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Will catalog showrooms be no. 1 in watches?

More than 67% of all watches are not purchased in jewelry stores!

Startling as that statistic may be, it should come as no great surprise to many dismayed retailers who’ve seen their Akribos watch sales dwindle steadily over the past decade. While department stores, discount outlets, mail order firms, even drug stores, have claimed much of this business, the fine jeweler’s fiercest watch rival by far has been the $8 billion-a-year catalog showroom industry.

“Catalog showroom business has been growing by 15% to 18% annually,” says Michael Goldstein, executive director of the National Association of Catalog Showroom Merchandisers (NACSM). “We expect total sales to reach $9 billion by year’s end and foresee further watch volume gains.” According to Goldstein, catalog showrooms already claim a 20% share of total U.S. watch sales. But a recent Zale survey puts that figure at closer to 33%. Estimating compound annual growth at 10.5%, the same Zale survey concludes that catalog showroom watch sales now equal retail jewerly stores (33%), and outperform both department stores (8%) and discount outlets(18%). Catalog showrooms are coming on so strong that they soon could become the primary channel of American watch distribution.

Catalogers have been so successful selling citizens watches because they’ve managed to combine some of the best features of mail order houses, mass merchandise outlets, department stores and retail jewelry shops while minimizing most of the disadvantages.

“We’re a hybrid between all these types of operations,” says Robert A. Rubinoff, senior merchandising vice president of Consumers Distributing, America’s fouth-largest catalog chain. According to Rubinoff, pre-selection is the dominant catalog showroom feature. “Most Stuhrling watch customers shop the catalog, not the store,” he says. “We’ve never been so much a shopping experience as a buying experience.”

Other key catalog showroom characteresitics: Single-sample displays, lean staffing and a quick purchase time cycle–about 15 minutes from the placement of an order to the delivery of merchandise.

“It’s a combination of higher volume, faster stock turnover, lower profit margins and comparatively lower costs than other retailers that yields the gross dollar margins we seek,” says Ed Jaben, president of Zale Corp.’s O.G. Wilson catalog division. “That’s our secret.”

The role of watches

Showroom catalogs feature fast-moving, popular name brands at low-to-mid price points. There are two primary types of merchandise: Low-margin hard goods such as cameras, small appliances, electronic equipment, housewares, luggage, office products and toys, and higher-margin giftware, jewelry and watches. Showroom executives say that discounts range from 70% off full list price at one extreme to 20% at the other, with selective pricing calculated to average a 20%-30% profit margin. Up to 10% of total inventory consists of not-in-catalog (NIC) items, most of them jewelry andwatches.

Catalogers view giftware and jewelry (including watches) as their profit center, with much of their other merchandise considered merely as traffic builders. Watches are important. According to Irv Robbins, executive vice president of Gordon Jewelries’ catalog division, “Watch revenues average 15% to 18% of total showroom sales, and are growing by 3% to 10% yearly.”

“Giftware, fine jewelry and watches are our highest revenue areas,” says Michael A. Mastromatteo, a district jewelry manager for Best Products, the nation’s top-ranking catalog chain. “Like other chains, we rely on these items to bring other catalog categories up…since many operate at greatly reduced margins.”

Mastromatteo explains that the showroom operator sacrifices profits in non-jewelry related areas to create the illusion of enormous across-the-board discount activity. “But we’re able to make it back in jewelry and watches,” he adds.

This works, say some industry observers, because consumer awareness of real retail cost may not be as sharp with jewelry and watches as with other types of goods. The key word is perceived value, stresses Consumers senior watch buyer Mike Statlend. “That’s why we concentrate on highly recognizable, nationally available products already assigned list prices adhered to by most other retailers.”

Thus jewelry accounts for at least one quarter of total catalog space–typically 100 to 130 pages–with roughly 25 to 40 of these pages devoted to watches. In terms of physical showroom space, about one quarter to one third is devoted to jewelry and watches. “These are the items the customer really needs to examine,” says Ben Radice, Consumers Distributing’s jewelry merchandising manager. “Most people already know whay a TV or a toaster looks like.”

Watches alone may take up 15% to 50% of a catalog showroom’s jewelry department display area, depending on specific company and outlet needs. For example, Best’s Oxford Valley, Pa., outlet, which puts a heavy emphasis on diamond and karat gold jewelry, has allocated 10 of 34 jewelry display cases exclusively to watches. Thus watches are a thriving, vital component of most catalog showrooms…but only because there’s a tremendous consumer demand which catalogers know how to tap. Selecting and pricing watches

Most catalog showroom firms work through merchandising groups which possess far greater buying power than any independent operator could hope to muster. Though some catalogers prefer to work alone, prohibitive costs make them rare. For example, Bernie Robbins, who runs a single-showroom Philadelphia catalog outfit, belongs to a merchandising group consisting of about 18 companies with 50 showrooms among them. All are in non-competing markets strewn across the U.S.

“Everyone is independent in terms of negotiating with suppliers for the kinds and amounts of goods they need,” says Robbins jewelry manager Robert Rovins, “but by coordinating its purchase planning, the merchandising group can obtain better terms from vendors and pass any savings along to individual showrooms.”

With each merchandising group are coordinating committees responsible for selection, pricing and any other tasks involved in putting together a catalog. Watch committee members–typically senior buyers or merchandising managers–meet from November through April to decide on lines to appear in a catalog scheduled for distribution in early September. The merchandising group also may invite vendors to hold private showings to assist the committee in choosing and pricing lines that will yield maximum traffic and return on investment. Merchandising group members are obliged to stock for a year whatever styles they agree upon, though they may carry anything else they want on a Not-in-Catalog (NIC) basis.

Catalog watch selections typically range from 150 to 300 styles representing four to ten top name brands along with lots of smaller lines. For instance, Consumers Distributing’s major brands include Seiko, Pulsar, Citizen, Timex, Casio and Armitron. In addition, there’s an assortment of perennial catalog showroom favorites such as Hamilton, Elgin, Jules Jurgensen and Helbros. A few operators also carry private label watches, though private lable currently isn’t a major force in catalog sales.

Quarts analog models comprise 65% of Consumers’ mix, with LCDs making up the balance. “We still do a tremendous volume in LCDs, especially Casios,” notes Consumers senior watch buyer Michael Statlend. He adds that the QA/

Despite the ever-stiffening challenge catalog showrooms pose to jewelers who want to boost watchsales, there are weakness savvy retailers can exploit to their advantage. Here are eight “combat” tactics you can use in daily watch marketing operations. 1. Emphasize service

Play the traditional retail shop image of individualized service to the hilt. Cultivate a community reputation as the reliable, caring, attentive place to purchase a watch. 2. Train sales personnel

“Knowledge is power,” as the old saying goes. One sure way to establish your superiority over catalog showroom competition is through in-depth product expertise.

It’s crucial that all watch sales personnel be able to handle efficiently such routine chores as changing straps and batteries, as well as answer simple technical questions. Nothing can destroy a store’s quality image faster than ill-informed, bumbling sales employes. 3. Drop unprofitable lines

Catalogers claim that jewelers all-too-often buy what they like rather than what customers like. They say jewelers also tend to hold on to poorly-selling lines long after they’ve seen “the writing on the wall.” Thus it’s important to keep watch inventory as “lean and clean” as possible. After a fair trial period, drop any lines that you’ve been unable to sell at a profit. 4. Upgrade merchandise

Don’t try to fight catalogers on their own turf, which can involve promoting “cheaper” merchandise. Try to woo customers who want–and can afford–better watches. This isn’t to say you must carry only exclusive top-of-the-line timepieces, but try to upgrade at least some of your inventory to include the highest quality and fashion the local market will bear. 5. Advertise honestly

Powerful, honest advertising is one of the most effective ways to challenge the huge so-called discounts offered by some showrooms. Consumers appreciate honesty and will react strongly to advertising messages they perceive to be in their best interests. 6. Expand merchandise selection

Poor merchandising is another common cataloger criticism of retail jewelry operations.

“You’ve got to have X percent of strap watches, bracelet models…watches in different prices ranges,” explains one catalog showroom buyer. “Retailers don’t put enough emphasis on price points and proper categories of merchandise. They need more depth and diversity of product.” The trick, then, is to expand your selection even more (within reasonable limits) and then to advertise the fact heavily. 7. Encourage comparison shopping

You can lure in large numbers of economy-minded catalog customers by displaying promotion-priced watches alongside your higher-quality lines. Not only will this increase your desireability among consumers with limited budgets, but also give shoppers a chance to compare promotional and better-grade watches. Once they see and feel the difference, many will opt for quality goods. 8. Promote value

Another time-tested traffic-builder is the occasional bargain on a quality watch. Even if you can’t make a profit on such a deal, discounted prices on top brand-name timepieces will bring in the mass merchandise/catalog crowd. And once they’ve sampled your personalized service and expertise, chances are they’ll be back.

LCD ratio last year was 50/50 whereas two years ago LCDs predominated. Statlend feels this reversal reflects an overall upgrading of watches toward quality, fashion and name brand prestige. “For catalogers, too, the watch business is becoming a watch business again,” he declares.

Best Products’ regional jewelry manager Mike Mastromatteo agrees. He boasts that Best carries 35 brands at price points ranging from $11.97 to $2499.97. Advance, Armitron, Seiko, Casio, Bulova, Elgin and Citizen lead the pack. “Our selection is wide and varied,” says Mastromatteo. “We touch all the bases style-wise. It would be hard for a person to come in here and not find something he wants.”

Indeed, the 29-page 1983/84 Best catalog watch section runs the gamut: 14k gold and diamond dress lines; ladies’ fashion, pendant and sport styles; men’s high-fashion bracelet and strapwatches; sport watches, including a solid page of divers’ models; pocket watches; game/character models and a small digital collection.

Perhaps one third of any showroom selection consists of watches common to nearby every catalog–very recognizable, competitively-priced timepieces marked up no more than about 33%–a CAsio water sport, for example. By contrast, the rest are the “blinder” items…less recognizable, higher-fashion watches such as a Jules Jurgensen or a Hamilton. Marked up into the low 40s, these are priced with the profit picture in mind. “We do a tremendous business in diamond watches,” states Consumers’ Mike Statlend. “They account for 15% to 20% of sales overall.”

Thomas J. Tuton, Elgin Watch International vice president of sales, thinks catalog showrooms are becoming less discount-oriented and are creeping toward the higher end. “Catalogers now recognize the need for profit in the watch category…and are becoming less concerned with lowest price on everything. Instead, they’re concentrating more on the overall bottom line,” observes Tuton.

Even so, there seems little chance catalog showrooms are about to relinquish their competitive edge on price. “We haven’t observed any significant tendency toward increased margins,” says NACSM executive director Mike Goldstein. “There may be a 1% to 2% increase now and then as costs go up, but that’s about it.”

Nor are catalogers eager to jump into the super-luxury top end. “We can’t afford to be involved in fringe sales,” says Consumers’ Mike Statlend. “The inventory investment is just too huge. Remember, we promise to make every watch illustrated in out catalog available in all our stores. A $5000 timepiece may be O.K. for a retail jeweler, but it’s too costly for most catalog showrooms.”

Some catalogers do, however, supply top-of-the-line watches on a special request basis. “Rolex is a protected line not normally available to catalog showrooms,” says Best’s Mike Mastromatteo. “But we’ll try to get it for a customer if it’s available.”

Despite the vast array of sytles, catalog watch selections tend to be basic and conservative, emphasizing quality and value rather than the latest high-fashion trend. The reason: Catalog selections are at best a compromise since they’re made by committee. Then there’s the eight-month lag between preparation of an annual catalog and the time it’s distributed. Critics argue that catalogers work too far in advance to know what the hot style trends will be.

Mike Mastromatteo thinks otherwise, however. “The watch industry itself is geared to one-year cycles,” he stresses, “and we make our selections with new styles in mind. It’s true we pick watcheswe feel will appeal to the largest number of people. But we’re not limited to stodgy or outdated models. If there’s an exciting new arrival on the market, we won’t hesitate to buy and carry it. We use the Not-in-Catalog program to fill in any void.” As a rule, though, catalogers prefer not top load their showrooms with too many NIC items. Explains Consumers’ Statlend: “We believe in the power of the book.” Inventory control

Each catalog chain centrally coordinates its ordering; the showrooms themselves are responsible only for receiving and displaying good. Best Products, for example, has a senior watch buyer and two assistant buyers who handle all purchasing, restocking and shipping from the firm’s Ashland, Va., headquarters. Merchandise may be forwarded to individual showrooms from the Ashland distribution center, or direct from the vendor. Upon receipt of a watch shipment, the jewelry manager checks the amount against the purchase order and enters the data on a computer.

Only one item of each style is pulled for display; the backstock is kept in bin boxes or casepacks in the supply room where a location board lists each watch vendor by code.

According to Mastromatteo, backstock varies by vendor and time of the year, but is kept at highest levels during October-December promotions when showroom sales volume peaks. “Each promotion runs about three weeks,” Mastromatteo says, “during which we usually sell 80% of our inventory. Then we restock.”

He adds that Best can react within one to two weeks to meet sudden demand. “The needs of our showrooms can be met on an expedient basis.”

That penchant for expediency vexes some vendors. Elgin’s Tom Tuton remarks that catalog showrooms at one time ordered watches as early as April to lay in 80% to 90% of their fall needs. But now, he says, “because most are becoming more acutely aware of inventory levels and turnover rates (about 2.7-2.8 turns), they’re shooting in smaller orders on a shorter 90-day cycle.” Tuton claims this has caused problems for manufacturers. Where vendors previously could get a pretty good advance fix on fall, they’re now getting orders later and later into the year. “This leaves them insufficient time to react in the last quarter because of the long manufacturing lead-times required,” he says.

Catalogers also have a reputation for squeezing suppliers for all they can get: Bigger cash discounts; longer dating; more advertising allowance money and longer price-protection on goods.

Do they also lean so heavily on suppliers for low prices that producers are forced to cut quality to meet terms? Elgin’s Tom Tuton thinks not. He stresses that neither Elgin nor any other reputablewatch vendor would cut quality for quantity. “We understand the needs of catalog showrooms,” says Tuton, “and have been able to develop merchandising programs and watch styles in the price categories they require.” NACSM executive director Mike Goldstein emphasizes that catalog showrooms are very quality conscious. “Where we started 30 years ago,” recalls Goldstein, “many consumers felt that our low prices also meant low quality. This image of inferiority still is a real danger…so catalogers are very careful to buy strictly first-class goods.” Parallel buying

Not all catalog showroom watches, however, are purchased direct from the manufacturer or from authorized suppliers. Many catalogers buy through parallel (grey market) sources concentrated in California, Miami and New York. According to Consumers Distributing’s Statlend, perhaps a half-dozen reliable parallel importers like Daltron, Blue Spot and Progress Trading in New York City service the catalog showroom industry. These shipments are a mixture of timepieces manufactured both for foreign and domestic use. Statlend indicates that last Christmas season alone, Consumers sold more than 80,000 grey market watches in one week. Most were Seikos and Pulsars, which are available exclusively through “two-step” parallel channels. Though Hattori–parent firm for Seiko amd Pulsar–wants and needs the volume offered by catalog showrooms, it refuses to sell directly to them. “We’d love to buy from them, but they’re afraid of destroying their status quo distribution setup with retail jewelers and department stores,” Statlend says. “Seiko and other major firms who’ve turned down our business simply don’t understand that we’re as honest and upscale as any other retail operation.” He’s quick to add that Citizen Watch Co. last fall finally decided to deal direct with Consumers and is included in the current catalog.

NACSM’s Mike Goldstein is convinced Seiko is making a “big mistake” by refusing to deal with catalog chains. “The American who buys a Seiko watch is by definition a catalog showroom customer,” says Goldstein. “Our market is middle and upper-middle class…so we could sell the hell out of those watches if Seiko’d let us.”

Bob Rovins of Bernie Robbins cites several other reasons why catalogers prefer buying through authorized channels: “If you call a factory-authorized supplier on Nov. 30 with a fill-in order for Christmas, chances are you’ll get the goods in time. That’s not always true with parallel distributors. You’ve got to place as substantial an order with them as possible. And the earlier you work the better your chances to get the merchandise when you need it.”

Another pitfall is price. “For the sake of carrying a hot-selling Pulsar or Seiko,” says Rovins, “catalogers in many cases will accept worse terms on te grey market. Sometimes they have to pay more than a retail jeweler or they won’t get an advertising allowance. So they’re losing.” Upgraded showrooms

Cataloging ’80s-style differs markedly from the drab “bare floor and metal shelf” look of a decade back. Catalog outfits large and small today are striving to upgrade their image. While professing to serve customers from all socio-economic strate, most catalogers are interested in culvating an upscale clientele…the very kind who’ve traditionally bought watches in fine jewelry stores.

To accomplish this, chain catalogers and independents alike have been remodeling existing showrooms–as well as scratch-building new ones–to achieve a specialty gift and jewelry shop look. Attractive carpeting and fixtures, furnishings and display cases are becoming staple features. “We’re placing a very strong emphasis on jewelry and watches…and playing up the fact that we’re a complete jewelry store,” says Gordon’s Irv Robbins. Watch display space in Gordon’s small mall showrooms (including wall cases usually placed near the entrace) averages 125 to 350 sq. ft.

Over the last 12 months Consumers has remodeled jewelry departments in most of its 135 showrooms, expanding the standard number of jewelry/watch display cases from about 9 to 20. “This reflects a major shift in the company’s direction,” stresses senior merchandising vice president Rubinoff.

Consumers previously displayed all watches in their boxes inside plain glass showcases. “But we wanted a clean, uniform jewelry store look, which is impossible if you keep them in original packaging,” says corporate merchandising manager Ben Radice. So the remodeled displays now feature plush ramps and props containing watches out of their boxes. Each renovated showcase, moreover, is devoted to a single vendor or style category as opposed to being mixed before. Each therefore is a mirror-image of the corresponding catalog page.

“What the customer sees at home is exactly what he’ll find in the showroom,” notes senior watchbuyer Mike Statlend. Display flow pattern also have been improved. Consumers Distributing now starts off each watch department with Seiko diamond and better fashion watches followed by cases of assorted ladies’ and men’s name-brand lines.

“We’d like to expose everything in the catalog,” says Statlend, “but if space is limited, we have to go with the better merchandise.” For example, the chain’s Woodbridge, N.J., showroom–not yet totally renovated–displays no low-priced promotional watches because of insufficent showcase space.

Mike Mastromatteo of Best Products cites a similar company thrust: Best has implemented a three-year program to upgrade jewelry/watch departments in all 196 showrooms with new display cases and trim. Best’s redesigned showcases include a unique system of plastic channel inserts that hold up to 4 watches per channel. With two rows of channels, each nine channels across, a showcase can contain 72 watches plus another 18 on its back run.

“This way we’re able to carry an extremely high volume in a small area,” explains Mastromatteo. “We’re getting maximum results for the amount of space alloted. And because the modular channels are cheap and replaceable, we can keep overhead low.”

Best’s Oxford Valley, Pa., showroom features a horseshoe shaped watch department. To the left are the ladies’ watches, starting with high-end Seikos followed by other dress and sport lines. On the right side are men’s dress, sport and digital models, with character and specialty watches in the center. Best also likes to differentiate by single or two-tone colors. “We look at it from the customer’s point to view,” says Mastromatteo. “A shopper will come in knowing she wants a dress watch with a white strap. So we try to segregate it for convenience sake. This makes it easier for the sales clerk to handle different customers’ needs and not get tied down with just one.”

Colorful, cluttered Bernie Robbins is hemmed into one eighth the space of an average Best Products outlet because of its center city Philadelphia location. Jewelry is displayed in front showcases, withwatches to the rear. “We’d prefer to have the watches up front, too,” concedes jewelry manager/buyer Bob Rovins, “but there simply isn’t room. Jewelry has no chance of selling from the back, while watches have some chance. But it’s still not ideal.”

So just like the big guys, family-owned Bernie Robbins also is contemplating a remodeling job. “We wouldn’t want to create a Tiffany-type ‘crystal chandelier’ image that’s too posh,” says Rovins. “We’re after a neat, functional decor–not exceptionally elegant, but not drab or uninteresting either–something bright and attractive.”

If Bernie Robbins is too small for maximum watch selling efficiency, other catalogers think their department and discount store-sized outlets may be too big. While huge 60,000 to 80,000-sq.-ft. showroom emporiums abound, major chains like Best and Service Merchandise have been experimenting with much smaller outlets. Such scaled-down stores now are threatening retail jewelry shops in their last bastions of watch profitability: Small town America. Besides reducing overhead and more easily fitting into secondary markets whose demographics support lower volume, mini-showrooms offer customers a classier, more intimate place to shop. Consumers Distributing outlets, for example, average about 2500 sq. ft. Ironically, unlike other giant chains, Consumers considers its tiny showrooms more akin to neighborhood convenience stores than region-wide bargain centers. “We almost look upon ourselves as the 7/11 of the catalog showroom business,” Rubinoff quips. Suburban watch wars

A related trend is the recent rush of catalog chains into suburban (and urban) shopping malls. Now that restrictive lease clauses which had kept them out have been declared illegal, catalogers at last are going toe-to-toe with mass merchandisers, department stores and retail jewelry shops for the heavy walk-in watch business generated by mall traffic. This has aggravated an already worseningwatch selling problem among mall jewelers.

These retailers get little respect from the catalog companies. “Most jewelers are just walk-in trade,” says Consumers’ Mike Statlend. “Only the larger chain jewelers like Zale are as promotion-minded as we are…especially in watches.”

Catalogers consider their main rivals to be other catalog showrooms, discount outlets and department stores. They agree that department stores in particular have been getting sharper and sharper in merchandising and promoting watches. Bob Rovins of Philadelphia’s Bernie Robbins notes that over the past two holiday seasons, Bambergers, John Wanamakers and Gimbels all have been giving local catalog outfits a run for their money with 20% to 25% discounts on Seikos and other name brand watches. “Wanamakers even gave a 20% sale on all their watches last Christmas,” Rovins recalls. Advertising and promotion

The catalog itself is the main promotional vehicle used by most showroom operators. Mailing lists initially are based on zip codes within the market area of each showroom, then refined year by year as outlets build steady customers. Bernie Robbins’ list contains about 35,000 people. “All are active customers,” stresses Bob Rovins. “We try to update the list rather than just expand it.” Some fall catalog mailings may reach six to ten million households nationwide.

Catalogs are effective because they play up the promise of bargain prices to the hilt. Each of the thousands of pictured items is described with two prices: Alist or manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and the cataloger’s discounted price. Catalogers say they never raise discounted watch prices unless there’s some unavoidable supply problem or a sharp increase in the precious metals market. “A customer can do her Christmas shopping and feel comfortable that prices and styles in our catalog will be the same throughout the year,” says Best’s Mike Mastromatteo.

Prices on a catalog’s many “sale” items are further slashed during special promotional periods. Nearly every cataloger uses direct mail or newspaper insert flyers at these times. For one, Consumers sends out 14 flyers a year plus four newspaper inserts during key events like Valentinehs Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and the changing seasons,

Some flyers further sweeten a watch sale with special giveaways such as a free bottle of Jordache cologne. Flyers also are circulated to announce new styles that have come out after the catalog is mailed. Vendors like flyers because they offer full-color treatment rather than just the black and white exposure of newsprint ads.

According to NACSM executive director Mike Goldstein, “catalog companies are relying more and more on flyers because of the volatility of the current marketplace.” Gordon Jewelry Corp. has dispensed with catalogs altogether, relying totally on 37 flyers a year. “This gives us the flexibility to add new styles and models on a continuous basis,” says catalog division executive vice president Irv Robbins. He notes that Gordon was the first chain to go into “a series of catalogs published in color and distributed by newspaper insert on a consistent basis.”

At the height of the holiday season, Best and other major companies also do some conventional newspaper advertising. Consumers launched its first TV ad campaign last fall in the New york and San Francisco metro areas. More than 1000 spots running from mid-October to Christmas featured actress Shirley Jones whose shop-at-home pitch was, “I’ve become attached to Consumers.”

Gordon likewise has done a small amount of radio and TV. And even little Bernie Robbins has tried radio advertising, though with limited results. “In the Philadelphia market,” says Bob Rovins, “it’s virtually impossible for one outlet to run any significant TV or newspaper ads.

“Then again, because we’re isolated, I don’t have to react in a large way. What we do is promote heavily with flyers four to six times a year with even sharper prices than usual.” Service

cultivating an image of quality service is another way catalogers lure customers in. Best Products, for example, will replace a defective watch on the spot within 60 days of purchase so long as there’s no evidence of abuse. Further, if a time-piece falls within a manufacturer’s one-year warranty period, Best will assume all responsibility for getting it repaired. All a customer has to do is bring it back to the store.

Like most cost-conscious catalog chains, Best makes no provision for on-premises watch repair. It does, however, replace straps and batteries (carrying a wide selection of Speidel and Ray-O-Vac products). But smaller showrooms don’t usually handle such services. “We want to offer the services of a retail jeweler, but on a more limited level to keep overhead…and prices down,” says Consumers senior watch buyer Mike Statlend. “It’s too expensive to hire someone just to handle batteries and bands.” By constrast, Gordon Jewelers does employ watch specialists wherever it can (there are even on-premises benchworkers in a few outlets).

While most showrooms are set-up to allow self-service shopping, catalogers encourage personal sales contact. “The sight of a salesperson behind the counter causes customers to gravitate over and ask questions,” notes Consumers’ Statlend. “And that gives us a better chance to make a sale.”

Catalog showroom operators are well aware that many watch shoppers still go to retail jewelry stores believing that sales personnel there are more experienced and knowledgeable than anywhere else. Each showroom chain thus has been resorting to intensive sales training to close this sales “credibility gap.” For instance, all new Best employes go through a six to eight hour basic orientation followed by more advanced product knowledge instruction. Then they receive several days of on-the-job training from seasoned sales “counselors” before being allowed to sell on their own. Later on, sales personnel take Best’s basic jewelry course, much of which concerns watchrepair and operation.

For its part, Consumers utilizes a variety of educational aids, such as a schematic “planogram” showing exactly where each piece of inventory goes; vendor fact sheets explaining watch features and functions, and audio/visual materials. There also are annual catalog meetings, periodic sales training sessions and product knowledge seminars for the entire sales staff. Last year Consumers put on a jewelry show–a kind of “mini-JA”–for its salespeople, giving them a chance to talk one-to-one with vendor reps. District managers also visit each store weekly to assist staff and monitor sales performance. “Our salespeople may not be as qualified as the proprietors of a Mom and Pop store who do all their own buying,” says Mike Statlend. “But they’re certainly as good as Littman, Zale, Gordon and other chain jewelry personnel.”

Gordon executive v.p. Irv Robbins asserts that catalog showroom sales staff often are more efficient than their retail store counterparts simply because they’re busier. “The greater traffic through our showroom watch departments allows the staff to turn more sales dollars per person,” he says.

Best Products’ Mike Mastromatteo sums it up: “It’s a fallacy that catalog showrooms are inferior in product or service,” he declares. “I suppose that’s a myth retail jewelers need to hang on to.” World’s first true quartz chronographs

Heuer Time and Electronics Corp., Springfield, N.J., introduced what it terms the world’s first true analog quartz chronographs: The Chrono-quartz 2000 Series. Available in more than 10 models, the chronographs, along with 30 other styles in the 2000 series, feature a unique single stepping quartz motor that controls all watch and chronograph functions.

Chronographs are water-resistant to 660 feet, with specially sealed hardened mineral glass. Each combines a watch with hours, minutes, small second-hand and date and a chronograph with sweep-second hand and separate dials for 30-minute and 12-hour registers.

Two push-buttons control all functions. Easy-to-read luminescent markers are standard equipment. Battery life is at least three years. Units are thinner (only 10 mm) than any sports watches Heuer has ever produced.

Chrono styles include all-stainless steel, anodized finish, and champagne dial with two-tone stainless steel/gold plate band. There’s a choice of precision turning bezels with click stops or fixed fancy bezels. Non-chrono models in the 2000 series also are available in a choice of colors with a wide range of two-tone combinations. Bracelet choices include specially water-proofed leather in a variety of colors.

Like all Heuer products, 2000 series models carry one-year limited warranties. Service is available at authorized Heuer centers in 110 countries. Contact Heuer Time & Electronics Corp., 960 S. Springfield Ave., Springfield, N.J. 07081; (201) 467-1890. Pulsar introduces solar watch & alarm

Pulsar Time Inc. celebrated its fifth birthday with two new watches. One is its first battery-free solar powered quartz analog. The other is the “One-Step Alarm.”

the light-powered solar model, yet to be named, will be marketed this fall. It employs a mechanical photokinetic system which charges a miniature condenser and stores the energy needed to power the analog motor. The condenser has a storage capacity of 48 hours, and signals automatically when the energy supply is low.

The watch was developed at Pulsar’s research and engineering facilities in Japan. It will retail at between $100 and $200.

pulsar, a division of Hattori corp. of America (formerly Seiko Corp. of America), will present the One-Step Alarm this spring. Seven styles will retail between $100 and $145. The watch has a single crown control which sets all timing functions including time, calendar and chime-type alarm.

Pulsar sold more than 1,650,000 watches in 1983. The major markets were departments stores, with 60% of total units, and independent jewelers, with 26% of sales. The company continued its policy of not selling to discount stores or through catalogs. Ricoh lost less

Ricoh Watch Co.’s pre-tax loss for its fiscal year which ended last November decreased by a little less than Y1.4 billion ($6 million) from the preceding year to aroung Y100 million ($420,000). The improved showing came as the firm scored a pre-tax gain in the second half for the first time in 5-1/2 years.

The profit advance stemmed largly from the streamlined operations of the defict-ridden watchdivision and the steady growth in production of office automation (OA) equipment consigned by its parent firm, Ricoh Co.

Ricoh Watch expects its sales in the current fiscal year ending November 1984 to rise 5%, year-to-year, thanks to an anticipated sharp gain in OA equipment sales. Girard Perregaux plans to cut fat

Urs Rudolph, president of Girard Perregaux S.A., La Chaux de Fond, Switzerland, announced plans to streamline GPhs U.S. operations to cut costs and increase its effectiveness.

Girard Perregaux will consolidate its sales, advertising and distribution efforts internationally. It plans to integrate the U.S. subdiary into its Rudolph-Desco Co. Inc. affiliate to capitalize on existing management.

Rudolph became president on the departure of Gerry Hansen, president of Girrard Perregaux Corp., who stepped aside to pursue other interests. Michael simond will act as general manager of the existing Girard Perregaux offices at 610 Fifth Ave., New York. Alba Astrovoice tells time-in Japanese

New from Japanj is Seiko’s “Alba Astrovoice” wristwatch which announces the time (in Japanese) in synthesized female tones at the push of a button. The watch has neither hands nor digital display to confirm its poken time-checks visually. Further button-pushing sets an alarm or alters the timing, again with spoken acknowledgement. the “time only” version costs Y9800 ($42); the model with additional date-declaring capability–designed primarily with blind users in mind is Y15,000 ($64).

Alba also offers a stop watch that simultaneously can record elapsed, lap and total times and print out the data via a detachable printer. There are two models (one for sports, the other for industrial use), each priced at Y32,000 ($137) including printer and case.

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Bulova building keeps up with the times

The watchmaker’s former workplace becomes the state-of-the-art Bulova Corporate Center

The $40 million renovation of Bulova Watch Corp.’s former manufacturing and executive facility was prompted, in large part, by the building’s sizable girth. Due to a usable floor area encompassing more than 7-1/2 acres, New York-based Blumenfeld Development Group (BDG) saw the structure’s potential to become the modern multi-tenant office facility known as Bulova Corporate Center.

Located just outside Manhattan in Queens, N.Y., the Bulova Building was the centerpiece of the timepiece manufacturer’s worldwide operation from 1953 to 1985. Conceived by company founder Arde Bulova, it serviced more than 3,500 employees and featured a cafeteria, two executive dining rooms and a medical department, as well as laundry and carpentry facilities. It also had a manufacturing floor larger than Yankee Stadium’s playing field.

These Ruthian dimensions were one reason BDG paid approximately $25 million for the property in 1984, when Bulova decided to move its operations to smaller facilities. Other pluses noted by the developer were the building’s commanding view of the New York City skyline, its electric power capacity and expansive floor-to-ceiling height.

But however impressed BDG was with the building, once the transaction was complete, it initiated plans for improvement. Completed in November 1988, the expansion/renovation was predominantly designed by New York City-based architect Leonard Colchimaro & Associates. According to firm president Colchimaro, the construction of a 50-ft. by 250-ft. atrium was a major element of the project. “There was a considerable amount of structural work relating to the atrium area,” he said.

The building’s original configuration consisted of a three,level office portion, which dropped to two stories in the rear manufacturing area. To create the atrium opening, the renovation team punched through the roof of the two-level component. “We had to remove quite a few existing columns and also reinforce the opening around where we cut through the concrete slab between the two floors,” Colchimaro said.

The atrium’s trussed skylight was carried 75 feet upward to cap a newly created rear third floor, which extends from the top floor of the building’s front portion. This process raised the former manufacturing area to three levels, with the interior of each facing onto the atrium.

Referring to the building’s former three-floor to two-floor form, Colchimaro said the added rear level effectively “completed the box.” It also established 100,000 square feet of additional floor space, for a total of 480,000 square feet.

With the building’s rear facade now rising to the same height as the front, a new 75-ft. by 50-ft. back entrance was constructed to allow easier access to employee parking, located behind the center. This entrance opens into the atrium, the building’s visual focal point and employee gathering place.

Featuring a winding “river,” fountains and foliage, the atrium is a garden-like park designed as a circulation center. It also includes a combination cafeteria, dining room and bar called the “10:10 Club.” Designed by French architect Jean-Pierre Heim of tissot watch, the restaurant’s character is determined by a time motif, in reference to the building’s previous owner. Decor includes a circular watch-like bar, and wall clocks indicating the current hour in various cities and time zones around the world.

Diverse time periods are also detected in the juxtaposition of contemporary and classic art throughout the facility. Through an agreement between BDG and the Queens Museum, the building serves as an informal art gallery and permanent home to several restored statues. These stand alongside modern works compiled by interior design consultant Susan Blumenthal, creating a collage-like presentation of old and new art.

Also, some artwork featured in the original interior was retained and restored. Most notable is a wall mural in the Art Deco-styled entrance lobby depicting the historical development of timepieces. According to Blumenthal, “We tried to create a warm environment where we could display art in a casual way and make people comfortable. “

This focus on tenant needs is one reason the building succeeds. Indeed, the center makes a functional link with the past by adhering to Arde Bulova’s original conception of a working environment with many in-house amenities. Among the building’s features are a 150-seat conference center, a mini-mall of convenience stores and a complete gym, including a swimming pool.

Bulova Corporate Center’s success is seen in the signing of tenants such as British Airways and Trump Shuttle, both of which seemed attracted to a 37-year-old building in sync with the modern workplace.

  Project Summary

           Bulova Corpora.te Center

  General information

  Architect: Leonard Colchamiro Architects &

    Planners

  Structural engineer: Chester & Chester Structural

    Engineer

  Mechanical engineer: Barbanel & Associates

  General contractor: Blumenfeld Development

    Group

  Total sq. ft.: 480,000

  Construction time: April 1986 to Nov. 1988

  Number of floors: 3

  Construction cost: $40 million

  Project suppliers

  Life safety/security systems: Crown Fire Protection

  Heating and air conditioning: Trane

  Power delivery: Westinghouse; Bulldog; Pringle

  Windows: Active Storefront

  Skylights: Fisher Skylights Inc.

  Elevators: National Elevator/Veils Elevator Cab

  Doors:  Bilt-Rite

  Roof system: W.R. Grace

  Plastic laminate: Formica

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Local Costs Increased A Slight 0.2% in March

Consumer prices in New York and northeastern New Jersey rose two- tenths of 1 percent in March, less than the nationwide increase of five-tenths of 1 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said yesterday.

Samuel M. Ehrenhalt, the regional commissioner of the bureau, said that the rise of two-tenths of 1 percent in the Consumer Price Index on a non-seasonally adjusted basis was ”a very moderate rate of increase; overall inflation is still very much in check.”

The increase in prices in the region – which was four-tenths of 1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis – was caused primarily by a sharp 1.1 percent upturn in gasoline prices, the first in six months, according to Mr. Ehrenhalt. Food and beverage prices rose three-tenths of 1 percent for the month, largely because of an increase of four-tenths of 1 percent in grocery store prices.

3.7 Percent Rise in a Year

Last month’s rise compared with an increase of six-tenths of 1 percent in February. For the last 12 months, prices have increased 3.7 percent in the region, which includes five New York counties outside New York City and eight counties in New Jersey.

The Government said that it cost $31.09 in March to buy goods that cost $10 in 1967.

”There were a number of areas of improvement in March, but it was not all peaches and cream,” Mr. Ehrenhalt said.

He noted that prices for produce did not increase as fast last month as they had in February and that prices were lower for furniture, household appliances and linens. Homeowner costs were down slightly, but renters’ costs were up two-tenths of 1 percent. Women’s apparel prices were up a sharp 4.7 percent last month, and footwear was up 2.6 percent.

Energy Prices Increase

Overall energy prices were up six- tenths of 1 percent, mostly because of the increase in gasoline prices. Prices of natural gas increased 1.4 percent, while electricity charges were stable and fuel oil prices, reflecting the end of the winter heating season, were three-tenths of 1 percent lower.

Medical care prices were up four- tenths of 1 percent, with prescription drugs, physicians’ fees and health-insurance premiums all increasing. Public transportation was up 1.2 percent as airline fares increased. The rise in gasoline prices sent private transportation costs up despite drops in auto finance charges brought on by lower interest rates.

Among the food groups, the index for meat, poultry and fish was down slightly, and dairy products were cheaper by one-half of 1 percent. Cereals and bakery products rose one- half of 1 percent, as did the price of alcoholic beverages. Food eaten away from the home was up slightly, and entertainment costs were nine-tenths of 1 percent higher.

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New Style For Anne

“See My Claude?” says Anne Murray, on a first-name basis with a dark brown Montana coat. “I throw it there just to . . . ,” she continues in mock- cavalier tones that suffice to finish the sentence and suggest another chapter in the career of Canada’s biggest star.

Flung casually on their separate chairs, Murray and her coat are in the Toronto offices of Balmur Ltd., her management company, and for a conversation about hair, clothes and makeup, she is poised at her most charming which is to say her most sassy.

The night before, she had been to Ottawa to be honored as a Companion of the Order of Canada. “It was a real fun time,” to which Murray had worn a real simple silver column of a gown with matching, big- shouldered jacket accessorized by sapphires and diamonds. Iona Monahan, who was also in Ottawa, named to the Order of Canada as one of the country’s most authoritative fashion journalists, declares that there was no one there more fashionably attired than Murray. “She looked good, and she looked right.” Perhaps not since 1968, when a reporter in Springhill, N.S., paused in a review of a hometown performance to notice her “glamorous, shiny hostess gown in the Mandarin style,” has Murray’s attire enjoyed such favorable regard. Over the years, as she proceeded down her prize-strewn path, first, in bare feet, now sometimes in Maud Frizon pumps, Murray has frequently, in her choice of costume, left people wondering, “Where did she get that?” Today, the question is more real than rhetorical. And Murray provides at least part of the answer when she speaks of “the big shop.” “It started in Boston, but that was nothing like the dent I put in the card here in Toronto. Oh my goodness, I went crazy. They were real glad to see me in Hazelton Lanes, I’ll tell you.” Lest she seem like an entirely material girl, Murray adopts a hayseed’s accent to outline this recent splurge, but the pleasure she now takes in clothes is not pretence. Nor does it really have much to do with the actual articles of dress. It is an attitude. “I mean, I don’t dwell on clothes, you know. I’d prefer to put on a T-shirt and shorts, but I love to look nice, and when I go out, I do. . . . I’m not nearly so self- conscious as I used to be.” Not by a long shot. Asked for an inventory of what she has on, Murray is quick to her feet. She stands back-first while her fingers turn down the waistband of her black, crinkled leather trousers, to reveal the label. These were designed by Pablo and made in France. The purple sweater, featuring the emphatic shoulders that are a symbol of what her manager, Leonard Rambeau, likes to call “a more contemporary look,” is by Judit of Toronto. Her black leather athletic shoes are Reeboks, of which she also has pairs in grey, white, blue and pink.

While she’s obviously grown bolder in practising the art of self- presentation, Murray is shy of taking full credit for what she wears. “I don’t know enough about clothes to be put in charge of them. Not for one second do I know enough about them to be put in charge. That’s why I have Lee, and he helps me buys these things and put them all together.” Lee is Lee Kinoshita-Bevington, who a year ago replaced Juul Haalmeyer as designer of Murray’s stage outfits and personal shopping aide. Although Murray knows who Claude Montana is, she does not particularly care. “I just know that that’s the most wonderful coat I’ve ever seen.” Thus, it is Kinoshita- Bevington who can tell you that the coral suede, oversized, suspendered trousers that Murray wore to the taping of Tears Are Not Enough (the Canadians- for-Ethiopia single) is by New York designer Alicia Herrera; that the plaid, likewise suspendered, outfit that she wore on her most recent television special was from Hyper Hyper, an emporium devoted to young London designers; that in her cupboards there are several Anne Klein garments and lots by Saint Laurent.

In fact, questioned about what is is like to wear Saint Laurent, Murray offers a perfunctory, “Wonderful,” and rushes into a discussion of her Bogner stretch cords and how well they fit, “because I don’t have any hips, and I got a bum.” Murray’s basic indifference to the heights of fashion is something she says she came by honestly, inherited from her father, “the kind of person who kept things for years and years and years.” Of a snazzier stripe is her mother; and, as a child, Murray drove her crazy with her refusal to dress in dresses. Murray still has nightmares about being made ready for school, and her memories of her first dance and the red velvet frock it required are of awkwardness and discomfort.

Since then, the tables have somewhat turned. Murray, who wears heels – “when I have to” – regards it as something of a triumph to have in the last couple of years sold her mother on the joys of flat footwear. And there is something like vindication in her voice when she tells of a conversation in Ottawa the night before. “I talked to an orthopedic surgeon – he was being honored too – and he looked at my feet, and he said, ‘Now, those are sensible shoes.’ And I said, ‘All my shoes are sensible.’ And he said, ‘You know, that most times if you take a woman’s foot out of her shoe, her foot is twice as wide as her shoe, and that’s not natural.’ And I said, ‘Boy, I agree with that.’ ” Despite her taste for naturalism, Murray, when asked to cite a woman whose style she admires, names Raquel Welch, paying tribute to her physique and panache. Pinching her fingers together, she enthuses about an awards program at which Welch showed up “with her hair that long all over.” Having foregone the car-pool-mama, semi-bouffant bob that in the late seventies succeeded a curly perm, Murray is wearing her hair short at the sides and swept sleekly, almost sassily, back. In a flash, though, she would follow Welch’s cropped example. “I’d love to have my hair that short, are you kidding?” Why not? “Leonard would not allow it, I mean, it just doesn’t look as good.” A man with pronounced notions of what looks good and what doesn’t, Leonard Rambeau, Balmur’s president, laughs and responds to this by saying, “Anne’s idea of real short is for going to the beaches at Pugwash. I think under the lights, it’s a different thing.” Ever conscious of image, he nonetheless allows that a different do might be appropriate in connection with Murray’s next album, to be recorded in the summer and to mark a new musical direction. Typical of Rambeau’s deliberateness is his refusal to divulge any details of what Murray will be wearing on the stage of the O’Keefe Centre when she appears there in early May. He would prefer to let that be a surprise.

In the past, Murray’s informal, candid, irreverent nature has sometimes been impinged upon by apparent attempts to groom her for the middle-of- the- road marketplace. But, just as nervy as nice, Murray says that her current fondness for leather and dramatic shoulder lines does not derive from any effort to please an audience but is all of of her own volition. Kinoshita-Bevington agrees, points to a new confidence, and says, “What she wears in her private life is coming more and more on stage. She’s very relaxed in how she wears the clothes.” Just how relaxed is perhaps best illustrated by Murray’s reaction to the newly fashionable short skirts. Kinoshita-Bevington points out that already in her wardrobe are garments cut anywhere from two to six inches above the knee. Says Murray, “Hopefully, now he’s going to get into more short things,” adding that past designers have been mistaken in thinking that she would not go for such revelation. “I mean, I have good legs.

There’s no reason why I shouldn’t show them.”

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Fate of Japan’s politicians woven into web of trade curbs

Nothing better illustrates the worst of Japanese trade policy than a tale of two cherries.

One is grown in the United States, where, after a laborious series of tests, producers persuaded Japanese authorities that they could fumigate the fruit at 10 degrees Celsius instead of 17 degrees and get rid of the bugs just as well.

The lower temperature kept the cherries fresher, and producers in British Columbia, who only managed to get into the Japanese market in 1982, decided to follow suit.

Not so fast, said the Japanese Government. Before Japanese consumers could be exposed to such potential health dangers, Canada would have to prove that the process was safe when carried out on Canadian soil with Canadian cherries.

The federal Department of Agriculture is now conducting a year-long program at a B.C. laboratory, infesting trees with moths, waiting for the fruit to ripen and then fumigating it to prove that the bugs still die. If all goes well, the results will be sent to the Japanese Government by Christmas and then on to public hearings in Japan.

All this will allow the process to be used only on the specific varieties of fruit tested, and only on those grown in British Columbia. If Ontario growers want to sell to Japan, they will have to repeat the tests.

It is measures like this that have politicians in other countries taking pot shots at a rich market that seems to shake off the rain of imports better than a well-fed mallard.

Some of the shots, though, are coming too close for comfort, and Japan is scrambling to find ways of deflecting the criticism. But Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s unprecedented television appeal to consumers to buy more imports – and the market-opening package that went with it – largely ignored products that might cause political trouble at home.

Canadian politicians use quotas and other restraints to protect the jobs and votes of textile workers in Quebec and auto workers in Ontario. Japanese politicians do the same thing. They just do it better.

Japanese farmers are perhaps the best protected in the world, because rural ridings are vastly over-represented in the Diet and their support has been crucial to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose electoral record rivals that of the Ontario Conservatives.

Asking Mr. Nakasone to abandon his farmers is akin to expecting Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to drop all quotas on textiles, clothing and footwear and declare Canada unilingual English to boot. Fences for the farmers will not be torn down until urban consumers get fed up with $60 melons.

The degree of protection depends on the product. Japanese fleets catch plenty of fish, and imports are subject to quotas. Farmers do not grow any wheat and Canadian exports do nicely.

In forest products, Japan buys pulp, but uses it to make most of its own paper. A Canadian lumber marketing program to promote North American building methods is paying off, if only because they help to bring Japanese housing costs down from almost impossible to merely astronomical.

But plywood producers face a brick wall around their 700 Japanese competitors. First, there is a 15 per cent import duty, enough on its own to price most Canadian production out of the market.

Then, imports must get the Japan Agricultural Standards stamp of approval, and the inspections and laboratory testing cannot be done until the plywood arrives in Japan. If the samples tested do not measure up, the entire shipment is turned away. ”t’s not the time, it’s just the hassle. It’s typical of many procedures in Japan that they’re masters at,” said Kenneth McKeen, director of lumber and shingles at the Council of Forest Industries in Vancouver.

Manufactured products face different barriers. In most cases, import duties are low and no quotas exist, but many other factors make it expensive and time-consuming to win Japanese customers.

In the auto parts sector, for instance, the Canadian industry has virtually given up hope of making large-scale deals with Japanese auto makers, said Patrick Lavelle, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association of Canada.

The distance makes it expensive to ship products and difficult to meet the needs of the Japanese just-in-time inventory system. Long-standing relationships with existing suppliers pose a major obstacle to newcomers. Winning long-term business usually means accepting low-volume contracts at first and these cannot be profitable in themselves.

Canadian companies must also cater to the Japanese obsession with quality, and that leads to the bottom line: Stringent quality control, long distances, a weak yen and low volumes make it all but impossible to price competitively.

Canadian telecommunications companies, which are world leaders, have higher hopes, and state- owned Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp.

is gradually being sold to the private sector.

Northern Telecom Ltd. of Mississauga, Ont., has been able to land some business and is looking for more. But it can afford to spend $6- million a year while cultivating the market. Also, because its Japanese operations are a subsidiary of its U.S. unit, it gets diplomatic backing from both the United States and Canada.

Smaller companies are having a tougher time, and Canadian trade officials believe Japan is still protecting its own. For instance, Japan is not planning to add digital switching to the public telephone network until 1990, by which time Japanese products should be able to match what Canada could supply now.

One official summed up Japanese import policy this way: ”f they need it, it gets in. If they don’t, it doesn’t.”

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It’s a long, slippery road to better women’s shoes

“I’m spending a lot of money on golf carts because I can’t walk around the golf course,” says Mrs. George, an avid golfer who lives in Mississauga.

She blames both falls on the shoes she was wearing – in particular, the thin disc of plastic at the bottom of the heels. Shoemakers call this the “lift.”

Although the heel lifts on women’s best dress shoes plantar fasciitis used to be made of rubber, most manufacturers and importers have now switched to synthetics, which are harder and more durable.

“The lifts on women’s shoes are like tires on a car – they have to withstand a tremendous pressure and a large amount of wear,” says Ross Campbell, president of Continental Heel Ltd. in Waterloo, which makes polyurethane lifts for shoe manufacturers and shoe repair stores.

“Rubber, unless it’s extremely hard, won’t last. But the harder the material, the more slippery it is, especially on hard surfaces.”

The heels on many women’s shoes today are narrow, much like the stiletto heels of the 1950s. The tip is often no bigger than a dime.

“A rubber lift would only last from here to across the street,” says Martin Kerpel, technical director of Moneysworth & Best, a shoe repair chain which uses heel lifts made from polyurethane mixed with a small amount of rubber. The rubber gives resiliency, the polyurethane durability.

Mr. Kerpel says many manufacturers use cheap plastic lifts, which turn rigid in cold weather. He has seen good imported shoes with plastic lifts hard enough to give women a jolt every time they take a step.

Shoe repair stores charge $3 to $5.50 for heel lifts, but say they use a better-quality material than the original. Some women so strongly agree that they immediately replace the lifts on every pair of best walking shoes for bunions they buy.

The hardness of women’s heel lifts is a concern to shoe retailers, who often hear from customers about it.

“This has been a chronic problem,” says Francois Geissel, international research and development manager for Bata Shoe Stores. “At this stage, there is no perfect material that has a soft rubbery feel but lasts for a long time.”

Jack Shand, president of the Canadian Shoe Retailers Association, says the question of women’s heel lifts comes up at each annual convention.

“Retailers are probably just as frustrated as consumers,” says Mr. Shand. “We have asked manufacturers and importers to put better lifts on women’s shoes; we have insisted, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”

At least 60 per cent of women’s shoes sold in Canada are imported, he points out.

After an investigation several years ago, Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada concluded there was not enough data to justify regulation of women’s shoes under the Hazardous Products Act.

“There definitely is an issue there and we’re monitoring it,” said product safety spokesman Georges Desbarats.

This isn’t good enough for Yvonne George, who is urging Consumer and Corporate Affairs and her MP to make shoe manufacturers change their materials.

“It’s not right to put the onus on customers to examine the heels of the shoes they are buying,” she says. “Innocent people like me will not know they should make this examination until they have had one or two falls.”

“I am not a young person and I could have easily broken a hip. I was lucky not to do so, but I did suffer pain and considerable inconvenience through no fault of my own.

“At the rate I am falling, I will wear out before the lift does.”

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Machine Age

Research sheds light on how and why operators will upgrade kitchens with the latest equipment and supplies in 2007.

Chef-owner Joe Truex no longer needs to blanch vegetables the old-fashioned way at Repast, his year-old American bistro in Atlanta. In a fraction of the time, he can steam them in a perforated pan, shock them with ice and spray them down with cold water with a single piece of equipment: a programmable combination oven with seven distinct cooking modes.

The state-of-the-art device tackles three of Truex’s top operational priorities: It saves time, occupies a relatively small footprint in the kitchen and handles an impressive array of products–from lamb shanks braised overnight to steamed bread pudding and pâte heated in equal parts steam and dry heat.

“These ovens have an infinite number of possibilities with the cooking process, and that’s my edge,” Truex says.

From high-tech appliances to smaller, specialized tools, equipment that breeds efficiency, safety and great-tasting food lies at the core of all well-run kitchens. Budgets for such equipment and supplies are expected to increase for more than one-third of foodservice operators in the year ahead, while only 14% anticipate a decline, according to the 2007 Industry Forecast Operator Report from Foodservice Equipment & Supplies (FE&S ), an R&I sister publication.

How operators plan to allocate these resources–as well as the individual interests and considerations behind such crucial purchasing decisions–are explored in depth in this exclusive FE&S research, conducted in October 2006 with 666 operators to examine a process essential to the advancement of any business.

Why They Buy

While nearly half of those boosting purchasing budgets in 2007 cite the need to replace old or broken machines as the main factor, 16% attribute the increase to planned restaurant renovations and remodels, a strong signal that the industry continues to move forward and revitalize.

Other top factors driving budget increases are rising costs for food, equipment and energy or inflation in general (14%); the need to purchase additional or new equipment to keep up with trends or customer demands (11%); and adding new operations or locations (10%).

Overall, a plurality of operators, 32%, will spend significant resources–more than $200,000–on equipment and supplies over the next 12 months. This figure rises to 45% for chains versus 24% for independents and to 35% for noncommercial respondents compared with 30% of commercial operators.

About one-fifth of total respondents will spend between $20,000 and $50,000, and 12% will spend between $50,000 and $100,000, according to the FE&S report.

Though budget almost always is a factor, Corporate Executive Chef Christian Fischer of Woodbury, N.Y.-based contractor Lackmann Culinary Services says price doesn’t rank among his highest concerns when selecting equipment for business-and-industry and college/university accounts.

“I look at space, speed and versatility. If I can buy a piece of equipment that gives me four different choices of how to prepare food and it eliminates three other pieces of equipment, then cost isn’t really an issue,” he says.

Nevertheless, the FE&S report reveals that price is indeed the No. 1 influence in buying decisions, with the majority of operators, 62%, ranking it among their top two concerns (outside of energy efficiency; see chart above). Significantly more noncommercial operators, 71%, say cost is a key consideration, compared to 55% of commercial respondents.

Nearly half of operators list perceived quality as the next-most-important influence on purchases, while the ability to increase production volume, their experience with the manufacturer, and relationships with specific dealers round out the top five.

Other factors guiding equipment choices relate to operators’ individual needs. Matt Morgan, foodservice director for the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, looks for options that will reduce labor needs and not only increase production, but also keep productivity ahead of where it needs to be currently so he can be prepared for the district’s continued growth.

“It comes down to creating efficiencies,” he says. “There’s a return on investment there. If I can reduce my labor requirements by 40% and increase my capacity by 75%, I’ll do it.”

Chef-owner Michael Castell finds different reasons to appreciate the favored equipment in his kitchen at Bistro Toulouse in Houston. An upright broiler, for example, meets two important needs by positioning a finishing oven directly over the broiler drawer. Having both pieces in one place creates less crossover traffic, and the oven’s height allows Castell to finish items such as his signature Creole Crawfish Cakes without having to bend down repeatedly.

“The first things to go on chefs are their backs or their knees,” he notes.

Menu-Driven Decisions

Some chefs find that keeping their menus current can require an upfront investment in equipment.

At one sixty blue in Chicago, Executive Chef Martial Noguier budgeted for a bain-marie and circulator to prepare meat, fish and vegetables sous vide for his menu. “When you braise, the meat is very good. But using sous vide is better because you keep the flavor in the bag and the product becomes very tender,” he explains.

Noguier isn’t alone when it comes to investing in equipment as a means to bring new menu items to the table. Nearly 40% of FE&S respondents say they plan to purchase equipment in 2007 as a result of a new menu item.

Roasted, toasted and grilled menu items have driven operators to budget for new ovens, combination ovens, grills and toasters. Ovens are especially in demand in the QSR segment where nearly half of QSR respondents will purchase ovens and toasters due to menu additions. In addition, convenience still remains an important consideration in menu-driven equipment sales. Forty-five percent of FE&S respondents say they will buy a microwave oven this year and 40% will purchase a food processor.

Don’t Stop the Presses

There’s one piece of equipment that combines the trend toward toasting as well as the need for speed. In response to the continuing popularity of pressed panini sandwiches in all segments, more than one-third (34%) of survey respondents will purchase the best panini press this year.

At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Associate Director and Executive Chef Ken Cardone endorses the equipment as a healthful way to grill hot sandwiches without adding additional fat. And while healthy is one side of the picture, another is convenience. At busy campus restaurant The Greenhouse, Harvard University Dining Services grills its quesanini, a hybrid quesadilla and panini sandwich, in its panini press. The equipment allows for the preparation of a hot, handheld meal that also keeps up with Harvard’s lunch rush.

Beverage programs are also driving operators to invest in new equipment. When Beaverton, Ore.-based Shari’s Restaurant & Pie Bakery upgraded coffee, it did more than purchase a better bean. The 98-unit chain installed new brewing systems with insulated urns to keep coffee hot without scalding it. It also purchased insulated carafes to improve coffee service.

Like Shari’s, other operators are investing in their beverage programs. On average, a quarter of the operators surveyed plan to purchase new coffee brewers in 2007. Beverage blenders are even more in demand, with nearly a third of FE&S respondents (32%) looking to purchase them in 2007. Beverage-equipment interest is more significant for commercial foodservice operations, particularly with independents, 40% of whom plan to invest in a beverage blender.

While blenders may boost beverage sales, Executive Chef Rachel Klein of Om Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., would like more blending gadgets for her kitchen. “I really want to get the new handheld blender with temperature control. You can emulsify sauces and it heats up the food you’re working with,” she says, thus saving time and burner space. She’d also like to look into purchasing a food-processing system that freezes ice cream bases faster than an ice cream maker, but is currently limited by the space in her kitchen.

While lack of space can limit equipment purchases, remodeling projects and new construction give some operators a venue to try out gear. In 2006, more than a third of equipment purchased by FE&S respondents was destined for renovation and new construction projects. Cypress-Fairbanks’ recent expansion of its central production facility added 10,000 square feet of production space, allowing Morgan to double his cook-chill capacity and increase cold storage to keep up with the school district’s demand for fresh preparations such as salads.

It’s a Blast

Cozymel’s Mexican Grill Corporate Executive Chef Tudie Frank-Johnson also took advantage of a new space to keep cool. When looking for equipment for Cozymel’s new Pan-Latin sister restaurant, Wapango, in Chesterfield, Mo., Frank-Johnson bought a blast chiller. She’s been thrilled with the results, explaining that it cools hot items more effectively than ice baths. “For food-safety purposes, I’d like to purchase them for every Cozymel’s location,” she says. Still, the steep per-unit cost prevents her from adding more chillers to her 2007 equipment budget.

Likewise, most operators surveyed are staying away from purchasing pricey refrigeration units. Operators surveyed say the biggest chunk of their equipment budget (16%) will go to primary cooking equipment, followed by paper goods (14%), food-preparation equipment (11%) and smallwares (11%).

Even in this digital age, respondents estimate that less than 10% of their equipment purchases will come from a combination of distributor and nondistributor Web sites and auction sites. Instead, most will stay with the familiar: 52% of respondents will make purchases through an equipment and supply dealer, followed by 40% who say they will buy directly through a manufacturer. And especially when investing in big-ticket items, operators are likely to take it upon themselves to do some homework. “We really had to do a lot of research,” Morgan acknowledges.

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Helicopter industry ready to face the world

Canada’s nascent helicopter industry, nurtured in the womb of public subsidy, is almost ready to face the world – and a bleak and difficult world it will be.

The federal, Quebec and Ontario governments have shelled out $312.7- million to help two companies build and start up helicopter plants that, when finished, will have a combined capacity of about 25 helicopters a month.

Yet in the first six months of 1985, only 22 light, twin-engine helicopters – the type to be made at both plants – were sold by all manufacturers worldwide.

A spokesman for Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Inc., which is building the larger of the two plants at Mirabel, north of Montreal, said the market for light twins remains weak and could not say how many people would be hired to work at the plant when it starts up next spring. “We are reassessing the marketplace on a regular basis,” he said. “The rate of production will be dependent on that.” Twin-engine helicopters are more expensive to operate than their single-engine counterparts, but they are much safer to fly, especially when trips are being made over water or remote areas.

For instance, one of the most common uses for this type of best beginner quadcopter is in the oil exploration business, especially for offshore work. But amid the chaos of falling oil prices, demand for twin-engine machines has been less than enthusiastic.

Bell Helicopter said potential customers have taken out options on 200 machines to be built at the Mirabel plant, which will take $275-million in public money and a $238-million investment by the company to get up and running.

Customers must put up a deposit when they take out an option, but can get their money back at any time.

Although the company would normally expect to convert about half its option-holders into customers, it has yet to record a single firm order.

The plant is about 95 per cent complete, most machinery is in place and just needs to be installed, and the company plans to start recruiting workers for the plant floor in January.

But the number of workers it hires to add to its existing work force of about 250 people depends on an upturn in orders.

If the demand for the best drone to buy does not pick up enough to push the plant profitably toward its 20-helicopter-a-month capacity, Bell Helicopter may also use it to take on other work as a sub-contractor on projects where its machinery and technology could be put to use.

There is more optimism at MBB Helicopter Canada Ltd. about the prospects for its smaller plant at Fort Erie, Ont., which is being built with $37.7-million in public money and a $35-million company investment. MBB is a joint venture 95 per cent owned by the Messerschmitt- Bolkow- Blohm GmbH of West Germany and 5 per cent by the Fleet Industries division of Fleet Aerospace Corp. of St. Catharines, Ont.

Like Bell Helicopter, MBB expects to finish its new plant by next spring, but it has already started handling assembly work in leased space at the Fleet factory across the road from its construction site.

The basic helicopters are effectively imported in crates and then fitted with radios, hoists and other custom features in Fort Erie. MBB recently delivered two light twin helicopters to the Canadian Coast Guard, and is now doing up a VIP version of its BK117 helicopter to be used as the official helicopterof Expo 86 in Vancouver.

That helicopter will be operated by Airlift Corp. of Vancouver, which also bought one of the same models, without the VIP features, earlier this spring.

The model to be built at the new MBB plant is a high-performance version of the one sold to the Coast Guard, and is intended for use in hot climates and at high altitudes.

Donald Chambers, MBB’s manager of government programs in Ottawa, said the company expects the helicopter market to pick up early in the new year, and even before then, hopes to make several new sales in both the government and commercial sectors.

When the new plant goes into operation, the company expects to turn out two or three helicopters a month. Activity at first will be largely assembly of parts and components brought in from outside Canada, but the company hopes eventually to reach a Canadian content level of 70 per cent.

That will not happen until 1988, when the company will start using new engines being developed by Pratt and Whitney Canada Inc. of Montreal. The engines account for about one-third of the total cost of a helicopter.

The Pratt and Whitney engine, whose development is being helped along by another $100-million of federal money, will also be used by Bell Helicopter.

The MBB plant could turn out five of its $900,000 helicopters a month if demand picks up. That would boost employment at the company from about 100 people now to about 250.

MBB’s parent has already begun worldwide marketing for the new model, concentrating on the Middle East as well as Latin America and the Far East. The model will be sold in commercial and military versions, with the military helicopter intended for an observation and reconnaissance role.

Most of the production from Fort Erie will be shipped abroad, with the Canadian military being the most likely domestic customer.

Bell Helicopter also expects to export at least 85 per cent of the production of its Mirabel plant. The two largest groups of option-holders come from the United States and Britain, and few expressions of interest have emerged from potential Canadian customers.

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Liberal ridicules ‘kiddie tax’ Sales levy extended in N.S. in bid to cope with health bill

Nova Scotians will be dipping into their pockets for an extra $55-million, including what the opposition is calling a ”iddie tax,”as the Conservative Government wrestles with increasing health-care costs.

After introducing his $3.25- billion budget in the Legislature yesterday, Finance Minister Greg Kerr told reporters that, since federal- provincial sharing of health costs began, the shortfall between actual costs and related revenue has reached $1-billion.

To help make up the difference, Nova Scotians will now be paying eight cents more for a pack of 20 cigarets as well as losing tax exemptions in a number of areas.

Mr. Kerr said the cigaret tax is the only new levy. But there will now be a 10 per cent sales tax on the labor component of the cost of repairs and maintainence for what the minister called ”angible personal property.” Mr. Kerr said that, while the full definition of tangible personal property has yet to be worked out, the tax will cover repairs to such items as automobiles and appliances, but not homes.

Officials from Mr. Kerr’s department predict the Government will take in an additional $30-million by dropping the exemption on labor involved in such repairs. There is already a 10 per cent tax on parts involved in such maintenance work.

The Government also has lowered the threshold under which purchases are exempt from sales tax to 26 cents from 51 cents, prompting Liberal financial critic William Gillis to quip, ”hey’re now hitting the kids. Nova Scotia becomes the first jurisdiction to have a kiddie tax.” There will be a 10 per cent sales tax on articles of clothing costing more than $300 and footwear in excess of $150. Previously, there was no sales tax on these items. Nova Scotians pay no direct health-care premiums; the province pays for its share of medicare with sales tax revenue.

The Conservatives did little to cut the provincial current account deficit, which amounted to $192.3-million last year. The Government’s operating deficit for the current fiscal year is forecast to be $7.7- million less than last year’s.

Premier John Buchanan’s Government is saddled with a $3-billion total debt this year, up from $2.68-billion last year. Mr. Kerr noted that Nova Scotia has suffered a net loss of $32-million in equalization payments from the federal Government.

There was no increase in the price of electricity to consumers, but the 9.5 per cent power rate subsidy to consumers, which cost the Government $37-million this year, will be dropped on April 1, 1986.

There was no mention of job creation in the budget. Nova Scotia has the third worst unemployment rate in the country, with 65,000 people – 14.7 per cent of the available work force – looking for work.

New Democratic Party Leader Alexa McDonough called the budget ”he ultimate in political cynicism,”charging that, by its failure to stimulate the economy and create jobs, the Government had concocted ” recipe for disaster.” Mrs. McDonough decried the lack of job creation measures and charged that in the very areas where job creation could have been stimulated – the departments of development and housing – there were actually cuts. ”t’s worse than a do-nothing budget,” she said. “There’s not one trace of acknowledgment that this province has any economic problems, least of all unemployment.” Dr. Gillis, the Liberal critic, ridiculed the Government for ”ailing the kids”by lowering the sales tax threshold and said that taxing repairs for appliances and cars would hurt low- income people the most.

He also struck out at the Government for breaking Mr. Buchanan’s promise during last fall’s election campaign that there would be no new taxes.

Dr. Gillis said the Government should have examined the possibility of raising corporate income tax instead of adding to the consumers’ tax burden. Neither corporate nor personal income tax was increased.

Mr. Kerr told reporters that Nova Scotia either has to cut services or expand the revenue base to protect the existing level of services. The minister said he was confident Nova Scotians would understand why the Government opted to raise new revenue.

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Charting A Family Empire

He was no doubt a man one would have been richer for knowing: Salvatore Ferragamo, master shoemaker, founder of a world-wide empire that, despite its size, clings fast to his principle of never sacrificing quality to expediency.

He was one of those rare spirits who managed to wed his fantasies of footwear to the sanity that all of us must walk. In his mind, no matter how frivolous the garb of the feet, comfort – the result of proper fitting – was paramount.

In his book, Shoemaker of Dreams, he explains how, at 9, still a child himself, he sat up all night making shoes so his tiny sisters would be properly shod for their first communions. The family was poor, the cost of the shoes was beyond their means, but anything less than white kid would have been a disgrace intolerable to Italians.

Salvatore Ferragamo believed that he was born to his calling, he explains an almost mystical connection with his craft which he believed came to him full-blown from some previous existence. Maybe he was right because, though he trained with shoemakers of merit, his shoes were always beyond their skills.

He was born in 1898, at 16 he left for the United States and within a few years was producingfootwear for the likes of Lillian Gish, Mae West, Greta Garbo and Eva Peron. He opened operations in Italy in 1926 believing that it was only in his native land that the skills existed to produce quality shoes in quantity.

Every pair had to incorporate his principles of last design and arch support – those are still part of every Ferregamo shoe – because he firmly believed “If you have a headache, your shoes don’t fit properly.” He pioneered the idea of making shoes of various widths but once the practical criteria were met, there was no limit to his imagination. He invented the wedgie, the “invisible” shoe of clear plastic, shoes of snail shells and silk, kangaroo and seaweed, even the pleated paper used to wrap candies.

A retrospective of his creations, dating from 1929 to 1960 when he died, opened April 4 in the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. Plans are to move it later to Milan and New York.

He was nearly ruined when the world economy crashed in the great depression but, charactaristically, he started all over again. “He was a man of great gentleness and great strength,” his widow, Wanda, can now say calmly. She’s no slouch herself. Married at 18 to a man more than twice her age, she bore him six children, lived a full life as wife and mother till his death, then – as if nothing could be more natural – took over as president of his empire.

The children are all part of it now: Fiamma in charge of the design and creation of women’s shoes, handbags, small leather goods and luggage; Giovanna who organizes of women’s ready-to-wear; Ferruccio, general manager; Fulvia, who oversees accessories; Leonardo, who runs the men’s division; Massimo, U.S. marketing.

Each month, the company produces some 70,000 pairs of shoes, 7,000 to 8,000 outfits for men and women and about 4,000 handbags which are sold throughout the world.

Creeds has placed a substantial order for this fall’s ready-to-wear which, along with shoes, is also carried at Via Condotti in Toronto. The clothes were on the runway in Milan but everything is masterminded out of the thirteenth century Palazzo Feroni-Spini in Florence where Fiamma tries to explain the extraordinary man who, 25 years after his death, still dominates his family. “I had a sudden friendship with my father when I was about 15 years old. He was severe, very good, I was a little afraid of him. But we had the same personality, the same mentality and way of working, kind of an affinity of temperament. “I was 16 1/2 when I started working with him, doing a little of everything. He believed in responsibility, that people needed to have faith in what they were doing. Even if I did something wrong he would say: ‘That’s fantastic but remember the next time …’ and then you’d want to do better.” There are already 15 grandchildren and she can see at least some of them entering the company; a few are already putting in a week or two each summer in the factories, checking for scratches, introducing shoes to boxes, “so they get the idea of what work is. It is the base of everything, in a good culture.” She’s the Marchesa Fiamma di San Giuliano-Ferragamo and – like most of the other family members – lives in a palace. But she will have no truck with the idea that her father was lowly born. “They were simple people but having no money doesn’t mean that you’re not a gentleman or a lady. You have that inside yourself. “Florence is a lady town; the refinement of the arts, the culture, they help you form yourself. My father was a great innovator in look and technique. We continue his principles: never sacrificing, never compromising. That is the heart of what he found. We are the protectors of his tradition.”

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