Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Friday, November 12, 2021

As I mentioned earlier, today the office knocked off a bit early for a visit down the road to Poynter Institute.

Poynter, as the controlling owner of Times Publishing Company shares, technically is the ultimate corporate parent for Florida Trend. For practical purposes, the nerve center resides in our office. But the association means we get the occasional little perk, like this one, as a benefit.

I was looking forward to the trip. I’ve driven and walked by the Institute plenty of times — it’s right across the street from USF St. Petersburg and the Salvador Dali Museum, just a couple of blocks south of the main downtown area — but I’ve never actually been inside the place. I recall considering its library as a research option a couple of times, but I guess I’ve never availed myself of it.

It was nice. We got a 20 minute presentation on the history of Times Publishing Company, with plenty of photos (it was fun seeing some of the current upper management in their ’70s splendor). Then we got a walking tour through all the classrooms, labs and breakout rooms, along with a brief stop at the Poynter Online operations. The architecture alone was worth the tour: Lots of dark woodwork (I believe from Honduran trees), Italian marble, and lots of windows above and below.

There was also a good bit of art scattered around. Apparently enough to confuse people: One of our guides shared the anecdote about a group of tourists who mistook the Institute for the nearby Dali Museum, and started to walk around, admiring the pieces and discussing what period of Dali’s work they represented!

I managed to shoot one piece with my cameraphone. It was a giant ball composed of typeface tiles from old typesetting machines; reminded me of the “golfball” used in the old IBM Selectric typewriters. I don’t recall it’s actual name:
ball o' lettersWe wrapped up the day with a brief staff meeting, and then headed out. We were invited to hang around to look further. I was tempted to hang out in the library for a bit (in addition to reference books and databases, they had a pretty big and current magazine collection), but I knew I’d wind up spending a couple of hours doing that, and thought better of it.

It wasn’t a bad way to wrap up a workweek. On to the weekend.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/12/2021 07:28:44 PM
Category: Media, Business
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Thursday, November 04, 2021


This month’s issue of Wired Magazine has a special gimmick attached to it: A 16-song CD featuring songs from the Beastie Boys, Danger Mouse and others. You can listen to a stream of all the disc’s tracks here, courtesy of Tian. (Or just plunk down the four bucks and buy the issue.)

The purpose of the disc is to popularize the Creative Commons modified copyright system for creative works. Creative Commons has found favor in the online realm, especially among blogs and other web properties. I myself used one on my old blog.

I don’t use Creative Commons protection for this blog. Was I just too lazy to transfer it over? No, I just realized that, hipness factor aside, traditional copyright law automatically covers the original content being created here. So why reinvent the wheel?

Which leads to my impressions of the Wired CD: Nice idea, but good examples of just why Creative Commons isn’t going to inspire artists very much.

The most established acts on the disc are the Beastie Boys and David Byrne (I’d include Chuck D and Paul Westerberg too, but it’s not like either of them have produced much in recent years). The tracks from these two headliners leave something to be desired, considering their past output. The Beasties’ “Now Get Busy” is decent, but obviously an unfinished throwaway, probably leftover from their latest album. Byrne’s “My Fair Lady” is, at best, an experimental number. These two songs open the disc, and give it a definite b-side feel.

The rest of the disc ranges from slightly intriguing to mostly mediocre, with Danger Mouse’s “What U Sittin’ On?” flat-out sucking (I’d be suprised if he spent more than half an hour putting it together — another throwaway). The majority of the artists are largely unknown, at least to me.

Why such a lackluster offering? It is a freebie, so you can’t expect a polished album. But to me, the makeup of the disc is a perfect example of the marginal support the Creative Commons scheme can expect to receive. Major acts like the Beasties can afford to lend their support, because they’ve already made their money from their years of work in the “old” music business. Obscure and unsigned acts latch on strictly as a way to gain wider exposure and dissemination of their work.

Yet as a showcase, the Wired CD doesn’t show much. Tracks that wouldn’t make the final cut on moneymaker albums? It gives Creative Commons a poor image.

Those two extremes in the music biz, as represented on the Wired CD, represent the fringes of the industry. What about those in between, the effective “middle class”? They’ve got their production deals with the labels, they’re building their cred and working to get to the point in their careers when they can exert some significant control over their work. It’s hard to see why they’d chuck that for a different set of rules that wouldn’t advance them any further.

All in all, I’m not convinced about the viability of applying the Creative Commons tag toward any serious collection of works. Flexible rights protection seems to be fine for works you don’t care much about, but it doesn’t seem to merit serious consideration for more valuable stuff.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/04/2021 11:57:46 PM
Category: Media, Business, Creative
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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Think of how much less efficient America’s workplaces would be had the motivational poster never been invented.

Yeah.

Workers tend to build a tolerance toward any morale-boosting gimmick, though. So the time has come to super-charge those posters with official Marvel Comics characters.

Just be careful which characters you use to deliver those pep-talks:

Captain America for Fortitude, the Hulk for Strength, Spider-Man for Character… not a bad idea — some geeks are managers, and vica versa.

And then I saw this one.

Magneto, a character who has repeatedly advocated and pursued literal genocide, standing for Possibilities.

I’m thinking the Magneto poster would be a favorite of Hank Scorpio, CEO of Globex Corporation.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/31/2004 12:31:18 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Business
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Friday, October 29, 2021

If you need any more proof that customizable mobile phone ringtones are big business for both the music biz and wireless providers, here it is: Starting next week, Billboard will produce chart rankings tracking sales of ringtone singles.

That’s bigtime legitimization. Even five years ago, I doubt anyone in the U.S. figured ringtones would generate any sort of revenue. But as mobile phones have become must-have accessories, particularly among the younger demographics, musical ringtones have become de rigeur.

I don’t know what the tracking information is like overseas, but I recall reading years ago that the music market in Europe assimilated digital content long ago. Basically, a single gets released in five formats, automatically:

1. CD
2. Cassette tape
3. Video (DVD or VHS)
4. Digital file
5. Ringtone

It’ll only be a matter of time before Billboard starts actively tracking digital sales, via iTunes and other outlets.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 10/29/2004 07:58:13 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Tech, Business
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Sunday, October 24, 2021

When Bloomba came out in March, I noticed how much like an email-only version of Google this installed-program mail client was.

With the subsequent releases of Gmail and, more recently, Google Desktop Search, Bloomba’s business model seemed to be getting bulldozed by Google. When you can get the same functionality for free, why pay for it?

So it’s not surprising that Bloomba’s parent company, Stata Labs, has sold itself to Yahoo!, getting out while the getting’s still good.

It’s also not surprising that Yahoo!’s only after the Bloomba technology, and nothing else that Stata might have cooked up:

However, the $60 product will be discontinued and Yahoo has no plans to sell Bloomba or its accompanying spam filter software, SA Proxy Pro, Stata Labs said on its Web site.

That could indicate plans to incorporate the underlying technology in an e-mail client that could compete with Gmail, which Google launched in April and which offers users full searching of their own e-mail boxes and 1 gigabyte of space to store messages.

So it looks like Google has changed the game once again. Just as competing search engines started imitating adopting Google’s interface and results presentation, other Webmail clients are going to start looking more and more like Gmail. Bloomba, as an established product, represents a way for Yahoo! to get there a little quicker; other providers will have to start from scratch.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/24/2004 02:09:47 PM
Category: Internet, Business
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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

so high school
Has it really been only a year since Apple announced Windows support for iPods and iTunes? It was a good decision, as the company is enjoying high times as a result of its dominance of the digital music market.

Aside from that, I found this anecdote to be a good illustration of the coolness quotient of the iPod:

Investment bank Piper Jaffray traveled to high schools across the country and found that 16 percent of students already had an iPod. Another quarter of them plan to buy an iPod, with only about 8 percent planning to buy some other type of digital music player.

Just how high does the iPod rank on the teenagers’ minds? Well, only clothes, money and a car were named higher on the holiday wish lists of those surveyed by Piper Jaffray.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/13/2004 08:47:46 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Business
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Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Wal-Mart is already the world’s biggest retailer, by a long shot. How can it possibly get bigger? By building even more stores, even in spots only a few miles away from existing Wal-Marts.

It’s a strategy very reminiscent of Starbucks. The coffeeshop giant is known for going overboard on store openings, especially in urban areas. It’s not unusual to see two Starbucks on diagonaly street corners in some towns. Yet improbably, it works. People can’t seem to get enough caffeine, and single-store sales remain robust despite what should be over-saturation. I’m sure Wal-Mart took note of Starbucks’ success with this, and decided to apply it to its own expansion strategy.

Wal-Mart is already hugely successful, so it can gamble on something like this. A non-specialty discounter isn’t a coffeeshop, though. There’s a different dynamic: Starbucks stores are more of a social setting, so that helps them draw in and retain customers. Wal-Mart does this to an extent, but it’s not quite the same. I’m skeptical.

Upshot, I suppose the whole country will be overrun with Wal-Marts. It’s the anti-sprawlers’ nightmare come true.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/06/2021 07:43:00 PM
Category: Business
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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Already having swapped the United States for China as their largest trading partner, South Koreans are increasingly opting for Chinese language study for business purposes, eschewing former frontrunner English.

China’s economic growth and corresponding global influence is cited as a no-brainer for the immediate future. This development is another strong indicator. Cultural obstacles aren’t as significant as you might think, the Korean War and North Korea notwithstanding; rapproachment with Japan, whose role as former colonial overlord still causes friction, was a much bigger hurdle to overcome.

A natural assumption might be that it would be easier for Koreans to gravitate toward Chinese, as it’s another Asian language from a historically influential culture. But because Chinese is a tonal language, and Korean (like English and Japanese) is a stress language, there’s a fundamental difference in linguistic structure. In some ways, it’s easier for a Korean speaker to learn English than to learn Chinese (although there’s a lot of Chinese-derived vocabulary in Korean, as with many East Asian languages, which evens things out a little).

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/19/2004 02:44:35 PM
Category: Business
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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

In an obvious bid to dominate clothes retailing from cradle to grave, Gap has announced plans to launch a store concept for over-35 women.

I guess this explains why they tapped 39-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker for their latest ad campaign.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/15/2004 11:35:48 PM
Category: Celebrity, Business
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Tampa Bay, get ready to slurp up some Bad Ass Coffee.

I was going to include the logo of The Bad Ass Coffee Company of Hawaii (which is actually headquartered in Utah). But frankly, it’s a pretty lame logo, so I don’t want to waste my bandwith on it. The company itself looks pretty shifty as well, so I’m not counting on it putting Starbucks, or anyone else, out of business.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/15/2004 08:17:49 PM
Category: Food, Business
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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

germ-free
Who figures Donald Trump would be a germophobe?

That’s not the only surprising thing contained in this article. Aside from the various comparisons between what Trump claims about himself and what’s reality, there’s this:

Actually, it’s hard to know exactly what percent of Trump’s net worth is tied to the casino business because most of Trump’s portfolio is in privately held companies that don’t report earnings. He’s described himself as “a billionaire many times over,” but there are skeptics who believe Trump has $300 million, tops. And the guy has a reputation for, let’s say, shading the news in a light that reflects his enthusiasms.

Is The Donald less of a mogul than he puffs himself up to be? If so, it explains why he never continued with his professional sports ownership, started in the USFL (which brought him to prominence in the first place). Think about it: If he really was serious about pursuing an NFL team, he’d have to disclose his personal finances to the league. This would be an unacceptable level of transparency, given the persona he’s built. So he found other ways to promote Trump the Brand.

Ultimately, it’s been a winning strategy:

The larger point is the way Trump is viewed as a businessman. As a private developer, he’s gifted and relentless at crafting deals, winning allies, fighting enemies, exploiting legal loopholes, charming, bullying and making sure the cement is delivered on time. He knows his market, the upscale buyer seeking conspicuous luxury that is heavy on pink marble and gilt. His properties have always commanded a premium because of the marquee value of his brand.

But stock and bond markets view Trump as a bit of a joke, which is what happens when shares in a company you run plunge by 99 percent. So Trump is saddled with the paradox of life as highly public but erratically successful executive: The people who know the least about business admire him the most, and those who know the most about business admire him the least. Which irks the man who is forever complaining that his achievements as corporate rainmaker are overshadowed by his latest brand-name spinoff and his soap-opera love life.

This is a guy who nearly went bankrupt in the early ’90s, when his real estate holdings were so over-leveraged he needed a bank bailout to stay afloat and was forced to sell some of his most treasured assets. Anyone else might have retreated. Trump buffaloed his way back into the game and turned the fiasco into a best-selling book, The Art of the Comeback.

The beautiful part is that Trump the caricature and Trump the man are essentially the same person. This isn’t an act. He brings a genuinely unembarrassed joy to the role of high-rolling, model-squiring aristocrat, and he doesn’t know the meaning of “overexposed.”

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/14/2004 10:29:17 PM
Category: Celebrity, Business
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In a move that surprised few (if any), Federated Department Stores announced they’ll be retiring the regional Burdines, Rich’s, Goldsmith’s, Lazarus and Bon Marche store names, converting them all to the powerhouse Macy’s brand.

What I’m wondering is, why did they even bother with the now-pointless hyphenation strategy? Burdines, a longtime Florida chain, was morphed into Burdines-Macy’s. The other regional stores got the same treatment: Bon-Macy’s, Rich’s-Macy’s, Lazarus-Macy’s and Goldsmith’s-Macy’s. Pretty ugly, all. I’m guessing some sort of deadlock among Federated’s brass resulted in this half-assed solution: Retain the historic equity of the regional brands, but try to wring some magic out of the Macy’s name. Didn’t work, and the whole thing has the appearance now of being a failed marketing experiement.

What was especially dumb about it in Florida was that the state already had a number of Macy’s-branded stores, mainly in the Orlando area. This re-branding turned them into Burdine’s-Macy’s (although maybe only officially — the article implies that most stores never did change their major signage).

The other thing that makes this move seem odd is that, despite announcing the hyphenated names a couple of years ago, I don’t think they really pushed them in the Tampa Bay area until fairly recently. So it’s very much like they only started to trumpet “Burdine’s-Macy’s” before they prepare to ditch it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/14/2004 07:37:16 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Florida Livin', Business
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Sunday, September 12, 2021

The business of America is business, as Calvin Coolidge (never) said. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find even non-business institutions in American society adopting businessworld approaches in their operations. At the top of the list: Branding and marketing, the only means to win the hearts and minds of a consumer-oriented public.

That’s the focus of “Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc. and Museumworld”, by James Twitchell. Twitchell looks at how churches, colleges/universities and museums have aimed marketing techniques toward upper-class demographics, creating highly-competitive markets.

Mark Albright writes a good review of the book, with an excellent overview of how all three institutions can credibly sell themselves as though they were burger joints or shampoos:

That’s exactly the conundrum faced by the three institutions Twitchell dissects. Church membership has been flat at 40 percent of the population for decades. Yet while the average congregation dwindled to 75 people, market share shifted dramatically. Today 12 percent of all churches have grown to claim more than half of the entire flock. Public higher education’s insatiable appetite for expanded enrollment has collided with government’s unwillingness to pay for it. To advance their cultural and economic appeal, American cities embarked on a museum-building binge that outpaced the quality of their collections. So to break even, high-minded cultural organizations take marketing advice from P.T. Barnum to draw a crowd.

In addition to a parade of $15-a-head blockbuster exhibitions, museums have made the gift shop an integral part of the experience. Exhibit space in existing museums grew 3 percent in the 1990s while gift store space grew 28 percent. Some museums even operate retail stores in malls that have the flimsiest link to their mission.

Needless to say, the choice to sell a brand comes with baggage beyond commercialism. Branding is about giving people what they think they want. So mass market techniques can mean democratization. The customer is in charge, so the elites must be crafty to maintain an upper hand.

It means high-minded academics, art snobs and rigid church hierarchies must loosen their grip to stay in the game.

Brand extension efforts readily welcome imitation, which creates a suddenly cutthroat atmosphere. That’s why colleges send recruiting officers by the dozens to target schools and merchandise the hell out of their sports mascots, and why the Mormons examine diaper-sales numbers to know which neighborhoods to target for young-family converts. Once you start actively selling yourself to a mass market, it’s hard to stop.

Some more good stuff on the marketing of higher academics:

The university development office has become as hands-off sacred as the athletic program in advancing the school brand. Research grants are seen as cash cows that can lead to future royalty payments. The Holy Grail: a decent write-up in the U.S. News and World Report ratings. So wooing top-rated high school students with amenities like rock climbing walls, travel discount clubs and free bike repairs has taken priority over teaching and what happens in the classroom in a time of feel-good grade inflation.

And on churches:

Discussing religion from a marketing perspective offers a way to avoid an emotional debate about beliefs. However, promoters of faith-based solutions to social problems may object to such congregation-building draws as day care, single parenting classes and 12-step self-help programs being described as marketing gimmicks.

But that is how the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago grew to 23,000 members. Its leaders do research, then tailor each part of their offering to the needs of the suburban middle class. They target men (who shy away from being religious in public) as the key to leading the entire family to church. Soft-sell pastor’s messages (not sermons) cover coping skills for long commutes, job stress and single parenting. The spoken word is available on tape or DVD at the door. Members’ social needs are addressed through sponsorship of bowling leagues, car repair clinics and a motorcycle club. The parking lot is Disney World efficient, the auditorium has plush stadium seating and a sound system worthy of Muvico. The sprawling campus is an entertainment center/mall complete with a food court, bookstore and Christian rock CD and video shop. Starbucks, it seems, lost its lease because rival Seattle’s Best Coffee offered a better deal.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/12/2021 10:35:27 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business
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Wednesday, September 08, 2021

I’ve noted before that Tivo is at a do-or-die juncture, as cable and satellite providers are poised to overtake the DVR market with their own equipment and subscriber bases. In response, the pioneering company has rolled out aggressive pricing structure, and, more significantly, forged a partnership with Netflix to deliver movies-on-demand through their boxes.

My first reaction to this news was that it was a smart move by Tivo. More than anything, offering movies allows them to define the DVR as more than just a fancied-up VCR (which, to the average consumer, is still all a DVR is). It’s a step toward presenting Tivo as a digital media hub.

The more I thought about it, though, it occurred to me: Tivo can’t play this game. Because cable and satellite providers can point to their existing on-demand offerings, and can quite easily ramp them up to match this development. What’s more, they can tack it all onto the same combined cable bill, thus making the cost easier to swallow.

I even suspect that Netflix is using Tivo as a guinea pig for this service. If it’s proven to be successful, they can point to it during negotiations with cable providers to for a partnership (that’s assuming the cable and satellite industry doesn’t set up its own movie subscription service in the meantime, perhaps with Blockbuster’s help).

It’s good to see Tivo being so nimble as it tries to secure its future, but I don’t think this will do it. I still see the company disappearing inside of two years.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 09/08/2021 10:28:28 PM
Category: Media, Tech, Business
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Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Is there anything iTunes Music Store can’t do? It’s made digital music into a legitimate business, it’s practically re-oriented Apple’s business model, and now, it’s helped revive the stillborn micropayment model for ecommerce.

Actually, iTunes isn’t the only thing helping to popularize nickel-and-dime transactions on the Web; PayPal and similar services share some of the credit. But even PayPal acknowledges that Apple helped kick it all into high gear:

For officials at eBay’s online transaction subsidiary, PayPal — who say the company is already handling millions of low-dollar transactions-it is clear that digital content represents the most promising opportunity for immediate growth in micropayments. Peter Ashley, director of business development for San Jose, Calif.-based PayPal, believes that with iTunes, Apple drew up a template that many other companies will try to emulate.

“Once there is ability for more companies to facilitate smaller charges, going as far down as pennies, nickels and dimes, without incurring the same sort of credit card transaction fees you see today, new businesses will open that simply could not exist in the past,” Ashley said.

The executive envisions transaction systems soon allowing e-commerce companies to process any transaction, no matter how small, letting people creating new kinds of digital content, such as games or ring tones, to more profitably market their wares. Ashley said that PayPal’s role as an established leader in online transaction processing will give it the ability to watch other firms test the waters with different micropayment systems before it begins more actively pursuing the market.

To get around the prohibitively high credit-card usage fees, companies wishing to employ micropayment transactions needed sheer sales volume to compensate. The popularity of digital music as a commodity was established with the fileswapping movement; when iTunes demonstrated how that movement could be monetized (not a sure thing, but definitely aided by tying it to the iPod), that volume was realized. Similar digital products like ringtones and games are natural extensions for this market.

Of course, small-scale transactions aren’t necessarily a means unto themselves:

“Subscriptions are what every vendor wants to sell, but you have to start somewhere with the consumer, and the other types of micropayments can allow companies to do get in the door with buyers,” said [Mercator Advisory Group analyst Nick Holland]. “A lot of content companies are going to look at micropayments as a stepping stone to future subscriptions.”

I see that as a short-term approach, since subscriptions are still the easier model to pull off. Not that subscriptions will ever go away. On the contrary: As more media products are offered through ecommerce, subscriptions will be the desired delivery method, much as they are in old media (periodicals). But, as with old media, expansion of micropayment capabilities will mean that subscriptions won’t be the only way to sell. Just as newsstand sales prime the pump for more profitable subscriptions, so will micropayments for ecommerce.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/07/2021 11:36:32 PM
Category: Internet, Business
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Yesterday, I mentioned how my neighborhood Target benefitted from the pent-up need for Frances shut-ins to run out and start spending. This phenomenon wasn’t restricted to my little stretch of St. Pete: Shoppers all over the Bay area, even all the way up to Citrus County, indulged themselves.

Looking at this behavior as a release from, and reaction to, hurricane fatigue would be interesting enough. Looking at it as an example of how modern-day American consumer culture expresses itself, regardless of extraordinary factors, might be even more interesting.

The continuing theme among those interviewed was not so much a need to buy particular goods, but simply to get out of the house. It’s classic shopping-as-a-hobby behavior. The term “socialize” was even used.

But does running out to Wal-Mart qualify as socializing? That anyone believes so is, in a way, a testament to the continuing efforts by retailers to create customer-friendly environments in their stores — the marketers have won! I think it’s a stretch, though, to consider taking notice of other shoppers in the aisles as a truly social activity. Most of the time, you’re not even talking to anyone else. It’s like socializing minus the interaction.

The fullest manifestation of this is the traditional mall, and the subcultures you’ll find within: Mallrats, mall strollers (popular among Florida seniors), window shoppers, marathon shoppers, etc. Malls have striven to maintain comfortable, welcoming atmospheres for decades, and, despite recent backlash, have done a solid job of it.

All this suggests that the much-reviled consumerist streak in America is, perhaps, more ingrained into the American character than anyone guessed. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a bad thing. Like anything, people can overdose on it. But blended social-retail settings are acceptable for things like eateries; it’s not that much of a stretch to expand that to other retail outlets. The companies that pull this off are the ones that will be successful.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/07/2021 10:44:36 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business, Society
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Monday, September 06, 2021

Observed earlier while driving through St. Petersburg’s post-Tropical Storm Frances landscape on this Labor Day:

- The local K-Mart was closed.

- The nearby Target was open. Need I mention that its parking lot was jam-packed?

If ever there was a snapshot of the different directions that these big-box retailers are heading, this is it. Anyone thinking of sinking some money into K-Mart in light of their recent reorganization and renewed marketing efforts might as well forget it; it doesn’t look like its management has gotten any smarter.

The equation is pretty simple: Rotten weather + forced home confinement + aborted holiday weekend = Anxious consumers chomping at the bit to spend some money. Target understands this, K-Mart apparently doesn’t.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/06/2021 07:45:48 PM
Category: Business
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