Sunday, November 28, 2010

Regarding Henry

Thanksgiving just wasn’t the same without you. From the moment I saw you looking up at me from your little cage at the spcaLA I knew I had to take you home. You helped get me through the tough times of losing KitKat and you were with me through 3 different moves to 3 different places. You demanded so very little, yet gave so much. You were the toughest and bravest cat I have ever met, even when I brought home a big scary German Shepherd to live with us you never cowered and quickly established who was there first.

I will miss your purr that was as loud as motor boat’s, even during the days in which you were too sick to eat, all I had to do was hold you and your unmistakable purr would battle through. You touched my life in so many ways, I’m sorry I couldn’t do more to keep you around. I simply could not watch you suffer anymore than you already have. The morning after you left on Thanksgiving I saw Harley jump up on your chair and dig through your blanket as if she was looking for you.

I had ice cream for the first time today since you’ve been gone; it’s just not the same without you kneading on my lap waiting for me to finish so you can lick the bowl clean. Ice cream was your absolute favorite; no matter where you were you always knew when I had ice cream.

Goodbye my Hanky Panky, wherever you are I hope you are as healthy as you once were, strong, feisty and so very affectionate. I take some comfort in knowing that you lived a good life and I hope you take some comfort in knowing that you made my life better.


Dad & Harley

Friday, November 26, 2010

Shopping Values

When it comes to identifying and branding our consumer values, what is most important to us? Reliability, looks, cool factor or could it be something more human and altruistic? In tough economic times, the criteria for making such decisions is in constant flux.

Here is a little history and perspective on Black Friday as told by Michael D'Antonio and John Gerzema in today's OP-ED section in the Los Angeles Times:

In days of yore — think pre-2005 — retailers fired a salvo of price cuts on the Friday after Thanksgiving and shoppers raced to spend billions on holiday gifts. The day was originally nicknamed Black Friday by police officers who dreaded the traffic jams, bumper thumping and misdemeanors that arise when so many people converge on shopping districts and malls.

Eventually the term came to describe the start of the period when retailers see profits for the year and a kind of retail gluttony so divorced from the true spirit of the season that it made all but the most benumbed consumers feel conflicted, if not ashamed, of the excess.

Then came the Great Recession. In 2008, we saw the weakest holiday sales since 1973. Gift buying was more like a marathon than a sprint, as people shopped the sales that began in October, applying a sober sense of how, when and why to buy.

The change actually began before the housing bubble burst, Wall Street collapsed and unemployment soared. Beginning in 2005, the quarterly surveys we conduct showed a shift in attitudes.

Like rabbits that run before humans feel an earthquake, consumers sensed the approach of the economic crisis and began to prepare by saving more and spending less. More important, they began to express different kinds of values as they shopped. Brands regarded as exclusive, arrogant, daring or trendy began to suffer severe declines in popularity, while those associated with quality, reliability and durability rose.

Experts have long understood that as we head to the marketplace to satisfy our wants and needs, we also pursue some unstated and often subconscious agendas. On a narcissistic level, we want to show the world we are smart, beautiful, powerful, wealthy, you name it.

However, we also vote with our dollars for certain social and political ideals. In this way we reward producers, retailers and service providers who meet our definition of "good." Lately this aspect of shopping has come to the fore, as people look for ways to exert their influence on the social landscape and ease their frustrations about problems that seem gridlocked by politics.

The biggest swing, when it comes to the issues we confront with our dollars, is related to civility. Starting in the middle of this decade, respondents began to tell us that they wanted to feel respected and appreciated by the people they do business with. Between 2005 and 2009, the value placed on the "kindness and empathy" expressed by vendors shot up a whopping 391%. The importance of "friendliness" went up by 124%, and the value placed on "social responsibility," which can be translated as "being a good neighbor and citizen," rose by 63%.

In commercial terms, all of this is good news for manufacturers that stress service and for proprietors who see every sale as a chance to build a long-term relationship with a customer. This is why Zappos' shoppers remained loyal even when it shifted away from heavy discounts. They are so happy with the attention they get when they contact the company's call center in Las Vegas that they are fine with paying full price for shoes.

With a solid majority telling us they'll pay a little more for durable quality, companies such as L.L. Bean, Levi Strauss and Red Wing Shoe can expect healthy sales even on higher-end items. The same is true for artisan-made items sold on the Internet by services such as Etsy, which connects individual artists and craftspeople from around the world with a global pool of customers.

Conservatives, moderates and liberals alike prefer to give their dollars to companies that invest time and money in local communities and are respectful of the environment. Though they may disagree on an issue like carbon emissions cap-and-trade, American shoppers generally prefer energy efficiency, eco-friendly packaging and sustainable production. Wal-Mart, a bellwether for retail trends, has signaled the rise of these values as it has reduced packaging and stocked more compact fluorescent bulbs as well as locally produced organic foods.

People reward Wal-Mart and others because they believe that by voting with their dollars, they can actually change the world. Indeed, two-thirds of the people we survey believe that "my friends and I can change corporate behavior by supporting companies that do the right thing."

Even those people who are skeptical about the effect they can have with their spending habits go out of their way to patronize companies "whose values are similar to my own."

We call the changes in the marketplace a "spend shift," and our recent tour of businesses across the nation and the data we have collected suggest that the shift has staying power. By big majorities, people say that they are more frugal than they used to be and that the economic crisis has had a long-term effect on the way they spend their time and money.

The biggest point of agreement? More than three-quarters say that "how many possessions I have does not have much to do with how happy I am."

The trends augur well for businesses that heed public sentiment and give people what they want. They're more consistent with the true values of the season too. Instead of Black Friday hysteria, the consumers we talked to are making more deliberate choices and seeking out retailers who demonstrate kindness, respect, honesty and concern for others. For our society, the trend suggests more modest but happier holidays to come.

Coauthors of the new book "Spend Shift," Michael D'Antonio is a New York-based writer and John Gerzema is president of Brand Asset Consulting, which conducts the surveys that provide the data they cite.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving on a budget

It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again. The holidays are officially upon us, and with the stagnate economy and abysmal unemployment rate, people across all socio-economic classes will be looking for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in a joyful yet penny-wise way. Having volunteered to host Thanksgiving for my family of 20 + people last year, that unfortunately never came to fruition. A brutal case of the flu forced an emergency change of venue and left me literally home alone watching “Home Alone” on Thanksgiving.

Prior to my getting sick however, I was very excited to host my first Thanksgiving dinner and did a lot of planning and prep-work, in fact, with the benefit of hindsight I feel as though I might have done too much. I wanted everything to be perfect, neglecting the cost involved with hosting such an event, and forgetting the notion that the food was merely an excuse to bring everyone together. Focus on the people you are celebrating with rather than the presentation of the celebration itself. Here are some helpful hints to enjoy turkey day without it gobbling up your wallet.

1. Before you start shopping take a good inventory of what you already have. More often than not you may have some key staple ingredients in your kitchen pantry. There’s nothing more wasteful than doubling up on items you seldom use, that eventually will have to be thrown away.

2. Ask for help! Don’t take everything on yourself; ask your guest and family members to bring their favorite dishes. Most people are more than willing to bring something to the table so to speak. It makes them feel like they contributed to the event in someway other than just showing up, and people also enjoy seeing other people react to the dish that they brought. Even asking someone to bring items that do not need to be cooked or prepared such as beverages and ice, plastic cups and utensils or even extra chairs or other things that can alleviate some of the stress from the person doing the hosting.

3. The turkey is the centerpiece for your Thanksgiving meal; however, the turkey can also be the most expensive part of your Thanksgiving meal. As Thanksgiving draws near, you should be able to find several grocery stores offering great deals on their turkeys – some stores even offer free turkeys if you purchase a certain amount of groceries from their store. While their minimum limits may be around the $100 mark, it will be no problem for the average family to spend that amount at their local grocery store over the course of the weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving.

4. Before you head out to the grocery store armed with your shopping lists, don’t forget to hit your coupon sources for extra coupons that can help you to save a significant amount of money. Check out the circular flyers that your local stores send out in the mail so that you can have an idea as to which store currently has the best deals on the things that you plan on purchasing.
For great deals on your fresh produce, consider a visit to your local farmers market; not only will you be able to get great fresh fruits and vegetables, but you can often purchase them for much less than you could purchase the same products in your grocery stores.

5. Enjoy the collective effort! When all is said and done, do not lose focus on what the event symbolizes. Take the time to literally give thanks for all the blessings that surround you. In these tough economic times, it can be easy to over emphasize the bad and overlook all the good. Take solace in the little things and the fact that you are enjoying good food in the company of people that love and care for you. And most of all save your leftovers! A little creativity can keep you fed for many days after Thanksgiving!

*** To anyone who might be reading this post, I want to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for your loyalty and continued support, there might not be too many of you out there, but I for one have always been about quality over quantity***

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Economy of Space

Having spent Halloween weekend moving for the second time in a year, I have now spent my first week in my new place. There are no more empty boxes lingering around and the blank canvass that was, is slowly but surely transforming into a representation of its occupants. Pictures on walls and furniture arranged in a fashion that is both functional and reminiscent of the way things used to be. You learn a lot when you move from one place to another; you realize that, there is often a big difference between what you think you want and what you actually need, a lesson that was made abundantly clear to me while I was moving from a 2 bedroom house into a 1 bedroom apartment.

The reason for the downsize? With the economy and job market still in the dumps, clients who can afford the luxury of having someone handle their finances for them are not lining up out the door like they used to. You know things have slowed down considerably when your cell phone becomes as much of a reminder of who isn’t calling as who is. So I, along with so many others out there have had to make sacrifices and cut back wherever I can. The idea of saving over $700 a month between rent and utilities was just too much to ignore. Moving into a smaller space has also enabled to me to purge some of the “stuff” I have accumulated over the years, stuff that had a sole purpose of filling a space or looking good. That is what we typically do with space; we fill it, and often the more space we have the more we have to fill. Sometimes having limited space can be the key to finding the balance between bare essentials and excess.

My 800 square foot apartment has everything I need for the time being. It’s a small building in a great neighborhood, and its Euro inspired kitchen gives me the unique ability to scramble eggs while simultaneously doing a load of laundry. How many people do you know can make such an offer to their guest? Living in a small space also serves as a reminder of what truly makes a house a home; it’s not the 50’ flat screen TV or designer furniture, rather it’s the people who come through your doors that add life to a room full of stuff. It’s the amount of footprints that is the true gauge of a happy home, or in my particular case the amount of paw prints as well.
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