk that a dress or a pair of shoes would fit poorly or look terrible on them … Amazon’s solution was to improve clothing selection, pour money into photography to give internet shoppers a better representation of garments and offer free returns on most apparel so customers could order untroubled by the thought of sending items back.”

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Barber Polemics: Hairdressers vs. History

The Wall Street Journal: “Tired of having their iconic red, white and blue symbol co-opted by mere hairdressers who aren’t certified barbers, state tonsorial regulators are sending enforcement agents with citation books to fine salons that install poles … Barbers say the pole is theirs alone, a historical symbol rooted to a time when barbers also yanked teeth and did blood letting. The red stripe represents blood, the white symbolizes bandages, and the blue, according to some theories, is for veins, say barber historians.”

“The snippy back-and-forth comes as old-school short haircuts, popularized in shows like Mad Men, are back in fashion and as young men are bigger groomers than past generations. That presents an opportunity to barbers who have been luring back men after losing them over the years to hair salons … James Murdock, riding the commuter train into Boston recently, favors barbers for his hairdo: shaved sides and ample on top. A salon cut ‘might look better, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,’ and barbers are cheaper and faster, said Mr. Murdock.”

“John Foley, riding the same train, insisted ‘you can’t get a good haircut at the barber.’
Mr. Foley, a Providence resident and software engineer in Boston, said his hairdresser taught him the ‘multistep process’ for maintaining his short, retro look, involving a pre-blow dry, mousse, another blow-dry, followed by molding paste. ‘That’s just the expertise you wouldn’t get at an average barber shop,’ the 27-year-old said.”

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