‘Potheads’ Inhale The Instant Pot

The New York Times: Instant Pot is “a new breed of 21st-century start-up — a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth … devotees — they call themselves ‘Potheads’ — use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget’s praises to the unconverted.”

Company founder Robert Wang “listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device’s pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat. Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.”

“At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot’s sales came through Amazon.” Mr. Wang also revealed a secret: in every official photograph of an Instant Pot, the unit’s timer is set to 5:20 — a series of numbers that, when spoken aloud, sounds like ‘I love you’ in his native Mandarin. ‘It’s a subliminal message,’ he said. ‘It shows how much we care about our customers’.” He adds: “We know we really make a difference in people’s lives. It’s really gratifying.”


Philz Coffee: All You Need Is The Secret Ingredient

Business Insider: San Francisco-base Philz Coffee “has the cash to fuel an expansion and a key ingredient to become the next Blue Bottle: individuality. It looks nothing like a cookie-cutter coffee chain. At Philz, a diverse set of customers sit around mismatched pieces of furniture and drink coffee brewed one cup at time. Employees are encouraged to express their personality through interactions with customers … The venture-backed coffee chain started from humble beginnings. Phil, who was born in Palestine and grew up in the Bay Area, ran a corner bodega in a gritty neighborhood.”

“Today, the original Philz location on 24th Street still looks like someone’s grandma’s house. Couches sink like they’ve been lived in, and floor-to-ceiling murals spark creativity … Unlike coffee chains that offer only light, medium, and dark roasts, Philz boasts more than 20 vibrant blends with names like Canopy of Heaven, Philharmonic, and Sooo Good. You won’t find any lattes or over-the-top blended drinks — like you might find at Starbucks — on the menu. But flavor descriptions like “cardamom, maple, earth” or “toast, berry, vanilla” have customers drooling.”

“Baristas brew one cup at a time using a pour-over method, which allows them to make each drink exactly how the customer likes it … Two to three minutes later, a barista calls the customer by name and invites them to take a sip. Baristas say they’re happy to remake the drink until the guest is 100% satisfied … According to a Philz employee, the secret ingredient in every cup is ‘love’ … The company aims to have more than 50 locations across four major metropolitan markets by early next year. There are shops in Colorado and Boston in the pipeline.”


KitKat: Just Plain Weird in Japan

Los Angeles Times: “Two years ago, KitKat’s marketing manager in Japan won an internal corporate award. His prize: a golden trophy shaped like one of the iconic chocolate bars. Today, the manager, Ryoji Maki, doesn’t remember why he won the award. But he’s immensely proud of what it inspired. ‘That’s how I came up with creating a gold leaf-covered KitKat,’ he said. Before long, the chocolate wafer bars were on sale in Tokyo for about $18. ‘They were like an edible golden trophy’.”

“Maki’s creation joined a long, and ever growing, list of distinctive, fun or just plain weird KitKats found only in Japan. The country is a KitKat-lover’s paradise, with so many unique varieties — an estimated 300 — that some travelers visit Japan just to try them. Many flavors are alien to the American palate, and they go far beyond Japanese staples — such as sake, wasabi and green tea — and into uncharted territory: ‘French salt,’ ‘college tater’ and ‘Muscat of Alexandria’.”

“The candy with the European pedigree went on to conquer Japan thanks to constant invention — blueberry cheesecake, cherry blossom and melon — and a linguistic coincidence that makes KitKats here a harbinger of good luck … the chocolate bar’s English name is a cognate — it sounds like kitto kattsu, which means ‘you will surely win,’ a sort of good luck blessing. Nestle leveraged the association into huge sales.”


How Amazon Picks Deals of the Day

The Wall Street Journal: “Such is Amazon’s holiday selling might that winning a slot in one of Amazon’s short-term promotions can not only propel a merchant to a higher ranking but also trigger a windfall of sales for the rest of the season, third-party sellers say. In addition, those chosen say the promotions improve their odds of showing up in consumer search results on the site. Third-party sellers sold more than 140 million items on Amazon.com over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year, according to Amazon.”

“Amazon’s deal of the day selections hinge on two important factors—whether it thinks an item will be a hot seller and whether the discount is deep enough. Amazon also takes into account the number of units the seller is willing to offer and customer reviews, among other factors … A sales surge will influence Amazon’s algorithmic suggestions to consumers. Recommendations might include items frequently purchased together or purchased by customers looking at the similar items.”


Heisman Triumphs With Artisanal Trophy

The New York Times: “The Heisman is gritty verisimilitude. It depicts an athlete in action, dynamically stiff-arming an unseen opponent. It is the color of a scuffed shoe sole, and its chiseled features — deep-set eyes, wrinkled trousers, one bulging calf muscle — are beautiful but not pretty. So byzantine are its details and so idiosyncratic its coloring that each individual statuette feels unique. In fact, each is, even though the Heisman remains instantly recognizable and its manufacturer takes no creative license … ‘No two are exactly the same,’ said Jack Nortz, the director of sculpting for MTM Recognition, the company that produces them.”

“Suitably for a new statue designed to look old, the process of making a Heisman is both normalized and artisanal. The ancient Egyptians would have known how to make a Heisman: The lost-wax casting method has been used to fashion bronze sculptures for roughly six millenniums.”

“Not only is this year’s Heisman slightly different from last year’s, it is more different from those of a generation ago … Before 2005, the back shoe had bumps on it to depict laces while the front shoe did not. Mr. Nortz added some grooves to the top of the right foot. MTM Recognition also standardized the trophy’s dimensions after staff members noticed that past trophies’ outstretched right arms departed the body at different angles. That arm has always been cast separately from the body.”


Ultra Violet: The Color of Money?

The New York Times: “Pantone sent approximately 10 people to blanket the globe for weeks at a time last year, searching for color signals in food, cars, cosmetics, clothes and housewares. They reconvened, pooled their findings, did their analysis and declared the color of 2018 to be … Ultra Violet.”

“It ‘communicates originality, ingenuity and visionary thinking,’ Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said by way of explanation. It is found in the cosmos (think of all those swirling purple nebulae!), the wellness movement (amethyst crystals!) and was a favorite color of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who, Ms. Eiseman said, used to wear a purple cape when he was trying to be creative. Ditto Wagner, who liked to surround himself with purple when he was composing. Also, of course, Prince.”

Ms. Eiseman also says: “It’s also the most complex of all colors because it takes two shades that are seemingly diametrically opposed — blue and red — and brings them together to create something new.” And: “We wanted to pick something that brings hope and an uplifting message.”


How Sephora Blends Community & Commerce

Retail Dive: “With so many digitally-enabled processes in place, Sephora’s members-only social platform, dubbed the Beauty Insider Community, fits right in with the brand’s tech-focused image … The first of Sephora’s experiential concepts, the Beauty TIP workshops are focused on three core concepts: teach, inspire and play … A customer conversion isn’t front-and-center in these stores and that’s probably for good reason. Sephora needs sales like anyone else, but the focus of these workshops is on customer interaction and experience.”

Sephora Studio meanwhile offers “a pair of beauty studios at the center of the store which offer up eight seats for customers to explore and interact with Sephora’s beauty advisors … The hope is that a given customer will have more than one consultation with the same beauty advisor, forming a connection that lasts over the weeks and months to come, rather than a simple one-time experience.”

“With so many digitally-enabled processes in place, Sephora’s members-only social platform, dubbed the Beauty Insider Community, fits right in with the brand’s tech-focused image … Among other things, members of the social platform can build a public profile, update their favorite looks and personal interests, join a variety of groups that discuss beauty-related topics, swap beauty tips in real time and browse the looks and videos of other clients.”


Kosher Cocktails: Man-O-Manischewitz

The New York Times: “At the Upper East Side branch of the Second Avenue Deli, they have matzo ball soup for what ails you. If that doesn’t do the trick, soon you can walk upstairs for something stronger. On Nov. 27, the brothers Jeremy and Josh Lebewohl … plan to open 2nd Floor, a cocktail lounge just above the restaurant, with a separate entrance on East 75th Street. This is fairly uncharted territory for Jewish delicatessens. In 1997, the owners of Ratner’s, the famous kosher dairy restaurant on Delancey Street that is now closed, opened a speakeasy in the back called Lansky Lounge. But delis are usually not associated with sophisticated drinking.”

“The bar will be unusual in that the liquid menu is certified kosher. Also, some ingredients are not ones you’re likely to find at any other cocktail bar in town. Man-O-Manischewitz, a riff on the gin cocktail called the Bramble, uses a syrup made from Manischewitz wine rather than the traditional crème de mûre. The Upper Eastsider, a long drink that can be made with gin or vodka, has Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda as a component. A drink called the Shofar, similar to a Jack Rose, is made up of ingredients whose flavors are associated with Rosh Hashana, including apple brandy, pomegranate (in the form of grenadine) and honey.”

“The space, which seats roughly 100, is designed to look as if it’s been there for years, with wooden floors, club chairs and an old tin ceiling. In the bathroom area, there are framed photos and posters of old Yiddish theater stars, a nod to the deli’s original location in the heart of the now-vanished Yiddish theater district.”


Saks Save Me & Wardrobe Malfunctions

The Wall Street Journal: “Sure, online shopping is convenient. But physical stores are banking on offering a human touch and personal service that not even their own online stores can replicate. Increasingly, brick-and-mortar stores are providing more personalized services, including those once reserved for VIPs, hoping to further endear themselves to shoppers.”

Brooks Brothers “typically opens locations in metro business districts earlier than 10 a.m. so people can make pit stops on their way to work. Staffs are trained to be prepared for clothing-accident victims, such as asking basic questions or swiftly assessing or measuring sizes, while keeping the person calm. Stores keep steamers close, ready to get wrinkles out of a freshly unfolded purchase. They are stocked with replacement items such as shirts, blazers and ties, especially around mid-morning breaks and lunch.”

“Saks Fifth Avenue’s women’s and men’s stores in Brookfield Place are the only Saks in the U.S. with a hotline, called Saks Save Me, that customers can email with fashion emergencies before the store’s 10 a.m. opening … J. Crew opens its doors before Brookfield Place’s 10 a.m. open three to five times a week to accommodate everything from the customer who spilled coffee on her blouse on the subway to one who ripped his button-down shirt getting into a cab … Ann Taylor stores see women needing an interview suit on the fly … Its city stores will open earlier than usual, sometimes on request.”


Hermes Windows & The Art of Retail

The New York Times: “Hermès has turned window shopping for handbags and saddles and suitcases into high art. On Nov. 8, the luxury design house opened a free exhibition at the Grand Palais museum to celebrate the pastime of looking at — but not buying — goods in store windows. The exhibition consists of eight fantasy shop window displays created by Leïla Menchari, the Tunisian-born queen of design who reigned over the picture windows at the Hermès flagship on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré from 1978 to 2013.”

“The Hermès pieces in the exhibit are one-of-a-kind works of art and not for sale. (The same was true when Ms. Menchari was creating her windows: Most of the pieces that Hermès artisans were assigned to make for them were never available for purchase.) Each display in the exhibition is constructed like an intimate, open stage, on a larger scale than an actual Hermès window, but without a barrier of glass that would have created distance from the viewer.”

“One display, based on a window in 2011, features a horse sculpture of stainless steel and tawny brown leather pieces by the French sculptor Christian Renonciat; it is flanked by matching silver and brown leather-trimmed suitcases … The exhibition coincides with the release of “Leïla Menchari, Queen of Enchantment” … Illustrated with 137 window displays, it traces Ms. Menchari’s life and work, from her birth approximately 90 years ago into a family of wealthy landowners to her fine arts studies in Tunis and Paris, her arrival as a window display assistant at Hermès in 1961 and the extraordinary career that followed.”