Archive for October, 2012

I took a family poll to see what my peeps want for Christmas.  So far I have a request for a Macbook Air, iTunes gift cards, and not much of anything else.  My wife got braces to the tune of $5,000 so I’m not exactly soliciting her for what she wants this year.   My son may be going to one of the country’s most expensive boarding schools (high school) next year so I think that’s why he’s staying low key -the tuition runs about $40k per year!

What do I want for myself?   Well the past few years I made up for my 2009 career derailment when I got laid off.   I was only out of work for six months in 2009 but the “mandatory vacation” left a bit of uncertainty in my life.  I’ve since increased my emergency cash reserves to 20k and cash secondary savings reserves to 50k.   But from 2010 thru 2011 I bought iphones for everyone in the family, I bought all new LED TV screens for the home, I bought a storage array for our videos, music and photos, and other items we splurged on for the sake of the economy.

Lately, I’ve been stock piling firearms (more on this later) and ammunition as my new hobby but there is only so much weaponry that will fit in a gun vault.  Honestly, I don’t have anything to spend money on.  I am exploring some charitable options like Kiva.org or vittana.org to try to make a difference in the third world.   The good news is that I’m almost done with my dual MBA program so I’ll be able to get some more free time to enjoy leisure activities.   I might just get a kindle so I can read book outdoors.

I usually go into a retail shop like Best Buy, Sears or your typical mall store to actually buy something about once every 5 years.   I order most of my retail goods online through Amazon or other online shops largely to avoid the hassle of parking, wasted fuel, long checkout lines, and dealing with idiots.  I usually don’t go willingly to retail stores but in this particular situation my daughter needed to get a new pair of shoes and we’d been to every shop in the mall and still couldn’t find the right ones so we entered Sears.

The initial trip to Sears went well and we didn’t find my daughter her shoes but I did see a couple of Land’s End shirts on sale so I decided to buy one and some other items.   Because we were in a rush, I didn’t try the shirt on and I assumed the size I picked out would fit since it’s the same size I buy everywhere else.    When we got home, I tried on the shirt and it was way too big so I decided to head back to exchange for one size smaller.   I don’t understand how a numeric size of a shirt can change so wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer.   A Land’s End size 18 isn’t the same as a Ralph Lauren size 18 for some reason and it wasn’t a question of a “fitted” shirt vs non-fitted but I digress.

So on the return trip to Sears the next day I was vexed with what happened to me on the first day: idiot consumers.   I don’t know how we became  a society where making a purchase at the cash register has become so complicated and time consuming that it makes me want to walk out.   In this particular instance though I persevered.    I waited while hapless consumers couldn’t figure out how much the discount was for the items they were buying.  I don’t entirely blame the consumer here because when I made my first purchase, Sears printed out half a dozen coupons for various stuff like $5 off shoes when spending $50 or more and $10 off clothing when spending $60 or more.  It sounds simple and straightforward enough until you read the fine print which has dozens of exclusions.

I can only surmise the shoppers in the queue saw $10 off of something then when they got to the counter were flummoxed about why the discount wasn’t appearing on the register.  I finally made it through to the register and did the exchange.  Once again, I was given half a dozen coupons for $x of of $xx when shopping.  On my way out, I saw a couple of more shirts that I wanted to buy and since I had these new coupons I figured I’d just use them now so I pick the shirts and head back to the waiting queue for the register.  Lo and behold a large queue of consumers has reformed now and I can overhear the conversations, “why isn’t the coupon working” and “I think that’s wrong” from the other register.   Frustrated, I toss the shirts back onto the shelves and walk out.   The lady behind me looks at me sheepishly and says, “I’m ready to walk out too, they’re taking too long.”

And here ends the story.  Sears certainly lost a sale and possibly two if that lady left after I did and all because it can’t seem to make the shopping experience happen.   I’ve been long predicting bankruptcy for Sears and it’s only a matter of time in my view with experiences like this.

Here is the fundamental issue:  Why would any shopper put up with service and experience like this?  I can go over to Amazon.com or Overstock.com and within a few clicks, pick out clothes and have them shipped to my door (two day shipping and tax free).  The same is true for just about any time now as well.  I’ve had a 300lb safe ordered through Costco.com and personally delivered to my door, why would I want to run to a store, buy something like this then worry about lifting it into my home?

 

For the past year, I’ve been enrolled in Massage Envy’s membership program and as my term comes up I decided to do some math and figure out if it’s worth it.  First, the monthly member ship fee is $60 per month then you pay a rate for either 60, 90 or 120 *minute massages.    The table below shows the cost structure and I’ve broken it down to the cost per minute.

MassageEnvy

Time Member Non-Member
50 $39 $78
80 $57 $114
110 $78 $156
     
Per minute $1.98 $1.56
  $1.46 $1.43
  $1.25 $1.42

I was pretty shocked to see that if you only ever got one 60 minute massage per month, it was actually MORE expensive to be a member than a non-member since it would cost $1.98 per minute for member and $1.56 for non-member.    I typically was averaging about 1 visit per month given my heavy travel schedule and usually opted for 90 minute session.   Also note that the massages are truly an hour but more like 50, 80 or 110 minutes since there is prep time involved.     My latest massage started at 1:05 for a 1 pm appointment and finished at 2:25 pm for 90 minutes which was in reality 80 minutes.

Now if you do go and get more frequent massages then membership does have a benefit but at that point all you’re doing is spending more money on massages and the dreaded “diminishing returns” pops to mind but also note that the fees don’t include gratuity either.

Finally, it is important to note that the quality of the masseuses varies greatly and the good ones usually have most of their time booked way ahead of time and most eventually leave the company to start their own massage spas or do out calls to residences.