Bullpen Cubs & The Sweet Smell of Success

The Wall Street Journal: “The Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series on the strength of many important traits, among them extraordinary depth, exquisite defense and superb starting pitching. They may also have the best-smelling bullpen in baseball … Most ballplayers use something to reduce the body odor produced by sweat-inducing activity. It’s called deodorant. Far fewer go so far as to add perfume to their pregame routine.”

To Cubs reliever Pedro Strop “the smell of victory begins with the scent of L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent.” He comments: “I always say, ‘You smell good, you perform good'” … Last year’s World Series champion, the Kansas City Royals, featured two players, catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar, who wore Victoria’s Secret perfume during games. They believed it helped them play better. David Ortiz, who just finished his legendary career with the Boston Red Sox, wore cologne during the team’s 2013 title run.”

“Cubs manager Joe Maddon is no stranger to the power of smell. In early 2014, while managing the Tampa Bay Rays, Maddon had a problem: His team stunk. To help pull the Rays out of last place, he brought several bottles of old cologne to the ballpark one day and put them on a table for players to try. The team responded with a much-needed victory … But the scent of the Cubs’ bullpen is of the pitchers’ own making” based on “a firm belief that a refined smell leads to an elegant performance.”

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Data Gymnastics & The Workout Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “As competition grows, more clubs are using data analysis, consultants and Wi-Fi-connected equipment to quantify what’s happening on a fitness floor … In general, many gyms have too much expensive equipment like cross-trainer machines, and not enough cheap equipment like dumbbells and stretching mats … That’s partly because equipment makers advise gym owners on layouts, and partly because many gym owners believe a room filled with the latest equipment helps sell memberships.”

“One common error is paying too little attention to members’ sight lines in the gym … Cardio equipment is used more often when it faces weightlifting areas than when it faces away from them … That’s especially true for women, who say treadmills are their favorite piece of gym equipment. (Treadmills are No. 2 for men, behind dumbbells).”

“Results of (the) analysis are sometimes counterintuitive. According to usage data, members of one luxury gym preferred treadmills facing people working out on the gym floor to treadmills facing windows with scenic views … The data also shows that people who log into a cardio machine work out 33% longer than those who don’t log in. People who use a machine’s video-on-demand service also work out 15% longer than those who don’t.”

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Beautycounter & Consumer Safety in Cosmetics

The New York Times: “Legislation that would introduce a far more serious degree of regulatory oversight to the personal care products industry is proceeding in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Consumer safety groups are pushing for stricter laws. And the call for more stringent oversight of the industry is coming from a coalition of companies that includes Beautycounter, a plucky start-up that is pitching natural face creams as well as regulation.”

“Beautycounter is the brainchild of Gregg Renfrew, a retail executive who has embraced the cause of cleaner cosmetics … In 2010, she raised money and hired a team that included makeup artists and public health specialists … they identified more than 1,500 chemicals and ingredients they thought might be harmful or linked to cancer, and they resolved not to use them in Beautycounter products … Today, Beautycounter offers nearly 100 products and has more than 25,000 people … who sell its wares. The company also sells its cosmetics through Goop, J. Crew and Target. Beautycounter says its sales are increasing rapidly.”

“As the company grew, Ms. Renfrew kept one eye on Washington … In May, Ms. Renfrew took 100 women to Washington for several days of meetings with senators and staff from both sides of the aisle.” Bryan McGannon of the American Sustainable Business Council, comments: “Beautycounter has really invested in the process in a different way. It isn’t often when you have companies willing to stand up and say: We’re O.K. with more regulation. We need it.”

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It Might Get Loud: How Noise Affects Taste

USA Today: “Our sense of taste is complex, impacted by sight, smell, memories, music, the last thing on our tongues before the next thing we put in our mouths. Still, research indicates that loud noise may diminish salty and sweet flavors … On the other hand, it intensifies umami, the so-called ‘fifth taste’ characterizing ultra-savory foods such as bacon, mushrooms and parmesan cheese.”

“Loud music hinders our ability to perceive how much alcohol is in a cocktail, thereby changing how we think drinks taste. We drink more when the music is loud and fast. We chew faster. Noise appears to mess with our sense of smell, too.”

Noise expert Charles Spence comments: “It is likely partly distraction, that by attending to what we hear, we have less attention for what we taste, smell. We may no longer be able to hear the crunch, the crackle, the crispy, the carbonated that constitute a significant part of our eating and drinking pleasure. However, beyond the general distraction effect, there may be a masking effect, meaning that we simply find it harder to taste even if we are trying our hardest.”

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Brilliant Books: How Local Goes Global

The New York Times: “When Peter Makin opened Brilliant Books five years ago, he quickly realized his business wouldn’t survive in this remote locale if his only customers were local buyers … he believed that online buyers would flock to Brilliant Books if they experienced the same customer service that shoppers in his physical store do … He began offering free shipping … and hired a full-time social media manager, who promotes the store and has used Twitter and Facebook to talk to readers who would never find themselves near Traverse City.”

“One of his most successful ways of getting repeat business is his store’s version of a book-of-the-month program, which makes personalized recommendations for each of its nearly 2,000 subscribers every 30 days. Rather than use an online form to track preferences, Brilliant sends each new subscriber a customer card to fill out by hand and mail back. Employees then scan the card into the system so that when it is book-selection time, they can see what the customers said they liked and how they said it.”

“Once the selections are made, the back-end system orders books from the publishers and prints postage and address labels. After the books arrive, the staff mails personalized packages. The investment is paying off: Sales are up 14 percent this year, and Mr. Makin anticipates that 30 percent of Brilliant’s sales will come from online orders — doubling last year’s total. Facebook customers buy more nonfiction titles, while Twitter conversations generate more sales of young adult and children’s books.”

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Innovation & The Theory of Jobs To Be Done

The Wall Street Journal: “Businesses succeed when they help people do certain jobs. They fail when they lose sight of what that job is … Jobs are defined by the customers who hire companies to do them. The jobs are … expressed in verbs and nouns, not adjectives and adverbs. Some of the most successful companies in the world … are those whose very names have become synonymous with the job they help you do, such as Google, Uber, Xerox and TurboTax.”

“By contrast, ‘I need to have a chocolate milkshake that is in a twelve-ounce disposable container’ is a preference that confines both the customer and beverage provider to the milkshake category … The job customers ‘hire’ the breakfast milkshake for is … ‘I need something that will keep me occupied with what’s happening on the road while I drive. And also, I’d like this to fill me up so that I’m not hungry during a 10:00 a.m. meeting’ … Putting it that way forces drive-through owners to think much more broadly about what’s for breakfast.”

The Theory of Jobs to Be Done, as presented in Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen, et. al., recommends “creating internal processes that flex according to the needs of the job to be done, not the needs of the organization. When you buy something on Amazon, it will tell you something along the lines of: ‘If you order within the next 2 hours and 32 minutes, you’ll receive your product Tuesday.’ That isn’t Amazon simply trying to keep you posted. It’s a way to force the company’s internal processes to stay focused on what matters to the customer—the basic, all-too-easily forgotten job that customers need done.”

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How Wyndham Wins the Loyalty Game

The Wall Street Journal: “The top performer in a new comparison of hotel loyalty program payback is Wyndham Hotel Group, which revamped its Wyndham Rewards loyalty program 18 months ago to make it a lot more beneficial to travelers … average payback at Wyndham is nearly 14%. For every $100 you spend at Wyndham, Ramada, Days Inn, Wingate and other hotels, you can get back $13.60 worth of stays on points.”

“Wyndham … changed its program in 2015 to price every award room the same: 15,000 points. There are no capacity controls or blackout dates and you earn 10 points for every dollar spent, so points accumulate quickly. Wyndham says redemptions are up 90% since before the change and seven million people have joined the program since the 2015 relaunch, a 17% increase to 47.5 million members.”

“Wyndham says it is investing $100 million in the loyalty program, most of which is going to hotel owners to buy rooms for free stays. Since most hotels are franchised under a brand name but owned separately, hotel owners pay the chain a small percentage of room revenue to cover points given out, and then hotels that provide free rooms when points are redeemed get paid by the chain. In Wyndham’s case, the chain is subsidizing the cost of the free rooms for hotel owners.”

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Scrip: Pain in the Cash

Quartz: “Research indicates that paying with cash can actually feel painful—and thus act as a deterrent to mindless spending. It’s also long been shown that consumers spend more (and are often willing to pay more for the same items) when they’re paying with a credit card because money feels much more abstract.”

“One firm believes that it can help people stop buying useless things by making cashless transactions feel more tactile. Scrip is a small copper-colored digital payment device designed to mimic the experience of paying with cash. Currently a concept, the device was created by the firm NewDealDesign, which is behind the design of Fitbit’s wearables.”

“To make a payment, a person would swipe his or her thumb over the device in a manner similar to counting bills. The device then shows the account’s updated balance … Gadi Amit, the founder of NewDealDesign … came up with the concept for Scrip when he noticed his teenaged daughters were often out of funds, something that wasn’t a problem when they were younger and used only cash for purchases.”

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Queue Theory: The Science of Customer Service

The Wall Street Journal: “Imagine three lines feeding three cash registers. Some shoppers will have more items than others, or there may be a delay for something like a price check. The rate of service in the different lines will tend to vary. If the delays are random, there are six ways three lines could be ordered from fastest to slowest—1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2 or 3-2-1. Any one of the three (including the one you picked) is quickest in only two of the permutations, or one-third of the time.”

“Queues can be trivial, like a line at an ATM, or they can be serious, like a list of people waiting for an organ transplant … A basic queue funnels clients demanding service to one or more servers who respond. If the servers are busy, other demands must wait. The clients may include a line of people, a series of 911 calls, or a string of commands issued over a computer network (think of a printer queue). The servers are the cashiers, the dispatchers or the devices that respond.”

“Queuing theory helps untangle the mess of requests, or at least smooth it out, by estimating the number of servers needed to meet demand over a given period and designing rules for advancing the queue. The best system depends on the situation. ‘First come, first served’ is most familiar, and people often prefer it because it seems fair. But most also accept that a heart attack should take precedence over a sprained ankle or someone with five items shouldn’t have to wait behind a procession of brimming shopping carts.”

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The Branding of ‘Bodega’

The Wall Street Journal: “Bodegas are hot. Yes, the humble corner stores, with their grouchy cats and reams of toilet paper, are fast replacing the taxi and the bagel as a symbol of New York authenticity, lending urban credibility to any endeavor. There’s Bodega, the clothing line, and Bodega, an art gallery on the Lower East Side. Not to mention the Bodega, a wine bar in Bushwick, and Bodega Pale Ale, a craft beer only distributed in New York. Bodega 88, a sports bar, opened in August on the Upper West Side, in a former bodega.”

“Bodega Magazine, ‘your literary corner store,’ is an online monthly … Managing editor Cat Richardson says each issue provides a quick, accessible hit of contemporary fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction, with a few surprises thrown in. ‘It has everything you need, like toilet paper, and then something unexpected,’ she says … Mark Littman, founder of Bodega Studios, a video-production agency with offices in Chelsea and San Francisco, says the outfit’s name is a nod to its New York roots and personalized service.”

Bodega Pizza “co-founder Jose Morales, who grew up in the neighborhood working in his father’s bodega, remembers corner stores where everyone gathered to drink and play the Dominican lottery … The facade of his pizzeria … is a yellow metal awning featuring a traditional bodega’s red lettering and flashing bulbs. The front windows are stacked with green tins of Keebler Export Sodas Crackers, pillar candles and faded Brillo boxes. Mr. Morales … says he’ll soon offer groceries along with the pizza. ‘You can eat a nice pie, have a beer and go home with some soap, cereal and toilet paper,’ he says.”

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