Friday, December 21, 2012

End of the World Edition. Maybe.

It’s the end of the world, according to those who believe the Mayans were onto something a millennium ago. Their calendar is believed to end Friday, which might pose a problem for those planning to make Saturday the busiest shopping day of this year’s holiday season. With not a moment to spare, here are some tidbits to keep your mind off the inevitable:

Did You Know? 22% of Americans believe the world will end during their lifetime? That’s according to a Reuters/Ipsos Global survey earlier this year of 16,262 adults in 21 countries. The global average for world destruction in our lifetime was just 14%, which means Americans are a pretty pessimistic bunch. Europeans, on the other hand, see the world through rosier glasses. Only 6% in France, 7% in Belgium, 8% in Great Britain and 11% in Sweden believe the world will end in their lifetimes. Perhaps Republicans should reconsider their constant bashing of Europe. 

As for the immediate danger at hand, 12% of Americans agreed the Mayans had it right about the end of the world. One in five Chinese agreed, while 13% of residents of Turkey, Russia, Mexico South Korea and Japan thought so as well. 

Stop the Presses? Not to be too cynical, but did we really believe Wal-Mart, and for that matter other companies expanding abroad, did not at times resort to bribery to get their plans approved? I’m not condoning any alleged action, but I’m not going to be surprised if it is confirmed either by the company or independent panels. Heck, bribing local officials happens here in the United States, so why should we be blind-sided if allegations prove true in Mexico, as reported in The NY Times, or in India or other countries where American companies have financial interests? By all means, let’s report the improprieties, but let’s not be too sanctimonious about it.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun: That was my reaction to an article in Wednesday’s Times about Internet retailers like Piperlime and Bonobos deciding to open physical stores, units that carry limited inventory for customers to feel and try on merchandise but not purchase and take home on the spot. Goods are ordered online at the store and delivered the next day, usually ( 

Thirty years ago I reported on a concept developed by retail guru Alton Doody called Investment Clothiers based in Columbus, Ohio (fyi, Doody was one of the brains behind the look that differentiated Target from other discount stores). Here’s one of the key paragraphs from that story which parallels The Times article:

“What Doody has devised is a chain of stores that leapfrogged the catalog book stage. He has relied instead on a visual catalog—the store—wherein customers can get a tactile appreciation of the goods and be stimulated through point of sale material and knowledgeable sales personnel to trade up in price points and purchase additional merchandise.” 

I’d like to report Investment Clothiers was a success, but it wasn’t. Like so many underperforming retailers, it picked lousy store locations. If you haven’t heard it before, the three keys to successful retail and restaurant operations are: Location. Location. Location.

Fiscal Cliff: Definitely not a great location, being on a fiscal cliff. Perhaps, like me, you had a tinge of optimism earlier this week when House Speaker John Boehner seemed to finally agree to a tax hike on the wealthy, albeit just for those making more than $1 million a year. My optimism was enhanced by the following sentence in a Times article: “The two sides are now dickering over price, not philosophical differences, and the numbers are very close.”

As I considered further the state of negotiations to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis, I was reminded of a classic Winston Churchill story. I won’t vouch for its veracity, but as the anecdote goes, the old codger and former British prime minister was seated at a dinner party next to a socialite not to his liking. The conversation was said to go thusly:

“Churchill: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?" 
Socialite: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course... "
Churchill: "Would you sleep with me for five pounds?"
Socialite: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!" 
Churchill: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.” 

Having seemingly agreed to higher taxes for the rich, Boehner should stop haggling and start thinking about the greater good of the country. Accept, already, the president’s revised $400,000 threshold for a tax increase. 

Speaking of Sex: In my quest to bring you all the news that's fit to print, or at least all the news that's useful, here's a morsel from Down Under—for those of you who travel for work, know that in Australia, injury during sex while on a business trip qualifies you for worker’s compensation benefits.

The Federal Court ruled a government worker traveling on business was entitled to compensation for physical and psychological injuries after she was struck in the face by a falling glass light fitting in her motel room while having sex. According to the Associated Press,  “The government's views on the woman having sex in her motel room were irrelevant.” The court compared injury during sex to injury while playing cards in a motel room. The former has as much right to be covered as the latter.

Before you rush off to Sydney for your next business trip, be aware Comcare, the government’s insurer, is considering an appeal. 

I was particularly fascinated by this story because of my own unusual worker’s comp story, first reported to you last December. Here’s a quick recap (that’s a great pun which you’ll understand once you finish reading my story):

On a trip to Los Angeles to meet the president of Vons Supermarkets at a new Hispanic concept store, Tiengas, I was induced by him to try some rancho huevos, essentially scrambled eggs, despite my claims of high cholesterol. On my first bite I felt a crunch. I had cracked my tooth on the softest of foods. How embarrassing! How upsetting that I might incur a $550 dental bill for a crown, the going rate at the time.

Talking over my predicament several days later with the head of our company’s human resources department, we agreed I would submit a worker’s compensation claim. After all, the only reason I put the eggs into my mouth was because the Vons president insisted. It was clearly a work-related claim, we reasoned.

The compensation board agreed. I received full reimbursement for the crown.

The moral of both stories is, file a claim. You’ll never know what might result. Even if you don’t succeed, remember, it’s not the end of the world.