Whitcoulls and Borders


I was thrilled to learn that the remaining Whitcoulls and Borders have been sold to Anne and David Norman. Now they have some hope. They will now live in the Pascoes Group and of course this group are known as having revived the ailing Farmers chain and given them new life.

Once the essential housekeeping details are sorted, such as property leases and staff contracts, there is every reason to hope that they will breathe new life into Borders and Whitcoulls.

That can not mean BAU or Business As Usual, because even though they did OK and the biggest problems were in Australia with REDGroup. Nevertheless these stores were not run optimally and they were not run with the times.

I heard people, partly lead by local publishers, saying that if the NZ stores were run from Australia, they would probably signal the demise of the NZ author. Certainly I agree that we would have seen less Kiwi authors in store, but I think ultimately either the publishers would have to become less greedy and insular or the local authors would start to embrace the new eBook media and of course in doing so they can either self publish or join Amazon or other local eBook publishers. Neither are ideal for people who love books.

As I’ve said in many previous blogs about Whitcoulls and Borders, a few of them can be found here, the first thing is to go back to basics. For these stores to be successful they need to operate smarter and provide what the modern shopper wants. There are many good examples overseas.

With the chain expanding, here a some ideas that I would look at.

  • Macy's

    Gift Registry. Chains like Macy’s in the USA have had phenomenal success with their national gift registry programs for decades. They have kiosks in store which are linked nationally. I was so excited the first time I went through one I almost bought a gift for a young man’s Bar Mitsva in Chicago. I was in New York at the time looking for a hat in one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced. It was so well laid out, there were thousands of special events from weddings to anniversaries and being national, you could see from New York, what a person in Madison Wisconsin had their hopes on. Given that the chain owns Farmers and a number of jewellery stores, this would be a great opportunity to combine the lot.

  • I keep harping on about Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? It’s funny in a way that in one of his first blogs about the book, he suggests that you could buy it from Borders. The thing was though that I couldn’t buy it from Borders at the time because they didn’t have it, so I bought it from Amazon.
  • So I think that Borders and Whitcoulls need to start saying, what would Amazon do. So many companies are naive and believe their own hype that web retailers (only part of what they are) are no threat, or they consider them such a threat that when things go bad, they become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Hanging a few Kobo’s on the wall is not the answer, that has been a major botch up in my humble opinion. Even on the web, sell the sizzle on the home page! But some things they could do with their ‘loyalty’ programs is monitor what each customer buys and make recommendations based on the buyer habits. I have bought at least a dozen books on Amazon’s recommendations. Amazon is also much cheaper than buying locally, but that’s a different story because it costs a lot to get books to New Zealand, so unless you buy a stack of books, you pay back what you save on freight.

Amazon has many great features that can be just asdestination events

Mobile Marketing easily applied to a bricks and mortar chain, which has the benefit of being able to hold a book, tell you what store it is in and provide you with much quicker gratification.

I don’t want to write a book, but here a some things you may find in this blog in the coming days for Whitcoulls and Borders:

  • Becoming a destination for events such as readings and signings
  • Back to basics and way beyond in inventory management
  • A major web presence with lots of ideas perhaps sparked by What Would Google Do (which should be a mandatory read for all Whitcoulls and Borders management at all levels)
  • A new way for both stores to have lots of stock available, but not necessarily on the spot. A central warehouse with the option of home delivery could cut down inventory sizes without sacrificing range and depth.
  • Embrace proximity based marketing on mobile devices. I would strongly recommend that management from Borders, Whitcoulls, Farmers and in fact all retail chains attend the Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland this June. This Forum could be called The Retailer Strikes Back. They will learn many new ideas at this event.
  • Understand their regional customer base. There is no point in carrying the same stock range in each store. It simply won’t work and you will have aged stock going on sale. Some of the category managers need to take a long hard look at the books they have been stocking and ask themselves what on earth possessed them to make some of the decisions they made? Or was it the publishers reps that conned them?
  • They should look at products like GeoSmart’s impending Business Intelligence on a MAP. This could produce many aha moments when used to geographically view their business results in combination with consumer demographics.
I could go on but that’s plenty for now. I think with the right motivation and attitude, these two stores can be not only revived, but will rise to new heights. But only if they stop living in the past of this is the way we always did it. They need to embrace and perhaps even lead the future. It’s not hard, its just thinking outside the square and remembering that it is the customers and the books that make your business. Its about the words and the stories and people.

3D Bioprinting


3D Printing is no longer news although I suspect most people haven’t heard of it yet. In fact there is a company within a couple of km of my office in Albany already successfully offering a variety of 3D printing services, incidentally called 3D Print. Another Aucklander, well known internationally in the  3D printing with RepRap is Vik Oliver, seen here with one of his machines.

When I heard that Richie McCaw was injured and after surgery was going to miss around 6 matches after having a titanium screw in his foot, my first reaction was, as most Kiwis, just what we need in Rugby World Cup year as he is such an amazing skipper and we want him there leading the All Blacks. Then I thought about so many other sports people who suffer injuries all the time given that they are putting their bodies on the line professionally.

Imagine a technology that rebuilds or repairs body tissue, bones, ligaments, even organs in vivo, using micro surgery techniques that mean people recover far more quickly, naturally and potentially therefore stronger than before.

Using the same types of technologies as conventional 3D printing, it will soon be possible to pattern and assemble, layer by layer, functioning living tissue, as well as non living substitutes such as ceramic and titanium according to Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor and director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina. He is also currently making waves about growing in vitro meat, something I have previously blogged about.

So this is a relatively new technology and I don’t know that it has been tested on humans yet, but the technology is already commercially available from companies such as envisionTEC.

Imagine the good this technology could do for people with problems from injuries, burns, through to the huge numbers of people who die for lack of organs for transplant.

The following video shows how bioprinters will be used in the long term. The technology will also be used to create human tissues which can be used for drug testing instead of using animals.

Of course if tissues and organs are made using material from the host, we can eliminate problems such as donor organ rejection.

Low Carbon Future


I’ve just finished reading an excellent story by Chris Barton in the NZ Herald, which is a good primer for the Copenhagen conference that John Key is going to? The cricket on TV is on in the background and apparently Key is in Wellington watching New Zealand vs Pakistan, so he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the airport.

He quotes Phil Scadden, a geo-scientist from Dunedin, as saying that by 2025 we could cover all our energy needs using wind, hydro, geothermal and other relatively green sources if we were prepared to spend a great deal of money.

I find it hard to believe that NZ will spend the money, especially if we are insistent on Kyoto and other deals which would require us to pay other countries who have less carbon emissions than us. For my money I think that we should invest the same amount of money on cleaning up our own act.

I ask myself if we can afford to be prissy about seeing lots of wind turbines on hilltops. Personally I think they look really good. I was in the Netherlands earlier this year and the site of hundreds of wind turbines was quite inspiring. I don’t have a problem with having them far enough away so they don’t cause noise polution. We have plenty of great spots in the country that are almost always windy, such as Ohakea, which I believe from memory means place where four winds meet. It certainly never disappointed when I used to go down to the Ohakea Air Base to race land yachts, a very green speed sport:)

Something that annoys me when we talk about clean and green in this country is the lack of emission controls for diesel vehicles. If I was given a dollar for each diesel soot sprewing truck, with black soot backs delivering frozen meat, I would be able to retire today.

I’d also like to know why NZ is following other countries, with Feed-in Tarriffs, which I have previously blogged about. The concept was raised a long time ago by the Green Party, where there would be subsidies and incentives for people to put solar panels on their rooves and allowed them to sell surplus power into the grid.

Anyway, this whole situation disturbs me. Instead of fixing our problem at home, we want to pay other countries who are more fortunate than us, in having more trees etc. NZ has the ability to be self sustainable if we put our brilliant scientists and inventers on the job. We could be isolated from a lot of the problems of climate change in other parts of the world. Once we have it licked, then we can give them access to our know how. That might make a great new export for us.

For now, I’ve been for a 9 1/2 km bush walk/jog, finished my blog and am going to go and by an electric lawn mower. It is plastic, doesn’t need oil or petrol, won’t rust and will therefore last much longer.

Dead zones in the ocean


I was talking with someone recently about the Waikato River water that provides some 10% of the drinking water in Auckland. This was approved despite much protest, on the basis that Metrowater would only use it in emergencies. I suspect that Mayor George Wood at the time knew that it would end up being turned on all the time, as part of his deal with his crony mayors.

The water was declared safe by WHO standards, however councillor Joel Cayford, who is now employed by ARC said that it was unsafe. I attended the public meeting where he explained that WHO standards listed a number of quality requirements, but excluded many ingredients such as dioxins, heavy metals, fertiliser and more. In my opinion the meeting wasn’t helped by constant interjections from rent a protester, which didn’t help the cause.

Not long after approval was given by the regional mayors, including the Mayor Bob Harvey of Waitakere who approved it on the condition that Waitakere water would only come from local dams in the rainforest, thus not having to take this water.

What has this got to do with dead zones in the ocean? Well here’s the thing. A lot of the objections against using Waikato river water were because it contains huge amounts of leached chemicals from farms including fertiliser, antibiotics and much more. It appears that these same types of chemicals are flowing from rivers around the world into the sea and several studies are suggesting that the rise in industrial food production is increasing the number of dead zones rapidly.

Oceanic dead zones are areas where the oxygen levels in the water are so low that they kill of almost all forms of marine life. There are now more than 400 oceanic dead zones around the world and they are growing fast.

According to experts, including NASA a major contributor to these dead zones is fertiliser that flows to the ocean from farms both in the form of chemicals leaching from farms and from the animal manure which still contains these chemicals. The nitrogen and phosphorous feeds the algae and phytoplankton, making these plants grow rapidly.

In New Zealand, we have become aware of algal bloom. This is occurring more commonly now both in coastal waters, such as our local Waiheke Island, and also in freshwater lakes, including many in the Waikato, where 10% of our drinking water is coming from.

So what does this mean? We know that fresh water is going to be on of the important issues in the future, both from climate change and from man-made intervention. We know that our oceans are becoming polluted, much of it from man-made waste. We know that the fish stocks are becoming depleted in many parts of the world, due to over fishing, to feed growing nations. But fish are also now seriously at risk from the oceanic dead zones, where oxygen levels are so low that fish and other marine life can’t survive.

We seem to be in danger of creating the ‘unrealistic and unbelievable’ wasted planet that is often depicted on science fiction movies.Am I exaggerating? Well check these examples out:

A dead zone the size of New Jersey of the coast of Oregon and Washington, may be irreversible.

The Mississippi Delta dead zone is one of the smaller ones in the world, only 3,000 square miles. The US Government is investing $320 million to try to slow it down, but as long as the chemicals keep flowing down and farm production is increased, we have a problem.

The Baltic sea apparently contains 7 of the 10 worst oceanic dead zones and it appears that the surrounding countries haven’t been doing much about them. The end result could be the loss of almost all marine life in the area. This map shows how bad it is in places, where the red areas represent areas where the water essentially contains no oxygen.

It appears that the man-made damage to the oceans and lakes in the world could present an even greater problem than global warming and of course one that is compounded by it. If so much water ends up unable to sustain life, how will we survive, especially the poorer areas on the planet, where water is already scarce. The sea’s health is not something we can take for granted, no matter how vast it appears. The attractive colours of algae bloom that we sea coming back each summer in bigger areas, is evidence that we need to change some of our ways, and quickly.

I’ll leave the last word to Joanne from Rocketboom who explains it far more succinctly than I:

The power of other people’s opinions or bias


I had the opportunity to attend the Time Convention in Auckland, New Zealand today, which was a great opportunity to step out of my normal day and have time to think. I didn’t learn much, but it did remind me about things I know I should be doing, but don’t spend enough time at. I used my Blackberry to take notes which I emailed to myself, as it doesn’t have a notepad or Word application, as my trusty Windows Mobile and Palm handhelds used to.

The final presentation, that I very much enjoyed was from Kevin Billett who, while promoting a 2 day seminar for next week, came up with some thought provoking concepts about taking responsibility for attitudes and accepting experiences that you allow to have control over your life expectations and achievements. This set me to thinking about aspects of my experiences, particularly as a child, that have I have allowed to hold me back in some of my endeavours, but that’s another story.

He raised a topic that has interested me for many years, which is the effect that people’s expectations or opinions about other people, influence them in many ways.

There are countless examples. John’s Hopkins researchers recently found that many physicians had negative attitudes to patients with obesity problems, which negatively affected these patients to the extent that their problems worsened.

There have been many studies that show that a teacher’s expectations of their students, irrespective of any basis on which those expectations were founded, had a significant impact on their results. I recall being told, although I can’t site the source, of a university study that proved this point. If you know of the study, please share it with me.

A group of students of equal ability were split into two groups. The teachers were told that one group was of above average capability and the other were below average potential. The groups were taught the same lessons by the same teachers. Their results were consistent with the information the teachers had been given, those who they said were above average, performed above average and the others under performed.

The world of elite sport is often built around belief that people of the right proportions can become medal winning athletes, even if they have never participated in that sport before. Sir Steve Redgrave has selected people based on height, with a view to having them represent their country in the 2012 Olympics. For rowing, the expectation is that tall people have powerful levers suited to the sport. One would not think that this alone could not be enough, but combine that with the positive expectation that they will become medal winners and history has proven that this can work.

The same occurs in gymnastics, where girls are headhunted at an early age based on being short and enjoying sport. I’ve seen from personal experience that girls who are told they can do things, outperform girls of similar strength and flexibility who are told that they aren’t good enough. What I saw was the same thing, girls over whom coaches had high expectations performed confidently, had less injuries and ended up on elite squads.

Psychology 101 has always featured nature and nurture. In any country where people are to some degree living in communities featuring high proportions of particular minority ethnic groups, there is a tendancy for them to be poorly represented in professions and overly represented in menial work. Students’ expectations in these areas are low, often fostered by teachers who have low expectations of their wards.

I won’t go on with this topic. I would appreciate your opinions and experience. Have you seen this happen first hand?

Swine Flu Is a Bit Close to Home


Yesterday I posted a blog about Swine Flu, this is an interesting situation which will be at the forefront of many people’s minds for some time to come.

We live in interesting times. It seems analogous to the way banks have behaved since the ’89 meltdown when they said they would never be as free with their lending again, such as 100% mortgage loans. we relaxed after the Bird Flu fizzled out, but now we have a new strain N1H1 which apparently comes from pigs but is related to the bird flu. Whilst it appears that Tamiflu has a positive effect on this, there are of course no vaccines because it is new.

It was interesting to read in the NZ Herald this morning that Air New Zealand was saying that their aircraft are safe for fellow passengers because filters in the aircraft’s air conditioning system filter 99.9% of airborne viruses. Funny then how so many of us who travel on long haul flights end up coming down with some sort of virus within a short period of time after a flight.

Of course these filters require that you sneeze into them. A lot of people look into lights to help them sneeze (I must explore that sometime, or ifyou know why, please share the answer in a comment), but you lift your head to the light and then sneeze on the way down, creating a nice arc of germs.

So how fast does a sneeze travel through the air? Well according to the appropriately named site Blurtit, the fastest recorded sneeze was 102 Miles per hour! I would say that the germs from even an average 50MPH sneeze could travel a fair distance in an aircraft cabin.

Some more news from this morning’s NZ Herald was that the students that came back to Auckland after a school trip to mexico come from not one but 2 colleges, Rangititoto and Northcote College. The story also said that some of the kids who were ok when they arrived are now also showing symptoms. I wonder how many people they have been in contact with. The ones who are ill have been quarantined in their homes, but it didn’t say whether their sublings and parents were also quarantined or were going to their schools and workplaces.

What I find really interesting is the coincidence in the numbers. Greater Mexico City has a population of around 22 million people. 1300 reported people with Swine Flu is around 0.00005% of the population and yet a group of 20 odd Auckland kids have been exposed to it. It makes you wonder if the real number is far greater, but these are the only ones that they are prepared to announce. In a city of that size it must be spreading like wildfire.

There is of course already a Swine Flu Google Map, so you can keep an eye on how it spreads.

Is your household prepared for a pandemic?

Just as a footnote, if you have Sky TV, there is a movie called Doomsday on tonight, which is about a virus in Scotland, where they quarantine the whole country. I won’t be home to watch it, but its funny how its on TV tonight. I love coincidences.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Is Unilever trying to hoodwink us?


This afternoon my daughter came home and said she had an argument at Pak N Save, (the premium brand of NZ owner operated supermarkets in New Zealand under the Foodstuffs banner) with a promo person who was telling people about the new concentrated laundry detergents of Surf, Drive, Persil, Cold Power, Fab and Dynamo, all from Unilever, who according to their UK website are one of the most trusted brands in the UK and state that Always Working with Integrity is one of their key philosophies.

So you would think that their new ‘ small and mighty’ 2x concentrate products on all of their laundry detergents would offer great value. The pamphlet that arrived in our letterbox says that the product has been changed to a super concentrate that offers the same washing power in half the volume. The promo person at Pak N Save, said that the new product offered far better value because you could do the same amount of washing with half the amount of powder. My daughter didn’t have a problem with that, the problem she had was that if it was essentially the same washing power, doing the same amount of washing, why did the new product cost more?

Herein lies the problem and it was perhaps slick marketing at first, because your first reaction with new improved and concentrated would be better than the product it replaced and therefore worth a premium, which was pretty much what the promo person in the store was trying to get across, but that wasn’t what the printed material says. It says that it does exactly the same as the old product did, but with half the volume of powder. So from a benefit or performance perspective it is exactly the same result in a smaller box.

The smaller box has many benefits for the grocers and Unilever because it uses at least a third less packing and distribution costs are halved because it takes up half the space in the warehouses, trucks and supermarkets.

That’s all great, but the problem is that they are charging more! My daughter said that on special she used to pay $1.89 or sometimes $1.69 and the new promotion special was 2 for $5 yesterday. Which equates to $2.50 per box. That represents more than a 25% increase in cost to the consumer for a product that costs less to bring to market and does the same job as the old product.

Perhaps someone from Unilever would like to explain this. It appears to me to be a cynical attempt to hoodwink consumers out of their hard earned money, which in today’s economy would appear to be out of step with their stated values. It sounds to me like a rip off!

They don’t have a New Zealand web site, but this is their Australasian contact page if you would like to ask the question. I will be making contact with them and if I don’t get a good answer, I’ll be following my daughter away from the Unilever brands.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

I want a Segway Puma


I’ve been meaning to cancel my NZ Herald subscription, but every time I think about it, I find a nice little snippet that I might not have read, or at least till much later. In this morning’s paper (and online yesterday!) was news about a new version of the Segway designed to solve problems with urban traffic. Now first of all I have to say that I love Segways. I’ve only been on them twice and I am hooked.

A friend of mine, Steve Simms is involved with Segway Polo in New Zealand and makes me jealous every time I hear about the competition, which attracts tech leaders from around the world. I asked Steve how I could join in and he replied “Buy a Segway”. Unfortunately my wife didn’t like that idea very much.Anyway, if you go to YouTube and search for Segway Polo, you’ll find some examples.

Segway’s are used a lot in the US. When I was in Los Angeles earlier this year, I saw airport police similar to the ones in this image using Segways to get around the massive complex. I could have used one myself, having set off in the wrong direction to change airlines. If you are in Auckland and want to try one, go to Devonport Wharf and you can go for a 2-hour tour of Devonport and historic locations for only $75, cut that in half for US dollars.

So what caught my attention this morning was a story about the new Segway PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) which is a 2 man Segway with little trainer wheels on the front for safety and a roof that looks a bit like a roll cage. Looking like something out of a futuristic Science Fiction movie, this is for real. Once again an example of Science Fiction becoming reality, I guess its about this time that I appreciate the value of all those It is designed to haver a range of around 55 km at 55km an hour according to the NZ Herald. On the site I found that it also has features such as regenrative breaking, which means that it uses the inertia from stopping, to help charge the batteries. I’m not sure where the rest of the story came from because it wasn’t mirrored on the Segway page, but it said that it could ultimately drive itself using GPS and by monitoring traffic around it, being able to stop in a hurry if there is an incident ahead of it.

Given that I’m into LBS, I had a couple of issues with that concept. It would work if there were roads or paths that were only to be used by Segways but otherwise there could be a fatal flaw, because the concept of vehicles driving themselves and being aware of other vehicles (which will definitely happen one day) will only work if all the vehicles on the same stretch of road also carried the same technology. In New Zealand, the new RapidcV that GeoSmart is driving around New Zealand could certainly provide the data that would support this type of technology, because it is gathering full road and lane information nationwide at sub 20 cm accuracy. What is also nice is that as well as camber information it is also gathering inclination data, which could be used to identify routes that would support the Segway by identifying the range based on hills it has to climb up and downhill where it can recharge itself.

Anyway, bottom line, I want one:)