Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The bloom is off the rose (and brand) at Bloom's

Bloom, a relatively new entrant to DC grocery marketing, blossomed in Rockville last year. And blossomed it did: there isn't one department that isn't simply splendid. The store features a good bakery, prodigious produce, delectable meat and seafood, and just about everything else you can imagine. Unlike Safeway or Giant, it is actually fun shopping at Bloom.

Bloom's marketing department created a glorious look and feel for the chain. The corporate palette includes saturated food-based colors, such as avocado, apple red, blueberry, plum, and wheat. While the logo's lower-case lettering conveys a friendly openness, the store's icon seems like it will start to spin any moment, leaving shoppers feeling energized and excited.

All of this sounds great because it is. But Bloom suffers from two enormous problems: ridiculously high prices and virtually zero customer service.

Problem Number 1: Bloom's prices are outrageous. Granted, Bloom is on par with Safeway (which is also obnoxiously overpriced), but unless you're a rich heiress, you'll be planning to live in the gutter by the time you finish your shopping trip. I went to Bloom yesterday to get a halfway-decent deal on New York strip steaks ($5.99/pound) and ended up doing the rest of my shopping there. My goal was to make a ham and veggie fettucine dish for my boyfriend - that doesn't sound particularly expensive, does it? But here's how it added up at Bloom:

  • 1 ham steak $5.29
  • 1 bunch of asparagus $ 3.99
  • 1 yellow pepper $1.76
  • 1 red pepper $1.96
  • 2 tomatoes $3.78
  • 1 package shredded mozzarella $2.99

Grand total? $19.77. For ONE meal! I realize that we're in a recession/depression and that it's the middle of winter and the vegetables are out of season, but c'mon, this is ridiculous. I wasn't making filet mignon, for God's sake. Bloom proves to be simply too expensive for weekly shopping. Next time, I'll go in for the steak sale and leave with one package of meat - that's it, that's all.

Problem Number 2: At Bloom, you get virtually no service. When you first enter the store, you are faced with a huge rack of self-scanning devices. The idea is that you scan products before you place them in your cart. When you are finished shopping, the device calculates your total and allows you to pay via a self-service kiosk when you are finished shopping. I tried this exactly once. It took me at least twice as long to do my grocery shopping using this newfangled pricing gun. Forget it. My time is worth a lot more than that. I want to get in and get out, no matter how pretty the store is.

Bloom's we-offer-no-service pledge goes deeper however. The store's employees routinely badger shoppers into using the self-check out aisles. During a busy shopping day, Bloom opens six self-service lanes and only ONE full-service lane; full-service means you have someone scan and bag your groceries. Not a lot in terms of service, right? Don't you expect your grocery store to provide grocery clerks to ring up your groceries and bag them? At Bloom, the management apparently thinks customer service is a big luxury - one they are are not going to provide if they can possibly help it - even if you are paying through the nose for their products.

I don't think the gas station self-service approach works in a grocery store environment - especially one that charges you a premium price for groceries. America started pumping its own gas during the 1970s gas crisis because it cost us less to fill our tanks. We might consider scanning and bagging our own groceries if it meant we could save some dough - but Bloom is asking us to serve ourselves and pay a higher price to do so.

Bloom's brand suffers greatly under these policies. Bloom could be greatly improved by lowering prices and increasing the number of open full-service lanes. Without these changes, the company will surely wither otherwise.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A dire warning for materialistic women

I just DESPISE those holiday Lexus commercials in which the husband gives the wife the keys to her dream car and then everyone lives happily ever after. Mega blech! (Maybe I hate these ads because I've paid for every penny of every car I've ever owned. I apparently have bad karma in the rich-man-buys-chick-a-fancy-new-automobile department.)

Given this predilection, you'll understand why I love the following video. One of my aunts thinks it's a riot and the other thinks its sexist - and they are both right. Watch.

Impeccably timed, this faux commercial rings true as everyone reconsiders their own accumulated excesses. This video points out what we all know to be true: it is best to appreciate what we have and to always remember what's really important in life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Living Large

I saw this "Living Large" graphic recently in a magazine (Better Homes & Garden? House Beautiful? Don't remember.) I was struck by how much has changed during my time on the planet - and I'm not talking about the Cold War, global warming, or Richard Simmons either.

Very little has gotten smaller - including ourselves. In 1950, most women wore a size 12; most American women now sport size 16s. (The real question is: why do manufacturers persist in making so many more clothes for skinny chicks if most American women are plus-size?)

After all these years of upsizing, one trend to watch is downsizing. Not just in terms of baby boomers dealing with empty nests, but the reduction of everything we've been overdoing for the past several decades. It will be interesting to do a comparison 50 years from now to see if plate and home sizes have retracted. If our bodies continue to grow, wouldn't you bet that acre-sized bath towels will be all the rage?

Use this posting as a reminder that your marketing and your messaging need to evolve as the world changes. What was right yesterday might not be right for today. As an example, after September 11, the world - and every conceivable product - was adorned in American flags. Now red, white, and blue comes off very gray - especially here in Washington. People aren't less patriotic; they just don't wear the Grand Ole Flag on everything they own anymore. It's a good thing. Let's let the flag wear the flag.

Speaking of living large, I wish you larger-than-life holidays, ones you will remember (in a good way!) forever. Merry whatever! Enjoy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A dolphin daydream

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! It is SO damn cold here today - 22 degrees by my car therometer's count. I'm dreaming not of the white Christmas like the one I used to know, but the tropical, sunny Feliz Navidad that would warm my soul and allow me to relax.

Since I can't escape to the islands, I am daydreaming about dallying with dolphins. Join me. Just watch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Forget Costco - Get even cheaper funerary products on Ebay!

In the market for a discount funeral? I wrote recently about Costco's foray into the wonderful world of funerals, put today I found a new vendor: eBay.

I was poking around in eBay "Everything Else" category and came across "Funeral and Cemetery." Maybe because I'll soon turn 50 and therefore am facing my inevitable death, I couldn't resist evaluating my options. Here's what I found:

"casket pine jewish green-friendly funeral home hearse - caskets non-imported, built in Missouri pine painted." Let me rewrite this fairly nonsensical auction description for you. The seller represents Missouri Amish craftsmen who make pine caskets because they think Jewish people prefer simple burial devices that rot in an environmentally better way. Selling for $500 to $1000 with free shipping, these caskets are available in the color of your choice. "You may order custom colors for these caskets. We order all of our paint from Sherwin-Williams so that you can go to your local Sherwin-Williams and choose a color that you would like." Wonderful! Now I can match my casket to my plum pumps!

Next up: how about a "VELVET CASKET COFFIN COVER/CHAISE/BEDSPREAD/COUCH COVER"? The seller elaborates, "Here is a dynamite fabulous very old coffin/casket cover in crushed green velvet... There are so many unusual uses, a shawl, a drape, a couch cover {what a great conversation piece}, even a bedspread on a single bed, or a cover for a fainting couch or chaise cover, or use it as a coffin cover for a recently deceased loved one." Uh... I'll pass. Sleeping with an old coffin cover gives me the creeps. But Scarlet O'Hara did make that fab dress out of her mother's velvet drapes - you might give her a call. She could Buy It Now for only $89.99!

For the more stylish, richer corpse, you might consider the "Brushed Lilac/Lilac Shaded Coppertone Finish Casket." This coffin is manufactured by Cornerstone Casket, LLC, a company "well positioned to capitalize on the Asia manufacturing phenomenon now underway, to provide the funeral industry in the North American market the best value caskets available." However, they do admit what all coffin makers must admit: THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC OR OTHER EVIDENCE THAT ANY CASKET WITH SEALING DEVICE WILL PRESERVE HUMAN REMAINS." Well, I was seeking that ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing anyway. And guess what kids? This is the exact same coffin Costco sells for $924! Better comparison shop.

Finally, for the budget-conscious handyman, just DIY! eBay has just the book for you: "Do It Yourself Coffins for Pets and People." The seller states (and I'm not kidding here)that the author "departs from his usual animal carvings, burying himself in a new art form - the manufacture of special boxes for pets and people. Here's one project you won't want to put off until tomorrow... One box design even doubles as a beautiful blanket chest or coffee table!" The seller also reassures shoppers that purchases made by Friday will arrive in time for Christmas and that the company can "ship anywhere - even to your loved ones cross country or overseas."

(Sadly, the funerary product most often sold on eBay is baby caskets, which is far too sad to satirize. I feel terribly for anyone who has to bury a child.)

I could go on, but that's enough of this dead issue. Happy funeral shopping, kids! And Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Last pug post for a while - I promise

No more pug posts after this one, I promise. But my brother sent me this adorable video this morning and I can't resist.

For folks who are unfamiliar with the ubiquitous pug head tilt, let me explain. The head tilt, which occurs when you offer these muzzle-free dogs alluring goods or services, empirically proves that pugs actually have a working brain. This is important because when they're not tilting their heads, they're sleeping. Or eating. Or whining. That's it.

Check out this trifecta of pug head tilts. It's a complete hoot.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Me dog is a lazy wanker

Moose, my beloved pug, spent his childhood with three exceptionally sedentary cats and therefore learned to do little more than sleep and eat. Twice a day, he opens one eye, yawns, stretches, and then asks impolitely to be let out to defecate. If you don't believe me, the following delivers incontrovertible video evidence. Don't worry... it's just the sleeping part of the above equation.

I was okay with my Rip Van Winkle dog until I saw an amazing border collie named Gin compete on Britain's version of "American Isle." Although this pup cannot speak (read my previous post), she certainly gets up and boogies, making herself the British female equivalent of John Travolta. Gin, who is clearly a brilliant dog, was trained by her equally talented and only 16-year-old owner, Kate. You've got to see it. Watch. And smile.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Canine chatter

You thought dogs couldn't talk? Baloney. I present a new talking dogs video, along with my all-time favorite, Odie the Pug, who lovingly squawks "I ruv roo!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Too broke to croak? Call Costco

Looking for a way to trim funeral expenses this holiday season? Need some serious savings on Fido's urn? Or next-day delivery on that copper-colored casket? Then call Costco.

You know we're in an economic downturn when Costco starts peddling funerals. No, this isn't a joke or a skit from Saturday Live. This is America 2008 where you just can't afford to die.

Like the Washington Post's we-watch-so-you-don't-have-to TV column, I present the bottom line on Costco's funeral supplies:
  • Currently, caskets can only be purchased from and shipped to addresses in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. (Too bad, Marylanders and Virginians - no service for you).

  • A casket ordered for expedited delivery will arrive by 5 p.m. (your local time) the following day (Monday-Friday, excluding holidays). Unfortunately, expedited delivery is NOT available in all areas, so it's best to put Grandma on ice for a few days.

  • Acts of God, weather-related conditions and states of emergencies can delay delivery beyond the stated delivery parameters. In other words, be prepared to keep Grandma on the aforementioned ice for a couple of weeks, just in case.

  • will only accept returns of caskets due to freight or cosmetic damage from shipping. Can't change your mind, kids. Better agree on Mom's casket now because otherwise you've got one huge, creepy coffee table to fight over.

  • Most importantly, Costco wants you to know, and I quote here (including the capital letters): "THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC OR OTHER EVIDENCE THAT ANY CASKET WITH A SEALING DEVICE WILL PRESERVE HUMAN REMAINS." Ashes to ashes, dust to dust - the ultimate act of God. Sorry, Costco offers no guarantee that in 2000 years, some inquisitive antropologist will be able to dig up your sorry ass.

I'm a big proponent of cheap funerals. I'd much rather see all that money go to some good cause - as the case may be.

But when it's time for me to leave this world, I hope my heirs won't be so desperate as to go funeral shopping at Costco. Instead, just give my body to science. It'll save you a pile of dough and hopefully do some good for this world, too.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It should have been Chuckie T

As a near-constant-devotee of MSNBC, I was devastated when Tim Russert died suddenly in June. My boyfriend called me when he heard the news because he knew I'd be beside myself - and I was. Tim Russert can never be replaced. Ever.

Tim left some very big shoes to fill at NBC News in general and at Meet the Press specifically. There has been much speculation about the heir apparent to the Peacock throne and apparently the king-elect is David Gregory. He is expected to replace guest host Tom Brokaw in the coming weeks.

I like David Gregory. I even met him once at a Rockville restaurant. At that point, he was the White House correspondent who did weekend fill-in gigs on the Today Show. When he and his wife and three young kids came into the crowded cafe. I recognized him immediately. First, he's got that fabulous head of white hair, and secondly, he's about 400-feet tall. You couldn't miss this guy if you tried, which is probably why NBC selected him.

Gregory stood impatiently waiting for a large enough table. Who could blame him - trying to keep three little children happy and quiet is no easy task. I called over my waitress, relinquished my large booth to his family, and moved to a smaller table because it was a nice thing to do. But I was also agog because he was a broadcast news celebrity - literally the top of the gene pool in my little world.

After I moved to the smaller table, David Gregory came over, smiled that huge smile, and thanked me for my generosity. I was transformed instantly into a simpy school girl. Gushing the gushiest gush of all gushes, I exclaimed, "Oh, I just love you on TV!" ACK!!!!! GAG! Going gooey over David Gregory is one of the top five greatest gaffes of my life. I'd do anything to take it back, anything. I was so... nauseating!

So much for my brush with a news celebrity.

But back to my original point. If I was Queen for a Day at NBC News, I would tap Chuck Todd as the next host of Meet The Press. I am a true Chuckolyte (and yes, that's the term - see Viva Chuck Todd and Chuckolyte if you don't believe me).

Andrew Tyndall at the The Huffington Post describes Chuck Todd this way:

NBC's political director is no smooth, sophisticated on-air presence--but neither was Russert when he took the job back in 1991. His call of Campaign 2008 has been exemplary throughout the primary season so he obviously has a spot-on sense of the political pulse. The public policy and foreign policy aspects of Meet the Press would be unchartered territory.

Chuck's down-to-earth, real-guy persona is indeed Russertesque. This explains his appeal. He's not the 6'5 gorgeous and perfectly coiffed David Gregory. Todd is imminently watchable because his love of politics, his zest in being on the ground, in the numbers, figuring it all out - just like Russert. If Chuck Todd whipped out Tim Russert's whiteboard, no one would be surprised. It would just seem right.

Todd presents as an apparent non-partisan, just like Russert. We may guess that these two journalists harbor liberal feelings, but they didn't show. On a network filled with big-personality opinionators like Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, Todd offers balance and needed bipartisanship.

Chuck Todd is young and new, which is why NBC News won't select him. It would take vision and courage to choose this new guy to take that great old guy's place. NBC News once had mucho cajones - that's why they picked Russert. But now they'll take the safe route and crown David Gregory.

What a shame. If Tim were still here, he'd be the leading advocate for Chuck Todd. For this and a million other reasons, it's too bad Russert is gone.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Destiny Calls "Lost"

Destiny calls! Finally!

After spending half of 2008 watching every episode of "Lost" with my boyfriend, Tom and I now breathlessly await the series return on Wednesday, January 21. (ABC, Channel 27 in DC, 8:00 - don't miss it!)

The fifth season sports a new tagline: Destiny Calls. This apparently refers to the Oceanic 6 - Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sayid, Sun, and Aaron - who despite being rescued 108 days after the crash, heed their fate and return to the island. How this is possible, I don't know, because among other things, the island miraculously disappeared last season.

The series trailer also shows Kate and Jack getting engaged (and married?) and raising Claire's son, Aaron. It looks like Jon Locke is alive and well even though he purportedly committed suicide last season (thank God... as a middle aged mamma, that dude is HOT!). And of course, the evil Ben is back another season to torture and manipulate everyone, especially Jack.

Don't know about you, but when destiny calls, I answer. I'm even going to coerce my brother into getting my Tivo working so I don't miss a single episode (why doesn't ABC put Lost on OnDemand?!). When he comes over, maybe he'll lend me his Season 4 CDs - the set goes on sale December 9 just in time for Santa, of course - so I can rewatch last season and remember every significant - and insignificant - detail. Because honestly, how can you tell the difference?

I am certainly glad "Lost" is now found. I'm looking to rediscovering that island - and taking a season-long vacation with the Oceanic 6 and the rest of the gang.

Monday, December 1, 2008

America screams "DUH!"

Word comes today from MSNBC that the United States is now officially in a recession and has been since December 2007. America (or me anyway) wants to scream back DUH!

As I've been saying all year (read My Great Depression about Delusions of Grandeur and Another Great Depression), America has been greatly depressed - not even recessed! - all year. Finally the numbers prove what we've all known for a while: our economy just sucks.

However, despite all the dreariness, there is a bit of good news:
  • This weekend, I spent only $24 to fill up my Beetle. This is a damn sight better than the almost $50 I was spending weekly a few months ago.

  • People went shopping this weekend and spent $25 more this year than last, although I'm sure profits are significantly less. Retailers simply slashed prices. On Black Friday, I spent my morning at Office Depot so I could buy a fabulous HP printer for only $25. Five years ago, I bought a fancy HP color printer and spent nearly $500. Now an even-better printer cost me just 5 percent of the original purchase price. Woo hoo! (But what is ridiculous is that HP charges $35 for just one of the four print cartridges needed to run my printer. We know where HP is making its money - and it ain't in hardware.)

  • My business is busy. I've closed several new clients in the past couple of months - something I feared wouldn't happen in the downturn. But smart business owners recognize that they must spend marketing dollars when times get bad rather than doing what the less informed do: slash marketing budgets. I am grateful for the new business and pray that it lasts.

The stock market is down today by over 650 points, but I'm immune to its fluctuations. We're living in an amusement park (that's not very amusing) with a huge roller coaster. It goes up, it comes down. Whatever. Go find throw a softball at the milk bottles or have the barker guess your weight or buy some cotton candy. Watching that damn roller coaster will make you nauseous.

I'm sure the market tanked today with the official word that we're in recession, but let me say it again: DUH. This isn't remotely news. It's just the angst we live with every day.