Sunday, June 17, 2012

Management for Dummies

I recently was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and I took notice of how the offerings were laid out.
Any good brick-and-mortar retailer will display items close to each other that complement each other. Crackers near soup in a supermarket, socks near shoes in a department store, tent stakes near tents in an outdoor shop.
"For Dummies" next to "Management" in a book store.
How well do they know their customers?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anatomy of a gas price increase

Monday morning, Speedway initiated what amounted to a statewide increase in the price of gasoline in Michigan.
Speedway is a division of Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Co. and owns and operates more than 280 convenience stores and gas stations in Michigan. There is nothing illegal about a private business setting a price for a product, and Speedway set the price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline at all 284 of its operating stores at $3.899 on Monday morning.
What happened next was most interesting as the market responded to this.
Here are some screen shots of the GasBuddy iPhone app:

This was taken at 3:02 p.m. Monday. The prevailing price had been around $3.79. Pretty much every competitor in Mt. Pleasant matched the price within hours. No surprise there - it always happens.
In Alma/St. Louis, the previous prevailing price was $3.47, and Sound Off callers were demanding to know why Mt. Pleasant prices were more than 32 cents higher than Alma prices. Here's what it looked like Monday afternoon, about five to six hours after the Speedway move; Speedway stores are on Wright Avenue.

But by early Tuesday morning, prices in Alma/St. Louis  had this eerie look of sameness:

Several Sound Off callers angry about the $3.79 price in Mt. Pleasant cited prices of $3.54 in Houghton Lake. Here's how it looked Monday afternoon after the Speedway move - the Speedway outlet is next to U.S. 127:

You'll note that the Admiral and Clark stations are the only stations actually charging $3.54, but those are the prices drivers remember. But by Tuesday morning, they had matched the Speedway price. Only the BP station in Prudenville, to the far right of the screenshot, remained firm for a time at $3.61, but by Wednesday morning, it, too, had matched the price, while Clark and Admiral already were knocking a few pennies off.

Competitive pressures always force prices down, and that's happening. In fact, 224 Speedway stores had dropped their prices by Wednesday. But most had dropped only 1 to 5 cents; the biggest drops were 13 cents at individual stores in Fraser and Lansing.
Considering how big the increase was - in Sturgis, it was 60 cents a gallon, in Alma, it was 42 cents - those don't amount to much.
The increase stuck.
What's driving the increase? The price of crude oil is down to the $82 range. Gasoline futures are below $2.65. Granted, those prices are high, but down considerably from where they were earlier this year.
This move left Michigan with the highest average price of unleaded gasoline - $3.855, according to Michigan AAA through Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service - of any state that doesn't have frontage on the Pacific Ocean.
What's the message here? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The view from the race course

My colleague Holly Mahaffey put together a great Storify on Le Tour de Mont Pleasant. Check it out!

The Amazing Races

I do not look good in Spandex, and I never will.
But watching the Spandex people competing in Le Tour de Mont Pleasant continues to amaze me - their sheer athleticism, their focus, their determination.
Friday night, I met a young woman named Katie Hamel from Grand Rapids:

Saturday, it was the closed-course criterium races in downtown Mt. Pleasant. These actually are my favorite races. You see the riders up close. You see their faces. You can sit on the sidewalk cafe at Max & Emily's and watch the action.
I met Chris Uberti, who won the Pro Category 1 and 2 criterium. He's very matter-of-fact about the challenge: 75 minutes of high-speed street racing, then three laps of flat-out sprinting around a course with difficult, technical turns. And he wasn't even winded.

Sunday, the race course expands to the entire county. This year's course was 120 miles long, traveling through the Isabella Reservation, Shepherd, Winn, Blanchard, Beal City, Lake Isabella, Weidman, across the hinterlands of northern Isabella County, through Rosebush and back to downtown Mt. Pleasant.
The winner was a guy whom I'd love to invite over for dinner named Jake Rytlewski (right-LESS-key), originally from Bay City:

But Le Tour de Mont Pleasant was not without controversy. What really happened out on the course that caused the disqualification of 19 riders - and a stunning protest at the finish line?

This event is well on its way to becoming a fixture in June in central Michigan. It's a niche we can fill - and fill well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The key to fitness

I was talking to one of the riders in Le Tour de Mont Pleasant bicycle race about what it took to be a world-class cyclist.
"I'm not that strong," he said. "I just know how to suffer."
But he looked great in Spandex.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This park or that park

I recently ran across an ad in the New York Times Magazine for a recent condominium conversion in New York. It's simply named 1212 Fifth Avenue, and it's near Fifth Avenue and East 102nd Street - at the far, far, very upper Upper East Side.
It's an amazing building, built in the 1920s as a rental, and later used to house people who trained at Mount Sinai Hospital. After being sold to a developer, it was gutted completely, and built into a showpiece.
What's interesting is the neighborhood - across the street is Central Park. The marketing materials have photos of "the neighborhood" like this:

Now, as it happens, we also live on a park - Horizon Park. "The neighborhood" is like this:

There is, however, a slight difference in price. An 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom condominium unit at 1212 Fifth Avenue goes for, oh, a mere $2.66 million - it is, after all, not the best neighborhood. Our 1,800-square-foot condo went for ... a lot less.

I recall being told many years ago that New York is not real. Uh, huh.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gus. Just Gus.

Three cats now live at Horizon Park South.
Minden and Munchen have been here since we moved in. They are, of course, our haughty, snotty Siamese, who clearly rule the world and consistently remind us that cats once were worshiped as gods.
Now there’s Gus.
That name’s really all you need to know about Gus.
We inherited Gus. He had been Kissy Missy’s mother’s constant companion from the time he wandered out of the Upper Michigan forest as a scrawny little kitten. No one really knows where he came from. Was he feral? Was he dumped as part of an unwanted litter? There’s no way to find out, but he certainly survived.
And he prospered and grew.
Gus seems to be a Maine coon cat, one of the largest breeds of domestic cat. He weighs more than 17 pounds, yet he thinks of himself as a cuddly little kitten.
But he doesn’t have the kind of elan the other two display. Jeff Foxworthy describes “redneck” as a “glorious lack of sophistication.”
He's a redneck cat. 
It’s not hard to imagine a guy with Gus’ personality popping a beer at a funeral. It’s not hard to imagine a guy with Gus’ personality driving a big ole truck.
Maybe I’ll turn on a NASCAR race on TV and see if Gus is fascinated. Whatcha bet?
The Siamese, by the way, clearly are appalled at the entire situation.