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Is Instacart coming to the Twin Cities?

Posted by: Kavita Kumar Updated: May 4, 2015 - 5:06 PM

Is Instacart eyeing an expansion to the Twin Cities?

That appears to be the case. The San Francisco-based startup that hires independent personal shoppers to deliver groceries to customers’ doorsteps within an hour recently posted a job for a city manager in Minneapolis.

The position would be focused on operations and growth in Minneapolis and to “build an empire by expanding Instacart’s operations to new neighborhoods, while working with PR and local partners to create the biggest buzz in local media,” the posting reads.

A spokeswoman for Instacart would not confirm the possible expansion to Minneapolis, saying the company does not comment on new city launches before they happen.

Instacart also has a job posting for an operations associate in Minneapolis.

While there are a number of other grocery delivery operators in other cities -- Peapod, FreshDirect, etc. -- Instacart has become a darling of Silicon Valley for its Uber-like model in which it hires shoppers who use their own cars to buy and deliver items from existing grocery stores such as Whole Foods rather than trying to build out a network of its own food warehouses.

Instacart, which was founded in 2012, recently closed on a $220 million round of venture capital funding and has been using that money to expand to more cities. It is now up and running in 15 cities, including Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Boston, and New York City. It has also been expanding a partnership with Petco to deliver items from its stores in certain markets.

Instacart's delivery fees typically start at $3.99.

But grocery delivery is not new to the Twin Cities region. Coborn's, the St. Cloud-based grocer, has been delivering to many Twin Cities neighborhoods since 2008 when it took over Simon Delivers, a local pioneering online grocery company that eventually failed.

Besides the job posting, there have been some other clues Instacart may soon be expanding here. When I signed up for an account on its website, I got an email back that said, "We’re almost ready to open for business in Minneapolis.”

And there have been some hints on Twitter.

Albertville Premium Outlets celebrates 15 years

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: May 1, 2015 - 3:05 PM

The Twin Cities Premium Outlet mall in Eagan will be one year old this summer, but Albertville Premium Outlets celebrated its 15th anniversary last month.

When the Eagan outlet project was announced with an additional 100 outlet stores (Albertville also has 100 stores), some wondered if the Twin Cities could support 200 stores in two outlet malls. Not to worry, said George John, associate dean at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. "Outlet or discount malls are still not over-retailed, even though just about every other part of retail is," he said.

Each mall draws from a deep well of customers in Minnesota and beyond--Eagan from Mall of America and the southeast part of the metro. Albertville pulls from the northwest metro with nearly one-third of its customers coming from Canada.

Only about 50 retailers overlap at each outlet mall said Sara Smith, director of marketing and business development at Albertville Premium Outlets. The newest store to open in Albertville is Talbots, which opened last month. Under Armour just completed a major expansion. At 12,500 square feet, the Albertville location now offers the largest kids' selection at any Under Armour outlet in the country, Smith said. In August, the center will add an American Eagle store.

Both outlet centers are owned by Simon Property Group, but the two compete for exclusive stores to attract shoppers. Landing Coach several years ago was a big draw for Albertville. "We're always looking to land the next Coach or Lululemon Athletica," Smith said.

 

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.

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