Selling It But Good

userpic=corporateHere’s another belated lunchtime post (can you tell I’m clearing out a backlog). This time, the subject is selling and marketing:



Friday, umm, Saturday news Chum: Comments, Entertainment, Medical, Razors, and Property News

userpic=observationsYesterday was February 1st, and so the Birthday Song Poll preempted the normal news chum collection. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a collection of marginally interesting news articles for you. Heaven forfend!


Somethings Old, Something New: Brand Names, Song of the South, Vinyl LPs… and a Table-sized Tablet

userpic=recordAs I’ve gotten older, I’ve notice that things from my past are fascinating me more and more. Here are a few lunch-time stories about things from my past… plus one intriguing new thing just announced…

  • Brand Names. Over the weekend, the LA Times had an interesting story on businessfolk who are purchasing unused or abandoned brand names and bringing them back. They do this to play on the nostalgia we have for these itmes, or the recollection we have for their quality. This is especially true when the new products have no connection to the original company at all, and are in fact marketed to a more “value” audience. Even established brands do this — especially in the appliance arena where often storied brands that used to be quality have been retargeted to the lower tiers.
  • Song of the South. Inspiration for the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland, and the source of a classic song (“Zip-a-dee-do-dah”), most folks have never seen “Song of the South”. This article from Slate looks at the movie through the eyes of a recent book, talking about how Disney miscalculated when he thought it would be a masterpiece for the ages. Should it be re-released, or is it unsalvagable?
  • Vinyl. An interesting article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on how the youth of today are rediscovering vinyl (LPs). They like having the tangible item, they like the cover art, and they think it sounds better (which I’ve never understood… to me, records and CDs sound the same, and records have the annoying crackles and skips). There’s also a market for old turntables, which are being refurbished. One problem, according to the article: some younger people don’t actually know how to use the players themselves. According to one record store owner,“About 10 percent of them come back with complaints. They’ll say, ‘It plays great, but I can’t hear it.’ They’re so young, they don’t know they need amplifiers and speakers, because they don’t have those for their iPods.” They also probably don’t realize that the equalization and amplification curve for phono output is different than for other devices.

And for the something new:

  • Coffee-Table Tablet Computing. This sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure of its practical use. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Levono is producing a 27″ coffee table tablet PC. It’s a 27-inch screen with the innards of a Windows 8 computer built into it, and it can stand up on a table. You can also lift it off the table, unhook the power cord and lay it flat for games of “Monopoly.” It’s big enough to fit four people around it, and the screen can respond to ten fingers touching it at the same time. The screen is the size of eight iPads stitched together, and it weighs 15 pounds. The Table PC will include plastic “strikers” for “Air Hockey,” and joysticks that attach to the screen with suction cups for other games, including multiplayer shooter “Raiding Company.” Cost: $1,699.



Giving It The Gas

Yesterday, I indicated that I wanted to discuss some recent articles in the LA Times concerning gas and gas stations. Well, today’s the day:

  • Gas in California. Those of us who live in California have been hit by the recent fast run-up in gas prices, and the slow drop afterwards. Did you ever wonder why things like that happen? A recent article in the LA Times gives a great explanation: “Oil companies operate what amounts to a legal oligopoly in California — an arrangement that probably will contribute to more wild gas spikes in the future. That’s because the Golden State’s gasoline market is essentially closed. The state’s strict clean-air rules mandate a specially formulated blend used nowhere else in the country. Producers in places such as Louisiana or Texas could make it, but there are no pipelines to get it to the West Coast quickly and cheaply. As a result, virtually all 14.6 billion gallons of gasoline sold in California last year were made by nine companies that own the state’s refineries. Three of them — Chevron, Tesoro and BP — control 54% of the state’s refining capacity.” The article notes that the problems are compounded by tight supply, a reduced number of refineries, and a lack of independent stations (85% of stations are branded, and refiners sell to the branded stations first). There are more details in the article, but it really makes clear what a precarious situation California is in. If Congress really wanted to reduce gasoline prices, probably the best solution would be mandate a common clean air formulation to be used across the entire country.
  • The President and Gasoline. Building upon the previous article, another LA Times article explores the question of whether the President can do anything to reduce gasoline prices. The basic answer: “no”. It is up to Congress to change the federal gas tax; it is up to the state to change the local gas tax. Crude oil is a global commodity, and the companies that sell it are there to make money (OK, the President could lower prices by nationalizing the oil companies, but I don’t believe that is what those who clamor for lower prices want). Production can be increased, but that doesn’t necessarily lower prices — as the private oil companies sell to the highest bidder, even if that isn’t the US. Refinery production could be increased, thus increasing the supply of refined product, but most people want the refineries to be built somewhere else. The President could preempt the states and mandate a common formulation, but that might run into constitutional issues. Solving this problem isn’t as easy as it looks.
  • Futuristic Gas Stations. So let’s look at the folks that sell gasoline. Growing up, my grandmother worked at the Robinsons in Beverly Hills, which was near the wonderfully futuristic Union 76 station in Beverly Hills. I mention this because the LA Times has a nice article on United Oil, which has discovered that building gas stations with unique architectures and amenities increases gas sales. Their new stations at La Brea and Slauson has a design that is a combination of modernism and Googie. This station sells about 15,000 gallons of gas a day, well above the average of less than 4,000 gallons. Other United Oil stations have features that set them apart from typical petrol purveyors: tile roofs, topiary, fountains and drought-resistant gardens. The canopy over a Chevron station in Cerritos is lighted with custom see-through solar panels. Two 25-foot walls of flowing water cool a United Oil brand station in Carson. There are fanciful murals: Leaping dolphins, flying horses, soaring eagles beneath majestic clouds, hot-air balloons and giant-size candy can be found hand-painted on the ceilings and walls. I know this personally: our local stations at Nordhoff and the 405 has textured concrete and wonderful mosaics. So does the design of a station draw you in?