The Death of Clothing

via The Death of Clothing

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Americans and Work

Image result for work

I got a call the other day from a company trying to drum up business. She was polite but our associate wasn’t in to take the call. Holiday weeks ensure the amount of time spent at the office will be cut short by employees taking vacation days. My eager caller had to work, so naturally felt everyone else should to “We have too many days off.” She noted. By “we” she meant the United States. I agreed with her to be friendly but in my mind I wasn’t so sure.

How much is too much when it comes to time off? Compared to European countries we are positively workaholics. The European Union mandates 4 weeks of paid time off for all members. The U.S. doesn’t have any such law. Federal employees are guaranteed 10 holidays in addition to however much they accrue throughout the year. The private sector doesn’t have anywhere near that much. In most companies the number of promised holidays is 2, Christmas and Thanksgiving. Even those aren’t ensured for everyone. Restaurants and retailers are often open on even those days. Christmas is still mostly observed.

Like most things in life the trade-offs are implicit in the structure. As a country the United States government doesn’t require paid time off so companies compete on benefits and hours. The benefits to the country as a whole show up in figures like GDP and wages. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is just a yearly total of the value of everything produced in the country. In 2016 Americans totaled over 18 trillion dollars while the Chinese added just over 11 trillion to their economy. China’s size and development almost ensure a high number every year.

Wages in the U.S. are high too. That may sound surprising, a lot of us haven’t had a genuine raise or a promotion in years. Think of wages as a measure of how much you make versus what things cost, economists call it Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).  Living costs are basically as steady as wages.  Longer hours spent at work mean more potential for expanding companies to earn better rates of return for their investment dollars. The reason should be obvious. We put money where it brings the best value. More average working hours means more potential to grow the investment.

That may be small comfort for workers who desperately want more time off, but being a top destination for investments means consumers see other intangible payoffs. Loans are easy to get, gas is affordable, travel is accessible and family relocation is in reach for most people. Not everything is perfect in the U.S. Some cities (San Francisco, New York) are highly restrictive on new construction making it tough for residents to afford rent. Health care costs continue to rise including insurance to cover it, but most sectors are strong.

Those who enjoy taking time off are advised to start their own business and set up a schedule conducive to free time. Of course a growing business will demand additional hours during certain times. Landscapers work much longer during the spring and summer months and accountants during the tax season. Still, owners are free to set their own times if vacation is their main motivation. They might discover the difficulties inherent in missing work, but the choice is up to them.

Not many outside the country would accuse American workers of taking too much time off. As much as we all love free time and down time, most wouldn’t trade it for expensive living. I could be wrong but I don’t think the character of Americans has changed that much. Cultural attitudes change toward things like labor every generation or so. I don’t think we are there yet.

So take a day for yourself, collect your thoughts and realize we have it pretty good. Done? now get back to work.

Rather be ‘retailing’

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Traditional retailers continue loosing ground to online sales. Thankfully Christmas season is here. The shopping trends have certainly moved away from massive department stores and toward easier click websites. I don’t look intently at numbers week to week but the shopping season is here and most will see an increase.

The trend toward online is real and although it will never replace brick and mortar storefronts, it will damage them enough to rearrange the retail landscape toward something quite different. The real punch may be a few years off however. Some will disappear altogether unable to bear up under slumping numbers. Slow earnings over a long period of time force companies to adapt and get creative. It’s never fun to come up with new ways to make money, especially because it requires buying new product or investing in new ventures.

Store owners, and I imagine shareholders, hate investing in a “Well let’s hope this works type” gamble. My experience is with small local companies so our flexibility is a little better. Private stores don’t have to match projections like public ones to satisfy shareholders. A few years ago my store sold Power Balance bracelets and increased the daily totals by around 20%. They were faddish, based on “energy” and had unproven health benefits, same with the magnetic ones. It helped though.

New product can get small businesses through rough patches in the short term. Local shops benefit from trinkets like spinners and bracelets. Expect to see more of that. Also longer hours and free shipping should be used to boost daily totals. Workers hate longer hours of course and increased payroll has to be weighed against expected sales.  But it might help.

Free shipping on orders above a threshold, say $50 dollars, is anther option. Consumers are clear about their preference for buying product over the phone and having it shipped. We have seen a slight bump in this.

Stores that don’t have an online option will need to get one quick. It can be the difference in getting the sale and loosing it. I’ve noticed an uptick in local customers that want a shipping option. Most of the larger retailers, Dicks Sporting goods and Target, made the adjustment years ago.

Retailers should get back to what they do best, offer great service and as many exclusive offers as possible and shed dead weight. Dead weight is anything that doesn’t pay off within a calendar year. For us it’s shoes. Shoes are a tough sell because of all the offerings, sizes and colors. Let the big guys do shoes.

The difficulty for retail stores is always the same, how to buy inventory and stock up without holding product that won’t sell. It takes up space in warehouses and stock rooms and needs to be cleared out in less than 6 months. Full stockrooms eat up available cash and limit the amount of room for new stuff.

Companies that hope to survive in the disappearing retail environment need to get creative. The advantage they have over Amazon is in their closeness to the consumers. By adding small trendy offerings and building up their online presence with shipping they have a better shot at weathering the storm.

Set Writing Goals: even small ones

Blogs like this are full of great writing advice.

Writing for practice is hard. Not only is coming up with subject matter difficult, at least for me, but so is sticking to daily goals. Loosely defined my goal is 1000 words 4 days per week. Mostly I get there but I also get lazy like most people. Not being FORCED to keep to a schedule means that a lot of people won’t bother to do it, me also. But my writing progress is moving upward in a long slow arc.

The much smaller group that does stick to personal goals is likely to achieve success quicker. At least that’s my story and I’m going with it. It’s a math problem really. If 100 people set out to achieve the same lofty goal, lets say climbing Mount Everest, How many will actually complete the process? I am not talking about climbers, only amateurs who hope to become professionals.

Many will drop out because of fitness or medical reasons. Climbing mountains is dangerous to one’s health after all. Once the smaller peaks and easier cliffs are attempted, many will decide climbing just isn’t for them for a host of reasons. The costs start to build and not everyone can get time off work for ‘vain’ pursuits. How many can be expected to attempt the arduous journey into Nepal and even tougher, climb the final summit? Maybe a dozen?

I don’t know anything about climbing or extreme sports but I imagine it follows the same trajectory as other challenging careers. Only a few get to the top. Writing is no different. Well OK, no one ever lost fingers from frostbite typing too long on their patio in the winter. Bloggers are not a fit bunch generally, thankfully there isn’t a physical test. We are smart though and cold weather drives us indoors, same as scary strangers and small talk.

If we follow the Malcom Gladwell 10,000 hour rule it means just sitting down and thumping away the keyboard is a great start. I can’t think of a better way to hold myself accountable than setting a target (an achievable one) and sticking to it. Who knows where it can lead.

We don’t have to get to top of the mountain to be successful but a few of us may want to try. We have to start somewhere though and this 500 words a day idea is a perfect jumping off point. Think of it like training but without the heavy gear and thin air. I know I do.

 

 

 

No Light Rail for Tulsa?

light rail

Tulsa city planners should take note of the trend in medium sized cities loosing light rail riders every day. This research from CATO institute sums up the reasons. It is pretty easy to figure out actually. The lower cost of ride hailing services (Uber, Lyft) is putting a dent in the numbers of people using subways and trains. Large cities like New York and Chicago will be fine. The sheer number of residents ensures both Uber, city buses and subways will operate, for a while.

Medium sized cities that barely cover costs of running their networks are in trouble. When Uber switches to using self driving cars the cost of a ride will be close to what a transit ticket costs. How many commuters will opt to cram into a bumpy train car over a roomy sedan? I’ll bet not many.

Tulsa can be fortunate they haven’t sunk money into this municipal hole.