retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Flying down to San Antonio this week, I was changing planes at Chicago’s O’Hare. The connecting flight was delayed because of mechanical problems, however, so we all stood around waiting for them to get us a new aircraft.

Among the passengers were a couple of dozen young people - two women, the rest men - who in their mostly boisterous conversation made it clear that they had enlisted in the US Air Force, and were on their way to basic training. The majority of them seemed to be in a good, even great mood. They were on their way to a great adventure. A couple of them were quieter, more pensive. But most of them were brimming with enthusiasm.

I found myself in conversation with an 25-year Army officer who was on his way to San Antonio for some physical rehab, and who was amused by the young people. “It won’t last long,” he said. “Their lives are going to change as soon as they meet that bus at the airport.” Their hair would be cut, their belonging would be taken away, and they would find themselves at the mercy of an officer in charge of their training, he said.

The plane eventually boarded, and made it way to San Antonio. I noticed that the conversation got a lot quieter as we crossed the border into Texas, and the young people who previously had been so boisterous now seemed lost in thought. When we landed, I noticed that a few of them were calling loved ones, even though it was quite late, to say that they had landed, to say goodbye.

I watched the enlistees make their way slowly, almost tentatively to baggage claim, where they were about to meet their futures. And I watched the Army officer walk purposefully through the terminal. He was just back from Iraq, he’d told me, and after rehab would be heading to Afghanistan. He’d told me that he was married, with five kids, a couple of them about the same age as those young people who had joined the Air Force.

There is no moral to this story. It is just that in these few hours, chatting with one man well into his military career, and listening and watching a couple of dozen people just at the beginning of theirs, it struck me how lucky we are to have such people serving this country. It is good to be reminded of this from time to time.




There was a wonderful story in Fast Company the other day about Tyler Jordan Pluhacek - a 16-year-old Oregon resident that describes him this way: “His favorite subjects are Math and Spanish, and he's an accomplished guitarist and harmonica player with a passion for Blues and Ragtime from the '20s and '30s. He lives at home with his Mom and younger sister. Oh, and he's designed a $.99 app for the iPad.

“You might expect a teen developer to come up with a frivolous app--a game, perhaps, or something more throwaway. Not TJ. NoteLook is a pretty serious tool aimed at both students and business people, and it helps you organize your note-taking. But then, TJ is not your average teen. He's extraordinarily focused - when asked what he wanted to do after school, this was his response. "I've spent more time than most people looking at my options. When I go to college, I want to obtain degrees in both computer science and business management, and my plan is to become an entrepreneur and start up my own software development business."

Somebody ought to hire this kid. Quick. Because he’s not just a whiz, but he is a perfect candidate to help retailers understand how to market to the next generation of consumers.

Besides, he’d be a lot of fun to have in a marketing meeting.




Say hallelujah.

The Vatican, according to news reports this week, has finally decided that the Beatles were okay.

The official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote this week, on the 40th anniversary of the legendary band’s breakup, that “it's true, they took drugs; swept up by their success, they lived dissolute and uninhibited lives ... They even said they were more famous than Jesus ... But, listening to their songs, all of this seems distant and meaningless. Their beautiful melodies, which changed forever pop music and still give us emotions, live on like precious jewels."

Ringo Starr, for one, didn’t seem to care. He suggested what a lot of us were thinking - that at this particular moment in its history, perhaps the Vatican had other things it ought to be thinking about and talking about than whether the Beatles made good music.

Talk about distant and meaningless.

Can I get an “amen”?




Some people have real problems. Some people are fighting to maintain things like salary and health benefits in a world where such things have become expensive.

And then there are the people who work for the Carlsberg brewery in Denmark, who are fighting to for the ability to drink while at work.

According to the Wall Street Journal, for a century “the wort boilers, bottlers, packers and drivers” working at the Carlsberg brewery have “had the right to cool off during a hard day's work with a crisp lager. But on April 1, the refrigerators were idled and daily beer spoils were capped at three pint-sized plastic cups from a dining hall during lunch hour.” The Journal writes that to employees of the plant, “the right to tip a cold one at work is as sacred as other rights enjoyed by Copenhagen-based Carlsberg workers, such as a year's sick leave at full pay, an average annual salary of $59,000 and two free crates of beer monthly.” And so more than 700 people working for Carlsberg at its plants went out on strike last week until management agreed to renegotiate the limits on beer drinking at work.

Now, I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to labor, but this story prompts me to ask a number of questions.

• They get a year’s sick leave at full pay and two free creates of beer a month, and they’re complaining?
• Three pints of beer at lunch somehow is considered deprivation?
• They really used to let the drivers drink while at work?

And, finally, the most important question of all:

What the hell is a wort boiler?




Speaking of beer...I’m not sure why, but whenever I leave Texas I forget how much I like Shiner Bock beer. Then I come back, have a pint, and fall in love with it all over again.




My wine of the week: the Solex 2008 Chardonnay from Medocino County in California. Served fresh and cold, it is excellent for the end of a warm spring day.




“Date Night” isn’t a great movie, but it is a very funny movie and it offers two wonderful comic performances by Steve Carrell and Tina Fey as a married couple that rediscovers the excitement in their relationship when they are mistaken for another couple involved in a criminal enterprise. The plot focuses on the search for a flash drive, but that’s just what Hitchcock called the “MacGuffin” - the motivation for the plot and character development that doesn’t really have intrinsic importance. What really works in “Date Night” is the relationship between Carrell and Fey, and it actually is the quiet moments that stand out, the times when this husband and wife - who really like and respect and enjoy each other - just talk. I trust that somewhere in Hollywood, writers, producers and agents are looking for another script for these two comic talents to work on together.




A big shout-out to the folks at Retail Connections, who put together this week’s Fresh Forum in San Antonio and were kind enough to invite me to speak to the meeting. Interesting, provocative discussions...and I was glad to be part of it.

Thanks also to Beto’s Comida Latina in San Antonio, which hosted a lovely little gathering of MNB readers last night. The conversation was great, it was good to see new and old friends, and the empanadas were terrific. That’s my kind of combination.




That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

Slainte!
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