Saturday, July 27, 2013

Retro retailing

According to this morning's newspaper, retailing is going forward to the past.

Canadian Tire, which long ago bought into the "big box" concept in order to compete with the Walmarts and Home Depots that were laying waste to the retailing landcscape, is trying out "small boxes."

The article notes that Walmart itself, the king of giant-sized stores, is experimenting in the U.S. with small neighbourhood and campus locations.

So let me get this straight. These behemoths, having decimated downtowns across the land by wiping out local shopkeepers, are now trying to become local shopkeepers.

This is resonating particularly loudly in the recesses of my cranium because, just yesterday, I was reminded of how much I miss the local hardware store that was within walking distance of my home for many years. It became a casualty of Home Depot, as its customers drifted away in the hope of saving a few pennies and having the choice of thirty types of doorbells.

The proprietor and staff of that old hardware store, where you could buy just one screw if that was what you needed, knew the location of every item, and were happy to advise on its suitability for your purpose and how to install it when you got it home. Unfortunately, customers didn't put a value on that kind of service, and were seduced by the shiny delights of the big box.

Anyway, getting back to my shopping experience yesterday at one of the big home improvement outlets. Buying a handful of items, which would have taken 10 minutes at my old hardware store, took an hour. Inadequate staffing, personnel lacking product knowledge, the need to search acres of aisles and, at the end of it, being stuck in a stationary checkout line due to a malfunctioning credit card terminal, provided plenty of opportunity to pine for a past that has disappeared forever.

No, while the Walmart and Canadian Tire small box stores might be closer to your house, they'll be a far cry from the shops that were wiped out in the retail wars.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The verdict is in

Can we finally put an end to the great experiment in self regulation by industry?

The results are in. It doesn't work.

It was a grand idea, premised on the hope that business owners and managers were ethical folks, good citizens and neighbours who would do the right thing.

They are, but the reality is that you can't regulate yourself or other people in your industry.

It is asking too much.

Shareholders demand increased profits, which means cutting costs, which translates into reducing staff, which means insufficient oversight in the abattoirs, inadequate train crews, and no one looking over the shoulder of bankers granting mortgages to people who have no ability to make the payments.

You can't sanction another member of your industry association because next week he'll be sitting in judgement on your company and will give as good as he got, or you'll be sitting across a table trying to do a deal with him.

Even decent, well-intentioned, good guys often cave.

So the cowshit gets into the beef, and the runaway train wipes out a town, and the entire world economy collapses. The fish disappear from the oceans, the glaciers melt, cancer patients get diluted drugs, the list is endless.

It's time to re-institute regulation by people who have no skin in the game.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Honours accepted

Who would want a prison named after them?

This thought was occasioned by an article about Nelson Mandela. I could discover nothing about Victor Verster, but there were thousands of mentions of the Victor Verster Prison's most famous inmate.

Interesting, and satisfying, isn't it? Victor must have been considered a personage (pompous word meaning person of rank or distinction) in his day. After all, a major government institution was named in his honour.

Could he have declined? Perhaps not.

Regardless, he has been flushed into the septic tank of history where all but the most worthy or egregious are blended into fertilizer.

Worse, he can not even be found through Google!

Meanwhile, a jailbird of his eponymous prison has become one of the most revered men of the modern era, a nation-builder and great statesman.

There's a delightful asymmetry about that.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Photographic memories

My wife found our wedding pictures the other day, after a multi-year absence --- the pictures, not the wife.

They were among the things that are still surfacing from cardboard cartons seven years after moving to a new house. Prior to that move, they had not been seen for decades (Words of advice to the betrothed --- be less concerned about the formalities of your wedding, including the traditional photographs, and more about having fun with your friends on the big day).

All of this coincided with an article in the New York Times about the changing role of photography in our lives. Not so long ago, people took photography seriously, spent big bucks on expensive cameras, took college courses, framed their work and hung it on the wall.

Some still do but, increasingly, photos are used for communication, and less for recording important moments. Social media is full of spontaneous smartphone photos that are intended for friends, classmates, family --- people who will get the context instantly and react with an OMG.

There is even an app called Snapchat where uploaded photos disappear after being viewed, leaving behind no indelicate images that might be embarrassing if seen by a parent or prospective employer down the road.

In fact, The Times says "Photos are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image ... is easier than bothering with words."

Suddenly, I feel so old.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ten brands that rule the world

We have the illusion that there are thousands of companies behind the products we see on supermarket shelves, but 10 big companies dominate the marketplace. Shown here are just a few of the hundreds of brands owned by each of these huge organizations.

Click the image to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A morning visitor

This young coyote strolled through our city backyard this morning.