It’s In The Mail

20 09 2011

One need now know me for long to know that I am a sap for pictures. Heck, I just blogged about PostSecret and Dear Photograph (again) last week. Photographs in the digital era are changing the ways we communicate. Our phones allow us to capture everything around us, and instantly share it. Dan Rather, speaking of live news, once said that the camera never blinks. In the case of our still cameras, they are blinking quite a bit. But these blinks are shutter clicks.

<span style="font-family: arial; font-size: small;"As our smartphones and cell coverage have gotten better, I have posted hundreds of pics to my Facebook (mostly wacky spur-of-the-moment things), and used the MMS feature to directly share with friends. Worst-case scenario, I will also (gack!) email pics (yikes, that seems so 1999, doesn't it?).

But one thing I have grown increasingly remiss in doing is sending photo postcards to friends and families. I just don’t do it. Sad to say, but I did not send one lousy postcard from London last May. Of course, I posted nearly 1000 shots to my SmugMug (all gloriously linked from FB). I MMSd pics. I checked in at Gowalla and posted more pics. But, alas, nothing in the mail.

All that is changing now with Postagram, the app that sycns with your Camera Roll, FB and Instagram accounts, and lets you send a picture postcard to anyone around the world for a mere 99 cents.

And who, you wonder, would still want to receeive a postcard in the mail? I know two people. My Mom and Dad. Confined to an independent living center in central Florida, they do not get out much, save for when my brother visits on Weekends. And I, some 1600 miles away, get to visit about four times a year. Phone calls are nice, but wouldn’t it be great to toss in a surprise now and then?

Like the pic I just sent to them this morning. It was the one of my daughters at the San Diego Zoo this summer, as they interacted with some colorful birds in the aviary. OK, right before the birds started doing what birds are so wont to do. Yeah, it was a mess. We had fun. And I wanted to share it with Mom and Dad (the before-the-bird-poop part).

I went ahead and purchased a bunch of postcard credits at Postagram so that I can continue to send spur-of-the-moment postcards to them. No rhyme. No reason. Just because.

The business model is sheer genius. It costs 29 cents to mail a postcard, and since photo printing these days can be found for as low as 10 cents retail, I suspect that Postagram has little more than 35 cents in each card. All text (message and address) is entered by the user, so the only thing that has to be done is a trip to the Post Office. The picture can even be popped out of its carrier. Nice profit margin. Nice concept.

Dang. Another one of those why-didn’t-I ideas.

While Mom and Dad will never be with us in the smartphone-to-go crowd, and have never quite gotten the whole email thing, Postagram is the next best thing to being there. Sure, postcards are old school, but sometimes old school isn’t so bad. It may never have really been broken. It just needed a new lease on life.

I hope that Mom and Dad like the Postagrams. I wish that they could be with us for these adventures in life. In lieu of that, though, I hope to give them enough a reason to look forward to getting the mail. The aperture of my mind sure wishes it could be there to take that picture.

Dr “Shutter Bug” Gerlich

Here’s The Beef

19 09 2011

It has been a long time since Clara Peller starred in Wendy’s commercials. “Where’s the beef?” became a catch phrase for Americans, and Peller appeared on numerous late night shows as a celebrity in her own right. It helped put Wendy’s on the hamburger radar (in spite of the fact the company had been around since 1969).

But ad campaigns and taglines are not forever, and even though company founder Dave Thomas took the helm in future ads, the company’s burgers simply lost luster. Wendy’s (named for Dave’s daughter) found itself an also-ran in an industry dominated by one company (need I say more?). Failed subsidiary chains (Sister’s Fried Chicken and Baja Fresh) didn’t help; being bought by Arby’s was even worse. Inroads from regional chains Five Guys and In-N-Out turned up the heat even more.

So the company went back to the drawing board. The result is the new Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy burger debuting today.

Well, fire up the grill and have it your way. Or something like that.

While it can be argued that Wendy’s never really had the Midas touch, there is much to say about the risk of tinkering with a proven formula. Is the risk of doing something greater (or less) than the risk of doing nothing? In the fast food industry, nearly 90% of customers prefer a hamburger, so there’s much to be gained from serving up the perfect sandwich.

But if it falls flat, say, like roast beef sandwiches that parent Arby’s sells, there could be a lot of leftover beef.

Personally (and this coming from a vegetarian, so take it with a slice of tomato), this may be the best defensive move Wendy’s could take at this time. While Wendy’s may still have a lot of stores (over 6600), it is clear that the Five Guys and In-N-Outs of this world are stealing sales from everyone. Being a distance third makes Wendy’s particularly vulnerable as those upstarts expand across the country. Never mind that Five Guys and INO have loyal customers…loyal almost to a fault, and willing to argue over which one is better.

You don’t see people doing that about the Big 3.

If anything, the reinvention of Wendy’s could help reshape the entire burger sector in fast food. If the new burger can hold a candle to the cult sandwiches, then the dynamics of the market could change dramatically. In fact, Wendy’s plus the other two could pose a formidable threat to Burger King.

And while I doubt that McDonald’s is going to fumble its enormous lead, at least these developments give customers some options. What McD’s fails on in taste, they certainly make up for in convenience. And kid appeal.

I’ll never get to try a Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy (unless I take back my vows), but my thinking is that it has the potential to turn the ship around. The old single-double-triple sandwich offerings from Wendy’s were not sacrosanct, and certainly elicited nowhere near the customer loyalty as did Old Coke. Tinkering in this instance is not only a safe bet, but much needed. It’s about time Wendy’s saw fit to reconsider its core product.

And somewhere, Clara Peller is smiling.

Dr “Be Sure To Tell me How You Like It” Gerlich

I Can See Clearly Now

18 09 2011

Marketing is not a field for the faint of heart, nor for those who must live in a clearly bound bifurcated world of black and white. Such is the topic of many a hallway conversation I have had with some of my more quantitative colleagues two departments down. “I don’t care what you feel,” they say, “I wan’t to know the numbers.”

While I would never disagree that accounting and finance are extremely vital aspects of any business (after all, we do need to make money), it is up to marketing to give them something to count in the first place. But this fact remains: If you cannot handle ambiguity or uncertainty, then marketing is probably not your field. Marketing is all about trying to use quantitative methods to research customers, but then putting it all aside and gambling anyway on humans you know are really irrational regardless of what they say. It’s about looking through the windshield and only seeing a few signposts as you whisk by in a fog of risk. The only clarity we have is when we look back through the rear view mirror. It is then that we can see our mistakes, scratch our head, wonder what we (or they) were thinking. And hope that we can learn from our mistakes, knowing full well that we’ll probably continue to make them 9 out of 10 times anyway.

Marketing is not a science, even though we may use somewhat scientific methods to study customers. No, it is a very inexact field that uses exacting methods in an effort to hit moving targets.

And those moving targets are you and me. Customers. People we hope will be impressed enough to open their billfolds and purses.

The road to marketing success is littered with the carcasses of failed new products, products that someone, for whatever reason, thought they had enough reason to support introducing them in the first place. Like Miller Clear Beer. Now I ask you, “What the bloody hell were they thinking?” Never mind that everyone in the early-90s was enthralled with the idea of every consumer liquid being transparent (think: Crystal Pepsi and clear Ivory, an oxymoron if there ever were one). It sent shivers up and down the spines of anyone remotely interested in health; it screamed purity.

But in the case of Miller Clear, it screamed one other word: Water. Not exactly what you want to be drinking on a Friday night.

Ironically, Miller Clear Beer may have been ahead of its time, given the current growth in ultra-light beers I discussed a few days ago. It’s just that the marketing was all wrong. Beer is assumed to range from yellow to amber to black (yay, Guinness!). But beer ought never be clear. Well, unless maybe if it is an ultra light.

Now I will say that “ultra light,” “clear” and “water” are all synonyms in my beer thesaurus, but I digress. The best diagrammed play can still result in a fumble.

And the fact that the overwhelming majority of new product introductions results in failure gives us a plethora of examples from which we can try to learn. This HuffPo feature is a humorous scavenge through dustbin of marketing blunders. There is even a museum of marketing mistakes operated by a Michigan consulting firm. For a mere $5000 bucks clients can get a peek.

Wow. The price of failure runs high even for spectators.

In spite of our predisposition to make mistakes, we marketers drive onward anyway. Never mind the fog. Never mind the risk. We know where we want to be. We’re just not sure if we can get there from here.

But we’re willing to try.

While that mindset alone gives pause to the accountants and financiers among us, just look at the Snuggie. Yeah. The ultimate stupid idea. But as of January 2010, it had already sold over 20 million units. I bet those accountants were pretty darn happy over someone’s “feeling” to go for it.

Dr “Now Go To YouTube And Watch The Parodies” Gerlich

Round And Round

17 09 2011

I have been around the bicycle industry for many years, having started riding (again) in 1983 when I tipped the scales at over 215 pounds (I had quit weighing out of frustration with myself). After endless ribbing from my younger brother, I hopped on my trusty Viscount 10-speed racer, determined to shed some poundage.

And it worked. Today, some 350,000 miles and a Race Across America finish later (with my wife, on a tandem bicycle), I am not at all the man my brother used to call Twin Bellies.

I have been a tour and race director since 1987, was the Director of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association, Publisher of its magazine, co-director of the Race Across America for four years (after earning the coveted finisher’s ring), and had a small mail-order cycling business at home. Every September I would trek to either Anaheim or Las Vegas for the Interbike trade show. It was the one time of the year when everyone in the industry (manufacturers, agents and reps, wholesalers, and retailers) all convened under one roof.

Invariably, there were a few products that stretched my ability to offer an objective evaluation. Things that ran the gamut from “this will never work” all the way to “you’ve got to be kidding.” Kind of like the reaction I had when I saw a pic one of my friends posted this week from Interbike. It’s the Roundtail line of bikes. I did a double- and triple-take.

No, those aren’t three rear wheels. Two of those round tubes are actually part of the frame. The first thing I thought was “comfort,” and I was right. Round trumps straight when it comes to shock dispersal. And (dis)comofrt is usually the first thing that people talk about after a ride. Heck, after last week’s 100-mile Enchanted Circle Tour in Red River NM, I was singing the “Man, My Back Is Killing Me Blues.”

But Houston, we do have a problem, you see. The bicycle racing business is extremely conservative, and only allows diamond-shaped frames in pro and top amateur divisions. And if you watch the video on the website, you’ll hear that the Roundtail has 10 times the amount of flex in the rear of the frame. Flex means pedaling inefficiency. I sure as heck do not want to receive a little comfort in trade for wasted energy.

The fact is, if you have been fitted to your bike by a pro mechanic, you will be comfortable most of the time (unless you are grinding up 10% grades like I was). Sure, there are differences in frame construction that affect comfort (titanium and steel are comfy, carbon a little harsher, and aluminum bone-jarring), but a good bike in the price range of this one pictured would not be difficult to fit anyone. All you need is the proper wallet thickness (a decent bike starts at about $3500 these days, and routinely goes to $7500).

While I admire the inventive desire to try to improve, to launch an entrepreneurial assault on an established market, I just don’t have very high hopes for this brand. Yes, I would try one if one were to magically appear on my doorstep, and I would give it a fair shake on the road. But I have been around this industry for too long, and I have seen far too many better mousetraps come and go. Bikes. Accessories. You name it. While it is reassuring to see the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well, I also feel badly for those who blow through their retirement accounts in the process.

I am not saying there aren’t niche markets in cycling that might like this frame design. Touring is one, as are much lower-priced bikes the general ridership might be more likely to purchase. Mountain biking and triathlon are two other categories, and they are a lot less frozen in time regarding frame shape.

Still, the basic bicycle frame design has been around a long time. And you know why? Because it really isn’t broken. Some things don’t need to be fixed. And trying to convince cash-poor mom-and-pop shops (which constitute the bulk ot bicycle retailing) to take a chance on a newfangled line of bikes is asking a lot.

This leaves Roundtail with the option of simply selling direct, but that raises other problems. For the price of a bike like this one, I’d sure like to have a knowledgeable person working with me to fit it properly. That’s kind of hard to do on a website (chalk one up for old-school retailing). There are many nuances to bike fit, and unless you really know what you are doing, you’ll be riding something that just does not fit. And the whole comfort idea will be left on the side of the road.

I would love to go back to Interbike one day. While I don’t mind no longer being in the mail order business, and limiting myself to directing only two events a year, I still have a lot of friends in the industry. I also have no doubt I would return with many pictures to share with my students. Pics with “what were they thinking?” and “get a load of this!” captions.

I guess that’s just the jaded view of someone who has been around the block a few times.

Dr “Call Me For Shipping Instructions” Gerlich

Salad Bowl Spirituality

16 09 2011

All through my formative years, I heard and believed the notion that America is one big melting pot. Immigrants would come to Ellis Island, salute the Statue of Liberty, raise their right hand, and be whisked off to the cauldron of cultural homogeneity. Better boil off those ethnic idiosyncrasies, that old homeland pride, the lenses we brought with us. In spite of what people said about individual responsibility, the ethos was one of collective cultural sameness. We had a moral, civic and social responsibility to become one, to not rock the boat, to not do things our way.

And it worked. For a while, at least. It got us to where we are. That melting pot metaphor was much easier when everyone was coming here from Europe, through the same port of entry. Hell, nearly everyone already looked the same, even if they spoke a variety of Romantic or Anglo-Saxon tongues. There wasn’t much to melt down.

But things changed, and immigrants started entering from the south and west. Ellis Island saw its business slip.

It was about 20 years ago I noticed text books start ditching the old melting pot idea in favor of the salad bowl: a delicious entree in its own right, yet each element tastes great alone.

Of course, that rattled a lot of cages, because it suddenly meant that we were free to be ourselves, free to cling to our own ways of life, even if it meant we weren’t going with the flow. Interestingly, we finally found ourselves consistent with the rugged individualism we espoused but apparently did not really believe. We were free to be a tomato on a bed of lettuce, a bell pepper next to a carrot.

And now along comes George Barna telling us that we have espoused the salad bowl mindset as we create our own spirituality. In Futurecast he argues that Americans are increasingly making their own religion. As I said earlier today on Facebook, “It’s the Starbucks model of religion. ‘I’ll have a grande Galilean with a shot of Baha’i. Leave room for a little mysticism. And be sure to put it in a 100% post-consumer recyclable paper cup.'”

But it’s true. Church attendance is decreasing, with many getting off at the station of Going It Alone every day. Now that we as a nation have been exposed to a plethora of world religions, we find that we no longer wish to all be the same. Like our blended culture, we crave a blended spirituality. We have begun to question the wisdom of religious exclusivity, yearning instead for the best of many religions.

Earlier this year, Rob Bell shook up evangelical Christianity with Love Wins. Bell was accused of being a Universalist and a heretic. That’s not a good thing to be when you live in oh-so-conservative Grand Rapids MI.

So what in the world, you ask, does this have to do with marketing? A lot. Religions are brands. Denominations are brands. Even individual non-denominational churches are brands. And what Barna has found is that more and more Americans are sick of branded religion.


Furthermore, religions can quickly become so ingrown that its adherents are unable to see that the Kool-Aid they have been drinking hasn’t exactly been helping make friends with outsiders. And that is probably why the trend Barna discovered is happening in the first place. That people are still spiritual at all says something…that we crave answers to our deep, abiding questions, that our belief gene has not been damaged or mutated, that most of us are really not agnostic after all. It’s just that we don’t like the products we see on the shelf.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that an increasing number of people are ordering up religion just like they would their coffee. And even though I drink coffee straight up black, I will confess that it’s pretty boring. Maybe I need to add a shot of this, saving room for a little of that. And maybe our mainline religions need to figure out that their brand images have suffered, that at the end of the day, it’s not about us all being the same, but about us doing the same: loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Now that’s a religion I can buy into. Can I get that to go?

Dr “Pass The Sugar” Gerlich

Running With Scissors

15 09 2011

I remember when I was still in grad school, a relative newlywed. Money was tight and so were we. Because we had to be. We clipped coupons, not because it was fun, but because it helped us save a few quarters here and there. We raced to the breakfast table with the Sunday paper, scissors in hand.

Noodles and pasta were (and are still) cheap, so every coupon could nearly pay for another evening meal. The influence of my accountant father played a big role in our survival strategies.

But as we moved on from grad school to our professional lives, scrimping became less of an issue. We joined the vast majority of Americans in ignoring coupons. What was the worry if the payback of trading a Sunday morning with scissors if it netted you only $10?

Before the current recession, it was quite common that only about 2% of all coupons were redeemed in the US. Sure, part of this may have been because the discounted product did not meet needs or wants. But I suspected it had more to do with our collective affluence than anything. Clipping coupons took on the same social stigma as does riding the bus in Amarillo. “Wait. There’s mass transit in Amarillo?” you ask.)

And since we all know (insert sarcasm here) that only poor people and convicted drunks ride the bus, we avoided coupons like the plague.

My, how a recession and a reality show can change everything.

Whereas you couldn’t get most people to ever ‘fess up to using a coupon, we have now reached the point at which extreme couponing has produced blowback.

I have read the Facebook status updates of extreme coupon clippers. I have seen the articles, the TV news reports, even the TV show. It may be hard to believe, but coupons have become a contact sport, with people stealing Sunday newspapers (with their dozens of prized offers). “Forget that shiny bike you left on the driveway. I want your newspaper.”

Worse yet, some shoppers are schlepping several over-flowing carts through the store, and then making others wait behind them while the poor clerk has to ring up everything, only to reduce the bill to a buck or two. The implicit message is that we lazy spectators are to applaud the savvy shopper for a job well done.

Some stores are fighting back by limiting the number and/or value of coupons they will accept, or limiting quantities. I don’t blame them. Coupons and related promotional offers are intended to be inducements to shop, not an invitation to battle. They are a sweetener, not a subsidy, and not an opportunity to turn basements into grocery warehouses.

But that has happened anyway.

The questions are, how long will this craziness last after the recession is over? And will there still be marauding bands of competitive shoppers once the TV show has run its course?

Geez, I hope not.

I do not mind coupons at all, but I cannot remember the last time I used one. I don’t mind the person in front of me redeeming a few. But I do mind it when I have the misfortune of getting in line behind the Coupon Queen or King. I just don’t like standing downwind of a smug shopper hell bent on exiting the store with a month’s worth of free groceries.

Coupons were never intended to be food stamps. And, in a twisted kind of way, a marketer’s tool has become the weapon that may very well kill him.

Enough already.

Dr “No Cash Value” Gerlich

Every Memory Of Looking Out The Back Door

14 09 2011

Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words never lived during the internet era. Sure, in days of old we may have only had those old photographs to send us on a trip down Memory Lane. But today we have the ability to share those pics, to post them to the social graph, to go viral with them. And apparently make money.

Such is the case of PostSecret, the photographic confessional that Frank Warren started as an art project six years ago. Today, after a wildly viral website, five books, speaking engagements and over a half-million photo postcard secrets submitted by people the world over, PostSecret is the number one app on iTunes.

And it has so captured the hearts and souls of people…people like you and me…that a thousand words do not even begin to come close to telling the stories. Why? Because we need to tell our stories. Because we often find ourselves in the middle of others’ stories. That our shortcomings and misgivings are really not so uncommon after all. That, at the end of the roll of film (now there’s a metaphor ready to be retired!), maybe we’re not so different at all. You know. Human.

To say that taking, sharing, looking at photographs is a visceral experience is putting it too lightly. It’s about seeing the world through a certain type of lens. It’s about putting on the lens of others, and seeing the world from their point of view. It’s about transporting oneself to a different place and time.

It may not have started out as a business, but Warren found one. Or maybe I should say that the business found him. And it is little different from this year’s phenom Dear Photograph, launched last spring by Taylor Jones and just inked to a book deal.

Maybe it says something about modern society and our collective need to find, to share, through a medium that has been around for well over a century, but until only recently was one not easily spread to the masses. Maybe it speaks of our fears, our insecurities. Maybe it screams our longingness to belong in an era in which we are long on angst and short on hope.

It’s a zeitgeist few would have ever predicted, especially considering the hyperconnectivity of the wired world. Maybe the human condition has not changed much after all, thus allowing sites like PostSecret and Dear Photograph to flourish because they so tapped into the emotional bloodstream of a world having a hard time keeping up with all the change.

All I know is that I find myself melting into a puddle of pixels every time I read the secrets, every time I see a picture of a picture of the past in the present. I see you. I see me. That there’s money to be made along the way is mere sideshow. No, I am confessing that photographs speak to me in ways that the written word never has. The voice of music hasn’t the sonic quality of an image that speaks to my heart.

That’s my secret. What’s yours?

Dr “It’s Hard To Say It” Gerlich

Cloudy With A Chance Of Empty Carts

13 09 2011

It’s amazing how fast the naysayers line up to start wringing their hands about the economy. Here it is only 13th September, and already I am reading reports about how dismal this coming holiday season is going to be, that shopping carts will be nearly empty. Like a scene straight out of Family Feud, “Survey says…holiday shoppers plan to spend less this year!”

Can we at least get to the autumnal equinox before we start worrying about such things? Or, better yet, veteran’s Day? Good grief, a lot can change in the next three months to put me (and you) in a better spending frame of mind.

And if, per chance, we actually believe such tripe, then maybe we will all make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know…”Geez, honey, it says here that people are going to spend less. I’m not exactly sure who all these people are, but maybe we’d better spend less, too.”

Yes, it is true that in our consumer-driven society a full 70% of the economy is derived from retail purchases. Furthermore, m,any retailers report 40% of the sales occur between the 1st of November and Christmas. I thus understand the importance of all this, that selling stuff is pretty much what fuels the American economic engine.

But is early September the time to be asking?

Heck, Americans with young children just received their credit card statements bearing all those obligatory back-to-school purchases. Little Johnny and Suzie are busy scuffing up those new shoes, filling page after page of spiral notebooks with juvenile sketches, and poking people’s eyes out with protractors. How in the world could people even begin to think about buying Christmas presents? It was 97 degrees yesterday, for crying out loud.

Which reminds me that, no matter how dark and gloomy the economic weather forecast is, you really don’t know if it’s going to rain until you get there. People have a way of finding the holiday spirit, even when times are tough. Even if money truly is tight, I cannot imagine people saying, “You know, we’re just going to have to cut some people off this Christmas. I even read about it online.”

It was about this time last year that I saw the same awful prognostications. And you know what? They did not pan out. If anything, December sales sagged because of bad weather around the country (Knock knock! Who’s there? It’s Old Man Winter. Surprised?). In spite of dire predictions, sales among 28 of the top retail chains were actually up over 3% for the entire holiday season.

So much for stormy weather.

Truth be known, most major retail chains made their Christmas inventory decisions several months ago. Their purchases are already in the pipeline, if not already delivered to warehouses. If ever retailers needed insider information, it was in June, not now. That’s kind of like coming to school in shorts, only to find out that snow is in the forecast.

But even then, it may not snow. The sun may still shine. In fact, it may turn out to be one of the warmest Christmases ever.

Just get your credit cards out and be ready to shop. The economy is counting on us.

Dr “What’s In Store” Gerlich

No Place Like Foam

12 09 2011

I have never understood Americans’s taste preferences in beer. For the last 50 years, we as a nation have spurned the tasty varietals so carefully crafted by true artisans, and instead bought ever more of the mass-produced swill of a handful of growing conglomerates.

But now, there is a strange bifurcation happening. US brewers are noticing a two-edged paradigm shift occurring, with 8 brands of lore experiencing marked sales decreases in recent years. What’s puzzling is that they are losing sales to either lighter beers, or imports and domestic craft beers.

Go figure. That’s tantamount to an evangelical church losing members, with some going to a hands-in-the-air charismatic church, and the others going to an established mainline “high church” denomination. In other words, night and day difference.

There are thus two growing market segments for US beer: those seeking lighter- and lower-calorie beers, and those who have followed their folly to more exotic beer drinking experiences.

Which makes it difficult for brewers, because these are very disparate groups.

If anything, those low-calorie beers give the false impression that they are also lower in alcohol (not true), so people mistakenly drink more. The result is a bunch of drunks who don’t gain weight.

And the there’s the beer snob club (of which I am a charter member), people who would not be caught dead drinking something that wasn’t brewed in Oregon or Colorado by group of pious Belgian monks on furlough.

So part of me is happy that at least a portion of American beer connoisseurs (as opposed to common sewers) have developed a palate for the brewer’s art, but another part of me is dismayed that, instead of demanding more flavor, they’re willing to trade that in for an 85-calorie savings. Hey, try parking at the far reaches of the lot, and then walk. You’ll build up beer credits.

All these changes mean that your favorite retailer’s beer cooler is likely to have a different complexion in the months ahead. Expect less of the familiar old-school flagship full-calorie brands, and more of both low-cal brews and exotics. A good case in point: the United Supermarket on 45th and Bell, which has perhaps the best beer selection in all of Amarillo.

I mean, assuming you’re a beer snob like me.

It also means that our nation’s biggest brewers (which are not even American-owned anymore), must respond by making changes in their own product mix. Expect ever more ultra-lights, faux craft beers (e.g., Shock Top), and imports (like those leveraged through Bud’s ownership by InBev).

So many beers. So little time. And it looks like the old “Tastes Great–Less Filling” debate from the 70s and 80s may be taking on an entirely new meaning.

Dr “Roll Out The Barrel” Gerlich

Deep And Wide

12 09 2011

It’s funny how people complain about the powerhouses in our lives. Walmart probably takes the brunt of it, of course, with their 3000+ stores and brick-and-mortar (BAM) presence in nearly every US city. Tales abound of Moms and Pops whose lives and businesses have been pre-empted by the retailing giant, of a certain retail plasticity that has all the appeal of another McDonald’s (another powerhouse), of prices that few can hope to compete with.

And then there’s Apple, the computer giant that sneaked into our lives with iPods, then iPhones, and now iPads. Once you take a few sips, you realize the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good, and you start to buy laptops and desktops. In case you haven’t noticed, you also started buying all of your music from them, too.

It’s easy to begrudge the grip these powerhouses have, but the simple reality is this: We let them. At the end of the day, these companies offered us something the others did not, and by virtue of that, catapulted to market supremacy in their own spheres.

But there’s another powerhouse slowly growing, deepening, widening, and if you think this company hasn’t already upset the apple cart, think again. Because before long it’s going to own the apple cart.

That company, of course, is Amazon.

From its humble online debut in 1995 to today, Amazon has slowly but surely started building an empire. Beginning with books and then quickly growing to practically anything that can be sold, Amazon is rapidly positioning itself as the world’s store.

Whereas Walmart adopted the little-bit-of-a-lot model via BAM, and Apple follows the a-lot-of-a-little path (both hardware and music sales), Amazon is going for a–lot-of-a-lot. Why not? It has no BAM stores, only warehouses and server farms. And with its Kindle Tablet nearing release, its powerhouse status will soon be cemented.

Because we let them. Because they offered us something no one else did.

You see, the new Kindle Tablet is much more than just a jazzed up new e-reader. No, it puts Amazon’s entire online store in a handy little device. It’s more than just e-books; it’s about clothes, shoes (they bought Zappos a couple of years ago), cameras, sporting goods, and even groceries.

Who needs a BAM store, right?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos may go down in retail history as the most prescient of businesspeople, even more than Steve Jobs and Sam Walton. Whereas Jobs and Walton answered the call for sexy electronic gadgets and low prices respectively, neither truly met all of our needs and wants. We can only consume so many gadgets and songs; we can only desire so much cheap stuff at the store on the edge of town.

But we will all need to keep consuming from the seemingly endless array of goods whose depth and width is synonymous with the river for which it is named. Bezos has amassed a retail offering the likes of which few can conceive, and competitors cannot touch. Putting it in the hands of Kindle Tablet owners is almost like giving shoppers the keys to the store. “Come on in. Just leave me your credit card number on the way out.”

No, the Kindle Tablet will not be an iPad killer. But it has the potential to be a killer app. And anyone standing near the banks of this mighty river had better beware, for the river is rising.

Dr “Flood Stage” Gerlich