From merchandising and advertising to real estate and technology, business reporters offer insight into the latest trends and people that define today’s top retailers.

Creative Kidstuff pops up at Mall of America for the holidays

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Malls Updated: October 15, 2014 - 1:02 PM

Coldwater Creek is out. Creative Kidstuff is in. The space in the south wing of Mall of America next to Lego Land is now filled by Creative Kidstuff's temporary pop-up store. The new store opened Wednesday and will be open through mid-January.

"This is our first pop-up store," said CEO Roberta Bonoff. The Mall of America store is the company's 7th store, along with an additional five airport terminal stores. Bonoff said the company has been approached by Mall of America officials for years to open a store. The temporary digs may turn into a long-term lease depending on business and rent negotiations, she said.

Bonoff is hoping for a big weekend of business during MEA this Thursday and Friday. But one thing customers won't be shopping for is the HOT TOY of 2014. It has yet to surface but that's no surprise. Although many toys have been popular sellers, the last HOT TOY was Zhu Zhu pets in 2008, complete with people checking stock via social networking and adults stealing the pets from the hands of babes. (No holiday season is complete without the story of a greedy adult ruining a child's Christmas just to score a few bucks on eBay.)

Still, parents are grabbing best sellers such as Magna-Tiles, Teeter Popper, Squiggs and anything Frozen, said Happi Olson, director of sales and marketing for Creative Kidstuff,

But the lack of a HOT TOY isn't hurting business. "We still have the volume," Bonoff said. "Our sales have increased for the last several years."

In 2013, Creative Kidstuff acquired Sensational Beginnings, a Michigan-based catalog and online retailer, to boost online sales. CK was originally founded in 1982.

What to buy, what to forget at Target

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Target Updated: October 10, 2014 - 3:19 PM

Consumer Reports recently looked at the up side and down sides of Target's Up & Up and other store brands, giving thumbs up or thumbs down. (OK--enough with the UPpity language.) Why consider store brands? The  30 percent savings over name brands, according to Consumer Reports. You can save even more at Target using a Redcard, the occasional Up & Up coupon in the Sunday flier, and Cartwheel mobile coupons.

Winners:

Coffeemaker: Black & Decker coffeemaker model CM4000S--a 12 cup drip coffeemaker that is exclusive to Target ($40) combines solid brew performance and intuitive operation, the magazine reported. A Black & Decker Single Serve CM620B model ($35) was judged the best of the single serve bunch.

Condiments: Market Pantry ketchup was judged as good as Heinz, Market Pantry mayonnaise as good as Hellman's, and Archer Farms 100% pure maple syrup was judged as having a thick, full, bold flavor.

Frozen veggies: Market Pantry frozen mixed veggies were as crisp and fresh-tasting as Birds Eye.

Paper products: Up & Up full-sheet puddle buster paper towels were good for absorbency but not scrubbing. The Up & Up Aloe and Vitamin E Lotion facial tissues were "exceptionally soft," according to CR. Alternates: Good Housekeeping likes Costco's Kirkland Signature paper towels but my beef is that they don't come in choose-a-size yet. GH also likes Walgreen's Nice! facial tissues with lotion at 2 cents per tissue.

Snacks: Market Pantry Peanut Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, Archer Farms Jumbo cashews, Archer Farms Trail Mix and Market Pantry vanilla ice-cream were all highly rated.

Pain relievers: Up & Up Ibuprofen (generic Advil), Up & Up Naproxen (generic Aleve), and generic Allegra were all significantly cheaper than store versions at Walgreens and Rite Aid. CR did not compare prices with Wal-Mart (Equate brand), which is usually slightly cheaper than Target.

Detergents: Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports have long raved about Wal-Mart's Great Value dishwashing powder (10 cents per load), but GH also liked Target's Up & Up 2X HE Fresh Breeze liquid laundry detergent (11 cents per large load).

Losers:

Target's Chefmate cookware ($55 for 16 pieces), Market Pantry Classic Roast coffee, Market Pantry Caesar salad dressing, Up & Up dish packs dishwasher detergent and its Cube Merlot wine (now sold in Otsego, Minn.) were judged not worth buying.

Angie's List extends its best deal of the year, the State Fair special

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: October 13, 2014 - 9:38 AM

Here's a Columbus Day special for you: The Minnesota State Fair is long gone, but one vendor, Angie's List, is continuing its State Fair Special through the end of the year. It's a 50 percent savings over regular subscription rates, said Cheryl Reed, director of communications at Angie's List.

You can subscribe for one year for $9.99, two years for $15.99 and three years for $20.97 and never have to wonder where to start looking when you need someone to service an auto transmission, for example. Use discount code FAIR50 to get the discount online or at 1-888-888-5478.

The subscription supported website containing consumers reviews of thousands local businesses is a substitute for a shoutout on social media asking, Anyone know of a good plumber?"

Angie's List subscribers evaluate local service from air duct cleaning to zipper repair. It's most helpful when at least a dozen consumers have rated a company. Fewer than a dozen reviews isn't an adequate sampling. But read the reviews instead of just looking at the letter grade. I have found that the individual reviews provide more helpful information, especially any criticism.

One downside of Angie's List is a lack of useful information on price. To have a consumer evaluate price when he or she may have only contacted one service provider is not helpful in most cases. I have found Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook more helpful in that regard, but they don't evaluate nearly as many categories of service providers. You can subscribe to Checkbook or view copies free in most public libraries.

She wants lots of Honeycrisp apples for a low price. Where to go?

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: October 8, 2014 - 2:58 PM

Jill Andersen of Minnetonka wanted about 25 Honeycrisp apples to give to out-of-town guests as part of an out-of-towner goodie bag for her wedding.

Economizing as most brides and grooms do, she asked where she could buy Honeycrisp apples for less.My first thought was Aldi, usually the low-price leader. But I doubted the German-based supermarket would have Honeycrisp. Because of its smaller selection, I figured Aldi's stock would be limited to Gala and a few others.

Wrong.

Aldi does carry Honeycrisp and even SweeTango seasonally. Its price for Honeycrisp apples are $3.49 for a 2-lb. bag ($1.74/lb.) or 49 cents each for a 2 3/4-inch apple (pictured). In late September, Aldi's price was 79 cents an apple.

When Andersen bought 24 apples at Aldi in late September, she paid about $19. At Cub, which had Honeycrisp apples so large that Andersen described them as "meal-sized," she would have spent about $80 for the same number albeit much larger apples.

Aldi's apples weren't as pretty as Cub's, but Andersen was happy with the quality and smaller size. For many of us, size doesn't matter, but apples are priced based on size and condition. The top grade apple is called "extra fancy," then fancy, #1 grade, and utility. Sizes can range from 1 1/2-inches and up.

In a price check of Aldi, Costco, Cub, Sam's Club, Target and Wal-Mart, Aldi's prices were the lowest. Other notable Honeycrisp prices were a 3-lb. bag on sale at Target this week for $4.99 ($1.66/lb). Wal-Mart sells a 2-lb. bag for $3.97 ($1.98/lb.)

Costco is the only retailer I checked to offer organic Honeycrisp apples ($15.99 for 5.5 lbs. at $2.90/lb.).

The prices checked are compared per pound, but I did not compare size, taste or quality. Obviously, that will affect price. Growers will tell you that blemishes won't affect taste, but it's consumer preference. I also didn't note where all of the apples were grown. Some indicate USA and other indicate the state (Michigan, for example). Honeycrisp may have originated in Minnesota at the U of M, but that doesn't mean local supermarkets are selling Minnesota-grown Honeycrisps. (Farmers markets and local orchards being a notable exception.)

LCD panel class action claimants, you may get your check by Nov.

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Technology Updated: September 17, 2014 - 4:11 PM

The wait is almost over. Your check is almost in the mail. About 30,000 Minnesotans filed claims in Dec. 2012  to collect $45 to $90 for each flat panel LCD TV, laptop and monitor purchased between January 1999 and December 2006,

The refunds are being issued because of a class action lawsuit against nine LCD screen manufacturers such as Hitachi, LG, Sharp, Samsung and Toshiba, who were found guilty of price fixing.

Almost two years and numerous appeals filed and dismissed, a San Francisco Court will consider a motion on Oct. 17 to start sending checks to claimants. The $1.1 billion settlement will be dispersed, minus lawyers' fees, to 235,000 consumers and businesses in 24 states.

San Francisco attorney Joe Alioto, who co-led the case against the manufacturers, did not want to say definitively that claimants would start getting their checks in November. "I've learned to never make an assumption before a court ruling," he said with caution. But Dan Shulman, a lawyer at Gray

Plant Mooty in Minneapolis, one of a dozen law firms that managed the settlement,  said, "There are no impediments to the distribution of the money. We just need an order from the court."

Once the court gives the okay to start distributing checks, it is estimated it will be within four weeks, according to an e-mail distributed earlier this week to claimants.

Shulman said claimants will get $45 for each laptop or monitor and $90 for each TV, which is less than earlier reports of $75 per monitor and $150 per flat panel TV. After lawyers' fees, about $750 million will be distributed.

Original claims had to be mailed or submitted online by Dec. 6, 2012. Claimants whose address has changed since then can go to the LCDclass.com website to change it. They will need the claimant ID number provided when the claim was made online. (An e-mail was sent with the subject line " Confirmation of receipt of your online LCD Flat Panel Consumer Claim.") Claimants can also call 1-855-225-1886 to get their number if it cannot be found. (Press 7 for a representative after the two minute recorded message.) The address must be changed online with the claimant number. It cannot be changed by phone.

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