Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ushering in 2010

Ah New Year's. Ushering in 2010. The celebrations, the bowl games, the first long weekend of the year. Tired of the usual? Here's what "The Muse" is reading, watching, and seeing, as the decade closes down and the "tens and teens" decade dawns:

What "The Muse" is reading:

1. Perhaps one of the most important books of this decade, "The Muse" is re-reading Naomi Klein's, No Logo: 10Th Anniversary edition. Her tack on the corporate culture and the branding of every available space continues to be a must read for anyone in business, arts, or education. With a new, smartly written introduction, the title should be on every manager's bookshelf.

2. "The Muse" is really taken by the journalist Simon Houpt, who writes a weekly column called per.sua.sion for the Globe and Mail. Houpt's focus is on marketing and advertising. A recent article here, is on new and slightly edgy recruitment campaigns by Universities and Colleges. Sharp, witty and well written, Houpt is well worth checking out each Friday.

What "the Muse" is seeing:

1. Up in the Air. This movie, starring George Clooney as a charming hired staff terminator, is a timely flick in this age of cutbacks and layoffs. One wants to be canned by a Clooney type, but it usually doesn't go that way. Still, the film is charming, with a strong cast and a tale of lost life and love. Worth a viewing.

2. Woodstock: Directors Cut. Watching the Directors cut DVD of "Woodstock: 3 days of peace and music, "the Muse" remembers cursing his parents for not birthing him earlier in time to attend in person. Forty years on, this film captures the spirit of community, positive thinking, and and a large dose of naivety, that the world will be a better place. Great performances as well. It wraps up the sixties and reminds us that 1969 was a watershed year of change. The belly of America was sliced open, and 40 years on, some of the sutures have yet to close.

3. CBC DocZone. It may be Canadian, but don't let that put you off. Some of the best, award winning, documentaries, are through DocZone, and they can viewed online. Besides an interesting documentary on what will happen to the British Monarchy after Elizabeth II passes away, many may be interested in the recent debut: "The Secret World of Shoplifting" . It is a fascinating look at the shoplifting problem, focusing on professional shoplifters, and how retailers in the US are trying to combat a growing problem. The National Retail Federation, recently mentioned theft as one of the top problems retailers face, so worth checking out, and assessing the tools that you have at your store to address this bottom line loss.

What "the Muse" is hearing:

1. Sirius / XM Radio. Although "the Muse" has had satellite radio for a couple of years, it never ceases to amaze with what interesting, and fascinating, radio shows can be found. For $10 a month, "The Muse" gets access, not only to a wealth of music, but a huge variety of compelling talk radio. NPR is the favorite, with interviews by Bob Edwards, CarTalk, This American Life and more. Business programming covers the gamut from Wall Street discussion to fascinating topics on the business of Entertainment. All for far less than a cable subscription. Once you get hooked, it's hard to give it all up.

2. Miles Davis / Sketches of Spain. You can buy it still on vinyl, CD in multiple formats, and it remains one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the last 50 years. A giddy blend of jazz trumpet with orchestra, this disk continues to be a "spa treatment on disk". The perfect antidote for preparing for, or recovering from, the upcoming semester start.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Muse Holiday List

It's almost Christmas! Now should be the time to think of gifts for those hard to get people, like "The Retail Muse"! Here's the list of some of the items "The Muse" would like to find under the tree this year:

Vinyl Love
It's official. Vinyl records are completely back in vogue again. Now the sales are still small, but all those geeky audiophiles out there would love a new nifty Pro-Ject turntable to play all those old dusty records boxed up in the basement. Once "The Muse" obtains one, out come the Miles Davis and Hawkwind Vinyl! Ah the warmth and pops and scratches of our youth!

An Anniversary worth celebrating
1969 Seemed to be a year of Change. Woodstock and the Moon Walk. But most importantly, the dawn of Sesame Street. Now who can't love the Street? This year, a beautiful 40th anniversary coffee table book has been released, highlighting all the adventures of Big Bird, Oscar and Miss Piggy. Includes a bonus DVD of the very first Sesame Street episode!. "The Muse" looks at it as a great item to channel his inner child.

Looking through a Green Apple
Any Beatles, or pop culture freak, would get a kick out of the complete Beatles catalogue stored on a USB drive within a bright green apple. Can you think of anything more iconic and future thinking than all the Beatles songs, stored on a 21st Century USB Drive. I wanna hold your USB!

Color your world
With a million iPhone apps, there's a fair bit of choice. Yet nothing beats the Pantone Color app that is now available for a reasonable price. Every Pantone color on your iPhone, scroll through and choose complementary colors, try colors out as a background on your pics, and email true Pantone color choices to your favorite designer, visual or graphic artist. anyone who loves looking at color will find this application a true gem and color their world for years to come.

Blowing in the Party Wind

Christmas parties are fun right? Especially the dreaded staff Xmas party. But nothing beats an Xmas party with Bob Dylan! Check out this video for Dylan's "It Must Be Santa" - It's weird and wonderful and slightly disturbing. Check out the wig! But. isn't it a great polka fused festive song for the season?

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Black Friday Sojourn

The Retail muse headed out on Black Friday, looking to see, amongst all the hype and excitement, is the experience of a Black Friday shop-a-thon worth it? Is the experience remarkable or just another example of consumer madness? Are there any good retailers out there? Is anyone standing above the fray? Why on earth do we do this?

Hanging out at one of the world's largest shopping malls, the whole media frenzy of Black Friday appears to "The Muse" as almost warrior like. Early morning, and consumers stand in tight bundles, clutching flyers and lists, pushing gently against the doors, waiting for the mall to open. They are ready for battle. Determined and focused. The credit card as their weapon.

Security Guards (If you can call them that - they look to be either 17 or 71), stand inside the doors. Deer in the headlights eyes, glare back at us, as the guards check their watches every few seconds, anxious fingers at the door locks. It's the Berlin Wall of Retail. A stand off between the shoppers and the keepers of safety. The seconds silently tick away.

Outside, the shoppers are anxious. Everyone has a different time, the pushing and shoving becomes more prominent. There is a thirst for deals, The smell of discount in the crowd. The shoppers push forward, bursting through the open door and filling the mall instantly.

The noise level raises as the shoppers converge on the retailers. Wal-Mart, the choice of many, seems almost bursting at the seams, as shoppers rush the aisles. One wonders how cash registers could be ringing so quickly after opening, but is confirmed by the customers grabbing tchockys and toys from the main aisles and racing to the tills. SALE SALE SALE, screams the store banners. $40 toy now $14.96!!, as customers grab brightly colored plastic, made in Taiwan, items from the displays.

The shopping process has a military single mindedness to it. Customers with lists and crumpled flyers. Carts slipping down the rows as shoppers throw goods into the basket. Penciling through the Christmas list in 15 minutes flat, and then a mad dash to the register to complete the invasion.

The Staff are already gloomy. Already fearful, and ready to run to the closest hiding space. To save face this year, Wal-Mart has security everywhere. 17 year olds marching down over-merchandised aisles looking for shoplifters, while 71 year olds check bags as shoppers leave with their discount prizes. The sound of children crying raises above the din.

It's 9:15 am.

This is enough for "the Muse" and we leave Wal-Mart, wondering if Black Friday is just a huge version of a College Store at Rush time. Toys instead of textbooks. But not really well organized. Half the registers down, the self scan barely working, the staff unprepared, and still under the influence of yesterday's tryptophan. So we head out into the mall, walking through the crowds, looking for something to inspire us. A retail inspiration in a sea of luridly colored bargain boudoirs

It doesn't take long for disappointment to set in. For all the money and effort that retailers spend on Black Friday promotions, the message doesn't seem to make it to the sales floor. Most stores seem caught off guard, (or more likely purposely under staffed). Posters of "crazy" deals hang limply from the windows. Sticky tape abounds, an air of carelessness seems to permeate the retailers preparations.

Half empty boxes of Black Friday merchandise are scattered across the retail floor. Staff try to empty them, but customers are quicker and more eager. They grab and throw, barking out size demands and clutch their finds, as if they are an extra in an Indiana Jones movie. "The Gap" and "H and M" seem especially lost in the madness. Control has gone out the window. All that careful folding, and hanging, and wrapping, is reduced to a pile of mismatched finery by 10 am. We feel like vultures in "H and M", picking at the cotton blend carrion of the display table.

It's almost lunch time, and we haven't seen anything that screams remarkable. It's a big mass of discount and discontinued. All wrapped up in quasi holiday retail cheer. Santa looks weary. Even the "Old Navy" mannequins have lost their perky edge. And then, out of the mass of shoppers, amongst the bland cookie cutter retail promotions, we find a couple of retailers that make the trip worthwhile.

"Bath and Body Works" is the first. Although packed with women grabbing hand sanitizers in every scent imaginable, and a feeling that you are trapped in a world of scented candles, the atmosphere is positive and friendly. Shelves and fixtures are well stocked, and where they are not, staff are busily restocking. Merchandise is well positioned and everything is clearly priced. The wooden slatted floor is clean, and musician Sting, crooning about winter, adds a relaxing ambiance to the hectic madness.

How this retailer stands apart from all the others though, is the staff. From the moment you walk in, the staff is helpful, friendly, and ready to provide you with a tote bag for all your purchases. They scramble up the shelves to get items down from the top shelf, they rummage around in nook and crannies finding more stock, and above all they are "there" for you. By the time you hit the fast moving payment line, you realize what a pleasant, and yes, how remarkable visiting this store is.It might be the biggest rush of all time for "Bath and Body Works", but this store know how to prepare, how to train their staff and above all, how to make the experience for their customers memorable.

Finally, a Black Friday sojourn can't be complete without a stop at the Apple Store. Here again, no matter how busy, this store knows that they are in control. Friendly Apple boys and girls greet you at the main entrance. They position themselves for maximum visibility, exuding a curious mixture of calmness and enthusiasm. The store itself, all white and minimalistic, offers adventure - even when you need to push your way through the teeming throngs. Sales staff wait patiently. When three or four customers corner a Apple Sales rep, they work systematically and quickly through the questions. Imagine this process anywhere else. The clerk would leave screaming and sobbing in the staff room. At Apple they are in control. They know their stuff and they have been well trained. Very little fazes them, and when the grubby 8 year old child runs his ice cream stained fingers over all the Ipods, they patiently smile and show the child the kids programs. A response that is a bit anathema for "The Muse".

After a couple of pleasant retail experiences, "The Muse" felt a little bit better about the state of retail. There is so much that can be improved, so many opportunities for excitement, and remarkable experiences. But, as we stood in the mall, late afternoon of Black Friday 2009, it seems like there might be a glimmer of hope left in the consumer circus.