A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

Cash 4 Canines

A while back, we had lunch with JJ Ramberg.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because she’s the long time  host of MSNBC’s Your Business (my favorite show).

JJ is a founder and managing director of a cool company called GoodShop which allows you to shop and support your favorite causes. It’s an amazing company. Check it out at www.goodshop.com. There’s also an app that’s easy to use.

We’re going to focus on local Florida causes. Here’s the latest “shopfunding” campaign which supports a cause close to our hearts: rescues.

Please consider helping this great cause, which serves Florida’s east coast and has roots in Delray.
This week’s cause: Cash 4 Canines
Last July , Jennifer Sorrentino had a moment when she knew she had made the right decision to launch Cash 4 Canines. She looked into the eyes of an 11 year old German Shepherd named Sasha who was one day away from being euthanized. For 11 years Sasha been in good shape other than some arthritis. Within two weeks, Jennifer and her co-founder Tracy had found Sascha a loving forever home in the Melbourne Beach area of Florida.
Just one month later they saved yet another dog who was just hours away from being euthanized. They were told that Dr. House (who they renamed to Jake) was five years old and had a broken leg. Upon saving Jake, they took him to Affiliate Veterinary Specialists in Daytona Beach where they learned he was just 10 months old. The next morning the vets performed surgery to repair Jake’s leg and after an eight week recovery, he was adopted by a loving family in Cocoa Beach.
Jennifer and Tracy work tirelessly to help Jane, Sascha and other animals who without their care would not be with us today. Cash 4 Canines supplies all the food and the funds for all the medical care.
This week, we are highlighting the work they do. Please help these animals in need by joining their shopfunding campaign on Goodshop. Here are some of the stores offering deals and donating a portion of what you spend back to help Cash 4 Canines:
Horchow coupons — Find everything you need for your home and 4% will go back to the cause.
LL Bean deals – Get your outdoor gear and 2% will go back to the cause
Snapfish promo codes – Print out your holiday photos and up to 7% will go to Cash 4 Canines.

Even The Icons Fade

At its zenith, Sports Authority was a high flyer. A home grown juggernaut.

At its zenith, Sports Authority was a high flyer. A home grown juggernaut.

We went to Sports Authority over the weekend and it was sad.

The chain is liquidating which means all 400 plus stores–including those in Boca and Delray–will soon close.

The shelves are getting bare, the employees look disinterested and everything must go.

It’s a sad end to a South Florida institution which at one point was a remarkable success story.

The chain, once based in Lauderdale Lakes, burst onto the scene in 1987– the same year I moved to Florida. I remember shopping there frequently as I was easing into a lifestyle where you can play tennis and golf year round. I bought my first set of golf clubs (a Hubert Green signature set) at a Sports Authority and lots of racquets over the years.

Founded by Jack Smith, a veteran of Herman’s Sporting Goods (where we shopped as kids) the company grew to serve customers in 45 states and Puerto Rico. Within three years of its founding, Kmart bought the chain and later spun it off after a rapid expansion.

Like iconic brands such as Circuit City, Blockbuster and Borders, Sports Authority was disrupted by a variety of forces–including the rise of e-commerce and management that simply could not figure out a winning formula.

Ironically, sporting goods is a growing category topping $60 billion last year.

But the industry has changed. Consumers now seem to relish specialization–if you are into lacrosse or soccer you tend to shop at stores or online outlets that specialize in that sport where the selection is deeper and the sales staff is more knowledgeable.

In addition, suppliers such as Nike, LuluLemon and Under Armour are now competitors selling their wares in branded stores.

Retail has also become much more experiential with consumers wanting an experience which explains the success of places like Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain.

There’s a lesson here. You can never be complacent. Whether you are a city, a cultural arts center, a downtown, a restaurant or a retailer you have to grow and evolve. Complacency is a killer. Even when things are going well you have to wake up a little scared.

Blockbuster didn’t see Netflix or didn’t react fast enough, newspapers didn’t anticipate the threat of the Internet and Kodak missed the allure of digital photography even though they had the technology. In fact, they invented the digital camera. In 1975.

Today’s hot concept can be tomorrow’s casualty. Downtowns boom and bust, restaurant get hot and sometimes forgotten and cool concepts like Sports Authority can and do disappear.