The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What happened to the brand?

Of 19 Trump-branded product lines available in 2015, only 2 remain on the market. One wonders why:

In recent weeks, only two said they are still selling Trump-branded goods. One is a Panamanian company selling Trump bed linens and home goods. The other is a Turkish companyselling Trump furniture.

Of the rest, some Trump partners quit in reaction to campaign-trail rhetoric on immigrants and Muslims. Others said their licensing agreements had expired. Others said nothing beyond confirming that they’d stopped working with Trump. Their last Trump goods are now being sold off, often at a discount: One cologne is marked down from $42 to $9.99 for an ounce.

“Success by Trump,” the website says. And below that: “Clearance.”

“A caricature of what wealth is — as opposed to what real wealth is,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a consultant to luxury brands. Trump sold to those, he said, “who didn’t know the difference,” he said.

However, Pedraza said, Trump began to undermine his own success by “label-slapping” — sticking his name on anything he could, even the farfetched and ridiculous. Emeril Lagasse sold pots. Greg Norman sold golf shirts. Trump sold. . . everything.

“There was no strategy,” Pedraza said.

Seems like a strategy that could work, depending on your audience. Good thing we Americans have strong antibodies against charlatans.

 

In other Chicago news...

Eddie Lampert's reign of terror against Sears continued today when the chain announced the closing of their very last store in Chicago:

Sears, founded in Chicago and facing mounting troubles, is closing its last store in the city.

Employees at the store at Six Corners in the Old Irving Park neighborhood were told of the closure Thursday morning, spokesman Howard Riefs said in an email. The store will close in mid-July after a liquidation sale set to begin April 27. The Sears Auto Center will close in mid-May.

The store was one of 265 properties sold to Seritage Growth Properties in a 2015 sale-leaseback deal.

“For more than 120 years, Sears has called Illinois home and that is not changing,” Riefs said. “Although we are disappointed by this last store closure in Chicago, by no means does this change our commitment to our customers and presence to Chicago’s residents.”

Of course it doesn't change their commitment to Chicago; they haven't had one since 2005.

Howard, Eddie: I'm thinking of a phrase that ends with "...and the horse you rode in on."

This guy again

Longtime readers know how much I loathe Eddie Lampert, who represents to me everything that is wrong with the adolescent philosophy emitted years ago by Ayn Rand.

Well, in next month's Vanity Fair, William Cohan sits down with the child king of hedge funds and hears him out:

[Lampert's] triumphs are largely obscured by his worst mistake: the 2005 merging of Sears, the iconic retailer whose doorstop mail-order catalogue was once a fixture in nearly every American home, with the downmarket Kmart chain, which he had brought out of bankruptcy in 2003. Twelve years on, this blundering into retail has made him a poster boy for what some people think is wrong with Wall Street and, in particular, hedge funds. Under his management the number of Sears and Kmart stores nationwide has shrunk to 1,207 from 5,670 at its peak, in the 2000s, and at least 200,000 Sears and Kmart employees have been thrown out of work. The pension fund, for retired Sears employees, is underfunded by around $1.6 billion, and both Lampert and Sears are being sued for investing employees’ retirement money in Sears stock, when the top brass allegedly knew it was a terrible investment.

The vultures are circling, waiting for Lampert to throw in the towel so they can try to make money by buying Sears’s discounted debt. But Lampert continues to claim that’s not going to happen if he can help it.

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin “has been a shareholder and a member of the board of directors of Sears Holdings from the day that the combined company was formed [until becoming Treasury secretary], so he spent 11 years at Eddie’s side. . . . [With] all of Trump’s focus on jobs, job preservation, job creation, somebody ought to ask his secretary of the Treasury what his involvement has been for 11 years in the destruction of well over 100,000 jobs at Sears.” (A spokesman for Mnuchin declined to comment.)

Cohan treats Lampert fairly, I think. I didn't learn a lot, though. And Lampert still runs Sears, and still will find some way to make back most of the money he, personally, has invested in it. Too bad not enough of the right people think what he did to Sears and its employees is criminal.

Politically-motivated Spam from an island nation's PR department?

Over the past few weeks I've gotten several emails from someone purporting to be "Jess Miller" in New Zealand, mentioning she'd noticed a post I did on the Maldives in 2012. That post reported on the violent coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected government of the island nation just southwest of the Indian subcontinent. And just a few weeks ago, the military dissolved Parliament and threw the country into more unrest. The U.S. State Department has issued a level-2 caution. Understandably, tourism has declined somewhat, which is a pity because it's unlikely the country will exist after another 50 years of climate-change-induced sea-level rise.

Anyway, "Jess" sent me an email about my "wonderful blog post" and called out "a solid blog post [she'd] read in the past," which turned out to be the U.K. Foreign Office travel warning about the place.

Then there's the punchline: "Jess" wants to cross-post with her "best things to do in the Maldives" article on her own site.

I think the best thing to do in the Maldives right now is not to go there.

So, "Jess," your article is very attractive and I think a wonderful list of things to do once the government of the Maldives returns to civilian control, their economy stops its free-fall, tourists stop getting robbed in their hotel rooms, and climate change goes into reverse so they stop suffering the existential peril that is driving all these problems.

Any takers on a bet that "Jess" has funding from a Maldives tourist agency?

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

Frequency vs efficiency

Pilot Patrick Smith takes airlines to task for scheduling lots of little planes instead of fewer, larger planes as they did in the past:

What’s happened is three things. First, aircraft and engine technology has advanced to the point where smaller jets with limited capacity can be profitable even on long segments. And many of these planes are operated by low-paying regional carriers, two whom the airlines have outsourced much of their domestic flying. Second, the U.S. airline industry has fragmented. There are more airlines flying between more cities. Probably the biggest factor, though, is the way airlines have come to use frequency as a selling point. In a lot of ways, frequency of flights has become the holy grail of airline marketing. Why offer three daily nonstops to LAX using 300-seat planes, when you can offer six flights using 150-seat planes? And so here we are: there are city-pairs all across America connected by a dozen, fifteen, or even twenty flights a day — all in narrow-body jets carrying fewer than 200 people.

Airlines don’t sell frequency so much as they sell the promise, or the illusion of it. Under optimum circumstances, it works for both the industry and its customers. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, it can be a disaster. The question for the consumer is this: would you prefer ten flights a day that might arrive on time, or five flights a day that will arrive on time?

He included in his post photos of American DC-10s at LaGuardia in the 1980s, which I can scarcely remember. But I do remember that the Boeing 757 was designed to get 250 passengers to that specific airport, with its relatively short runways that end in Flushing Bay.

Buy me a ticket

Eurostar will launch London-to-Amsterdam service on April 4th. Airlines are worried:

Currently, a Londoner bound for Amsterdam by train can expect the journey to take a little under five hours, with a change of trains in Brussels. The new service will reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour and cancel the need to change in Brussels, shaving off over an hour.

The prospect has already generated a palpable buzz, and the 900 tickets offered a day (starting at a reasonable $47 one way) are likely to sell out fast. But it’s not clear how the service will fare if it extends beyond two trains a day (as it likely will) on a route where price competition with airlines is already fierce. ... Can a train trip that takes more than than three-and-a-half hours succeed in competing with a flight time of scarcely an hour?

The tentative answer provides an interesting snapshot of just how much European travel has changed: 20 years ago, a train taking more than three hours would struggle to compete with an hour-long flight. Today, however, such as service is at a distinct advantage. It’s not necessarily the case that speed and comfort have necessarily skyrocketed for train travel (though there are indeed more fast routes now on offer). It’s because—especially for shorter distances—flying has become increasingly hellish and time-consuming.

Yep. And seriously, €50 return fares to Amsterdam sound really enticing. Hell, at €100, it's still cheaper than flying and takes less time. St. Pancras is in the center of London; Amsterdam's Centraal station is (you will be surprised to learn) also central. Next time I'm in the UK, I will seriously consider taking a day-trip to the Netherlands.

What else I'm reading today at lunch

Fun times, fun times.

Amazon as Tom Sawyer (with billions in cash)

Amazon's bidding process for its second headquarters (HQ2) has given the company a bonanza of information about what 238 cities are willing to give up in order to get a piece of the action, and thus what levers Amazon can pull to get public money for its private gain. Not to mention, the applications gave the company millions of dollars worth of marketing data:

Amazon asked every city and state applying for its second headquarters for details about local resources, like available talent and transit options. Local officials were also prodded for tips on local education programs and tax incentives.

The answers — most of which have not been released publicly — essentially do Amazon’s homework for it, providing valuable information that the company otherwise would have needed to dig up on its own or obtain through one-on-one negotiations.

“This is not just about HQ2,” said Richard Florida, an authority on urban development and a professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s about a broader locational strategy. HQ2 is the carrot. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Meanwhile, CityLab has put together a guide to the "HQ2 Hunger Games" with detailed breakdowns of the 20 finalists. And they second the Times' assessment on Amazon's ulterior motives: "As CityLab has previously reported, the economic incentives being offered to lure Amazon’s 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment were historic in proportion even before the company announced the finalists."

No, that is not Scotch

Diageo, the international beverage behemoth that owns about a quarter of Scotland's distilleries (including Caol Ila and Talisker) is investigating how to produce horrible shite that isn't at all Scotch under its existing brands:

First, Diageo is considering creating “scotch whisky infusions,” low-alcohol and/or flavored alcoholic beverages sold under the same name as existing single malt or blended whisky brands. Secondly, Diageo has sought permission from the [Scotch Whisky Association trade group] to finish some of its single malts in Don Julio tequila barrels, a move that the association did not approve.

“Scotch infusions” as described in the article would fail to meet two criteria for Scotch whisky. First, scotch must be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV—so anything lower than that would disqualify it as whisky. Secondly, nothing can be added to scotch other than water and caramel coloring.

But there’s another issue at stake here: the use of existing Scotch whisky brand names on non-scotch products. An infusion made with scotch as a base and then bottled under a new name likely would not be an issue, but using the name of an existing single malt or blended scotch brand could lead to confusion among drinkers who think that what they’re buying legally qualifies as whisky. In the U.S., bourbon, straight rye, and other straight whiskeys can’t have anything added either. Yet brands like Jim Beam offer flavored whiskeys under the same brand name as their straight products, using language like “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused With Natural Flavors” (Jim Beam Red Stag).

That move doesn’t fly in Scotland, where the regulations seem to prohibit producers from using their existing brands on drinks that don’t legally qualify as scotch. Section 6 (2) reads: “A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any drink in any other way that creates a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public as to whether the drink is Scotch Whisky.”

The second issue at stake with Diageo’s plans—whether or not scotch can be finished in Don Julio tequila barrels—is a less clear-cut example of violating the rules.

One clue is that Diageo requested to use Don Julio tequila barrels specifically. Diageo owns Don Julio, and if the company wanted to use the Don Julio brand name on its whisky labels, then it’s no surprise the request was turned down. The SWA is notably more wary of listing a distillery than a wine region on a label....

Diageo is a big company, and it wants to make a lot of money for its owners. But it's also a cautionary tale about how scaling up craft products doesn't work for consumers. Sure, people will probably buy "Johnnie Walker Don Julio-finished Honey Chipotle Scotch Infusion" and claim to like it (especially if they put a lot of sugar in it), but that won't be Scotch.

I just hope they continue leaving Talisker alone. That's from the island of my forebears, Skye. In fact it's about the only thing produced on Skye that anyone's heard of (other than loads of wool).