Foosball tables and bean bag chairs are so Web 1.0. If you want real street cred as a tech startup or innovation powerhouse today, then you must get a British red telephone booth.
Yes, those fire truck-colored rectangle boxes with TELEPHONE scrawled across the top, right underneath a crown.
Normally, you would find the booths in Parliament Square on Great George Street in London, where tourists like this blogger (see above photo) snap endless photos of this British relic of yesteryear.
But lately, these boxes have been popping up in Silicon Valley or any corporate office that wishes to look high techy.
On a recent trip to San Francisco, where retailers like Target and Wal-Mart are trying to tap tech talent, this blogger first spotted the booth in the offices of Luvocracy, a social media/shopping startup founded by ex-Google executive Nathan Stoll and backed by venture capital heavyweight Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Two days later, this blogger noticed not one, but two booths in the offices of Wal-Mart Labs in nearby San Bruno.
And this past week, on a visit to Target Plaza Commons on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, the blogger found….you guessed it….another red telephone box.
Point of Sale is not sure why tech companies have adopted the booth as its standard bearer. According to website the-telephone-box.co.uk, the General Post Office rolled out the first booth in 1921 while Sir Giles Gilbert Scott unveiled the booth’s most recognized design three years later.
It might seem odd that tech startups and retailers, who are trying to develop unique mobile technologies and smartphone apps, would gravitate to something as quaint as the telephone booth.
But as the website noted: "The telephone was a marvelous technical innovation, but for that reason was very expensive, so their use in the closing decades of the nineteenth century was limited to wealthy homeowners and businesses."
Ah. So a symbol of both innovation and exclusivity. That makes some sense.
But of course, nobody really gave that explanation.
Fiona Kirkpatrick, office manager for Luvocracy, said she found the booth on Craig’s List. Since the phone booth is obsolete, there are quite a few of them up for sale on the Internet, she said.
Since Luvocracy boasts an open office design, Kirkpatrick said she envisions employees using the booth to make real phone calls and to enjoy some privacy.
“Plus the booth looks very cool,” she said.
That’s probably as good of an answer as any. Like any fad, people like to copy what’s cool but never admit they are copying something to be cool.
How else can we explain why exposed brick, open worktables, bean bag chairs, foosball tables, pop culture quotes, whiteboards and markers have become mandatory for any startup office?
Ironic that in the quest to appear innovative, these offices all look the same.
Best Buy may be retreating a bit from the music business. But the Richfield-based consumer electronics retailer is still finding ways to stay in the game.
A recent innovative deal between Jay-Z and Samsung could wind up helping Best Buy. The rap/hip hop artist recently struck a deal with Samsung in which the Korean electronics maker purchased one million copies of Magna Carta for $5 million and distribute it free to owners of Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II devices via a special app three days before the album’s early July release date.
So if Jay-Z album give away leads to additional sales of Galaxy smartphones and tablets, Best Buy, which hosts 1,000 Samsung Experience shops in its stores, also benefits from those sales. That’s probably why you see Best Buy’s logo appear at the very end of commercials that promote the Jay-Z and Samsung partnership.
Under CEO Hubert Joly, Best Buy plans to reduce the amount of space it devotes to CDs and DVDs in favor of higher growth merchandise like appliances, mobile device, and store-within-a-store concepts like Samsung Experience.
Not only does Samsung lease the store space from Best Buy but the retailer also likely takes a cut of any sale the originates in the store-within-a-store.
In short, the deal allows Best Buy to continue to position itself as a music destination without having to get its hands dirty in the relative thankless task of directly selling music.
It’s just as well since Best Buy hasn’t had much luck with music in recent years. The retailer bought Napster for $121 million in 2008 only to sell it to Rhapsody three years later. Best Buy also tried to market itself as a seller of musical instruments. But it seems like the company is phasing out that business, according to the redesigned store space Joly showed to investors.
Interestingly enough, Samsung may have borrowed a page out of Best Buy’s playbook a few years ago. In 2008, Best Buy reportedly paid $14 million to exclusively sell 1.2 million copies of Guns ‘N Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” but actually budged over 600,000 units.
Samsung probably hopes it will get more bang out of its $5 million investment with Jay-Z.
Instead of selling music through the usual channels like iTunes, Jay-Z has chosen a maker of electronics devices to distribute the album. At $5 a pop, Jay-Z probably earned a much higher royalty for his music than any deal he could strike with iTunes.
Unlike Best Buy, Target Corp. continues to invest in its music section.
Earlier this year, Justin Timberlake partnered with Target to exclusively release an extended version of 20/20 in stores, backed by a well-received commercial that aired immediately after JT’s performance during the Grammy Awards.
Despite booming digital sales of music and movies, the Minneapolis-based retailer continues to stock its shelves with the old fashioned CDs and DVDs, hoping its exclusive partnerships with Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and JT can still drive traffic to its stores.
Since first conceiving of Cartwheel last year, Target Corp. has adopted a cautious, almost tentative, approach to its digital coupon program. For one thing, Cartwheel represents the first major digital effort created entirely by Target staff. Plus, the process is relatively complex.
After a month into its Beta launch, Target has released some early numbers: more than 200,000 users have redeemed more than $275,000 in digital coupons. Among the products consumers mostly bought were Fresh Berries, Fruittare Popsicles, Dove Hair Care, and Market Pantry milk.
Users with Facebook accounts log into a website, where they can select from a large variety of deals, like 5 percent off Diet Coke or 10 percent off bath towels. Shoppers then purchase the items at a store, where they can redeem their deals at checkout with their smartphones. Users can also earn extra perks by recommending deals to their friends through Facebook.
When Target first previewed Cartwheel to this blogger in May, officials made clear that the program was a work in progress and they were looking for customer feed back. The retailer is especially interested in how to adjust their inventory levels with vendors to entice people with the right deals.
At first glance, 200,000 users doesn’t seem like a whole lot for a retailer which alone employs 361,000 employees. However, aside from using the news media to promote Carthwheel’s Beta launch, Target has not thrown the full weight of its marketing machine into the effort.
“200,000 sounds about right,” said Kim Garretson, a founding partner of digital marketing agency Ovative/Group in Minneapolis.
The number will likely accelerate over the next few months as the program goes viral through social media channels like Facebook.
To move along the process, Target also said this week launched Cartwheel apps for both iOs and Android-based smartphones.
The company would not disclose how many users it eventually wants to sign up. But Target is right to go it slow, said Amy Koo, an analyst with Kantar Retail consulting firm in Boston. For one thing, Cartwheel requires consumers to go through a lot of steps, she said.
“It’s not a frictionless process,” Koo said.
Target certainly knows the value of simplicity. Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Jones recently told this blogger that the failure of its holiday design partnership with Neiman Marcus—50 products from 24 designers sold at two retailers—was partially due to the complicated nature of the collaboration.
“I think simple is better,” Jones said. “Simple to understand. Simple to execute.”
Take Target’s 5 percent REDcard program. Analysts say the program works because it’s simple to understand, five percent off total purchases every time a shoppers uses the REDcard.
Done. Finito. Case closed.
With Cartwheel, Target is asking consumers to devote a lot of time and energy into a program so they can redeem relatively modest deals, Koo said.
Cartwheel could also contribute to a price perception problem with Wal-Mart, Koo said. By offering coupons on certain merchandise, Target is in fact admitting those products are more expensive at Target compared to Wal-Mart’s Every Day Low Prices.
Whether that’s true or not is hardly relevant. Once consumers perceive something about prices, it’s awfully hard to change their minds Cartwheel or no Cartwheel, she said.
Come July, local Target shoppers will see some store employees dressed in black in addition to the usual red and khaki.
These employees make up Target's new Beauty Concierge Service, which provides high level, unbiased beauty advice to consumers.
The program, first piloted in Chicago and since expanded to Los Angeles, will hit 36 stores in the Twin Cities region next month.
Ultimately, Target plans to equip 200 stores throughout the country with the service by the end of the year.
The pros and cons of global trade perhaps have never been so starkly contrasted than this week.
On Monday, the National Retail Federation and other trade groups released a report they commissioned that articulates how the United States benefits from imported goods.
A few days later, Time magazine publishes this searing photo of two workers who perished after a building hosting apparel factories collapsed in Bangladesh, killing over 800 people.
In many ways, these two publications vividly demonstrates the paradoxical world of international economics: the benefits of low cost clothing in one country can often come at the expense of another country.
Bangladesh is a poor country in southeast Asia that’s home to a multi-billion apparel industry where low cost workers make clothing for the world’s top retailers, including Wal-Mart, The Gap, and Minneapolis-based Target Corp.
By using low cost suppliers in Bangladesh and other countries in Asia and Latin America, Americans enjoy cheap prices which allow us to afford a better lifestyle, or says the NRF report:
“Imports are not the bogeyman some Americans believe them to be. On the contrary, they benefit our economy in a number of ways. They provide consumers of all income brackets with a greater variety of goods at lower prices. They constrain inflation. They encourage manufacturers to constantly improve quality and innovate while providing them with needed inputs at lower prices…It is time to give imports the credit they deserve.”
Fair enough. But the report conspicuously omits how the United States’ appetite for imported goods impacts the countries whose citizens produce them.
Target and other retailers have noted they hadn’t knowingly sold products made from the collapsed factory in Bangladesh but that’s almost besides the point.
That incident, along with a deadly fire at another factory last November, demonstrates the systematic poor conditions garment workers face throughout the country.
Target is well aware of these problems, noting that it took action in 2011 to pull out or modify buildings that presented severe fire hazards. The company says it conducts several audits, some unannounced, of its suppliers.
But these audits seem like no match for an entire industry in Bangladesh that’s beset with fire hazards and dubious building designs.
So does Target stay in Bangladesh and help change things? Or does it pull out of the country? Most of its sourcing comes from China and the Americas anyway.
Target declined to comment on its future plans. But the fact remains that retailers’ business models depend on finding cheap sources of foreign labor.
Those business models produce tangible benefits to Americans, as the NRF report notes, in the form of low prices and jobs. But it also produces photos like Time’s pic.
Well, that was certainly unexpected.
Commuters arriving at Grand Central Station in New York this morning got a full blast of Target Corp.’s Expect More motto when they encountered the equivalent of supercharged pop up store.
Called The Dollhouse, the 1,500 square replica foot of a house, complete with bedrooms, patios, and kitchen, features 3,500 items from Target’s Threshold housewares collection, including bedding, dishes, and towels.
“Putting our Threshold collection in a house would be the most natural setting to showcase the brand,” said Julie Guggemos, vice president of product design and development. “Dollhouse invites people into it to experience the product, to touch and feel it.”
Target is known for heavily promoting its exclusive collaborations with designers and musicians. But this project represents one of the retailer’s most ambitious attempts to plug a store brand, one of several private label programs overseen by Target’s sizable internal design staff.
Threshold is really an effort by Target to rebrand its home goods products. Target’s other store brands include Mossimo, Market Pantry, and Archer Farms.
Planting the store smack in the middle of Vanderbilt Hall during rush hour probably required Target to pull a few strings so to speak. Fortunately for Target, the retailer sponsored Grand Central Station’s 100th anniversary celebration.
Workers built the Dollhouse in Queens and then moved the structure to Grand Central where it took them three days to assemble it.
In a further nod to Target’s focus on multi-channel retailing, the house carries about two dozen products shoppers can purchase by using their smartphones to scan a QR code. Target.com will later ship the product.
The Dollhouse will remain up until Tuesday.