Category Archives: business

High-End Shopping In A Declining Economy?

This afternoon my wife and I ventured over to Ross Park Mall, on the north side of Pittsburgh.  Now, living on the south side of town, we probably haven't been up to that mall in nearly four years.  Well, in that time, the mall's management has been working to make the mall more upscale and leave the general shopping to the numerous strip malls and plazas that surround the main mall.  They've added a Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and a number of other “high-end” stores. 

Now, even in good economic times these are stores that I wouldn't normally venture into.  They're “label” stores, which basically charge you an exorbitant amount for an inferior product because it's got their label on it.  Unfortunately for them, I'm a functional person and usually will buy a product for quality over brand name (and I'll admit that there have been some exceptions).

But now that we are in less-than-stellar economic times, one has to wonder about the impact on these stores, and the mall as a whole, when their business is primarily aimed at expendable income.  Will they be able remain profitable in this economic climate?  Will mall foot traffic drop because the clientele they were targeting is no longer there in the same quantities?

At a more basic level, if you run a business that primarily caters to high-end customers with more disposable income, in poor economic times is it better to remain exclusivity to retain the value of your brand name, or is it better to branch out and offer a broader range of products to make your brand more available to all kinds of customers.

Not that I have any answers, because each solutions has it's place in certain situations.  Just rambling some of my thoughts after seeing a “rich people's” mall in the midst of some pretty difficult economic times for our country…

Are You Staying Professional With Your Business?

Is it just me, or are some people just being lazy when it comes to promoting their businesses online.  Especially in the case of small businesses, it seems that many are plagued with cutting corners.  Recently, I came across two examples of this that really struck me as bad decisions.

The first is an office building in downtown Pittsburgh, which has a huge banner (probably at least 20 feet tall and 5 feet wide) that reads “Office Space For Rent   Contact jim3952@yahoo.com”*.  That's right, not only did they use a personal Yahoo account for business purposes (which looks very unprofessional), but they also spent a big chunk of money on a huge banner and still couldn't shell out $50 for a domain name and e-mail service.  I'm sure they could have gotten a lot further (or at least more considerations) if they did things right.

The second example came today.  A few months ago, I had made some calls to see how much it would cost to pave the driveway of our new home.  Well, we decided to push the project to the spring or summer, but I still have a few of the companies call me like every 2 weeks to check in.  Well, this time they asked if I had seen their photos online.  When I said I hadn't, they told me that I could go online to myspace/aconstructioncompany* and see over 700 photos of their work.  When I stopped shaking my head, I told them that I'd have to look at them later when I was at my computer.  MySpace is for social networking and musicians, not for running a business specializing in construction.  In fact, it's such an unprofessional approach that I'm sure I won't be chosing them for any house projects in the future.  They really should have their own domain name and site to host these images and talk about their business.

The point is that it's really not that hard or expensive to run your business online in a professional manner (at least presentation-wise…customer service and satisfaction are a whole other discussion).  So take the time to do it right, and you'll be more likely to win over customers.  After all, if you cut corners there, it leads potential customers to question where else you might cut them.

* Actual e-mail and sites changed out of consideration for owners.

Pushing Off The Inevitable Economic Collapse

Anyone who is interested in the current economic situation of the United States should take a few minutest to read Too Big to Fail? by Peter Goodman in The New York Times.  It's a very terse look at the current American situation, and some of the questionable things that have been done in an attempt to prop up the declining economy.  While the government is again jumping to bail out poorly run businesses, the article points out that is probably not the best option:

For one thing, this argument goes, taxpayers – who now confront plunging house prices, a drop on Wall Street and soaring costs for food and fuel – will ultimately pay the costs. To finance a bailout, the government can either pull more money from citizens directly, or the Fed can print more money – a step that encourages further inflation.

“They are going to raise the cost of living for every American,” said Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital Inc., a Connecticut-based brokerage house that focuses on international investments. “The government is debasing the value of our money. Freddie and Fannie need to fail. They are too big to save.”

I know I was upset to hear that the government was going to bail out another poorly-run entity.  The biggest problem is that these companies are being saved at the cost of the citizens of this country.  Shouldn't things be happening the other way around?

Stock Market Facination

About a month ago, my wife sent me a link to CNBC's Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge, saying that she thought it would be something I'd be interested in. That probably came from my participation in ProTrade over the last year, which allows you to trade stock in athletes and teams based on their performance. Granted, it's nothing like the real stock market and is much more volatile (as can be seen by my 3600% portfolio growth since last April). I had tried making the transition to stock market games before, but it usually wasn't long before I lost interest.

Nonetheless, I decided to take up the challenge anyway. I figured that maybe with a few right moves, maybe I'd luck out and win the challenge.

A month later, I'm hooked. Plus, I've finally taken the time to do some of my homework and learned some of the key indicators for long-term stock performance (I just won't end up being a day-trader…it's not in my nature). It's not that it's easy, but the right indicators certainly help. So, right now I'm sitting with an entry already in the top 10% of all participants, with over a month and a half left to go. Hopefully, I can keep up the pace.

It's definitely piqued my interest, and I'd love to try my hand at some actual stock investing in the near future now.

My First Business Trip

s_airplane8Well, late last week, I had my first excuse to take a business trip.  I went with a  small team of people (my boss, our lead sales guy, and I was the technical guy) to give a presentation on our product down in Alabama.

As a guy who spends most of his working days staring at code, there really hasn't been an occasion when I've needed to travel for anything.  However, this time my boss told me he wanted to get involved as a contact for the company.  Seemed like a good thing to me, so I went with it.

I'm sure it wasn't your typical trip though, because we were asked on Wednesday to come down for a Friday meeting, so we scrambled to get arrangements to get down there by Thursday night.  After a few hours of meetings in the morning, we then made our way back.

It was a nice change of pace to get out of the office for a little while, and I'm already looking forward to my next opportunity to travel.

What Do Geek Squad Technicians Actually Do?

It's a very valid question this is raised over on Slashdot, and in my two experiences (only because the laptop was still underGeek Squad warranty, otherwise I wouldn't have wasted my time) they don't do very much.

The first time, the guy was able to run a diagnostics CD and then ship the laptop back to Sony (the touchpad had died).

The second time, the guy was able to look up the error message on Google, and then managed to break the display before he was able to run the diagnostics CD. Then he went on guessing what the problem was (including a program that had been uninstalled over a year ago, but had left registry entries behind).

Sadly, the Geek Squad can't even live up to it's name. There's no geeks that work there, just losers who finished the 3-hour in-store training course. Don't waste your time with them if you don't have to, as several others have already found out. There are plenty of other qualified computer technicians out there, so open up your yellow pages and get someone who can actually help you.

Ballmer To Children:

Well, close enough. In a recent interview, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated that he doesn't allow his children to use Google or iPods.

Microsoft - Steve BallmerDo you have an iPod?

No, I do not. Nor do my children. My children–in many dimensions they're as poorly behaved as many other children, but at least on this dimension I've got my kids brainwashed: You don't use Google, and you don't use an iPod.

Glad to see that Microsoft, from the top down, is taking an objective view of rival products to help improve their own. Ever think of asking your kids WHY they'd want an iPod or WHY they'd want to use Google? Nope…Ballmer probably even has official Microsoft dishes in order to help his brainwashing efforts.

Instead of doing consumer studies, Microsoft is sitting in their own little world wondering why they're losing losing portions of their maket shares in several key areas while convinced that they have the best products that have ever been made and ever will be made. Their latest OS has been delayed, their XBox 360 was rushed out and looks to be an inferior machine compared to the upcoming PS3, beta versions of the latest Internet Explorer aren't going to be bringing back Firefox/Opera converts, and the server world is increasingly embracing linux and unix.

Just as the Roman Empire began to crumble when it expanded it's borders beyond it's military manpower's capability to maintain those borders, Microsoft has spread itself too thin across the marketplace and left them rather far behind the curve of new technology.