Monday, June 10, 2013

“California Calling”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with my personal connection to legendary California guitarist Davie Allan. We have had a long-distance friendship since the late 90’s.
As a kid, I was greatly enthralled by Allan’s work with The Arrows, which appeared in many movie soundtracks during the 1960’s, including the cinema classic “The Wild Angels” with Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra.
By participating in Allan’s fan group on Yahoo! I encountered perhaps his most devoted follower – Boobie Auten. This prolific philosopher and pundit has made visits to the forum entertaining for many years.
Auten’s stream-of-consciousness poetry and comment are very reminiscent of “Beat Era” hero Allen Ginsberg. I have often marveled at how easily his words seem to appear on the page.
A few years ago, I decided to try tapping in to this sort of free-flowing prose, inspired by a new Davie Allan recording. Thereafter, I have written a “First Impressions” review of each new album with genuine excitement.
What follows here is my primal reaction to Allan’s latest work:

RETROPHONIC 4 – First Impressions

Dark Of The Night - Into the dark, riding Noah’s Ark on a crashing sea of tonality. Reverb waves, King Fuzz saves, get on board if you want to greet the day. The moody monarch has somethin’ to say.

Don’t Blame Duane – A dirge at dusk. A dance into oblivion. My song is done. Old warriors bow, the battle is won. Kiss the sunset, just for fun.

Here It Comes – Brassy, sassy, melodic grunge. A movie soundtrack from 1971. Who remembers? You do, hoodoo. Neck is old, strings are new.

Run Of The Arrow – Tip of the spear, the six-string shaman is here. Run wild and free over the fanciful fretboard, melodically. Echo bend, don’t make me say it again. The fleeing brave is my friend.

Stick It Again – Up in the morning, guitar licks without warning. Tonal fire, gonna raise your ire. You weren’t prepared? Don’t be scared. The best time of day is before the sandman goes away.

Cara Mia – A ballad of eternal love. Jazzmaster sings with grace from above. Hear my plea, Our Lady of the Overdrive Scream. This prayer is for thee. Let your people go free.

War Path – Fleet of fret, we can never forget. The clever plan wins this bet. Come, ye faithful to the fuzz. Drink and dance, you’ve had enough. Our ride is rough. But the trail winds toward sterner stuff. You need not fear. Daybreak is here.

Introspective – Lookin’ inside in the midst of a cosmic ride. A backward glance, a second chance. A bit of romance. Ants in your pants.

Apache Junction – Native fire, a stealthy coppersmith with his lyre. Strings bursting with heat, blood on the street. Feel the 4/4 beat. You’re the kind of fool I wouldn’t want to meet.

Los Cabos – How many trips across these weathered lips. I say your name and so begins the game. Look hard in the mirror, your face is the same.

Lullaby Of The Leaves – Venture onward to no-man’s land. A plectrum shooter in my hand. I am the one, my song is sung. Hear the mournful strum from the guitar beach bum.

Recycled Too – Hot exhaust pipes break the night. Rapping with spitting breaths of firelight. Work the gearbox, give a pledge to naught. Everything’s gonna be alright.

Return Of The 7th Cavalry – Marching soldiers, horses, and more. Sabers drawn, we go to war.
Chord kick, our melodic trip. Crest the hill, our battle is quick.

Cycletherapy – Backwards mask, tones to the task. A friendly flask. Join the hippie fest, words said in jest. Come on in, man, you can be my guest.

Flashback ’36 – Kickstart ride on the other side. A tale of those who lived and died. Crazy dreams that others tried. Failure I will not abide. The negative is nullified.

Fuzination – Rip and rock, a spaceship at the dock. Steel strings squawk. My key fits your lock. Nose cone to the stars, jamming out in biker bars. My soul is alive. Let me take you on a slow ride.

Bedlam – A prayer and a promise. Devil, you are finished with us. We ride into the sunset. Our names you will never forget. On the boulevard of dreams, nothing is what it seems. Alone, we run. This day of decision is done.

Ghost Riders In The Sky – Song to the sunset. Song to be sung. Hear me now, maiden, I am the only one. Hoofbeats and backstreets. Look out, here I come.

Shape Of Things To Come – Sonic boom splits the room. Tomorrow is today. I ride at sunset. The darkness is my day. Glory is a tease, feel the breeze. This life has gone astray.

Think It Over – A bit of Buddy with lots of love. Remembering a hero who slipped above. An anthem of the lonely heart. Too soon my friend did you depart.

Glory Stompers - Sidewalk stompin’ with the angry breed. Rebels in need. The demon seed. Our path is clear, though doppelgangers appear. Be they far or near, the glory gang is here.

Oh Buddy, We Miss You So – Ode to a hero lost. A sweet spirit surrendered to naught. Voice and style on the miracle mile. Forever free, you are still with me.

Rip It Up – A classic vibe from the other side. When Rock & Roll felt good inside. No shame, no greed, just Little Richard on the keys. Give me the disease. It’s what I need.

Neon Lights – Radio rebel rockin’ the open road. Wheels spin and I am all alone. But there is a voice on the telephone. Hello, baby, I am comin’ home.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

“Retail Psychology”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: About two years ago, I began a series called ‘Retail 101’ when asked by a friend in the industry to write material specifically targeted to hourly workers. What follows here is the third chapter of that creation. While writing this piece, I recalled that a former Kroger manager had said he was required to complete a psychology course to be in charge of a store. With hindsight, it obvious that such education was very useful, indeed.

Working in retail management has offered many opportunities for this writer to study the fascinating subject of human behavior. First-hand experiences have been plentiful over the past thirty years. Yet I have typically taken each of these as sales-floor lessons to be learned and remembered - not things to be considered ‘useful’ outside of my own experience.
Recently however, a college student joined our team in search of part-time employment. He spoke about working on a PhD in psychology. While stocking items and straightening shelves, he repeated tidbits of enlightenment from his classes.
The result was pure entertainment for most of the crew.
But in personal terms, I began to share stories from my own shopkeeping past. Pondering the subject of his higher education, I offered a few vignettes of retail life to the young student, while reflecting on a business journey around Geauga County.
At my first supermarket, building displays at the end of an aisle was a routine chore. But because of time constraints, it was necessary to put these artful constructions in place before the ‘sale’ actually began. The intent was to be ready when demand increased at the start of our new ad. But I noted immediately that a particular item would increase in popularity simply because of its prime location. A multi-column stack of paper towels began to move quickly into customer carts, for example. They assumed the item was at a value price because of its prominent spot in the store.
Also at my first supermarket, their ‘house brand’ was a familiar favorite of customers. The label used a white background, with logo text done in a rainbow. This style eventually grew stale and the company decided that a freshening of sorts was in order. What resulted was a modernistic update complete with pinstripes over a bright, blue field of color. They intended to convey the spirit of ‘new’ 1980’s America. But instead, customers started to complain that the products tasted different. One particular woman demanded that we find ‘old stock’ of tomato sauce, because the staple item she had used for years was suddenly unacceptable.
In both cases, customer perceptions produced unintended results, in positive and negative ways. Understanding customer psychology has helped retailers achieve success for many generations.
Old-style stores placed goods behind a counter, with attention from a clerk needed to procure items. Yet the modern ‘supermarket’ concept, pioneered by Clarence Saunders in 1916, empowered customers in a way never seen before. They were literally able to select many items for themselves while shopping. The underlying theme produced by this layout was irresistible – at long last, the CUSTOMER was in charge. Eventually, every food retailer in the nation adopted this format.
The young employee at my side was impressed, but had a question. What about modern, low-frills retailers like Walmart? Were they ignorant of consumer psychology?
My response was that the well-known Arkansas chain was actually quite gifted at understanding the expressed and unexpressed desires of everyday consumers. Their focus on ‘price’ had created an expectation of value that transcended the actual cost of goods for sale. By operating as a thrifty outlet for popular goods, they were able to sidestep the usual concerns about customer service and the total shopping experience. ‘Deep discount’ venues carried that philosophy to a new level. Savings in return for small sacrifices. Minimal price = minimal store.
Other, more traditional retailers moved in the opposite direction. These full-service grocers rightly reckoned that a higher overall cost could be supported by better selection, creative merchandising, and careful customer service.
I related a story of one homemaker from bygone days, who had inadvertently left the store without a full bag of groceries. Included were items necessary to prepare the evening meal for her family. I was instructed by my employer to deliver the items DIRECTLY to her kitchen table! In bottom-line terms, this meant driving a few miles outside of the city. There was no way to ‘juggle the numbers’ and avoid saying we lost labor hours and the price of fuel from this extra expenditure. But the benefit in real terms was overwhelming. We satisfied a customer and earned her loyalty in a way no other gesture could achieve.
My young employee smiled while considering these stories of life before cell phones and the Internet. He promised to share them during his next stint in the college classroom. I could only imagine the fruitful discussion they might inspire.

Postscript: The psychology of retailing is, in real terms, about understanding the ways in which all human beings act and react in a public setting. Providing respect and good customer service. Providing value not just in terms of the goods for sale, but also in terms of the overall shopping experience.

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