Thursday, July 28, 2016

Kmart, 1962-2017???

Normally I put these types of stories in my tymshft blog, but since this story hasn't officially ended yet, I'm sticking it here.

Kmart, which sprung out of S.S. Kresge in 1962, had hit hard times by 2002. This was not a good time for merchandisers - the venerable Montgomery Ward had gone out of business. Kmart's solution was to merge with Sears, under the theory that if you put two faltering companies together, the resulting company would be absolutely wonderful.

For some odd reason, it didn't work out that way. The combined company is still faltering.

Now comes news that Kmart is undergoing a "path to profitability" plan at its stores, and that store managers are being encouraged to move inventory out of the stock room and on to the sales floor.

Some employees, however, suspect that Kmart is doing something entirely different:

"If you go to the purging stock rooms then that means the store will be closing soon no matter what they tell you," one person wrote. "Could be a month, maybe six, but they are already in the process of planning for it to close once they put it all out on the sales floor."

Other employees are speculating that bankruptcy and store closings will begin after the Christmas 2016 season, with one saying:

I have no doubts at all that SHLD [Sears Holdings] will cease to exist by 2020 at the very latest.

Note that Sears Holdings not only includes Kmart, but also Sears itself. According to that noted business publication Infowars, Kmart and Sears are but two of the retailers that are closing stores; even Walmart is affected. The steady minds at Infowars are referring to a "retail apocalypse."

Not surprisingly, the National Retail Federation takes a different view. However, neither Sears nor Kmart appear on the NRF's Hot 100 list.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#empoplaaybizz PokeSTOP! Or, I am not a marketing genius either

Remember my morning post that suggested generous use of Pokemon Go incense to attract people to a business?

Well, both Kevin Hagan and Lars M. Hansen have detected a tiny problem with my idea. As Imore puts it:

It only works on you.

So a business could buy gallons of incense, but it wouldn't benefit the customers at all. Unless there was a way to gift incense to other players - which, as far as I know, does not yet exist. So if your restaurant isn't near a REAL Pokestop (that can support lures), my idea's a dud.

In related news, I found James Kim's trademark application. And Pokestop itself commented on my original post, noting that the PokeStop idea was one of severa.

#empoplaaybizz PokeSTOP! Or, James Kim is NOT a marketing genius

PYMNTS and Uproxx and TMZ are reporting that "branding genius" James Kim has a revolutionary idea.

1. Trademark the term Pokestop.
2. Reach a licensing agreement with Nintendo, the Pokémon Company, and/or Niantic.
3. Open a chain of cafes called Pokestops to cater to the Pokémon Go-loving public.

So assume that Nintendo et al are extremely happy with the idea of giving Kim a cut of the money, and that the trademarks are approved, and that locations are selected. In a best-case scenario, we'll start seeing these "Pokestops" in...

...well, in 2017 if everything goes perfectly. If things get bogged down with litigation and zoning restrictions (imagine your average city council approving a restaurant that is designed to have a bunch of people milling around), the process could take years.

By which time the Pokémon Go fanaticism may have faded just a little bit.

Now I am not world-renowned like James Kim is, but I have a way to use Pokémon Go to drum up business at your establishment that does NOT require trademark battles, licensing agreements, franchise agreements, or anything else. Sit back.

1. Open a restaurant or café.

That's actually the hardest part in this whole thing. Opening food establishments is hard, and keeping them open is harder. But once you've done that, you can move on to step 2.

2. Buy incense by the gallon.

Now I'm not talking about any kind of incense. I'm talking about Pokémon Go incense, a purchasable game item that attracts Pokémon to the location for 1/2 hour.

Note that I said incense, not lures. Lures can only be used in certain locations called Pokestops, and if you're restaurant isn't a Pokestop, you're out of luck. But incense can be used anywhere, even if a Pokestop is kilometers away. (This is a Niantic worldwide game. Niantic doesn't use miles.)

To buy incense, you need 1,250 PokeCoins to buy 25 units of incense. Since each unit of incense lasts 30 minutes, 25 units will last for just about a full day at a restaurant. And in real money, the 1,250 PokeCoins can be had for a little over $10.

Spend $20 over a weekend, and potentially attract customers who will spend much more than $20. Sounds like a winner to me.

But how do the players know to come to your restaurant or café? Do you have to engage in activities that bring Nintendo lawyers down on you? Not necessarily.

3. Put up a sign in your restaurant/café that says, "We buy incense."

Now I've actually seen huge banners with official Pokémon Go logos on them, and perhaps the lawyers will even let those stay up. But if they don't, a simple "we have incense" sign - coupled with word of mouth - will serve the same purpose.

And if Pokémon Go turns out to be a fad that dies before Christmas, your restaurant can quit buying the incense every weekend and move on to the next idea. And you've saved all the trademark and licensing and permit fees that James Kim is going to be paying.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#empoplaaybizz From Farmville to Pokemon Go - is exercise sociopathic?

On June 30, I wrote a post about my return to the old Niantic game Ingress. As I wrote that post, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Niantic was preparing a new game - its first in several years.

By July 10, I had joined that new game. It's called Pokemon Go. Perhaps you've heard of it.

One of the reasons that I joined Pokemon Go was the same reason that I returned to Ingress - to encourage myself to walk more. And Pokemon Go encourages walking even more than Ingress; it's very hard to "catch them all" from a car, and you definitely can't hatch eggs while driving around; you have to actually walk 2 kilometers, or 5 kilometers, or even more.

Yet in some respects, Pokemon Go is like many other games. It includes repetitive actions - throw the ball, walk, throw the ball, walk, spin the wheel, swipe. And to advance, you have to continue to throw the ball, walk, throw the ball, walk, spin the wheel, swipe. Although you can buy things to reduce the amount of throwing, walking, spinning, and swiping that you have to do. Because, let's face it - some people get tired of having to throw the ball, walk, throw the ball, walk, spin the wheel, swipe.

To truly advance in the game, you have to work with other members of your team. You need to train, or be trained, to defend your "gyms." You need to work together to take over gyms from the other teams.

Ah, the social obligations.

If you're wondering why the word "sociopathic" appears in the title of the post, it's in reference to a speech and article given by A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz over six years ago. Excerpts:

The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics. Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness. We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another. We play Farmville because we are polite, cultivated people.

(And yes, he used the word "cultivated.") But these actions are not healthy, according to Liszkiewicz:

As cultivated citizens, we are obligated to one another. We care about one another. As Cornel West has said, democracy depends upon demophilia, or love of the people. Unfortunately, sociopathic companies such as Zynga depend upon this love as well....

[C]ultivated citizens must constantly look around and examine what they’re doing, because there is a fine line between being a cultivated citizen and being someone else’s crop.

Which raises the question - is Niantic a sociopathic company?

There has already been controversy about all of the user data that Pokemon Go was initially grabbing. (Niantic claims it was unintentional.) And as I've noted, this game uses the same repetitive actions as other games, which encourages some people to buy things so that they don't have to play the game that much.

But what of the benefits?

Unlike Farmville, which required you to sit at a chair, the Niantic games encourage you to move around. (Granted, you could move into oncoming traffic if you disregard Niantic's warnings to be aware of your surroundings.)

And there are other benefits also, as this story from the mother of an autistic child shows. Excerpts:

He never wants to go to the playground at night, because it’s out of his usual routine. He is normally so rigid about his routine.

But tonight he was happy to change things up, and do it. We were in shock!...

When we got to the playground, other kids ran up to him to hunt for Pokémon together.

He was interacting with other kids. Holy crap! I didn’t know if I should laugh, or cry.

MY AUTISTIC CHILD WAS SOCIALISING. Talking to people. Smiling at people. Verbalising. With total strangers. Looking up at them.

Sometimes even in the eye. Laughing with them. Sharing something in common. This is amazing.

Now Pokemon Go is just a tool, and it's conceivable that someone could devise a sit-down Farmville-like game that could encourage similar interactions by autistic people.

But there clearly are some good things going on here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The meaning of cars

OK, so I've been on a car kick lately.

On Monday I posted Elio (it's a car) has its fanatic fans and outraged detractors. Incidentally, I subsequently discovered that I have a higher Klout score than Elio Motors (59 at the time vs. 57 at the time). Then again, I also noted that Klout may not be an accurate indicator of...klout.

Then, on Tuesday, I posted Does a fatal crash mean the end of young adult driving?, which noted that the death of one young adult from driving could be sufficient reason to ban all young adults from driving. Made sense to me at the time.

Since I seem to be on this car kick, I initially thought that I'd spend Wednesday on a musical post in my Empoprise-MU blog, addressing the topic of Gary Numan...

...Guitar Hero. After all, "Are 'Friends' Electric?" is as much a guitar song as a synth song, and even "Cars" has some guitar elements, according to George Chesterton:

Cars has an electro riff that would not be out of place on Jimmy Page's Les Paul....[T]he force of the multi-layered Moog synthesiser parts is almost overwhelming. Using effects usually associated with heavy guitars – reverb, flanging and phasers – Numan drenched the gliding synth lines so they flow over you like wave after wave of ice water.

But before I started fleshing out my Empoprise-MU post, I was struck by something else that Chesterton said:

But Cars contains a bit of futurology that was rather sophisticated. Numan positions the car not as a mode of mechanical transport, but as a fetishised, abstract interface with the rest of the world. This is – in a pop form – what the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard had been writing about a few years earlier. To be fair to Numan, this notion of the car in relation to individuals and society has only deepened in the decades since.

What does that have to do with Bowie or Kraftwerk? So I looked up a summary of Baudrillard's early thought:

The early Baudrillard described the meanings invested in the objects of everyday life (e.g., the power accrued through identification with one's automobile when driving) and the structural system through which objects were organized into a new modern society (e.g., the prestige or sign-value of a new sports car).

Now I am used to the idea of infusing an automobile with deep meaning - after all, I have lived in the Los Angeles area for over 30 years. But to realize that this thought resonated a continent away was a revelation to me. It shouldn't have been - back when Numan had his greatest popularity, "Rolls Royce" had a particular meaning to the British, whether they were punkers or aristocrats.

Of course, if I may paraphrase the philosopher Virginia Slims, we've come a long way baby. Now we infuse inanimate objects with deep meaning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Does a fatal crash mean the end of young adult driving?

Would you ride in a car driven by a young adult?

Source, license

As cool as the idea and concept of young adult driving sounds, there are still many people who feel uncomfortable with such a notion or who argue that it will never truly be 100 percent safe.

Arguments that were thrust back into the spotlight after it was revealed that a driver under the age of 25 was killed on a Florida highway in May after the vehicle drove into a tractor-trailer.

The incident is now under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a result of the crash, an investigation that could have a far-reaching impact on the future of young adult driving.

Both of the major party candidates have responded to voter outrage over the affair. In a late-night tweet, Donald Trump stated,

Obama permits drivers under 25, and now someone is dead as a result! Shameful!

Hillary Clinton, trying to win over Sanders supporters, shared similar sentiments in a speech in Cleveland, Ohio:

We cannot put our young people into dangerous situations like this. If I am elected President, I will ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

And, as anyone who has read the Empoprise-BI business blog has already figured out, all of the preceding paragraphs were made up.

Sort of.

The first four paragraphs and the title were taken ALMOST verbatim from an article entitled Does A Fatal Crash Mean The End Of The Automated Driving Industry?. As you may know, a Tesla vehicle using Autopilot did crash, killing the (non) driver.

However, the PYMNTS article goes on to state that while automated driving resulted in this death, non-automated driving is also dangerous.

More than 30,000 people are killed in auto accidents each year on American roads...

So a knee-jerk reaction to ban automated driving will not necessarily make the roads safer. In fact, an argument could be made that such a ban could make the roads more dangerous.

Oh, and one more thing - the picture above was taken from a State Farm photo album dedicated to safe teen driving and education.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Elio (it's a car) has its fanatic fans and outraged detractors

Quick - name a brand new car that isn't quite in production yet, but promises huge energy savings.

I'd bet that most of you thought of a car whose name rhymes with "dressla."

I'd bet that most of you didn't think of a car that rhymes with "elio."

Or, correction - a car whose name is Elio.

If you ask the National Motorists Association (DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A FAN OF THE NATIONAL MOTORISTS ASSOCIATION), the reason that you didn't think about Elio is because the press is bigoted and enthralled with another car:

You’d think the media would be chomping at the bit to let the public know that there is a car on the verge of production (with 41,000 of them already spoken for via cash-down reservations) that — according to Paul Elio — will cost well under $10,000 (under $8,000 is the target) and go well over 80 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

Ah, but it’s not electric — and so the Elio gets no love (much less coverage) from the media.

Electric cars (and other such cars) do because they lack the thing the media finds abhorrent — an internal combustion engine.

And after I read all of these wonderful things about the Elio, I ran across another article that had a slightly different take on the car.

Since the company doesn’t want to narrow their market down, by their own criteria, I’ve taken it upon myself to write a description of the person who would likely buy one. This person:

·Has another car
·Has a motorcycle license and helmet
·Has no desire to drive other people/has no friends
·Has no family
·Has a maximum of one child, NO BABIES.
·Doesn’t care about performance
·Doesn’t care about refinement/noise level
·Doesn’t care about ride quality/comfort
·Doesn’t know the difference between emissions and fuel consumption
·Desperately needs attention/female companionship
·Has the disposable income to donate thousands to vaporware on a second car, but cheap enough that they can’t afford to buy anything else
·Has AAA, because there’s no spare

That’s an awfully small window.

Actually this wide divergence of opinion on the Elio is a good thing - at least this indicates that people care about the product.

If you're interested, here's the Elio Motors website.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

When the big boys take over the haute cereal market

All over the world, insane geek hippies and the like come up with new business ideas. One of three things happens:

In the first, case, the market never takes off, the business dies, and everyone forgets about it.

In the second case, the market takes off, and the business becomes insanely successful. The companies formerly known as Apple Computer and Micro-Soft are recent examples.

But there is a third case, in which the market takes off, but the company that establishes the market ends up losing out to an established firm that muscles in to the industry.

Cereality appears to be the third case.

As I previously discussed, back in 2004 the Cereality chain of restaurants - places where you could eat cereal in various forms - was supposed to be the next hot thing. By 2015, Cereality was reduced to a spot at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and a second location at a Richmond, Virginia hospital.

As of today, the locations remain the same.

But there's a competitor coming to a major city, New York City. While New York City may not be suitable for salsa, it's certainly suitable for fancified cereal.

With white-painted brick walls and chalkboard art, this is not your mother’s cereal or your grandmother’s porridge. Forget hot cereal, this is haute cereal with big name talent, locally sourced ingredients served fresh.

And your way, of course. The build-your-own option exists for the discerning cereal eater, meaning that if you just don’t feel like you’ve had breakfast until almond butter and green tea powder are part of the lineup, you’re all set.

In some respects, this is really really similar to the Cereality concept, although I don't recall Cereality going into locally sourced ingredients and the like.

But there's one big difference between the new place in New York, and the existing Cereality places in Texas and Virginia.

One of the backers of the New York location is Kellogg's. Perhaps you've heard of them. Anyone who passes by Kellogg's NYC will certainly know what's being sold there.

Which leaves Cereality bobbing in its (non-locally sourced) milk.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Is Britain an island...or a lake?

It is a holiday in the United States today, so I'm making an effort to write something of interest to my non-U.S. readers. But rather than targeting India as I did on U.S. Memorial Day, it's fitting to look at something that is affecting the United Kingdom - and the rest of the world.

And yes, I know that I already looked at Brexit, but I'm going to look at it from a different perspective.

I took a college course on British history in the early 1980s. One of the first things that we learned in that course is that Britain is an island. It sounds like a throwaway statement - Clifford is a big red dog, Joan Jett loves rock and roll, Britain is an island. However, those four words hold great significance. Or held great significance, since there is a raging argument over whether Britain is still an island.

Back on May 13, when the failure of Brexit was a possibility, historian Peter Ghosh advanced the idea that Britain was no longer an island. Certainly at one time it was an island - not only with geographic isolation, but with a parliamentary system that was dramatically different than those political systems prevalent on the Continent.

There was no despotism in 18th-century Britain; no revolution after 1789; and no dictatorship in the 20th century. There was instead a uniquely successful combination of liberty and order. And if this was not enough, there was also a unique prosperity. The nation of shopkeepers despised by Napoleon was the most affluent in Europe.

But by World War I, and certainly by World War II, the British system was not enough to protect it, and the Americans and Soviets had to help out. Ghosh argues that today's world is global, and that even the Victorian world was global. The British have second homes on the Continent, and actually choose to do so. Ghosh concludes:

We have to decide what form of regional and global connections we want today, unless we wish to be little Englanders. But anyone who thinks like this should remember that even in Victorian Britain, “little Englander” was a term of abuse. The most important contribution history can make is what any teacher tries to achieve through historical education: that is, training the eye to look at big issues with a cool, sober, and well informed gaze.

As I mentioned, Ghosh wrote this in May. By June, a majority of UK voters had endorsed Brexit. While it is uncertain what the future holds, it is apparent that one of the factors in the endorsement of Brexit was the desire to keep refugees out of Britain, and that at least some Brexit supporters were willing to risk a political and economic divorce from the Continent in order to keep the foreigners on their side of the English Channel.

In the worst case scenario, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but will NOT be able to negotiate any special (Nordic, Swiss, or whatever) access to the countries within the Union. British working abroad will need to get special visas, and foreigners (including a Frenchwoman that I know) who are working in Britain will have to do the same.

Ironically, this means that the United Kingdom - whose national interests in the 19th century clearly put it in the free trade camp - would have to deal with trade restrictions when dealing with countries just across the Channel - or, in the case of Ireland, right across a land border.

Could the island become a lake - a lake in which the British economy will drown?

Time will tell.