Bargain hunting

I am not a big fan of clothes shopping. Yet, from time to time, I am required to pick up some new clothes as the old ones wear out. As a shopper, I enjoy a bargain as much as the next guy. But when I was out last week, I found what was probably my best shopping bargain ever.

clothing discount price tag

How much is too much?

As you can read in the tag, the jacket that I bought was marked down from $220.00 to $22.00. That’s quite a savings!

My limited knowledge of the retail sector leads me to believe that department stores mark up the items that they sell by 100% or more. But if a store is reducing a product by 90%, surely the initial product must have been previously WAY overpriced. Can the store’s mark-up be so high that it could sell the jacket for $22.00 and still make a profit (or at least cover its costs)?

The death of a daily friend

Liam's cafetiere no more

When I came downstairs this morning, I was saddened to see that a dear friend has passed in the middle of the night. Although I did not hear the crash that was her demise, she must have fallen from the dish-drying rack and crashed the counter top below. To think of my dear cafetiere just lying there, all broken and crushed, with no one to hold her in those final few minutes.

So … I guess it will be tea this morning then.

You Alone May Live

UPDATE: As of 08 April 2010, this book now has its own website,, which along with my colleagues at lbdesign, I am helping to build.

You Alone May Live I am very excited to be able to share the news that a new book by the founder and former director of Survivors Fund is now available on for pre-order. The book is called You Alone May Live and follows the story of Mary K. Blewitt as she journeyed through the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

Having moved away from Rwanda a long time before the genocide of 1994, Mary returned there in the days following the killings to find that she had lost 50 members of her family. She then went on to start Survivors Fund, which is decided to supporting survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

I’ve already pre-ordered one copy and will probably order another one or two. One for me and one or two to share. Having seen the amazing feats that SURF has achieved under Mary’s guidance, I am sure that her story will be very moving indeed.

Please feel to read more about my involvement with SURF.

Phone boxes in NYC

A phonebox in New York CityBack in October of last year, I made my first trip to New York City. On a rather spur of the moment decision, I popped into the car on an early Saturday morning and drove the two hours north to New York. Crossing into Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel, I had arrived in the Big Apple.

One observation that I had about the city of New York was surprise at seeing so many telephone boxes along the streets. Those were being phrased out over the past 10 years, what with the rise of the mobile phone and all.

So, why does Manhattan have so many phone boxes? Do loads of people still use them? (I certainly didn’t see anyone using one during my 8 hours in there.) Could it be an on older city ordinance that requires the local phone company to keep them there?

The Home Depot experience

Home Depot

Since becoming a home owner again earlier this year, I’ve made a few trips to my local Home Depot (#4137 is my local) to get various bits and pieces for around the house.

During this time, I have been repeatedly impressed with the quality of the sales floor staff at my local Home Depot. Always there when you need someone, proactive in their attempts to help (stand still looking at the shelves too long and you’re likely to be interrupted with a friendly ‘Can I help you find something?‘) and somehow always knowing where to find what you’re looking for. How do they do that?! Home Depot is a massive store with probably millions of different products for sale.

Happy and Helpful Sales Floor Staff

In thinking about the average Home Depot sales floor staff, I noticed that they are mostly older men, of a retirement or post-retirement age. Sure, there are some women and even a few younger guys as well. Yet, what really sets the staff apart for me is that they are all so darned enthusiastic about tools, DIY and getting the home repair done properly. From the amazing woman who sold me my first power drill a few months ago (I know, what does that say about me that I am only now owning my first power drill?) to the fellows who helped me pick the right filters for my furnace, I received detailed advice, unharried guidance and very patient and knowledgable sales help.

It is important to note that through its sales floor teams, Home Depot is offering more than just product knowledge and DIY skills. On every trip that I have made to Home Depot (and there have been about 6 to 8) since moving back to the US (in the summer of 2009), I have always been made to feel welcome by the floor sales staff. Pleasantly greeted when I walk in and directed to where I need to go to find what I’m looking for. Those Home Depot employees in the orange aprons are building brand loyalty. (I’ve not once been tempted to go to Lowe’s, so helpful are those Home Depot people.)

The Achilles Heel

While it’s clear to me that Home Depot have the formula down on the sort of people to hire for their sales floor, they more often than not miss the boat when it comes to the check-out staff. Why are the people working the cash registers always so darned grumpy? Is it jealously of the happy and helpful sales floor staff? Does Home Depot reduce its hiring standards for cashier staff?

Whatever the reason for the reduction in customer service, it’s unfortunate. As a result of a marked decline in the sense of welcome and customer appreciation, I almost always leave Home Depot with a reduced sense of experience enjoyment. Why can’t all the Home Depot employees be like the happy men and women of the sales floor?

I sure wish Home Depot could sort that out, as it seems to me to be its Achilles Heel. Why spend so much time and effort treating the customer as king only to disappoint at the last moment?

Clearing up cultural confusion: Cider

The Setting

Instant spiced apple ciderRecently I was conducting a job interview over Skype, using video.  I was speaking with a prospective employee, who was perched in front of a computer at lbdesign’s London office. My colleague was with this prospective employee.  As may be evident to regular visitors to this blog, I am currently based in Philadelphia.

The Incident

During the initial “Hello” and “How are you?” exchanges, I mentioned that I had just settled into my office chair with a lovely mug of cider. My comment was greeted with an unexpected silence … and the concern on the face of the prospective employee, and the look of embarrassment in my colleague’s expression made it very clear that I had said something wrong. Oops! But what?

Within a few moments we got to the issue: ‘cider’ in the UK is only used in reference to beer cider, like Scrumpy Jack, Magners and the like. So, in the eyes of my UK colleagues, I had just started to conduct an interview while drinking a can of beer (at 10.30 am my local time no less!)

The Resolution

I then spent the next several minutes explaining that ‘cider’ in America can also mean apple juice – with no alcohol.  Furthermore, spiced hot cider is a traditional American cold weather drink, like hot chocolate.

In Review

On a serious note, this funny little incident speaks to the larger issues that come with doing business across cultures. Although I spent seven years living and working in England, this particular issue around cider never previously surfaced because the British don’t drink warmed apple juice.

Now that I am back in the US, I have reverted to this beverage to fight the chill on cold autumn days. And then, by failing to fully appreciate the cultural (or epicurean) differences between me and my audience, I landed myself in an uncomfortable situation.

What other cultural pitfalls might I land myself in?

How to relax (Part I)

I’ve never been one to take a warm holiday. The idea of falling asleep on the beach with a book on my lap had never appealed to me as an enjoyable way to spend an entire holiday. Sure, an afternoon of relaxing is welcome, but the whole trip of that?

Looking out over Long Beach in Bermuda

Boy! Was a I wrong! I just spent a wonderfully restfull, chilled-out, fantastic weekend at the Cambridge Beaches Resort, in Bermuda. What a lovely way to forget about the world for a few days …

The sunrise in Bermuda

The above photo is of a Monday morning sunrise over Morning Beach, in Bermuda. How easy would our work-week be if every Monday morning started like that?