Friday, May 29, 2009

My Quest for Quality in a Quantity-Focused World

Until this week, I had never actually eaten at a Panera Bread. But on Wednesday I had a little downtime between meetings so, hungry and lured by the free wi-fi, had lunch at the Panera in Warwick, R.I. A panini and a bottle of water later, I was out $9.50. About 10 minutes later, I was out of sorts and back on my soapbox rally against all mass-market anything. In Panera's defense, they do offer a welcoming atmosphere and good coffee. So, I'll spare my rant about the sandwich (Ok, not entirely: I swear, the mozz and tomato panini had stewed tomatoes. I'll admit I can be a food snob but... really?)

Okay, back to where I was going with this. As I scrunched my face and swallowed said tomatoes, I looked at the line stretching toward the door. Well-dressed customers whose Saabs, BMWs and Volvos packed the parking lot placed order after order. I didn't have to look too closely, I was pretty confident many of these women were wearing David Yurman. Why do so many of us have these dining and fashion tastes? Why are the great little indy cafes and talented craftsmen overlooked? My answer: general ignorance. And I place the blame not on those customers, and not, entirely, on the mega-brands. I place it mostly on the independent businesses who offer superior products and services, but don't let the public know. 

Case in point: I recently met a friend for coffee in Mansfield, Mass. He mentioned a couple chain-type places nearby, but I had a little time to search online and found the Icy Bean. Great service, terrific coffee, and some fantastic gelato. My friend works for a huge corporation nearby, but had never heard of it. (He now goes back regularly for the gelato) But, he--and most other people wanting coffee in Mansfield, Mass.--are far too busy to spend time searching around online, so they hit the chains, whose appeal is their sheer quantity (of locations and marketing). Meanwhile those quality small businesses fall off the radar by not letting their target customers know they even exist. 

The whole cycle makes me crazy. Yes, publicity for upscale indie companies is now my line of work but, as my friends know, this has long been my favorite rant. So, if any readers OWN a small business, please think about how you can let your customer know you exist. It doesn't have to cost a fortune; it just takes a little creativity. (And, PS: if anyone knows a great cafe in Warwick, please, let them know there are a whole lot of hungry people feeling forced into the crime of eating stewed tomatoes on their paninis). 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Business and Pleasure

As I wrote in an earlier post, Westerly hosted the Virtu Arts Festival this weekend. The town has been abuzz for two days with a general upbeat mood. This afternoon I soaked it in during a walk downtown. So, what a disappointment to see some of my favorite shops (and my fav little coffeehouse) closed! True, many are mom and pop operations that generally do not open on Sundays (or Sunday afternoons). But on the start of the season? AND one of the town's biggest tourist attractions? Really? It made me think of how many small businesses--not only in my town, but everywhere--are hurting in this economy, yet missing opportunities. The we've-never-done-it-before-why-should-we-do-it-now attitude is a recipe for disaster. I see it when meeting with clients who are toying with the idea of public relations for the first time, yet are afraid to step out of their comfort zones. As Thomas Edison said: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Business growth--especially small business and even more, upscale business--takes work and creative thinking. Those Westerly shops that remained shuttered practiced neither, and missed not only business today, but also the chance to make an impression on many who are in town for the next three months.

Meanwhile, on a MUCH more fun note, many of the stores that were open wisely took advantage of the foot-traffic and held sidewalk sales. You never know when someone will make an impulse purchase. As proof, I offer myself. Out for a walk, with no intention to buy anything, walked past Spangles, across from the train station. I can't say I've particularly noticed the shop before. Today, however, they had a selection of jewelry and handbags on a small table outside. As soon as I stopped to have a look, a friendly salesperson came out to greet me. I couldn't tear my eyes off of one handbag. Noticing I had my hands full with Mia (who was tugging on her leash in her unending quest to make new friends), the salesperson (I regret I didn't get her name; she was lovely) told me the price and handed me the bag. I had to have it, so she invited me (and Mia) into the store. 

So, here's my new bag (awful photo). 
I'm usually not a fan of pink, but balanced with the beige satin and the Asian fabric, I'm loving it. Add the bamboo handles and it is perfect for the summer season's feminine fashions. My only problem is the bow... it's a bit much. I'm thinking I'll remove it and fasten a fun brooch in that spot. Because, style and fashion--like business--requires creative thinking.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Artsy Weekend Ahead

I had a little, unofficial, sneak peak at some of the Virtu Arts Festival exhibitors this evening as my lab, Mia, and I wandered around Wilcox Park on this, the start of the Memorial Day weekend. And I was impressed. I missed the festival last year--my first Memorial Day here in Westerly, R.I. And, admittedly, the then-jaded-New-Yorker in me expected kitschy artwork. So, as I said hello to artists setting up their tents around the park today, I was pleasantly surprised. I saw quality painting and pottery, some fun impulse-buy jewelry, and gorgeous photography... this from just a handful of the 100+ exhibiting at the festival tomorrow and Sunday.

Living in an arts-oriented community with amazing beaches has great advantages. One of them being quiet coffeehouses, restaurants and events (and pristine beaches that I feel like are mine alone) in the off season. But, while I don't always love the traffic and crowded stores that come with this official start of "the" season, the energy of the summer-time can't be beat. And this weekend's festival downtown only amplifies it. So, if you're in the area, or looking for a day trip this weekend (the Amtrak station is within walking distance of the park, festival, and fabulous downtown restaurants, and there are several trains daily along the Boston-New York corridor), check it out. For more details, click here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Greatest Joy: New Talent!

I discovered an amazing new jewelry designer today: Bigio. They are a very small mom-and-pop comapny with not a lot of exposure (though won a recent Spectrum Award). As I've said before: old (editor) habits die hard, so I am THRILLED to introduce this talent to a wider audience. After so long as a jewelry editor, I can be a bit jaded. As such, it isn't often that someone places a necklace on me and I am so distracted that I have a hard time continuing my conversation! And that is exactly what happened today. Their website doesn't do them justice, but check it out here and take a little time to navigate around to discover some of their work. I p-r-o-m-i-s-e... you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hooray! (For My NY Jewelry Friends)

Just a quick post for my NY jewelry-industry "insider" friends (and a little insight for those newbies and non-jewelry folks who might think the New York "diamond district" a glamorous spot). Today, New York officials made a grand announcement and unveiled plans for a new glitzy jewelry office tower in the diamond district (read about it here). 

To anyone who has ever waited 15 minutes for an elevator, held their breath in an elevator car that they reaaaaally doubt can defy gravity above the 2nd floor (as they were squashed in like a sardine), been befuddled by security regulations that seemingly change on a whim, or had to walk a couple flights up to "penthouses" that have no elevator access, at the jewelry industry's old landmark building (580, as we call it)... I can only say: Yippee! (and, more: it is about time). If ever there was a case of NOT communicating a message (luxury) effectively, it would be the shoddy office space and conditions in the Diamond District. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Point ExACTly...

This is a bit of blast from the past, but worth revisiting... an article discussing Dana Thomas's, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre. If you didn't read it, the title examines the state of the luxury market (circa 2007), and the shifting definition of luxury. I happened across it again this morning and found it interesting food for thought as luxury firms struggle to define themselves in today's economy: this 2-year-old warning of sorts went largely ignored and the big-brand mentality contributed greatly to the current state of the luxury industry. (The bit about Louis Vuitton being the McDonald's of luxury: "A Million Served" still makes me smirk) 

While I've never been a logo girl, in this economy, I'm even more turned off than ever by logomania. And, with questionable country of origin issues, luxe brands continuing to market to the masses, and a complete absence of any sense of design or craftsmanship, I know I'm not alone; former Gucci designer Tom Ford, has called the big luxury brands diluted. Talk about an understatement.

To quote this article in
The famous logo [Louis Vuitton] still costs an arm and a leg, yet those buying are not the aristocratic clients who coveted craftsmanship and exclusivity. Instead, they’re the new luxury-obsessed middle class consumers addicted to brands, not for quality, but for what they represent.

And, when the middle class consumer is hit by a recession, where does that leave what we've all come to accept as "luxury"? Exactly where we are right now.

Luxury isn't about overinflated prices to support massive advertising campaigns. As I say on my site, true luxury today is about quality, relationships, craftsmanship, service and creativity. This fundamental point is my mantra: there is a great need right now for those offering true luxury goods and services (usually small artisan firms and boutique upscale service providers) to understand how to effectively communicate their messages to those who seek "luxury" in this new marketplace. 

If you are in the business of trying to reach those consumers, remember: in 2009, the buzzword is substance, not status.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Loving My Corner of the World

Since I moved from New York a year and a half ago, friends constantly ask me how I could leave the "center of the universe" for sleepy Rhode Island. Well... there are a million reasons: glorious beaches, the culture of Providence (aka, the Renaissance City), the arts and community in my new hometown: Westerly (not to mention the joy of being surrounded by Sox fans, instead of Yankee lovers!) 
Today, as Mia and I took little excursions to Wilcox Park and Weekapaug, I could feel the buzz. Memorial Day is a week away and already the out-of-state cars are everywhere. And, while I love my little town any time of the year (and love the gorgeous beaches even more in the off-season), I'm excited about the summer ahead. For those who think it's all college kids at Misquamicut bars or mindless sweating on crowded beaches, check out some of the cultural events Westerly has to offer this summer:
The Virtu Art Festival, an exhibit and sale of fine works of arts by more than 190 artists. 
Theater throughout the season at the beautiful Granite Theater.
Monthly shows at the Artists Cooperative Gallery
And that is just to name a few... 
Visit the Westerly Chamber of Commerce for other events. And, to everyone near and far: Happy (almost) Summer!