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Blu Dot modern furniture to open outlet store in Minneapolis

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 20, 2015 - 5:09 PM

Blu Dot, the Minneapolis-based manufacturer of modern furniture, will not have one of its wildly popular but infrequent warehouse sales this summer. Or ever again for the foreseeable future.

But there's an upside. They're being replaced with an outlet store expected to open in early July, said Blu Dot vice-president Medora Danz Friday. The store will sell discounted closeouts, samples and scratch and dent merchandise. Sofas, sectionals, and chairs were popular sellers at previous warehouse sales.

"As our needs for warehouse space grew, there wasn't enough capacity for warehouse sales anymore," she said. With limited storage space for warehouse items and a big hassle factor in holding the sale, Danz said the outlet was the obvious alternative.

 

Another reason is that Blu Dot is adding its first outlet store is the likelihood of more product samples. The company plans to start sending out more catalogs this year, Danz said.

The new store will be located at the current location of the company offices at 1323 Tyler St. NE in Minneapolis and open Saturdays and Sundays only to start. The offices will move next door and the warehouse in Rogers, where the former sales were held, will move to Otsego.

 Blu Dot designs all of its furniture in Minnesota but some of it is manufactured overseas. Much of the line is sold at Roam in Uptown. The company has also made selected designs for Target, including the Too line.

No word on whether coffee and pastries will be served to those waiting in line, as Blu Dot employees did for the hordes who waited in line before the doors opned at the warehouse sales.The last warehouse sale was in 2013 in Rogers.

Job postings for outlet employees and a store manager will be posted next week.

How to make $225 at the Twin Cities Auto Show

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 11, 2015 - 2:23 PM

Wednesday (March 11) is the lowest admission price during the entire Twin Cities Auto Show. All tickets are half-price at $6. But there's also a way you can walk away with $25 to $225 with a little effort on your part.

At last year's Twin Cities Auto Show I accidently discovered a way to make a few bucks. After asking a lot of questions about the Fusion at the Ford booth, the sales rep asked if I might be interested in the "It pays to test drive a Ford" program. The car maker will pay a potential customer $50 to test drive one of their new vehicles.

At this year's show I found five auto makers offering between $25 and $50 for a test drive: Lincoln ($50 MasterCard stored value gift card), Kia ($25 giftcard by registering at www.kiatestdriveoffer.com), Ford ($50 gift card, possibly Amazon), Cadillac ($50 Visa card), and Buick ($50 gift card to Target or Second Swing). I didn't talk to every manufacturer at the show, but some offer a credit on a vehicle instead--Subaru was $250 and Lexus $500. The credits have a time limit, so check that, but a smart consumer should negotiate the best deal before even mentioning the credit. (Check the card for any restrictions first such as an expiration date.)

How does it work? You ask one of the car manufacturer's employees holding a tablet/iPad if you can sign up for the test drive incentive. (They're usually standing near the auto maker's info desk.) I had no trouble doing that on Sunday, but one woman who was heavily tattooed and casually dressed said she experienced some initial resistance at a luxury car booth. The employee types your name, address, phone and email information into the computer/tablet and then provides a card with instructions on what to do next.

Some manufacturers will email you a code number; others give it to you immediately. Input the code number online to print out a pass to be taken to a dealer near you for the test drive. After you take the test drive and the dealer completes the paperwork, the gift card is mailed within about 4 weeks.

It may be more trouble than it's worth for many people. Without a $50 giftcard, I'd be less likely to drive a Buick Regal, Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima or Lincoln MKZ. Now that my car has 100,000 miles on it, I'm open to suggestion.

I haven't heard if the incentives dry up as the show goes on, but it's common courtesy to show genuine interest in a vehicle before asking for a freebie. If you're a jerk about it, they may choose not to offer you one.

Last year I received $50 each from Toyota and Ford. I don't recall getting lots of annoying promotional emails, if you're concerned about that. Once you get a gift card, you can always look for the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the email.

Last minute ideas to use (not lose) 2014 Flexible Spending $$

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 9, 2015 - 4:02 PM

Sunday March 15 is the last day to use up any remaining dollars left in a 2014 flexible spending account, assuming that your employer is allowing the extension. Employers were not required to allow employees to submit expenses incurred from January 1 to March 15 and apply it to unused money in a 2014 FSA account, so check with your HR department before going on a spending spree.

The extension is not the same as the run out period. A run-out period is the window during which employees may submit claims for reimbursement for eligible expenses. For example, if an FSA has a Dec. 31 deadline and no grace period, but has a 90-day run-out period, you’d have until April 1 to submit receipts for expenses you had during the previous year.

The FSAstore offers the following as suggestions for using up the remaining dollars. Remember that most over-the-counter medications such as allergy drugs and headache remedies are ineligible for reimbursement unless you have already obtained a prescription or a letter of medical necessity for them from your doctor.

  • Assorted Band-aids
  • First-aid bags for kids
  • Liquid bandages
  • Mini first-aid kits for the car, or flights
  • Wound treatment/gauze
  • Thermometers
  • Contact lens care and solutions
  • Medicine organizers
  • Hot or cold therapy eye masks
  • Acupressure wrist bands to prevent motion sickness
  • Contact lens solution and contact lens cases
  • Orthopedic neck support
  • Kinesiology tapes (KT Tape) for stressed muscles
  • Cooling headache sheets for adults and kids
  • Heatwraps to alleviate muscle aches
  • Sunscreen lip balm
  • Insect-repellent sunscreen
  • Sunscreen (SPF15+)
  • Cold compresses
  • Thermal-aid stuffed animals for soothing comfort for kids
  • Cold packs for neck or back
  • Heatwraps for sore muscles (back, hip, shoulder)
  • Elastic bandages
  • Athletic treatments (knee and ankle braces)
  • Migraine cooling headache pads
  • A sports first-aid kit
  • Blister treatment
  • Shoe insoles for added support
  • Breast pumps & accessories (cleaning wipes, storage bags)
  • Baby sunscreen
  • Thermal-Aid stuffed animals (hot/cold therapy) for kids
  • Cartoon-themed Band-Aids (Mickey Mouse, Cars, SpongeBob)
  • Saline solution for baby, nasal spray for kids
  • Baby pacifier digital thermometer
  • Nasal Cease nosebleed packings
  • An all-purpose first-aid kit for the entire family
  • Medicators that make it easy to administer medicine to babies, like Munchkin the Medicator

Schuler Shoes opens in Highland Park, its 10th location

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: February 25, 2015 - 10:43 AM

Schuler Shoes opened its 10th Twin Cities' location in St. Paul Wednesday. "We sold our first pair of shoes 10 minutes after we opened," said Schuler's marketing director Kari Palmer.

Schuler's continues to grow at a time when many other shoe stores are closing. Venerable retailers such as Roberts Shoes on Lake Street in Minneapolis and Bay Street Shoes in Uptown closed last year.

Schuler's has strengthened its niche by catering to an audience that wants good customer service, knowledgeable sales staff, a wide range of sizes, and relatively stylish but comfortable shoes. Most of its stores are located in the suburbs.

Co-owner John Schuler said only 3 percent of the retailer's sales are online, but the company is hoping to increase that this year. The website has been freshened and reflects current inventories. In the past, inventory was only updated three times a week.

No additional locations are in the pipeline, Palmer said, but the Roseville store is moving in the fall from Har Mar Mall to a new building in the Target parking lot across the street. Construction has begun at the new location.

Grand opening events are planned for March 26-29, but a men's event is in progress. Get $15 off any purchase of $75 or more in the men's department at any of the 10 locations through March 2.

As Highland Park shoppers know well, parking is tight in the neighborhood. Schuler's has its own parking lot with 14 dedicated spaces, next to Walgreens, which also has its own lot. The new shoe store is located at 2081 Ford Parkway in St. Paul.

The odd Twin Cities' connection in "50 Shades of Grey"? A shoebox.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: February 18, 2015 - 1:37 PM

Even a mediocre movie is more enjoyable if it features locales you've visited or people you know. Let me expand that to things with a local angle. The owners of George's Shoes in Arden Hills contacted me to say that one of their products is featured in "50 Shades of Grey," released last Friday.

It's the Walnut Hinge Shoe Shine Kit ($85) made for George's and sold in the Arden Hills store and online at Georgesshoes.com. But don't blame Ron George for shameless product placement. He didn't ask to have the product in the movie. The movie's people came to him. The shoebox kit doesn't even have his family's name embossed on the outside.

The owner of the venerable shoe store, which has been around in the Twin Cities since the 1940s, received an email from the product placement managers back in September to feature the shoe valet after they discovered it online. "We have the biggest selection of shoe shine boxes on the Internet," George said.

Here's the email from the movie's product placement manager: "I am writing you in regards to Fifty Shades of Grey, starring Dakota Johnson (Social Network, 21 Jump Street) and Jamie Dornan (Marie Antoinette).  I am interested in using the "Walnut Hinge Shine Box" in the film. There is a scene in the film where Christian goes to his wardrobe and pulls several items out.  The "Walnut Hinge Shine Box" would be one of those items."

George said he hasn't read the book so he has no idea if a shoeshine kit is mentioned in it too. "The 50 Shades people paid to have us ship it to Canada and they shipped it back after filming," he said..

I went to a media screening of the film  but didn't see the kit. I was yakking with one of my colleagues as the film began, even though I had been told the scene with the walnut box occurs early when Christian's bedroom closet is shown.

One movie goer who knew to look for the shoe shine kit said that he saw the box in Christian's closet but only for a second before the scene shifts.

If you'd like to see a Twin Cities' connection in the movie, arrive early. It's in the first minute or two of the movie during the opening credits.

No bereavement airfare but hotels offered bereavement rate

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: February 2, 2015 - 11:11 AM

I drove to Nebraska last Thursday afternoon for a funeral on Friday. Airfares to Lincoln and Omaha with a one-day advance were worse than expected--about $1,100 each. I didn't bother checking bereavement rates since most airlines only discount 5-15% if at all for bereavement. According to experts in a USA Today article last year, most consumers can find lower fares on Priceline than via an airline's bereavement discount.

What surprised me is that some hotels offer bereavement discounts too. I've never asked for one until now. I phoned the front desk at two hotels, said that I would be in town for a funeral, and asked if they might have a room under $100.

I called the front desk instead of the 800 number because I've always been told that local desk agents offer a more competitive price. At a Marriott hotel that I've stayed at before I've paid $99 to $125 per night before tax. So I was genuinely thankful to be given a rate of $74 per night after mentioning being in town for a funeral. I don't think it hurt that it was a Thursday night in winter in Nebraska.

In previous stays at a Best Western Plus in Nebraska, I've paid $95 to $110 per night. After I mentioned the funeral, the desk clerk that the best she could do was $99. I thanked her for the rate and after a pause she said that she could give me the government rate of $84 a night. (I am not a govt. employee.)

I don't know if I'd have been turned down if the funeral were in high season in Orlando or San Francisco, but the next time you're heading to an out-of-town funeral, ask for a bereavement rate at the hotel. It will probably save you more money than bereavement airfare.

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