Monday, June 02, 2008

Notes from a Business Trip

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."

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."

: 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.....

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."

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!


Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I love curbside check-in! Well worth the tip (our airport doesn't charge...yet) to not have to wait in a line. I can go straight to Starbucks, get my cup of joe and head to the gate to read a book. Sweet!

On Coach...I liked a bag by Coach and was on the verge of purchasing it when I saw that it had been made in China. No way am I paying that kind of money for a bag made in China. It was disappointing--Coach used to be one of the companies I could count on for made in the USA goods. Not anymore.

Kizz said...

I generally talk myself out of a purse that costs even $20. Buying SEVERAL purses per year at $300 a pop is unfreakingfathomable to me. Splurging on one classic one because they last forever and look gorgeous, well, sure, but SEVERAL per YEAR? It gives me a little panic attack just to think about people doing that.

Tired of being broke said...

I read that Coach article and all I could say about the Queens / Staten Island comment was 'wow'.

Just got back to NYC today and those kiosks were a blessing to me. Leaving last week out of Laguardia my time from drop off to making it through security was about 15 mins.

Anonymous said...

All of the Coach Bags that I have were gifts. I love the brand because the leather ages well and I feel that some of the styles are very classic. However, I don't like the fact that just because I'm not an elite consumer that means that I have to be hidden FROM the elite consumers. If you like the bags, buy them.

Those electronic kiosks are a pain in the butt for me. I can never use them, it always directs me to talk to a person, which is what I want to do to begin with. I love to travel, but it's getting so complicated that I just don't know if I will be able to do it as much anymore.

Kady said...

Thanks for pointing out that WSJ article. I had been looking for it for days. I've given you a H/T on my blog.

Anonymous said...

I used to really like a red coach leather wallet I had back from 2001. But then like "clean clutter free" said, since they started making stuff in China the quality has been declining to the point where I don't like the brand very much anymore. And not to be an elist (because I shop mostly generic brands) but I don't want to be one of the cookie cutter people carrying those real or PIRATED coach individuality what so ever.