Monday, December 31, 2007

Restart the Insanity!

Susan Powter has an announcement;

Mango, brown rice, blackeyed peas, voodoo and gigabytes


As Susan says, Happy Bloody New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wish Book

Around this time of year, when I was about 10, I remember sitting in class at my new school and seeing two fellow students excitedly passing a paper back and forth and putting check marks on it. They were discussing the things that they wanted for Christmas that year. The paper they were passing was a cheaply printed circular from Family Dollar. Filled with off-brand merchandise and garish in color, the newsprint crinkled in their busy hands. I watched the excitement in their eyes and heard it in their voices as they discussed all the offerings to be had. I remember the sad faces of malformed reindeer make of flocked plastic and the giant electric snowmen to be placed in the yard, the molded dolls- of similar size if not exactly Barbie, the "GIANT CHRISTMAS STOCKING-OVER 4 FEET LONG!!" full of hard candy and plastic toys easily broken and most especially I remember the small chairs made of foam and fake fur with eyes and a smile.

I went home that day and hid the dog-eared Wish Book under a sofa, careful not to open it and reveal the pages inside. I went to my room and I cried, without knowing exactly why.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I can't believe it but...

I just received a mass Christmas Greeting/Year-End Update from a former coworker. She included 6 photos of the aftermath of a botched colonoscopy she had earlier this year. WTF? I would post them here but I think they may be too disturbing.

Merry Christmas to you too!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Plain Ol' Plano

Have I told you how much I hate Wal-Mart? Have I told you about the vendors that I know who have been driven into bankruptcy by them? Have I told you about my encounters with their buyers in Asia? No? Well, we'll leave all that for another day.

Yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart. I was already in the neighborhood (Plano) doing some Christmas shopping and I decided to pop in for a moment to check on one particular section.

Remember the announcements that were made with great fanfare about Wal-Mart making some upgrades to their product lines and displays in a few particular target markets? They opened a new store in Plano last year and have used that store to test upgrades to the product lines as well as the interior finishes and even the exterior building materials. Because of my line of work, I was particularly interested in all the noise made about their new home decor section that was to rival Target and maybe even Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, etc. To that I said, "Yeah, right." But the majority of the press was not as skeptical as me.

MSNBC said "Wal-Mart turns attention to upscale shoppers"
Forbes said: "Wal-Mart Goes Upscale"
USAToday said "Wal-Mart turns attention to upscale shopper"
BusinessWeek said "Wal-Mart Fishes Upstream"
CBS News said "Wal-Mart Targeting Upscale Shoppers"
DSN Retailing Today touted the new store in "The Plano Truth about the Future of Cheap Chic"

It was a huge deal in the industry. Every trade magazine did a story about it. But so few in the industry (and apparently in the press) ever took the time to visit the store and see what all the hype was about. If they had done so, they would have found very little there other than hype.

At the time of the opening of the experimental new store in Plano, I was working in New York. But as soon as I could, I went to this "ground-breaking" new store and was flabbergasted by what I saw. The new home decor section that was supposed to be so revolutionary contained the most pedestrian of decor items clearly sold to the company by small, desperate importers based in the US. The items were poorly designed, poorly merchandised, poorly displayed, poorly coordinated... End-caps had been chopped into 3 foot display sections- this was revolutionary? Didn't Target first do that like 10 years ago? I was underwhelmed.

Then in a reversal, Wal-Mart began to pull back on these advances and the International Herald-Tribune said "Wal-Mart's new strategy goes back to basics: Saving money." The Plano store was to retain it's unique sections but their expansion to other locations would be scaled back. Clearly this had not been the money maker that Wal-Mart expected. The special sections are still there and contain a different mix of merchandise. They still use this store to test items in all departments. You see many items there for only a week or two then they are gone for good. Or you see items there for months and months with bright red sale stickers which seem unable to entice buyers.

So back to yesterday, I went to the much ballyhooed home decor section and snapped a couple of photos for all of you who are unable to see this ground breaking prototype in your area. I know you will be jealous.There it is, in all it's glory. The home decor section that was so "revolutinary." This is the section that DSN said "bears the badge of radical retailing primarily because of how it symbolizes the quantum leap that Wal-Mart has made over the last two years in its ongoing crusade to become a more fashionable retailer." Radical retailing? Quantum leap?

The aisles are a bit wider and the end-cap shelves are new, so are the display boards behind the shelves where you would normally see prices in huge font and the smiley face. But, "radical?"

The end caps are telling the three main color stories for the season. I know this is new for Wal-Mart. They have never been color or theme driven. I guess this is a big step for them. This season they are featuring: Black/White, Traditional Red/Green and Burgundy/Gold. Not exactly ground breaking. Let's look at the individual displays.

Black and White
So they have a white tree with a single red ornament placed randomly about 8 feet above ground and the tree is surrounded by the same old acrylic table pieces that have been retailed by so many stores over the last 8 years. (In fact, Wal-Mart has driven everyone else out of that acrylic business because they have driven the prices so low. Meanwhile the manufacturer of those items is forced to front the cost of every mold himself. They can run from $40,000-75,000 each.) But back to the display, the backdrop has been wrapped as a present including bow. And a white garland has been taped (with tape visible) around the edge of the shelf. Do you see the "quantum leap" now?

The red and green section features the beautiful "wrapped package" backdrop, randomly placed bead garland and a large hollow resin Santa. And what about the product?

Here is the merchandise described as "trend-right"- some stuffed bears, cookie tins, Santa hats and candy filled plastic canes- all of which were available in K-Mart circa 1972 (and before.) And that snow and the random bows! I don't think I need to say anything else about those.

The burgundy and gold section again features the "wrapped present" backdrop but this time it is accented by graceful sweeps of wrinkled tablecloths taped (!) to the fixture. And the merchandise? All the shelves were filled with the same cherub adorned tin buckets full of soap and body lotion. I'm not sure if the poinsettia is there as decor or stock.

I don't expect to go into a Wal-Mart and be blown away by their product design. They don't design anything except their plan-o-grams. They rely on vendors to design their product. They don't develop items. They expect their vendors to assume all those costs.

I don't expect to go into a Wal-Mart and be blown away by their product displays. There really is only so much one can do with 127 jars of pickles.

What I do expect is a full retraction from all those industry press people who fell all over themselves breathlessly reporting on how this Plano store was going to revolutionize retailing, how Wal-Mart was going to lead the way in design, etc., etc. They should have known better. You don't revolutionize product design without investment and Wal-Mart seems completely unwilling to do that. They are so price-driven they probably never will. You don't puts some shelves on an end-cap and claim to have made your stores upscale.

To quote DSN again-
even if it takes these upscale offerings several years before they 'pass the Plano test' and begin showing up in regular Wal-Mart stores, the mold is already cast for the future of fashion at mass retail. For anyone who competes with Wal-Mart, it means fashion may no longer be the most meaningful point of differentiation."

I think a correction should be printed. The differentiation is definitely still meaningful.

Afterall, the other retailer whose market share Wal-Mart was after, Target, had Tord Boontje do their in-store decorations last year.

Compare this to the other photos. I think it sums the situation up nicely.

(Sorry about the poor quality of the photos. I was using my cameraphone (never buy the Blackjack) and I was moving in haste. I didn't want to get caught by the Wal-Mart people. But frankly, I am not sure if better photography was warranted.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Song for a Happy Friday

(And quite possibly my favorite pop single of the year)
Phantom Limb
by The Shins

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thursday is Santa Lucia Day

What's not to love about a holiday when virgins walk around with fire on their heads...

In case you are not familiar with this holiday, watch this video for a little background info.

It includes some words of warning from Gene Simmons (from the legendary rock band KISS) who is now spokesperson for Friends Of Fire Fighters (F-OFF).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Here comes the glitter....

Last week I was approached by a wholesaler and asked to help with their showroom design for the upcoming January shows. I don't do this kind of thing very often anymore. After spending the better part of the 1990's in merchandise marts around the country, I thought I had closed that chapter in my life. But I have been a man of leisure for about 12 months now. No job, no work. Only traveling, writing, art projects, cleaning and recleaning the apartment, an occasional project in Washington and Bravo marathons. It is about time that I reenter the working class. I accepted the contract for their two biggest showrooms only (Dallas and Atlanta.) That will occupy all of my time for the next 5 weeks or more.

As I was considering taking the gig, the one huge negative that almost convinced me to refuse the offer was glitter....

No, not that kind of glitter.

This kind:
Photo from j-a-n on flickr

This particular wholesaler is known for very high end Christmas decorations sold to major department stores and gift shops around the country but almost everything they sell is coated with glitter.

I hate glitter.

Don't get me wrong. I own some glitter accented things as evidenced by the foam trees in the previous post. But mostly they are just accented with a little glitter. Like the fine lines of glitter on these ornaments on my white tree:

But this particular wholesaler sells things that are coated with thick layers of glitter. Laser glitter. Chunky glitter. Every color. Every size.

Glitter, glitter, glitter.

This photo is not from the same company but you get the idea.

The last time I worked for this company, I found glitter in my house and car for months. There are still flakes of glitter embedded in the gear shift of car to this day. I found glitter in my wallet and the pockets of every garment I wore during those weeks. I walked around with a constant application of what appeared to be glitter eyeshadow.

When I would come home and remove my clothes, I would find that the glitter had somehow gotten down my pants and my ass looked something like this:
(The one on the right but pale and less pert.)
Photo from stinkface on flickr

And the shit is next to impossible to remove. Water only causes it to adhere more closely to the skin. The only option is to dry brush or vacuum it away.

I'll try to see if I can chronicle the glitter horrors here but I am not sure if photos will do justice to this plague I am about to endure.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Song for a Happy Friday

The Maccabees
"Toothpaste Kisses"
via zefrank

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


One tree is up.

The elves are climbing through their foam tree forest.


Must be time for Christmas.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Color Lesson

(As taught by Georgetown, Washington D.C.)