Category Archives: Commerce

reSET, Malloy ‘Walk The Walk’ To State Capitol

by Categorized: Commerce, law, Politics Date:

 It was a fruitful year for the Social Enterprise Trust in 2013, as the group based in Hartford known as reSET opened its community incubator space at 99 Pratt Street, graduated two accelerator classes for startup entrepreneurs and worked with more than 60 groups to advance the cause of business with an explicit social benefit.

But reSET’s main legislative hope, a bill that would allow for “Type-B” benefit corporations,failed for the second straight year as time ran out for a vote in the state Senate last spring. 

Now the good news for reSET is that the bill, which would make it easy for companies to incorporate for a purpose other than only profit for owners, is on the fast track this year and seems like a lock to pass. 

Onyeka Obiocha, left, and Vishal Patel of A Happy Life, a social enterprise coffee company in Hartford. Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Onyeka Obiocha, left, and Vishal Patel of A Happy Life, a social enterprise coffee company in Hartford.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy showed up at reSET’s Pratt Street office Tuesday to deliver his support, calling the bill a jobs measure – as social enterprise start-ups gain inspiration under the Type-B flag.  If that’s not enough, the legislature’s top Democrats issued their jobs agenda for 2014 on Tuesday and the Type-B bill is high on the list of priorities.

Under the proposal, companies that incorporate at Type-B would be subject to traditional corporate laws but would also be allowed to provide a stated public benefit as part of their charter. And they would be held accountable for that, in required annual “benefit reports.”

Malloy, at reSET, wondered why a company “making 90 bags of coffee a day” must have a team of lawyers to draw up its incorporation papers if it wanted to form as a social enterprise. He was referring to A Happy Life, whose founder, Vishal Patel, and chief operating officer Onyeka Obiocha, had just explained their plan to the governor.

The partners, who met at the reSET offices last summer, operate at the incubator offices there. They buy raw coffee that has been bought under Fair Trade standards, and roast and package it in Wallingford, with the goal of not only supporting Fair Trade, but, Patel explained, “using profits to develop solutions or holistic approaches to eradicating poverty in coffee-growing communities in underserved countries.

The market is, of course, heavy with boutique coffee roasting firms hoping to improve conditions where subsistence farmers grow the beans, charging somewhat higher prices — $10.99 for a 12-ounce bag in the case fo A Happy Life.  “We’re not justa coffee company. We’re a lifestyle company,” Patel said, with daily online anecdotes, pictures and videos about being happy in life.

“We think we can take Fair Trade to the next level,” said Patel, who works full-time as a research assistant at the Hospital for Special Care, but expects to move full-time to the start-up firm.

After Malloy’s announcement, folks from reSET walked a half-mile in a steady rain to the state Legislative Office Building, where the commerce committee held an informational forum on the bill.

And so, two years ago reSET was on the outside looking in, opposed by the state bar association on technical language in the bill. Last year the group was in the mix with its bill, out of luck when the clock ran out. This year reSET arrives at the Capitol as full-fledged insiders.

 

Busy Scene After Slow Start As Retailers Stretch Christmas

by Categorized: Commerce, Retail Date:

The doors were open at Spruce Home & Garden in West Hartford Center, literally wide open the way manager Mary Goodwin likes it, well before 9 a.m. Thursday. And the markdowns were plentiful.

But customers were slow to arrive — and that’s pretty much how it shaped up in stores around the area, whether they were big boxes like Target and Toys R Us, independent shops or the mothership of Westfarms Mall.

Miranda Basley, store manager at Second Time Around in West Hartford Center, places a sign outside advertising 50 percent off Thursday -- morning only.  Basley said December sales are up 50 percent compared to last year in the consignment store.  John Woike | woike@courant.com

Miranda Basley, store manager at Second Time Around in West Hartford Center, places a sign outside advertising 50 percent off Thursday — morning only. Basley said December sales are up 50 percent compared to last year in the consignment store.
John Woike | woike@courant.com

That seems odd considering that the day after Christmas is yet another landmark day in the mass cultural activity of shopping. Between returns for those pajamas that were too small, to gift cards that are now sold in racks with multiple options at places such as Walgreen’s, to clearance sales with fully stocked shelves, “Boxing Day” would appear to have the ingredients of a retail madhouse.

Maybe it was the light dusting of snow, maybe the quiet start was a continuation of the mixed retail season of 2013, maybe shoppers needed the morning off.  We could be seeing the effects of prosperity not widely shared, and we certainly are seeing a breakout year for online sales.

But if merchants were worried, they didn’t say so in Thursday’s Christmas afterglow. And by afternoon, the parking lots were jammed.

“We had a very successful season,” said Goodwin, at Spruce. “I measure it on the relationships I formed with my customers and the people I’ve met.”

Uh-oh. That sounds like a nice way of saying sales were flat. But no, Goodwin said, on the contrary, the store is up 14 percent for the year and this month already matched December of 2012 with six days remaining.

And that doesn’t even count the increase of 40 percent to 50 percent in online sales at the seven-store chain, based in New Milford, according to Joe Bittner, Spruce’s e-commerce director.

As we will see in the coming weeks, sales at national chains were not so robust in part because the season was shorter than usual.  Although store figures aren’t available yet, firms such as ShopperTrak have reported declines in year-over-year totals in recent weeks, and an alarming drop in foot traffic averaging 24 percent in each of the two weeks before last Sunday.

The National Retail Federation Reported a decline in overall spending during the Thursday-Sunday long weekend of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and, like everyone else, has reported sharply higher online revenues overall.  But the trade group has not yet reported on how the season fared compared with 2012.

MasterCard Advisors said Thursday that “holiday spending” rose by 2.3 percent from 2012, a decent but not outstanding bump, Reuters reported. MasterCard’s measure shows sales of items such as jewelry and home furnishings, which may or may not be gifts.

For retailers, the season had only four weekends — one of which brought a snowstorm in the Northeast — along with the permanent rise of online and mobile-site shopping that hurts any store not participating. And with deeper discounts this year, profits are likely to remain squeezed.

At Toys R Us, the returns desk was quiet at 10:30 a.m. and a clerk said it had been that way all morning. The whole season has been “more settled down” than in years past, said the clerk, who did not give her name because she is not authorized to speak for the company.  One shopper, Bari DeBenedette, brought in an indoor tricycle for her 3-year-old, all assembled, and quickly returned it for a larger model in a new box.

“He’s growing faster than I thought,” said DeBenedette, who lives in Long Island and was visiting family.

The same can’t be said of the Connecticut economy, though it is headed in the right direction, gradually. We will never know the effect of holiday sales on the state’s economy because there’s no state measure of volume, and, anyway, the stores that are based here add up to just a small fraction of the industry.

At Westfarms, where most stores opened at 8 a.m., traffic was picking up but still resembled a typical Saturday, if that, and certainly not one during the holiday season. “It’s a long day,” Westfarms general manager Kevin Keenan said. “People are not in a panic mode the day after Christmas the way they are before Christmas…Today will be right up there. Today will be in the top five.”

Hard to imagine it wouldn’t be, and that punctuates the season in retail overall: Not bad, not great.

And underlying all of it is the attitude of shoppers like Vilma Castro, who was looking for discounts, but also brought back some games she had purchased as extra gifts at Toys R Us and never even gift-wrapped.

“I’ve got teenagers. They didn’t need it,” said Castro, of Hartford. “They were very blessed.”

Anytime the word “need” finds its way into a conversation about retail, it’s a bad sign for the folks at the cash register.

 

New Haven Independent: J. Press Building To Go

by Categorized: Commerce, Economic Development, Real Estate, Retail Date:

New Haven isn’t quite as bad off as Hartford when it comes to its history of tearing down historic buildings, especially the ones that are not landmarks, but rather contributors to the street life of the city.

The New Haven Independent reports that the J. Press building on York Street will be demolished because it’s structurally unsound.  The upscale clothing store will rebuild on the site — and another little piece of urban color will vanish.

 

Bobby V’s To Teletheater Owner’s Employment In State To 370

by Categorized: Commerce, Consumer Date:

After a $4 million upgrade, the Bradley Teletheater next month will open a 300-seat Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar with Bobby Valentine at the longtime off-track betting venue. The restaurant will include a 17-foot-wide LED video wall and 70 large-screen TV’s — basically wall-to-wall video, as this artist’s rendering shows.

Artist's rendering of Bobby V's Restaurant at Bradley Teletheater.  Courtesy of Sportech

Artist’s rendering of Bobby V’s Restaurant at Bradley Teletheater.
Courtesy of Sportech

Valentine, 63, the colorful former baseball manager, now NBC baseball analyst and athletic director at Sacred Heart University, owns a Bobby V’s restaurant — with a different name — in his native Stamford and has previously owned several other eateries. Valentine had a 9-year playing career starting at age 19 and later managed the Texas Rangers and New York Mets (taking the Mets to the World Series against the Yankees in 2000).

He had a less than successful stint at the Red Sox in 2012 after managing in Japan for several years. Lately, he’s been sighted by patrons at the Bradley Teletheater, owned by New Haven-based Sportech Venues Inc., a U.S. arm of a British firm that bought all 15 off-track betting locations in the state, and rebranded them under the Winners name.

With the expansion, Sportech brings its employment in Connecticut to 370 people — up from 300 a year ago.
“I’ve been talking to Sportech for a while and I like what they have done since buying the Connecticut operation,” Valentine said in a written release. “I’ve enjoyed working with them to design something we are all proud of. There’s nothing like it up here in Southern New England and I’ve not seen a screen as impressive as this outside Vegas! You’re going to have to see it to believe it!”

 

Bobby Valentine To Run Restaurant At Bradley Teletheater

by Categorized: Commerce, Consumer Date:

A $4 million expansion of the Bradley Teletheater, including a 17-foot-wide LED video wall, will have an expanded restaurant — owned by Bobby Valentine, the baseball manager who has the well known Bobby V’s in Stamford .

It’s unclear whether the Windsor Locks teletheater’s 300-seat restaurant will be called Bobby V’s, but sources say the venture will be announced soon — and it makes sense to use the celebrity name on a celebrity-owned restaurant.  The expansion is part of a $10 million upgrade around the state for Sportech, the British firm that owns and operates all 15 Connecticut off-track betting locations, known as Winners.

Sportech Venues Inc., based in New Haven, announced the expansion last week and said it’s expected to be ready in January. The Bradley location, on Schoephoester Road between Route 75 and the airport, will include 70 large-screen TVs, a golf simulator, a meeting room, and outdoor dining alongside the betting venue.

Sportech has owned the Connecticut locations for three years. “This has been a major project and we needed local expertise to make it happen,” Ted Taylor, said Sportech’s managing director, said in announcing the expansion — but not Valentine’s role. “I am delighted that we have been able to use some of Connecticut’s finest craftsmen to help us create this magnificent facility.”

Valentine could certainly be considered one of Connecticut’s craftsmen as a restaurateur and outspoken sports figure who doesn’t shy away from controversy. The Stamford native, 63, had a 9-year playing career starting at age 19, managed the Texas Rangers and New York Mets (taking the Mets to the World Series against the Yankees in 2000). He had a less than successful stint at the Red Sox in 2012 after a 10-year hiatus from the dugout.

Now athletic director at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Valentine has been sighted by patrons at the Bradley Teletheater recently.

CT Hospitals Join Online Market To Cut Supply Costs

by Categorized: Commerce, Health Care, Technology Date:

By now we’ve all heard stories of hospitals charging hundreds of dollars for an aspirin pill or a bandage, part of the screwy world of medical cost allocation that includes list prices almost no one pays, based on made-up numbers.

But how do hospitals get those aspirin pills and rolls of gauze at the lowest possible prices? The supply chain for hospital supplies, like everything else in health care, is changing fast. On Thursday, an online hospital supply marketplace founded in April is announcing that a coalition of 100 New England hospitals has signed on.

The Northeast Purchasing Coalition includes several in Connecticut: Yale-New Haven, Waterbury, Eastern Connecticut Health Network, Norwalk, Danbury and Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington.  The group has joined Irving, Texas-based aptitude LLC, which claims to be the hospital industry’s first online market allowing direct contracting between suppliers and buyers.

Hospitals largely buy their supplies now through very large “group purchasing organizations” that sign long-term contracts with suppliers, allowing hospitals to benefit from scale.  But about 40 percent of hospital supply purchases are still made through individual contracts — a $55 billion slice of the industry including such bigger-ticket items as pacemakers and artificial heart valves, according to aptitude, which was formed by Novation, one of the group purchasing organizations.

Hospitals using its market can save 10 percent to 15 percent over individual contracts, said Justin Hibbs, a co-founder of aptitude — which works with hospitals to analyze purchasing patterns. “We’re being told by both the hospitals and the suppliers that they can do more with less,” he said, meaning they can cut administrative costs on top of saving direct costs.

All of this matters because it’s part of the industry’s response to intense cost pressures. Whether this new model of purchasing can cut the listed “chargemaster” price of that Band-Aid by hundreds of dollars is anyone’s guess.

Accusation: Kohls’s Selling The Real Thing, Advertised as Fake

by Categorized: Commerce, Retail Date:

Attention shoppers: When you buy a Nicole Fabiola handbag supposedly trimmed with faux fur at Kohl’s, you might be getting the real thing — not fake, as advertised.

The fur, that is.  The Humane Society of the United States, in a release Monday, charged that the Wisconsin-based retail chain is falsely labeling its fur trim as “faux,” when tests show that the material is in fact real rabbit fur.

That’s a federal violation punishable by as much as $16,000 per incident, the Humane Society said.

A Nicole Fabiola bag on the Kohl's web site, advertised at $53 Monday.

A Nicole Fabiola bag on the Kohl’s web site, advertised at $53 Monday.

“We’re calling on Kohl’s to adopt a fur-free policy and more robust quality control program, and urging consumers to learn how to tell animal fur from fake fur so they can shop with confidence,” said Pierre Grzybowski, research and enforcement manager for the society’s Fur-Free Campaign, in a release.

Kohl’s didn’t immediately respond with a comment Monday afternoon. A look at the retailer’s web site showed one of the bags listed at $53, marked down from $89, a deal available online only.

This is far from the first time the Humane Society has accused retailers of selling the real thing and advertising it as fake. The release Monday lists several legal settlements involving the nonprofit advocacy group and enforcement actions by the Federal Trade Commission between 2010 and this year. Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and others were named.

Congress and President Barack Obama closed a loophole in 2010 that allowed fur-trimmed items to be unlabeled if the value of the fur was less than $150, said the Humane Society, which publishes a guide on how to know whether you’re getting the real fake thing.

Online Buying Spree in China, Debt In US

by Categorized: Commerce, Consumer, marketing, Retail Date:

What’s the biggest online shopping day of the year? Cyber Monday? How about the last weekday before Christmas when shipped gifts can arrive by the 25th?

No and no. According to Chinese web sites including Xinhua, Monday had the world’s highest volume of online sales of goods. That’s because it was 11/11, or “Singles Day” in China, a sort of anti-Valentine’s Day that started on college campuses, according to Business Insider.

And on this day, singles celebrate — by buying lots of stuff.

More than 200 journalists waited for data at Taobao.com, a huge shopping site, Business Insider reported, based on a dispatch by Xinhua.

Here in the United States, we’re just starting to rack up debt — but that’s what we will do is great numbers, a new survey shows.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans with children said they’re willing to take on debt to make their children happy this holiday season, according to a Harris Interactive survey released Monday by Lexington Law, a law firm specializing in consumer credit.

And the picture will get ugly for low-income families, the survey suggests.

“Those with a household income of less than $35,000 are willing to accrue an average of $700 worth of debt in order to make their children happy for the holidays,” Lexington Law said.

They’ll have to put it on credit since 55 percent haven’t saved for this year’s gift-giving, the survey showed. As for households with more than $75,000 in income? They’re willing to take on an average of just $300 in debt.

 

Labor To Larson: Vote No On Free Trade Deal

by Categorized: Commerce, Labor, Politics, Trade Date:

Free trade is one of those wedge issues that cuts across party lines, dividing Democrats and Republicans not between the parties, but within each party.

It’s coming to a head now as a coalition of labor and environmental groups pressures U.S. Rep. John B. Larson to vote against an upcoming free trade bill — with a rally scheduled for Saturday.

Larson, Democrat of the 1st District, is normally one of the best friends to labor and environment groups. But the coalition says he has yet to oppose “Fast Track” trade authority, which is crucial to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement — dubbed “NAFTA on steroids” by its opponents.

“If enacted, the TPP would off-shore American jobs, flood the U.S. with unsafe food imports, increase the cost of medicine, increase fracking, and make the global race to the bottom even worse,” the group said in a written release.

Proponents of free trade, including Clinton Democrats, say reducing barriers is the best way to reach economic growth even if it means some displacement and pain in the short run. Larson has generally supported free trade.

The rally is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Larson’s office at 221 Main St. in Hartford. The Connecticut AFL-CIO, part of the group, originally put out word of the rally, then said the event was off. Organizers from a group called Activate CT later said the event was on.

“As a Member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, my primary goals are to ensure any agreement we enter into aims to build on American innovation and expand our export opportunities while protecting jobs here at home,” Larson said in an emailed statement.

The takeaway: Activists are fighting over whether to protest or negotiate. For Larson, a lifetime labor supporter with multinational corporations directly responsible for tens of thousands of jobs in his district, it’s virtually a no-win issue.

State Police Receive First Registrations For Assault Weapons; Click Here for Forms

by Categorized: Commerce, Firearms Date:

The state police have received their first applications from Connecticut residents seeking to register assault weapons under the controversial gun control law that went into effect April 4 — and some people are even bringing in their guns, which isn’t necessary.

Residents have until Jan. 1 to register assault weapons, as defined under the law.  But the system is up and running and the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection is now processing the requests.

Click here for the pdf of the assault weapons certificate application

“They’re just trickling in so far,” said Capt. Thomas Garbedian.

Applicants must show proof that they owned the firearms as of April 4, must submit a right thumbprint and must have the form notarized. The don’t need to show up in person, and they certainly don’t need to bring their guns, Garbedian said.

The state police “received a couple of calls up here from the local departments saying people are walking in with guns,” he said.

Local police are not processing the applications, which can be dropped off or mailed to the state police headquarters at 1111 Country Club Rd., Middletown.

Click here for the information page of the special licensing and firearms unit on the Connecticut gun control law.

The registrations apply to a broad class of firearms that are defined as assault weapons under the law because they have semiautomatic action and at least one military characteristic, typically a pistil grip. The law applies to, among others, the AR-15 type of rifles that are the same platform as the M-16 and M-4 military rifles.

People in the gun industry don’t consider civilian AR-15′s to be assault weapons because they are not fully automatic, meaning they require a pull of the trigger to fire each round. But that’s what they’re called under the law.

Owners of magazines that carry more than 10 rounds must also declare those items by Jan. 1 — which is trickier, since magazines don’t have serial numbers.

Click here for the magazine declaration form

But before you get the idea of registering for magazines that you don’t yet own, giving you the ability to bring them into the state in the future, be aware: Falsely claiming to own magazines is a Class A misdemeanor.

The law is being challenged in court by three lawsuits, the latest of which was filed Monday by the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents retailers, manufacturers and gun clubs. The NSSF lawsuit, filed in federal district court, charges that the law was adopted improperly as an emergency certification, not requiring a public hearing, and that it violates the state and federal constitutional rights of gun owners and industry firms.

Separately, the department is receiving thousands of requests for pistol permits. Starting next Oct. 1, anyone seeking to buy ammunition will need a certificate, and starting April 14, anyone seeking to buy a rifle will need a license — but the existing pistol permit allows both of those permits, so that’s what many residents are seeking.

The department is ahead of the schedule promised by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had said the registration forms would be ready by Aug. 1.