Category Archives: Consumer

Colorado Gov. Offers Marijuana Advice To Connecticut

by Categorized: Consumer, Government, Politics Date:

Forty years ago when he was graduating from Wesleyan University, John Hickenlooper couldn’t have imagined that he’d be back on campus giving advice to the state of Connecticut on how to run a vast marijuana retail network.

Or maybe he could imagine it.  As a full participant in that time and place, Hickenlooper, class of ’74, now says, “I’m way past any point of saying I didn’t inhale.”

Either way, he was back at Wesleyan in Middletown over the holiday weekend, breathing the cleaner air of an honored alumnus as governor of Colorado, which fully authorized pot sales for recreational use at the start of this year.

“So far we’ve rolled it out pretty well,” Hickenlooper said in a talk he gave about legalization Saturday — not, apparently, aware of his pun. “The industry so far recognizes, they’ve got to behave responsibly.”

Colorado, which previously sanctioned marijuana for medical use, now has 250 licensed retail locations, with 100 up and running, along with 61 heavily regulated “manufacturing” sites, mostly growers, and two testing facilities.  Connecticut legalized pot for medical use in 2012 and we expect to see some or all of the six licensed dispensaries open this summer.

“My advice to Connecticut would be to go slow on the recreational,” said Hickenlooper, 62, in response to a question I asked. “I tell all the governors to go slow. We don’t know what the implications are going to be for our kids.”

Now they’re finally worried about the kids? Hickenlooper, in fact, has been hesitant all along. He initially opposed legalization but now has the job of making it happen smoothly.

Full disclosure here, I’m on the advisory committee at Wesleyan that helps the administration organize on-campus seminars and discussions, though I wasn’t involved in Hickenlooper’s visit.

“You don’t realize until you’re trying to create a regulatory framework how complicated it is to make everything work,” he said.

That includes walking a line between marijuana advocates and the business community, making sure motorists aren’t driving stoned and working around the fact that possessing the drug is still a federal crime are all issues. The feds have told Colorado they’ll “find other things to prosecute” as long as the state keeps pot out of the hands of kids and organized crime.

The issues are endless. “Edibles have become a big deal,” he said, but what is a dose? One man who ate too much ended up killing his wife. As a result, the legislature passed a law requiring clear labeling right on the edible product itself — not just the packaging.

Full legalization is coming everywhere, sooner or later, so Connecticut clearly can’t stay put with its small handful of growers and stores. And since we’re a state that loves our sin taxes, it’s a way to pad the coffers.

Hickenlooper isn’t comfortable with that. “I don’t think state revenues should be dependent on something that’s not good for your citizens,” he said.

We ought to get past that guilt trip easily. To borrow the Colorado governor’s phrase, Connecticut is way past any point of saying we don’t tax vices and addictions.

Bob’s Discount Furniture To Hit 50-Store Mark With Three Locations Near Philly

by Categorized: Consumer, Retail Date:

Bob’s Discount Furniture, climbing the ranks among the nation’s largest, will hit the 50-store mark on Feb. 13 with the opening of three locations in Delaware and the Philadelphia suburbs.

The move will give Manchester-based Bob’s at least one location in every east coast state from Maine to Virginia — basically, the 13 original American colonies, plus Maine, minus North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The new locations will bring to seven the number of new stores Bob’s will have opened in the last 12 months, as the company pushes down the eastern seaboard. They are as follows:

King of Prussia, Penn., 30,000-square feet in the DeKalb Plaza.

Cherry Hill, N.J.,  31,000 square feet in the Garden State Pavilions Center.

Wilmington, Del., 45,000 square feet in the Brandywine Town Center.

Bob’s said the company and the Bob’s Outreach program will donate $50,250 to 18 schools in the three areas to celebrate the openings.

Rapid expansion can be perilous for some retailers as they take on new debt, but Bob Kaufman, who co-founded the chain in 1991 with Gene Rosenberg, said recently that the balance sheet remains very strong at Bob’s.

Moreover, Bob’s recently announced that Bain Capital, the large private equity firm, will become the majority owner. The company is now owned by KarpReilly/Apax, a private equity firm whose predecessor bought the majority stake from the partners in 2005.

The expansion is not related to that transaction.

“We’re proud to be 50-stores strong with the addition of these three locations near the City of Brotherly Love – with no gimmicks and the same low prices every day,” Kaufman said in a written release.

Furniture/Today, an industry publication, reported in October that Bob’s — No. 16 on its Top 100 list — had $685.3 million in sales in 2012.

 

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.

Black Friday Weekend Spending Down, Online Purchases Up

by Categorized: Consumer, Economy, Retail Date:

More Americans shopped over the holiday weekend but they spent less per person, leading to a 2.7 percent decline in total spending from 2012, the National Retail Federation reported.

In all, 141 million U.S. adults spent an average of $407 apiece in stores and online from Thursday through Sunday, for a total of $57.4 billion, the trade group said. That compared with 139 million people who spent an average of $424 in 2012, for a total of $59.1 billion.

Click here for details on the weekend’s results.

Separately, ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based retail analytics firm, reported brick-and-mortar store sales up 2.3 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to $12.3 billion, as foot traffic in stores increased by 2.8 percent. Black Friday alone showed double-digit declines in sales and store visits, ShopperTrak said.

Both the retail federation and ShopperTrak agreed that online spending was up. The federation said it spiked by 4.3 percent to $25 billion over the four-days, and that doesn’t even count today’s Cyber Monday spending, which was predicted to rise.

The results might seem to fall short of the retail federation’s 2013 forecast for the “holiday season,” which called for a spending increase of 3.9 percent to $602 billion this year, bigger than last year’s 3.3 percent increase.

But no one should worry about the declines for several reasons. Retailers say they are seeing deals spread out longer over the holiday period, so the so-called crucial Black Friday period matters less than it did before.

“Retailers will continue to aggressively promote their in-store and online offerings, looking to entice today’s very budget-conscious and value-focused shopper,”  retail federation president Matthew Shay said in the federation’s press release.

More to the point, Christmas shopping is not as large a part of the economy as the retail industry would have us believe. Spending in the holiday season under the retail federation’s definition includes most retail sales in November and December, including groceries, home medical equipment and auto parts, though it excludes restaurants, vehicle sales and gasoline.

Even that larger definition of retail spending accounts for less than one-fifth of the U.S. economy, and spending for Christmas gifts is about 1 percent or less of the economy.

So, while the overall up-and-down figures do matter, the spending is not a main driver of the economy – especially considering the value of retail goods that are imported, the low wages paid by the industry and other factors.

It does matter to community development — how we feel about where we live — and it’s certainly a reflection of how the economy is doing. To that end, we already know we are living in times of economic growth, with record stock market values, but not shared prosperity.

State-by-state numbers are not available and anecdotal evidence about how retailers are doing in Connecticut is highly unreliable. A recent UConn/Courant poll showed that 10 percent of Connecticut shoppers said they would have higher holiday spending this year, while 30 percent said they would spend less.

The Northeast is clearly lagging the rest of the nation according to ShopperTrak, which said the region had an in-store sales decline of 7 percent Thursday and Friday, while the South, Midwest and West all showed increases ranging from 3.3 percent to 6 percent.

By all accounts, retailers’ margins are squeezed by more online shopping and more promotions, and certainly we’re living in difficult times for retailers that aren’t online. The weekend survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics showed that 55 percent of U.S. adults, or 132 million people, planned to shop online on Cyber Monday, up 1.9 percent from last year’s total.

But the myth that they’re spending work time buying stuff remains just that, as 87 percent said they would use a computer at home, compared with 12 percent who admitted they would shop from the office.

Will Oremus of Slate.com posted a great screed on why Cyber Monday is “the dumbest fake holiday of the year.”

It’s hard to believe the vast majority of Cyber Monday shoppers were buying from home.  But looking at another trend for 2013 — shopping on Thanksgiving Day — it wasn’t worth the trouble for retailers if we believe the retail federation’s report. The decline in overall weekend sales, came despite 45 million shoppers trekking out on the holiday itself, a 25 percent increase.

Maybe we could see some collusion next year among retailers: They stay closed on Thanksgiving and we all benefit.

Finally, this nice reminder from Connecticut ubiquitous tax man, Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan: Regardless of whether your online retailer collects the state sales tax of 6.35 percent, you owe it.  So be sure to declare that purchase on your 2013 returns.

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.

 

New Supermarket Chain Comes To CT: Best Market Opening In Newington

by Categorized: Consumer, Retail Date:

Best Market, a chain of 17 supermarkets in Long Island, New York City and New Jersey, is making landfall in Connecticut with a store set to open as early as Friday in Newington.

The store, near the town center at the site of a former Waldbaum’s Food Mart that closed a few years ago, is about 32,000 square feet — and is not likely to remain as the chain’s only Connecticut location. The company is hiring as many as 150 people and is scrambling toward a possible “soft” opening Friday with a grand opening a week or so after that, if all goes well.

The sign went up just before noon at Best Market in Newington. Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

The sign went up just before noon at Best Market in Newington.
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

 

 

CEO and President Rebecca Philbert, busily overseeing the scene as a sign company installed the large letters above the front door late Tuesday morning, stopped for a minute to describe Best Market’s strategy — not an easy task for a full-service market that appears to combine several niches.

“We’re a fresh foods store that sells groceries,” Philbert said, with a disproportionate share of sales coming from perishable foods, including meats and dairy and features such as an olive bar.

The company bought the entire Northwood Plaza shopping center on Lowrey Place where the store is located, indicating its commitment, Philbert said.

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CT’s Financial Lost-And-Found — You Could Claim $100,000!!!

by Categorized: Consumer, Government, Public finance Date:

The annual list is out: State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier’s CT Big List shows 1.2 million lost or unclaimed assets worth $627 million, and the office wants you to make your rightful claim.

“The Treasury is one of the few agencies in government that gives money back to people,” Nappier said.

Items on the list include long-closed bank accounts, unredeemed shares of stock in companies that no longer exist, money from expired bank checks and other financial assets. More than 54,000 new assets were added this year, never before published.

Click here or go to www.CTBigList.com to see whether you’re on the list.

Or call 1-800-833-7318 during business hours.

Feeling lucky today? No fewer than 65 owners have lost assets totaling at least $200,000 apiece. Some firms known as “finders” are scouring the list and contacting rightful owners to “help” recover lost assets, but that isn’t necessary.

I just checked, and I had seven claims on the list, so I’m sending in my claim today.

The Top 10 Numbers to Know:

1,160,661: Total owners on this year’s list

$627 million: Total amount of lost assets on the list

454,543: Total owners with lost assets between $50 and $100

105,345: Total owners with claims of at least $1,000

63,115: Number of owners in Hartford, the No. 2 city after Stamford (66,204)

54,845: Total owners on this year’s printed list of never-before published lost assets, in today’s newspapers and also available at libraries and town halls

$150.4 million: The total amount returned to 36,000 owners in the two years ending June 30, 2013 — an average of $4,175 per claim.

 

 

Plan B Burger Bar Is Now A ‘Global Hot 100′ Innovator

by Categorized: Consumer, Retail, Small Business Date:

The plaudits keep coming for Plan B Burger Bar even as the Hartford-based chain prepares to open new locations in Fairfield and on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Plan B was named as one of the nation’s Top 20 burgers in a readers’ poll by Food & Wine this summer.  Now the chain has been named a Global Hot 100 company at the World Summit on Innovation & Entrepreneurship, a conference happening this week in New York.

How does a burger joint end up with tech firms and new-product inventors, as an innovator?

A super-burger by Plan B at the Mohegan Sun WineFest in 2012.  Andrea Wise/The Hartford Courant

A super-burger by Plan B at the Mohegan Sun WineFest in 2012. Andrea Wise/The Hartford Courant

Fast growth helps, along with commitment to local farmers and artists and Plan B’s effort to make sure each location is different. The Fairfield store will open in the old post office building on Post Road, with a restored facade, for example.

Al Gamble, the co-founder and CEO, was set to speak about the business at the event Wednesday night at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Keeping it small is a key theme, raising a question — how much larger can the chain grow and still be “small?” On its web site, it lists Boston, Atlanta and Chicago as future locations in addition to DC.

“I’m looking forward to sharing our story of Plan B Burger Bar – how we laid the foundation to grow a national ‘micro-brand’ by focusing on the local communities around us,” Gamble said in a written release. “An incredible burger isn’t enough. Consumers deserve businesses that support their town or city with values, ideals and flavors that connect people to the communities they live in – from hiring local employees, to ordering beer from regional breweries.”

The business, Locals 8 Restaurant Group, has locations in West Hartford, Glastonbury, Simsbury, Milford, Stamford and Springfield at the Basketball Hall of Fame, in addition to the two that are set to open. Locals 8 also owns Tisane and the Half Door in Hartford’s West End, but has no immediate plans to redevelop its West End building that formerly housed the Roo Bar.

It’s too bad for Plan B that the White House, not far away, isn’t still occupied by Bill Clinton, the burger-and-fries-scarfer-in chief.

 

Top Global Brands From Connecticut: Three Winners, Several Snubbed

by Categorized: Consumer, marketing Date:

Three Connecticut names, led by General Electric, are among the world’s 100 most valuable brands in an annual listing by Interbrand that came out Monday.

Apple passed Coca-Cola as the most valuable consumer name, charging ahead by 28 percent from 2012 to $98 billion. Google also passed Coke for the No. 2 spot.

GE holds its spot as No. 6, valued at $47 billion, up 7 percent.

Smirnoff, the vodka developed in Hartford by the old Heublein Co., slipped to No. 95 from No. 90, even though its value increased by 5 percent to $4.3 billion. It’s now owned by London-based Diageo, which has its North American headquarters in Fairfield County.

And the third Connecticut brand: Otis elevator, perhaps, or Carrier air conditioners? Both of those United Technologies Corp. brands have about $12 billion in sales.  Nope, they’re not direct-to-consumer enough for Interbrand, apparently.

How about Travelers, Aetna or Stanley? No, no and no.

Yale University would easily crack the list but only for-profit brands were considered.

It’s Duracell, the battery company based in Bethel, which has a long Connecticut history and is now owned by Procter & Gamble. Duracell joins the list for the first time since 2009, at No. 85, ahead of Chevrolet, Heineken, Starbucks and MasterCard, among other household names.  Duracell comes in at $4.6 billion.

The values assigned by Interbrand are for the brands, not the companies behind the brands.

Here’s the Top 10, with values in billions:

1. Apple, $98

2. Google, $93

3. Coca-Cola, $79

4. IBM, $79

5. Microsoft, $60

6. GE, $47

7. McDonald’s, $42

8. Samsung, $40

9. Intel, $37

10. Toyota, $35