Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seasons Greetings

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Hazards

So far I've mostly described the joys and benny's of working of ACO, but least you think it's all fun and games I must now post on the hazards.

I have far too many shoes, way too many jackets, and there is a dry suit on sale that calls my name.

"Kelly" it says. "Have you been thinking about me?"
"Yeah" I sigh.
"You'll rarely get the chance to purchase a suit so good at such a good price."
"I know. But do I really even need a dry suit?"
"Of course!! Someday you'll be wanting to kayak through the ice in the winter. Even now, it wouldn't hurt for you to wear one."
"But I think a wet suit would be more practical, and much cheaper."
"Water temperature is dropping. You've only got 10 seconds to live once you hit the water. And it's a ghastly way to go."
"It's not like I'm sea kayaking right now. I'm mostly in the river and a wet suit would give me time to get shore, IF i fell out."
Realizing he's making little headway using logic, the suit switches tactics, "But wet suits are dull. Blues and blacks. I'm a bright, happy, cheerie mango and radish."
"You mean, yellow and blue? Yeah, I'd look like a bouy. Now, wet suits, they're hot."
It's the suit's turn to sigh knowing it can't win that one.
"And besides" I add while walking away, "I've really got to put my money and my time into the bike trip right now."

But still, every time I walk by I hear it, low, and soft, but still audible, still seductive..."You'll never get a chance like this again.

Buy me now.
Buy me now.
B u y m e n o w."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hey! I think I'm working in the wrong part of the company

This guy is an Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guide in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How not to shop


"Hi, looking for something specific?"

"No. I'm looking for something for my girlfriend."

"Oh? Well...what would she like...?"

"I don't know"

"Umm, does she do any outdoor sports?"

"No. Not really."

"How about a jacket? We've got some nice winter coats."

"Yeah, that might work."

"What size would she be?"

"Don't know....hmm...about your size...but not as fat."

"Be sure to have her come in so I can help her pick out a present for you."

The priceless value of good gear

After leaving work on Saturday I headed straight home. It was cold. It was dark. I was tired. But driving down RT 27 along the Mystic River I couldn't help but notice the decorated boats in the harbor. Looked like about 10 or more, their rigging strung with bright Christmas lights. The night was clear and calm so the reflection of the lights off the river was even more brilliant.

Pulling into my driveway I noticed a fair number of people walking toward downtown. Then, walking into the kitchen, which over looks the river, I noticed another decorated boat out in the channel. Hmmm. I didn't turn on the overhead light and a light went off in my head. It's the boat parade!

Oh, I so wanted to just curl up on the couch with my book (Deception on his mind, by Elizabeth George)...but it looked so cool out and I could imagine everyone gathering downtown near the bridge, watching the boats glide by, feeling all Christmassie. But I was tired...and it was looked like so much fun.

I changed out of my T-shirt and into a thermal techwich. Pulled on my Divergence Fleece and headed downtown. Gosh it was neat. There were lots of people lined along the dock everyone cheering their favorites and friends, and applauding for all the others. While watching the boats float by I also couldn't help notice what people were wearing. It's a serious side effect of working at ACO but you do tend to note jackets, and shoes too. So there among TNF Denalis, the puffy jackets, the wool sweaters I stood there warm and cozy and reflected on numerous conversation I'd had today on temperature ratings for jackets and "long underwear." We don't temperature rate our clothes. It's impossible. People run at their own set points, wind greatly effects temperature, as does activity level. Maybe we should switch to a common sense rating instead, with an added provision that no matter what you get, make sure its the good stuff. But for the moment I shrugged and joined in the fun of the parade and officially started the holiday season.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Lets do the numbers

Market Watch reports that Black Friday and weekend sales were up 8.3% over last year, "despite rising oil prices and other economic pressures." CNN is also reporting steady sales. While ACO offered none of the electronics that seemed to drawn the more intense shoppers we did have a 20% everything in the store (except Merrills) sale. By the time I left ACO at 6 pm on Saturday our bottom line was even with last year, traffic was consistent, and the shoppers still in relatively good moods. My own personal observation is that they stuck to clothes more than usual and were there for the discounts.

The staff was flagging a bit. I'd just finished working 16 of the last 26 hours and could feel a case of mall leg coming on. During the course of those 16 hours the ACO staff had removed 750 sizing collars from 750 hangers, stocked out 900 assorted jackets, pants, sweaters, fleeces, etc, consumed two carry out boxes of mini donuts, not sold 145 pairs of UGG boots (we were out of stock), turned away 15 people for the women's small black denali fleeces (we ran out on Saturday at 4:13), visited with 3 ACO alumni, advised 245 people on the use of the various weights of long underwear, spoke on why we don't temperature rate our clothing, and listened to more Christmas songs than is natural.

All in all much the same as previous years. But you've got to wonder...with the cost of living going up, home values going down, and the economy looking for a slowdown...where's the money coming from...or...are the early discount shoppers going to be the highlight of the season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The North Face Denali - An Expose

One day when business in the store was slow, the shelves stocked, the shoes aligned and the magazine rack in need of support, a few of us gathered toward the front of the store. We watched the shoppers passing by and bet on whether or not those that did enter were here to buy The North Face Denali.

The Denali, as it is more commonly know, is a "Polartec® 300-weight fleece with nylon overlays to reduce wind effects". It retails for $165.00. It's an decent fleece jacket, but more than that, it's a trendy status symbol of today's youth. Male and female alike, those people most drawn to fashion, and least likely to ascend the 20,320 ft mountain for which it is named, insist on owning one. They're not ACO's usual customer, and they rarely, nalgene bottles aside, buy anything else, so its interesting to watch them stand just inside the front door and scan the racks for the required jacket.

Advice to those folks is to buy yours now! Especially if you want the black one, and especially if you want it for Christmas. For Santa's sake don't wait for it to go on sale. It won't. Think of it this way, it's the cabbage patch, elmo doll of the trend-setting-faux-outdoors fashion world. Well, actually we've never had people line up to buy them, we did get to witness some interesting scenes. Last year two women did get into a serious fight over who would get the last small black one, a teenager daughter resorted to tears in front of her sticker shocked mother, and a 5:00, December 24th shopper, informed us that ACO was doomed to failure since we were completely sold out (and had been for a week). Ah the joys of Christmas retail. The wonder of the consumer culture.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Evolution of Holiday Spending

Yesterday a woman bought a jacket and two sweaters. Not a notable purchase in itself, what was unusual is that she paid the $235.00 in this time of the year. In the month or so in the run up to Christmas almost all purchases are done on the credit card. Oh sure, some customers say it's a debit card, but toward the end most don't even pretend. It's Christmas and you know you're going to be sucked into the vortex of inevitable debt. Personally, I rely upon my tax refund to bail me out of the Holiday magic. By having more money than I'll owe taken out of my paycheck I accomplish 3 things - I support my government by allowing them to borrow my cash for a brief time, I have a direct deposit Christmas fund, and I have a really, really, really good incentive to file my taxes on January 31st. But I digress....

How people pay for Holiday purchases generally progresses in three distinct phases.

  • Phase 1. Credit Cards - From just a little before Thanksgiving up until the Big Day - credit rules.
  • Phase 2. The Barter System - (my least favorite) Starting immediately after Christmas and dwindling out day by day until late January, people turn to the barter system. These shoppers arrive in the store with ACO bags, and boxes full of loving selected presents that have been rejected and that they want to trade for something better. Often they also want to trade up since the big after Christmas sales are already running. During this shopping phase the store will be very busy, but the sales won't be so impressive. We also have a lot of garbage - for some reason, people think we want the gift boxes, and wrapping paper back.
  • Phase 3. The Cash Days- starting about 15 days after Christmas and increasing over the following 30, more and more people start paying in cash. It seems they've received their credit card statements and have now decided its budget time.
I'm not a money manager - and I don't play one on the internet but my advice, that of real money managers, and the woman who paid with cash yesterday, is to go to the cash system from the start.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Schedule Is In

So looks like I'm working Black Friday, as well as the day after. Ah the stories we could tell. Last year was my first. The first time I'd even been in a mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Generally the shoppers were nice, but insistent that we should be having better sales. The serious ones, the professionals, were showing serious signs of battle fatigue by 2:00. I'm working from 3:00 to close so we'll see how they're holding out this year. According to Bloomberg, we are facing one of the weakest' holiday shopping periods in years.

Personally, aside from ACO gear, I've been an online shopper (and proud) for over 10 years now. If you're into online shopping too check out Wired's "How to Hack the Holidays".


People often ask, "Hey Kelly, why do you work at ACO?" (at the advice of my attorney I'm no longer using the real name but have instead invented "Atlantic Coast Outfitters", the East coast's best source for eastern mountain sports gear. )

I work there for a number of reasons. First the people who work there are great - real outdoors, honest, active people. Secondly - I often think of it as a live, in person study of the American consumer culture - something I watch with the same fascination that one watches a car wreck. And thirdly - the gear! Not only do you get to play with all the latest backpacks, kayaks, GPSs, cook stoves, shoes, boots, socks (oooh, love the socks), but you get to take them home...they even arrive in the mail. Such was the big bennie today. When I came home a little package from Smith was waiting for me. My new polyunchromalatedbifurnicatinginterchangablelenses Factors! Even better than the ones committed to the Watch Hill waves. Which is also the reason why the package also included eyewear retainers. Yup, I can be taught.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Day!

As most of you know, I was holding out to get a cell phone until it could do it all. September I bought an LG8700 that, theoretically was a phone, a camera and a music player. (Yes, an iphone would have been better but for various reasons I had to go with Verizon). Taking pictures was easy, movies too! Music sounded good, but downloads were $2.99/each. Verizon sells a cable and disk for $49.00 that allows one to sync your computer with the phone so you can buy pass this but hey, I'm cheap or maybe we should call it technically inclined. After messing around with some free cables and driver downloads I can now post those pictures online, while listening to my music on my phone.

This is a picture of Noel's visit to Watch Hill last weekend.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Adventures in Retail

As there are no travel plans until February and I've gone back to work at EMS for the holidays I thought perhaps I'd start writing a bit on the exciting and dangerous events that are everyday occurrences in the average, declining American mall.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental or believe me, they should be.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how this adventure will turn out. Last season, while I still wore my favorite Santa Hat and little lights necklace, I didn't really have the holiday spirit. Working in retail, the front line of the Christmas commercial battleground, is not conducive to the Holiday Spirit, even for someone who loves being a kid as much as me. And then there is the physical aspect. Sure I'm still riding for about an hour everyday but I may not be in good enough shape to work a four, or even 7 hours shift standing on concrete. I can hike for 8 hours, no problem, but standing, shuffling, etc. is really hard. Last year I developed a crippling disease I called "Mall Leg" a condition that results from standing, and sort of leaning on one leg, leading to an extremely sore hip joint. Guess it's time to find out if it's a reoccurring disease.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And the next big adventure is....

Today the maps arrived. 5 shiny, waterproof maps of the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to San Diego that show the route and also campgrounds, hotels, stores, libraries and bike shops. Bike shops? yup...cause we're biking the Coast!!!

There are some cool trips between now and then but this is the next Big One. Time to go riding!