This past weekend, I attended the BookExpo convention in Los Angeles. You can see from this post what the show like a couple of years ago. This year, I didn't have a chance to scour the whole show for financial books, but of course money was still on my mind!
The first aspect of my trip that got me thinking was the route my car service driver took to JFK airport. From the areas of Brooklyn I've lived in, drivers usually opt for routes that are a bit circuitous but consist of major highways-- it's almost as if you have to go from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock and you have the choice of going around the edge, clockwise or counter clockwise. But this time, my driver took a route along a lot of small local roads for the shortest possible trip straight through the middle of the clock. We hit lots of traffic lights and got stuck behind trucks, but I'm not sure it was a bad choice in the end. He might have avoided traffic jams on the highways, but more importantly, he probably saved on gas.
Car service drivers usually have to get as many jobs as they can, as quickly as they can, to make it worth the cost of renting or owning their car. But with higher gas prices, has the balance shifted? Would they rather take the route that conserves fuel even if it takes a bit longer?
On the long flight, I managed to do a lot of reading, including a couple of articles from the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Of note in the NY Times was an article noting that while prices for many things are increasing, clothing is getting cheaper, at least for mainstream brands.
The Journal had an article about the Sex and the City effect on women's career wear. The ultimate verdict is that the kind of fashions the show espouses are more likely to look trashy than status-y in an office. Most high-ranking female executives favor a much more conservative style of dress, with nice details in the cut of a collar, or a swanky scarf or necklace jazzing up the look. I also had to note a mention of a "$3,000 Swarovski-crystal encrusted handbag shaped like the Eiffel tower." Forget professional vs. trashy, that just sounds hideous.
The Journal also had an interview with the CEO of Coach: "Coach Targets China-- And Queens."
The handbag retailer is planning to expand in China, targeting the emerging middle class, since their prices are lower than most European luxury brands. Meanwhile, they plan to open 200 stores in the U.S. over the next several years, bringing the total to 500. This means they will be branching beyond the locations traditionally thought of as high-end retail destinations. In the New York area, they'll be opening in Staten Island and Queens. Here's a few quotes:
"By convincing American women they need to buy several $300 handbags a year, Coach, Inc. has helped shape the "accessible luxury" retail category, producing $2.6 billion in fiscal 2007 sales."Wow, can we just translate that? "Dear Middle-Class Coach Customer: Having one of our bags makes you look really high-class. Dear High-Class Coach Customer: We only sell to people who are as special as you, not just any old middle-class slob. Dear Coach Stockholders: We are going to sell a gazillion handbags to every woman on the planet."
CEO Lew Frankfort: "A lot of my team said, 'Queens? How can you do that?' But our target consumer shops in those stores. We aren't going to advertise it on our marquee: Staten Island, Queens, Tokyo, and Hong Kong... In the first six months, 30% to 50% of our consumers are first-time users. So we are able to attract, in those instances, candidly, a more aspirational consumer."
WSJ: How do you retain the very elite, New York, Madison Avenue customer?
Frankfort: She doesn't go to Queens Center. She doesn't know about it.....
And finally, at the airport on my way back, I faced a HUGE line for check-in. Those little electronic kiosks haven't helped a bit: now you just have to line up for those instead of for a person, and I had to check a bag so I wouldn't have to ditch my expensive hair product! But outside, the line for curbside check-in was practically non-existent, no doubt due to the new $2 fee. Many people just don't want to pay this fee. Others end up confusing it with the tips that were customarily given to the skycaps anyway, leading to those guys getting stiffed. Anyway, I decided it was worth it not to wait in line and forked over the $2 fee, plus a $2 tip. Funny how a few dollars can sometimes make a big difference!