..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

... just to remind myself why I'm doing this ...

Depending on our personalities, the world can be a crowded place or a very lonely one. For those who seek comfort in numbers, there is no shortage of hangers on, but for those who avoid that circus, keeping thier own counsel can leave them feeling quite alone and disengaged from the mad place we call home. Life is a trade off and most of us choose how we live it.

For me, I'd rather work things out as best I can, using my own thoughts and feelings to sort things out. Following the crowd has never been a temptation to me, but that has its price, one that I'm totally comfortable with every day I get to stand up and be the person I aspire to be. When I sometimes lose track of who that is, I come here to remember, to reconnect and to resume my quest.

These posts are a reflection of some of what matters to me and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to collect these thoughts as they form in my head, as they prepare the way for my life, as it evolves from one day to the next. They re-inspire me when things seem to be floating about, with no particular aim or purpose, and it does happen from time to time.

So, today I had these thoughts that I think are worth writing down for the future me to look back on when I need to ...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Justice...revisited, and refined, perhaps a bit...

In an online discussion of the meaning (as opposed to definition) of Justice, I've been offered some interesting perspectives.

First of all, let me say that I think that 'Justice', while it has a number of distinct definitions, means very different things to different people. Consequently, any use of the word may be very subjectively applied and often can result in misunderstandings and confusion.

To me, 'justice' means rendering a balance to unnaturally unbalanced situations in conflict. (Broad, perhaps, but clear enough, I think.)

One perspective offered to me was "FAIR distribution of resources; EQUAL access to LAW & due process,& PROTECTION of vulnerable & disadvantaged."

Overall, I think the elements of our two understandings are fairly similar. Closer examination reveals some interesting things. Take "FAIR" for instance; it's relatively subjective and so difficult to adjudicate. That leaves a likelihood of disagreement in the final analysis. It also does not provide a basis for distribution, other than additional subjective premises. Taken alone, this qualifier would render justice as a very subjective measure. Not good enough, in my opinion.

EQUAL access is another broad stroke with little guidance as to the basis on which 'equality' is to be assessed. Access through equality of cost, or availability, quality, amount or location of service, and so on. Is it fair to provide access to those of means at the same level as those who have no resources? This is where 'justice' is invoked again, but what is deemed 'just' in these instances? Around and round we go.

PROTECTION is resource based, regardless of who requires it. One question that comes to mind, in particular when resources are extremely limited, would justice mean that they be equally distributed among the "deserving" and "undeserving", irrespective of their vulnerabilities or disadvantages? You can imagine for yourself, under what circumstances such choices have to be made, but how would one be guided to the 'just' one? Who then would challenge the 'justness' of such a choice, and would it still be universally judged to be 'just'? For me, inconclusive, at best.

In, you might say, a very limited, brief and somewhat superficial way, I've tried to look at this particular understanding of "Justice". However, I'm left with the same gnawing question of can I conclude that any clarity of the concept of "Justice" is afforded to me by this understanding of it. From the questions I've asked myself in the earlier paragraphs I'd say some, but not enough, not clear and precise enough, yet. I accept that it's enough for some and that's fine as long as it's clear that they consider it to be another concept of it, but not the only or best one.

For now, for me, the only clear concept of justice understood and applied by many, is the impartial rendition of adjudicated retribution to satisfy a pressing need for vengence to be exacted upon the guilty. (whew)
That doesn't mean it's the only one I'll likely acknowledge but it'll take some more discussion to make me fully understand any others. It's something that I need to comprehend fully so I can develop more empathy than I presently possess.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Justice...what is it, really?

The concept of Justice is vague to most. It seems to depend on the context in which it is sought, and the age of those seeking it. But, is "it" something that can be 'gotten', so to speak?

Recently, the call for Justice is being heard from several directions. The most immediate and high-profile case here would appear to be the Yatim incident. Daily, there appears to be more activity around this and involves a cross-section of people.

From what we see on news reports, the call sounds more like one of revenge than justice, and I say that because I think there can be no justice after the fact, only vengence. Justice would be the state of the circumstances within which all of this has happened, and is happening. At this point, it's beyond anyone's ability to create a just environment. If it were just, this could not happen in the first place.

No, people believe they seek justice, but in truth, they seek only various degrees of revenge. Revenge corrects nothing. Revenge soothes, somewhat, the fired emotions that follow such tragic events. The authorities have an impossible task on hand if they hope to render justice. The courts can only exact 'revenge' upon those who are guilty of ignoring the state of justice that we simply expect to exist. Even that is an impossibility, given the factors that make up individual perceptions of what constitutes justice. Essentially, to provide a perception of justice being 'applied', the secret is in exacting a carefully concocted mixture of revenge that satisfies the widest range of emotions being brought to bear on the situation at hand.

Only people can create a just environment, and it is people who disrupt that environment. A just environment can not be maintained, no way, no how, no question. We can't "get" or "render" justice; we can only disrupt "it". Most importantly, we must come to grips with the reality that we can not seek justice, after the fact, only revenge for the disruption of justice. Maybe then we'll also come to better understand ourselves and our baser instincts in how we deal with each other's difficulties.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Friends, Romans, countrymen ...

 ... never mind lending me anything, just give me your money ... for I am entitled by virtue of patronage appointment...

The "hot" story is about Senator expense claims but the real one should be about "TRUST".

Folks, we're being (cleverly) agitated over a few Senators' claims but why would we all of a sudden accept that they've somehow rooted out the only offenders in the whole pigsty? These few are likely not the only ones who have come to assume the cloak of entitlement during their strenuous tenure in the hallowed hall of the red chamber. After all, as Senators in the Canadian houses of Parliament, don't they all endure the same rigorous duties?

It might be interesting to try to find any "qualifying criteria" by which Senators are judged and chosen for these appointments. With no intent to imply any guilt or involvement in anything nefarious any way, as a few examples, let's put out names like Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Jim MunsonFrank Mahovlich, Hugh Segal, Patrick Brazeau, Linda Frum, Nancy Greene Raine or Tommy Banks. What specifically qualifies these nice folks for appointment to a "legislative body" in our Parliamentary system, while none have demonstrated any particularly prominence in governance? How are they qualified? These questions may not seem connected to the expense matter but they sure as hell are. They are spending tax dollars without accountability to the ones providing those dollars.

From their public record, is their any reason to conclude why any Senator would undertake to make sloppy claims for expenses? Why then has this been going on, and why has nothing apparently been done in the past to correct and more to the point, prevent abuses such as the ones we've been told about AND the ones we haven't?

TRUST has been abused for some time, and under scrutiny, no less. Abuses have been noted but not successfully curtailed, as evidenced by recent revelations. That in itself is a breach of trust by the watchdogs, and it raises the question WHY not? One possible conclusion is the idea evoked by a well-worn phrase "who's calling the kettle black". That brings us back to the TRUST issue. We have been guided through the sordid details of a select few perhaps to avoid exposing yet more abuse of trust.

Now that the Senate itself seems to be making a public point of "coming clean" by asking for a full audit by the Auditor General, we are to assume, I guess, that all will be revealed.

Let's just wait on that conclusion until it actually happens, and if it happens as they infer it will.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

we've got a "gamechanger" opportunity ... let's not blow it

see also Sept 24, 2012, Feb 13, '13, and Mar 30 '13 posts

With the main street location presently occupied by a discount store about to return to "empty" status, there is a rare and absolutely ideal opportunity to make a very significant impact on the downtown "econoscape", one that would render most of the teardrop measures being assembled under the "vitalization" effort now underway as inconsequential because ultimately they will be ineffective as long-term revitalizers.

At the spirited launch of the "Downtown Vitalization Project" earlier this year, I presented an idea to the folks looking for input. This idea involves changing the focus of downtown from a 'retail centre' to an 'essential services centre'. In today's world, retail is omnipresent to the extent that it seeks to inject itself into every waking minute of our lives. The internet has managed to do that with little effort. Why then do we still 'need' yet another shopping opportunity in the form of a somewhat inconvenient arrangement like a downtown, especially one that can't come close to providing those things that the consumer wants and needs day in and day out? Trying to SELL that concept is resource-intensive and ultimately pretty well unachievable in a long-term scenario. At best, it will spark some temporary interest that will fade even faster than it has all the times before. One of the bigger factors is the unstable nature of the econoscape of the downtown. One never knows what they'll find there from one visit to the next or the next; it's a crapshoot and it feels like a waste of time for the busy consumer.

For the middle and senior age cohort, their non-leisure world is focused on essential services, and many of those services require personal contact and interaction with the consumer. For them, shopping is a diversion and no longer the 'business part of their day' that it once was. For the younger crowd, their needs are being met by the huge all-in-one retailers and on-line vendors far more successfully than a street-front retail location could hope to do. That leaves street-front retail in a squeeze for limited dollars and limited demands.

In its own predictable way, retail keeps turning the same tricks, only disguising them in novel ways that have a very short lifespan. It just doesn't know what else to do in the face of ever growing supply for a stagnant demand. It certainly appears that the concentration of multiple supply chains in those all-in-one locations is a successful strategy so why shouldn't we do something like that by developing a tailor-made strategy for the service sector? After all, human nature is always looking for a faster, cheaper, more convenient solution to fill its needs, and consumer services are really not that much different from consumer goods.

I've got enough grey on my head to prove that I've experienced a number of these revitalization efforts and the significant thing I've noticed is that they all seem to address the same "issues" that are cause for concern at the time they take notice. Another significant observation is that the measures implemented all seem to be the same, and that should be a pretty good indicator of their long-term effectiveness. I have yet to see an original idea be formulated to "change the econoscape" of the downtown in a way that will avoid a repeat of the boom-bust cycle that makes these revitalizations so attractive, albeit so ineffective. Heck, the invention of the "mall" was just such an original idea that changed the "econscape" permanently, as was the evolution of the "big box store". There are valuable lessons here, but we just keep on dragging out the same fancy old dishes for Sunday dinner, not because they're any better but because it's what we do for some obscure reason that has lost its original meaning in a different world. Paint, signs and advertising will never solve anything, they merely postpone.

Creativity is the core part of a solution to every problem. I don't mean creatively repeating the same measures either. I mean creative ideas that have an impact not yet experienced in past efforts at solving a clearly identified and isolated problem.

Apart from any solutions, I'm not aware of any well-defined results being targeted at the other end of the vitalization exercise. Such targets should also include a number of additional measures to be undertaken if the original measures lose their effectiveness in the future. Ultimately, I suppose the measure of effectiveness would be an overall permanent increase in business presence in the downtown but in our situation, that capacity to grow physically is very limited. That would suggest that business activity in existing locations would have to grow to achieve the targeted results.

This brings me back to my original thought. If we were to concentrate the essential services in one major location downtown, it would virtually guarantee a steady, growing flow of clientelle in the downtown, and that would provide the spinoff to the rest of the businesses located there, the very objective behind the vitalization effort. To use a much-used word these days, it would be a huge "game changer" for the downtown, and it would establish its importance for a long, long time. The gate is open, we just have to act now.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

praising the dead is so selfish ...it only replaces a lost opportunity to appreciate the living

Why is it ... that we have all kinds of "nice and wonderful" things to say about people AFTER they die but can't be bothered to tell them, or the rest of the world, what we think of them while they're around to appreciate the sentiments? I get sick and tired of all the posthumous praise and glory we gush at the passing of an acquaintance, at all the ramblings that are offered up by attention seekers which the media so liberally slathers all over, as if it were some sincere tribute. If any of it were sincere, it should have been directed at the individual who happens to be at the centre of all the adulation, while they were alive and moving among these "adulators".

If the person of interest was deserving of such an outpouring of praise, it would likely be widely known and we don't need a bunch of attention seekers to tell us that. If the praise was due, it should have been expressed directly to the individual where it would actually mean something, the most, and where it would enrich the life of the person who earned it. It does them no good after they are gone. It only serves to mollify the guilt of uncaring, unappreciative but living organisms that couldn't be bothered to take the time to say something when it would have been worthwhile. Shame on all of them.

Let's change this ridiculous behaviour. Let's do something to let the people who deserve our praise know they are appreciated and thank them for their contribution to our lives, the lives of others, and the world at large. If we do that we will have made a huge difference to so many deserving people and in doing so we will enhance the lives of everyone else at the same time. I believe this is a worthwhile objective, and I will personally pursue it at every opportunity that I recognize as one. If you agree, do something about it too.

Monday, April 15, 2013

customers who aren't

Why is it that people today have come to hold the attitude that, wherever they are a CUSTOMER, they are "entitled" to some higher level of recognition beyond the respect all individuals should enjoy equally as people? It seems that they put some extra store in the 'prestige' that, in their opinion, money should afford them. It's as if they cling to the old adage "the customer is always right" as a license to 'behave however they wish' or as an 'I'm entitled' ticket for them as opposed to what it really is, advice to the purveyor that the only route to success in purveying is to provide what is in demand and not what simply you may have to purvey.

Particularly those that are the most severe in this, tend to be the avowed 'internet shoppers', or "savvy shoppers" as they call themselves, and are the very ones that react oddly to various new strategies that are emerging at the bricks and mortar level. They see themselves as "victims". They berate retailers who set their prices and policies to protect their investment, to deal with the impact of internet selling, yet expect those retailers to offer their goods at the same or 'better' prices just to be "competitive".

"Competative" for what? Why should stores be "competitive" in that environment when even that won't assure that it will make a difference? The "victims" instinctively, if not consciously, realize that there is a unique value being provided by the bricks and mortar stores and don't want to lose access to that value while taking advantage of buying goods that are sold for less because they are not carrying the overhead that comes from providing the extra value.

Well I say to those "victims", you have the wherewithall to sustain the value that you want by paying a fair price for it. It's as simple as that. As avowed internet shoppers, you represent little, if any, significant potential for sales revenue to the 'street' retailer so why would those retailers actually concern themselves with your crumbs? You are insignificant to their everyday operations, contrary to your own delusion that you hold some influence in that sphere of business. Soon enough you, that "savvy shopper" will discover that, over time, you actually spend more for less due to all the extra costs that are so subtly inherent in your shopping activities. These are blunt words but they are meant to respond in kind to the attitude that is so prevalent in the internet-shoppers' world, and consequently I feel no need to make any apology for their harshness.

As some examples of the many not so obvious costs of internet shopping I would point to these factors. Access - the cost of internet services alone is a significant factor, add the cost of hardware such as computers, tablets, smart phones and whatever else you need and use, along with their maintenance and frequent upgrading or replacement costs. Risks associated with payment methods, shipping costs, exchange or return issues and associated costs, quality and damage issues, shipping errors, service charges. Then there are non-monetary factors that can affect prices such as time factors (a huge factor), tactile and sensory interaction with the products (try before you buy, etc.), experiential product information (something more than a 'like' or 'thumbs up' vote on a website),  and so on. It all adds up to more than what is readily apparent at the time of the transaction.

What's really odd is that the 'internet shoppers' get rankled by things that happen in the bricks and mortar world even though they avoid interacting with it, because of the contempt they hold for it. What's the point of disparaging that sector of commerce if it has no importance in their lives? I think it's because they simply just can't admit that they see value and that value is not accessible to them for 'free'. Too bad kids, but that's your own choice and has come about because of your choices up to now.

Just as the customer is not beholden to business, so business is not beholden to the customer. The relationship between the two HAS TO BE SYMBIOTIC for it to be successful for both and to be able to sustain itself; neither can hold the balance of power for it to survive. Internet shoppers don't accept that; they really want to hold that sway, the hammer, and if business doesn't respond to that threat, it will not survive. If it doesn't, the customer loses as well, so everybody loses. Internet shoppers have a distorted view of what business must cope with to survive, and it makes those internet shoppers look like spoiled children that can't have everything they want just the way and when they want it. The lessons of childhood were either not learned or already forgotten.

One of the most significant and important things to acknowledge is that everything has a price and that a price has to include everything that makes it possible to have access to those things, and the end user must be willing to pay that price to maintain sustained access. That's not blackmail, it's a fact of life. Putting it in terms that relate directly to the consumer themselves, consider a person's time and abilities as a commodity being offered on the market, the labour market to be specific. There is a price point at which it is not possible to sustain access to that commodity and so there is a minimum rate at which a person must be paid for their time and expertise if that person is to be able to live. When that point is not agreed upon by the consumer of the time and expertise (employer or contractor, etc.), the person offering their time chooses to withhold or withdraw access to it. This scenario is entirely parallel to the buyer/seller relationship in the business world at large. If it makes sense on a personal level, it certainly makes sense on the world-wide level.

The internet shopper represents the "strike-breaker" mentality that is intent on disrupting the balance needed to keep the system of commerce functioning in its dynamic balance. They are the antithesis of sustainability. They put short term interest far above the long term stability to which they claim entitlement without contributing to the intrinsic investment needed to realize that stability. That's one reason they're not important; they have no meaningful part in the overall survival or sustainability of the natural function of commerce that balances need with availability. They are fluid and unstructured in their practices. Their claim to fame is building the bubble-economy that has emerged to satisfy their selfishness. Who needs 'em? Bricks and mortar will prevail despite the vanity and delusion of self-importance which personifies the rabid internet shoppers. They are borne by the winds of change and their needs are transient, as is their impact. Time will render them as self-inflicted casualties in the global markets.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Corruption is omnipresent...and omnipotent

Corruption has many meanings and a multitude of levels, but it all has the same effect. It destroys its host. Cancer is a corruption of the growing and healing process,...and corruption is a cancer found everywhere, pure and simple.

Corruption can find its beginnings as subtly as abusing a parking space. After all, where's the harm in parking illegally, just for a few minutes, or when time seems to be at a premium? If nothing is said, it makes it that much more likely to be repeated, often under less compelling circumstances. Eventually, it's assumed to be alright, even a given, and then perhaps as an entitlement. That little journey can translate into larger issues and have an equally disturbing impact on how such behaviour eventually changes the mindset of the offender.

While it's definitely not limited to any particular demographic, it seems to have a more significant impact on those who see themselves as somewhere above the average Joes and Janes of the world. A greater sense of entitlement seems to be part of the psyche that drives these people. It is not easy for them to take 'NO' for an answer. This mindset is fertile ground for the seeds of corruption.

There's a notion that we have small 'c' and big 'C' corruption and that small 'c' is less offensive, more benign than its bigger sibling. That's an illusion; it all springs from the same seed - greed. But if we accept that the small c version actually is less offensive, we're far more likely to excuse it when we encounter it and even  succumb to it ourselves. It seems to be the "it's not hurting anyone" variety. We tend to rate corruption by a scale that's linked to the intended benefit.

Corruption knows neither guilt nor remorse.

One may say, "What if actions seen as corrupt are precipitated by coercion, blackmail or similar pressure from criminal forces upon the apparent offender?" That's actually flow-though corruption and is only corruption in its own right if there is a viable option to refuse capitulation. If there is no viable option to avoid abetting such intentions, it's not corruption, rather it's self-defense. The corruption label goes on the perpetrators of those actions.

Corruption is an absolute; there is no 'corruption-lite'. Something or someone is either corrupt or not. Any amount of tolerance means corruption is present and active. Religion calls it 'sin'. It tells us we're all sinners, hence we're all corrupt. That's a bitter pill to swallow for most of us. The risk of accepting that is that if we're all corrupt, why bother to even try to reject our innate tendency to accept corruption as a human weakness? The only answer I can offer for that is inner peace that one can garner from doing the best we can to reject personal corruption. If we were to all to do that, there would be no corruption to speak of in our human world.

If that's so hard to grasp, try pointing to corruption in the animal kingdom.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Downtown Revitalization... a typical use of "political duct-tape"

March 28, 2013

Today I attended a meeting of the Physical Improvement Working Team, a sub-committee of the Downtown Vitalization project. I was invited by Kevin Narraway, the project leader.

My first impression was mixed and somewhat expected. Those in attendance were people who I perceive as having their own and very distinct views of what they want Cobourg to “look like”, and they seem very different from one another. That’s what is sought, I think, for such projects. Representation of as broad a scope of opinions as is possible with a small working group such as this. The problem right from the start then is getting to an overall concept that satisfies everyone. Problem is, no one really is satisfied, they’re all feeling very compromised. In the end, that is a failure in achieving a clearly defined solution, being off the mark for every distinct view that may be out there.

In my opinion, a truly effective solution needs to be extreme, needs 100% supporters on one hand and those that hate it on another, and likely with a whole lot of ambivalence in between. Short of that, it makes no remarkable impression on anyone, local or visitor alike. As I said, a failure to achieve what was aimed for, which should be ‘a clear statement’.

It’s like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that physically all fit together, no matter how you lay them down, but they don’t produce a legible picture, just a jumble of parts of images, none of which are sufficiently intact to be recognized for what they represent. Each piece represents one puzzle piece, an incomplete fragment of one person’s view. Each participant’s view is a compilation of ideas, of individual pieces of their own puzzle that, when assembled by the participant, produce a picture of that person’s whole perspective. But, taking one or two pieces from each and trying to assemble them into a larger compilation of a recognizable image or concept is highly improbable and nigh impossible. You simply end up with a mosaic of sorts with no clear message of what is being attempted. Like I said, a failure to achieve the objective. I don’t like saying that but it’s true, it’s the final product. It’s why these exercises tend to be repeated every so often, because they haven’t achieved the objective, but the effort is so taxing, it can only be repeated after some time has elapsed and until some argument can be made for a review and re-evaluation of how the mosaic has lost its current relevance and fallen into disapproval over that time. I think setting an ‘ultimate objective’ is a wrong strategy, one that can only derail or fail altogether.

For me, this meeting exemplified the essence of my concerns about such projects. It appears to be looking for some direction, some comprehensive solution, and more to the point, some corroboration of the thinking that something has to be done, that something can indeed be done, to alter the state of perceived weakness in our “Downtown”. Engaging some “experienced intervention” in the form of a design expert is supposed to, I think, provide the direction for the “physical portion” of the project. Again, I hate being so judgmental but the direction is simply going to take the project in a direction that produces another copy, perhaps a bit personalized for Cobourg, but nevertheless, a copy, of what so many other places have done or are working on, to get to their place of what they think they should be in the great competition of being “different”. In the end, that just seems so “same” to me. The inspiration behind that choice of direction is a common element among all of them. Besides, if that’s what is being pursued, just dust off the “C.A.U.S.E. Report” of a few years ago and get to it. That work is already done and it is predictably similar to what is being looked at today, apart from a little updating perhaps.

In my opinion, the essence of a downtown is much more than the visual appeal, but the visual is the easiest target to identify and revamp, leaving an easily understood impression that things have been “improved”. Look at other “downtowns”, or maybe better defined as’ distinct community centres’, ones like Kensington Market, for instance. Does that “compare” to our downtown on a physical plane? Does it succeed because of a rigid code of what’s acceptable and appropriate for a cultural centre? My thinking says no to both, but it does succeed on its own levels and therefore succeeds all on its own merits instead of on predefined criteria set out by a collection of partial visions that just don’t come together in any successful assembly. There is a very clear message in that success. BE SPECIAL IN YOUR OWN WAY.
First and foremost, I’m never particularly inspired by these projects because right from the outset, there is, to me anyway, an absence of clear definition of terms, particularly the “downtown”. It seems in many cases, that definition is unique to the individual speaking at that moment. If there’s going to be any coming together of opinion it has to be for the same piece of real estate. I would insist on a hard and fast outline for that area termed “downtown”. Only then can the scope of the objectives be identified.

At the moment, I’m focussing on the physical part of the Vitalization project. The plan appears to be to develop and present a comprehensive proposal for the physical aspect of revitalizing the downtown, based on the collaboration and compilation of a number of individual visions into perhaps 2, 3 or 4 proposals for consideration by the public, after taking their input into the process. That’s the way these things are done these days, engaging the public, however superficially that may end up to be. But, I think the ones that have the most profound influence on this kind of process are the front line participants on a day in day out basis, the business/property owners who live it and breathe it, and understand better than anyone else removed from the day to day involvement, the intricacies and dynamics of what makes the whole thing tick, what gives it its pulse. These are the true experts because if they’re wrong, they’re gone, plain and simple. They have a perception of what makes it work and they practice it day after day, in bad times and good. They experience the ups and downs and they do what feels right to get through it. The problem as I see it, the overall problem that’s too big to see all at once, is the impediments that are placed before them which keep them from doing the things that work. Those impediments include the arbitrary visions of benign grandeur imposed to make it something that belongs in a picture but doesn’t have the 3rd dimension of viability. I am convinced that the answer to whatever it is that the vitalization project is looking to solve, is in the minds and expertise of the businesses that make it up in the first place.

If I were King, my first act would be to demand all copies of the numerous ‘rule books’ and then tear them up. Then I would charge each member with the sole responsibility for their business, to conduct their business within a limited set of parameters and without interference from anyone else. That’s the place to start an overhaul if you want to make long-lasting improvements. As we have it now, every issue and concern in the past was “fixed” one at a time, like using a piece of duct tape over the problem,  and over time, the whole thing became covered in layers of duct tape, leaving no clue as to what is the real heart of the thing, the pulsing downtown. All that tape restricts its pulse, its breathing ability and makes for a rigid mass with no identity of its own. How do you revitalize something like that? I say you strip off the tape and start over, but when necessary, using band-aids instead.

We talk about “strength in our diversity” and yet we essentially reproduce, in a broader sense, other apparently successful decisions. We apply solutions designed for unique problems to substantially different problems, under different conditions and influences, and expect them to have similar results. That seems like a bit of wishful thinking to me. Diversity, if it indeed is a foundation of strength, needs to be nourished, not quenched with an arbitrary sameness. Diversity should be encouraged, allowed to flourish amid a sea of staidness. I see the bags and carts of purchases come out of the Bargain Shop and Liquidation World and I ask what influence the architecture and colours of their building had on those buying decisions. I truly think that the economics of business is not as dependant on its built environment as some would insist. I also think that there has to be a choice made between economics and architecture when it comes to priorities. Rules for the benefit of one will most likely stifle the other. I do not think that you can do both full justice at the same time when one often suffers at the hands of the other. If indeed a choice must be made, no solution can be devised to do both at the same time. You have to pick one to support, over the other, and try to protect, and to hurt the other as little as possible as you proceed. Trying to do both will fail them both. That’s a painful prospect to consider but if it’s seen as a challenge instead of a threat, there can be successes achieved to that end. It certainly wouldn’t be easy or for the faint of heart.
Just for a moment, let’s consider ANY great city. Its fabric consists of an almost endless diversity of styles and activities. What would they be if they had been constrained to evolve along very rigid and specific paths of thinking and behaviour. We marvel at their complexity and how it all seems to coexist in such vibrant and dynamic interaction. We are drawn to them to experience that very diversity, sometimes because of the sameness we live in back home. Why then do we think the opposite is our holy grail?
I’m definitely supportive of retaining our sense of history but I don’t limit it to a specific time in our past. After all, we’ve come through a lot of history, just like everyone else, for that matter. It’s all around us and we’re not unique. In the end, there’s only so much attraction to be had from that aspect and interest in our town can quickly wane as that appeal is seen to be the only highlight on offer. Diversity of existence is crucial to ongoing and sustainable interest and prosperity that could emanate from it.

At this point, I see it as boiling down to this. A preferred objective has to be chosen. A decision to UNDO has to be weighed against one of DOING even more. In today’s world, diversity rules. Success has to have its own definition for every distinct problem. Solutions have to be designed specifically for the problem and not drawn from a bank of popular solutions. Trying to manipulate a solution in the face of indeterminable influences is folly. Dynamic situations require dynamic solutions as opposed to fixed ones. That cannot be dictated, rather, it has to be allowed AND supported. That means the option to react to changes as they occur has to be as close to paramount as is practical and wise. Freedom trumps unnecessary regulation spawned by the religion of thinking in rigid concepts.

Not being delusional, I expect this view will be quickly discarded but the reasons for that kind of reaction are at the heart of serious impediments to achieving anything of substance that might have some impact of significant duration. It will demonstrate the rigid perspectives that produce failed strategies time and time again. They leave little room for the flexibility of thought that’s crucial to dealing with the dynamic forces that determine the prevailing state of any economic entity, be it a corporation, a small business, a committee or a town. A lot of what I’ve said is hard to swallow on the whole but if you chew on it a bit, it gets easier, and maybe even somewhat interesting because of its different taste and texture.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

we won't find much by digging in our own backyard...

   A volunteer just dropped off a Survey Response summary and on reading it, I noted an earlier concern of mine was still just that, a concern. From the statistics quoted, it is very apparent to me that we don’t have much information on why people DON’T come downtown.
   At the outset of this project I suggested that the survey pay particular attention to the reasons why people don’t frequent the downtown and to get that very important information there needs to be a component of this survey that is targeted specifically at non-downtown goers. Those people can be found in all the outlying shopping areas at any and all times of the day and week. What these people have to say will go a long way in telling us what’s missing from and what’s negative about the downtown experience.
   These people are the ones we want to attract, as opposed to looking for ideas on what will likely be marginal improvements for those who are already patronizing the area. Of course that is also a part of what needs to be ongoing but far greater strides can be made by attracting the non-believers and those who may not even be aware of the downtown’s appeal. Their opinion, I dare say, is probably the most important one in defining what has to be done to “vitalize” downtown.
   There have been several market surveys done in the past for the town as part of various applications by developers to rezone outlying areas, to allow more and larger shopping opportunities in them. The information in those studies reveals some interesting information and that is also important to this project. Even though the information is not fully current, it still sheds light on shoppers’ general habits and preferences and that’s vital information.
   I suggest that knowing as much as we can about why people don’t come downtown for their needs is key to developing a strategy designed to change that mindset and behavior. This, I think, is where the best opportunities to vitalize downtown actually lie. So far, we seem to have stirred the converted and activated a cheering section but have we learned anything that wasn’t already obvious to those who look at these issues with some regularity? So far, the results say ‘no’. Let’s dig deeper and outside the yard to get some additional important, meaningful and constructive input. Without it, we’re only baking a one-layer cake.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Today's 'Retailing' model may be approaching a catharsis of sorts (update)

·         74.1% of all electronics are bought online,
·         74.0% of all music and videos are bought online,
·         67.8% of all office supplies are bought online,
·         65.9% of all clothing sales are bought online,
·         65.8% of all furniture sales are bought online,
·         61.4% of all games and toys are bought online.
And of course, being U.S. sales, we're talking some big numbers here. For instance, translated into dollars, the percentages above mean that people bought $8.4 billion worth of electronics online as opposed to $2.9 billion in store, and $13.6 billion worth of clothing online vs $7.0 billion in store.
To put this into a Canadian perspective, recall that all Canadian ecommerce was worth $15.3 billion in 2010. This Canadian Ecommerce By the Numbers Infographic from CreditCards Canada (prepared from information provided by Statistics Canada) gives the details on Canadians' online buying habits.

The state of Retailing today

As most commonly practiced today, Retailing is moving towards an eventual collapse of that model. The world “manufacturing” engine (taken in a broader sense), runs at a production rate built on the need for profits, employment levels and revenue creation required to provide and sustain endless growth. Essentially, it has to keep producing at ever growing rates just to keep up. When the market is no longer hungry enough nor capable enough to absorb all the output produced to maintain that rate of production, the decline will rapidly recede through the entire production chain, right back to the harvesting of raw materials. Moreover, it’s no coincidence that management levels keep expanding while labour-intensive segments appear to keep shrinking. Declining output must carry ever-increasing costs of maintaining operations, creating output of decreasing intrinsic value but at increasing prices. As the need for associated labour declines, the essential resource, viable consumers of the production output also declines (as a percentage of consumer to output).  Add to that, the rising costs associated with selling or retailing that kind of output and you have a tipping point where it no longer sustains itself. Collapse is the default. Rather than into over-production, employment has to be channeled into producing non-consumptive output, actual assets and support mechanisms.
The presently most common Retail model is itself defective and self-destructive.

Retailing is not cheap, easy or a guaranteed successful venture. It can be profitable but often, in the long term, is not because the known final cost of sales has to be paid entirely by the buyer. That means the actual value of the purchase is diminished by the overhead costs which it must also bear. There are, in too many cases, some unknown costs, which, because of their nature, are omitted from the recovery process. Once discovered, they also become part of the burden that the buyer must bear, further affecting the demand and consumption.

Ours is a world that depends on selling and buying; we call it the “economy” and it now occupies third place in our daily dialogue, not far behind talk of wars and strife far away, in the neighbourhood and our homes , and of course sports, which seems to be an economy all on its own. The trouble with Retail is that it adds NO realizable value to the transaction, only costs, and thus raises the price of everything transacted by retail; a simple pass-through to whatever is being sold. Any additional costs are only a reduction of net value. I think that Retailing needs to re-evaluate itself and its role in the economy if it is to continue to serve a useful purpose, particularly one with actual value. For some insight, we just need to look at the food chain, and the AVOIDABLE costs that are borne entirely by the consumer. One day, that BUYER will rebel by refusing to buy anything at retail, especially bricks and mortar based, as we know it today.

The nature of Retailing today
Retailing, and its next-of-kin, Wholesaling, take a variety of approaches; I can think of brand-based, category-based, product-based, theme-based and volume-based. None of them are mutually exclusive and they all tend to overlap somewhere and to varying degrees, mostly due to a pursuit of more market exposure. Left to evolve along that trend, the eventual result would see all of Retail selling everything to the world market all the time. In that event, it is likely that the only difference among them would be “price”. We’re already beginning to see the emerging impact of this by watching the latest inhabitant in the retail jungle, the “On-line re-sellers”.

It’s easy to see that this model has its advantages for the buyer, but it also introduces some new problems and makes some disadvantages more significant. What it gives with one hand it seems to take away with the other. First off, you need internet access, and that can be more expensive than we realize when all the associated fees attributable to such communication costs are factored in. Then you have only 2-dimensional access to the products, depriving the buyer of all the other sensual aspects of choosing and deciding on a purchase. There are the strict limitations of payment methods and their inherent insecurities. First hand inspection and quality assurance are impossible, and time delay has its frustrations, and in many cases, transportation costs become a factor not previously a part of the overall common retail transaction cost. While it is a model that can reduce the base price, it does not guarantee a net reduction of the final transaction price. In the longer term, the tradeoffs may keep this model from gaining the upper hand, assuming it does not mitigate the negatives that exist now.

In today’s predominant Retail model, it’s pretty much indeterminable what the ratio of buyers to traffic would be in an overall perspective. The operational costs incurred by Retail are the result of servicing the total traffic at retail, not just the buying portion. Distributing that cost over all traffic reduces significantly the share per body served as compared to the share per transaction. As the business world inches more and more towards any number of user-pay models, Retail refuses to even look at the idea for fear of discouraging potential for sales. This is where the content of the sale comes into play.

As I said at the beginning, production is more sensitive to labour and sustainability pressures than to what the market can absorb indefinitely. We produce too much unnecessary output and force the market to deal with it. Dealing with those excesses wastes resources and increases costs in a number of ways (such as advertising, what I call ‘enticing’). Those costs become part of the buyer’s end costs, unnecessarily raising the price of every buyer’s transaction. This is not equitable because the buyer is paying for unwanted and unneeded product and for the cost of further enticement to buy yet more. Meanwhile, the non-buying traffic keeps adding to those costs being borne only by the buyers.

It seems reasonable to assume that lower prices overall will increase buying transactions, be they planned or spontaneous. Increasing transactions could be categorized as an economic stimulus. The real benefit comes when the price of necessary goods declines and the number of transactions increases as a result. Such stimulation in the economy can only be a benefit to all, and improve the true and realistic sustainability of the production and manufacturing engines.

As it operates now, Retail’s operational costs are borne exclusively by the buyer, the key resource on which the operation depends entirely for its income and derivative incomes. The more buyers, the lower the attributed operational cost per transaction; conversely, the fewer the buyers, the higher those per transaction cost attributions become and consequently adversely affect the final price for every transaction. That suggests that regardless of the traffic through an operation, the key number is the actual transactions.
This introduces the “rate of conversion” factor, turning traffic into buyer. Generally speaking, conversion requires additional resources to be employed, ie advertising, promotions, sales, etc., because non-buyers are being enticed to buy what they had no intention to buy at the outset or more of what they actually are buying. These additional resources must also be derived from the final sales revenues, which obviously reduces the net effect as well. Expending resources on conversion strategies does not provide a 100% return on those resources so there is yet more collateral drainage, and likely involves the principle of diminishing returns if too much is spent on that. Adding costs without adding value contributes to the eventual collapse.

The face of Retailing to come
BUT, what if the operational costs were distributed over the overall traffic as opposed to just the buying segment? What if the cost of operations were spread much thinner by distributing them over every single body through the retail door, thereby reducing the impact on the actual resulting transactions? The result would naturally be lower prices, lower transaction dollar values AND better value for the buyer, the most important piece in this process.

What if EVERY visitor through the door were to provide a share of the resources needed to pay the operating costs? As it is now, the more the buyer spends, the greater the contribution to the payment of operating costs. On the surface, this seems to me to be penalizing the most important resource, the buyer, and the penalty increases with the increase in the amount of the purchase, the higher that gets. Unless the margin calculations are applied in a reverse formula, where the lower the purchase, the higher the attribution of costs, (resulting in abnormal prices for minor transactions), this system forces the better buyers to contribute the lion’s share of the costs. This is surely not a preferred objective or outcome.
Costco has redirected some of its costs through its membership component and reduced the pricing of their products, thereby presumably increasing the number of transactions. However, their model requires that more product must be added to the transactions to compensate for lower margins, margins which were downsized because of the redirection of overhead now being addressed by membership revenue. (That’s strictly my analysis and conclusion.)

Retail has to stop making ONLY the Buyer pay for the operational costs, which is what happens when they include those costs ONLY in the sale. Not doing so will actually reward the buyer for purchasing instead of penalizing them for buying more of what they need and may want.

User-pay is a theme that’s popping up ever more frequently in reasonable and many unexpected places. It’s also being used to disassemble transactions into smaller components to render them less objectionable to the consumer, albeit making it more of a distraction than a reality. The present reality is still that ALL costs must be wrapped into the final transaction with the buyer. You can disguise them but you can’t avoid the costs.

Why doesn’t the “looker” pay their share? After all, the cost of providing the opportunity to “look” is very real, and in the present model, it’s paid for by the BUYER, not the “looker”. Marketing says that’s OK but economics says that’s fiscally wrong. Marketing claims success when it creates “traffic” but “traffic” simply adds costs. Conversion of that traffic also adds more costs. At present, all those costs have to be paid for by the end buyer. To me, that’s counter-productive; it can have the underlying effect of discouraging a purchase because of the inflationary affect on the transaction. Rather than penalize the decision to buy, Retail has to reward it. Marketing has to take responsibility for its cost and for its failures to convert by putting that cost directly on its own product, “traffic”. Marketing has to become self-sustaining, a free-standing component of Retail that covers its costs with its own revenue, rather than simply imposing (disguising) its costs in the seller/buyer transaction. Perhaps Marketing needs to provide “value” in its offering to the “looker” and show further “value” in the purchase for a realized double benefit to the buyer. That’s how Marketing can do the job it’s supposed to do. That’s how it will have to perform to stay relevant in the marketplace.
Ultimately the buyer has to reap the benefit of a transaction if there are going to be more transactions in the future. Heaping undeserved costs onto those transactions will have the opposite effect and will work towards the failure of the present Retail model. Today’s Retail model would be wise to find a way to fix itself before it falls flat on its face and finds itself relegated to the fringes of commerce.

Feb. 12, 2013
Recent developments include the closure of some Best Buy, Future Shop and Sears operations. The parent of Best Buy / Future Shop points directly to the “showroom” phenomenon which I describe above as the “looker” issue. To maintain an effective viability for their operation they have been forced to reduce the costs associated with the provision of mere opportunity to “look” and not buy. This is EXACTLY what I was describing in my opinion piece. It’s not hard for me to draw the conclusion that this scenario is widespread throughout the retail world and similar decisions will be announced throughout the coming months and years. The bell has rung its first chime on this and the retail world had better be paying attention.