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TWICE.com: Christmas is Coming. Where’s your Goose?

I know, it’s summertime, but I’m running Christmas carols thru my head. Maybe it’s just me.

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,

Won’t you please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.”

In boardroom and marketing departments, in buyers’ meetings and manufacturers’ sales presentations, there are a lot of people — smart people — trying to figure out what will happen when “the goose gets fat.”

What is gonna make the next holiday season great?

No, that’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know. What will people be buying (in droves) and what we will be selling (profitably) when Black Friday comes. (I think that’s a Steely Dan song.)

Years past have been the Year of the Flatscreen, the Year of the Laptop, the VCR, or DVD, or Blu-ray or the Karaoke Machine … there was even, if I recall what I wrapped and put under our tree, the Year of the Bread Maker. I think last year was the Year of the 3D/Interactive TV. How’d that work for you?

I hear this is the Year of the Tablet.

Anybody really excited about that? No, really. Is anyone, other than Steve Jobs and his stockholders, making plans for what you are going to do with your manufacturing profits, your retail margins or your commission checks?

Who is getting excited about the coming holiday sales season?

Who’s a little bit worried? Raise your hands.

Yeah, I thought so.

Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I’m not paying attention, but I think it’s going to be a hard fall. (And please feel free to interpret the word “fall” as more than a season.)

We can blame it on the economy, which admittedly is in the tank. We can blame it on the numbers of unemployed and under-employed who want to be your customers, but may have a tough time rationalizing a major consumer electronics purchase when the rent needs to get paid.

Maybe we can blame it on the marketplace that over the past few years drove down the margins on the products that people readily purchased. Or let’s blame it on the volume of products we successfully and often profitably sold over recent years. (It is tough to sell a complete home video/audio/automated system to a household that already has one. But maybe they’ll want another TV for the bedroom or the kitchen. Ka-ching?)

Let’s face facts. A tablet is not a home video installation. A free smartphone (with contract) is not a digital-SLR camera with extra lenses, memory card, case and warranty. An iPhone cover is not a bag of cables, screen cleaner and a power center.

“When Black Friday comes, I’ll stand down by the door …” (It is a Steely Dan song!)

What will the line of people be waiting for? A $300 42-inch TV, a $150 tablet … what? What do you have to sell?

It’s true there are fewer storefronts selling this year than last season and new revenue may come from the volume of customers who visit your store because the competitor that used to be down the street is no longer there.

Maybe you’ve been savvy and smart enough over the past months to boost your Internet presence so you can get those customers to spend their Black Friday on your website instead of waiting for hours in the cold in your parking lot.

Let’s assume you have a plan, or you’ll pull one together in the next few weeks.

I have no idea how fat the goose is going to be. But I fear there is no golden egg … maybe just an egg.

“When Black Friday comes, I’m gonna stake my claim …” (more Steely Dan).

Be you a manufacturer, a distributor, a retailer, or a salesperson working the floor, it may only be summer, but Christmas is coming …

Find your goose. Now.

John Rice is a writer, consultant and occasional sales professional. Komedia Group provides marketing, training and informational services to companies in the electronics, automotive and pharmaceutical fields. He can be reached at (267) 980-5919, via email at jrice@komediagroup.com or at http://www.komediagroup.com.

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(Ain’t no) Cure for the Summertime Blues

“Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do.
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”

For those of us who consider ourselves independent business professionals, summertime can be a season of concern, distress and perhaps a time of reflection.

In times of better economics, we were smart – hopefully, and careful. We squirrelled away our seasonal profits and used that nest egg to carry us thru the hot season, the slow season, the dead season. We knew that we could survive the heat and maybe have enough in our back pockets for some time on a beach, a mountain or a lake. Or just in the backyard.

Yes, many independent businesses thrive in the summer: pool boys, boardwalk vendors, lawn services….you get the idea.

For the rest of us, waiting – pining for Labor Day and staring at the phone waiting for it to ring, there may be better ways to spend our time – and get us ready for when (yes, it will come) the economy recovers and the clients come out of the darkness like the baseball players in “Field of Dreams.”

They will come. Now is the time for building.

So, in no particular order, here is my 12-step program for those of us trying to survive the summer season.

1) Sit back, relax, breath deep. Exhale.

You can’t make the phone ring. The calls will come, especially if you spend this time to your best advantage.

2) Get smarter.

When was the last time you read a ‘business book?’ I’m not talking about blogs or websites, but a good old-fashioned book (even if you read it on an E-reader). Immerse yourself in the words on the page (or screen), and maybe there will be a spark of inspiration. Just maybe you’ll get an idea that you never had before.

3) Learn something new every day.

This is probably good advice 365 days a year, but hopefully there are days when you can’t because you are swallowed by your job, a proposal, a project or contract and just trying to meet the deadline. If you aren’t chasing a deadline, take some time to make the next deadline an easier challenge.

4) Look around

If you’re not busy, and other are, figure out why. Look at what they are doing – and what you are not.

5) Get better.

If there is something you aren’t doing, and you know you probably should – explore it, learn it, get good at it. At least get to a point where you can talk about it to clients and customers, with a confidence that you can do it.

6) Get social.

This may be obvious but no matter expert you may think you are, the social environment is changing every day. Are you using Google+? Have you been invited to Spotify? Are you taking full advantage of all the social connections that seem to crop up every day? Now is the time to find them, join them, and test them. Some can bring you business. Others may only find you old girlfriends or boyfriends – which may or may not be a good thing. Regardless – Network, Friend, Tweet.

7) Review and reflect.

Think about what you did over the last year. What worked? What succeeded? What came close but just missed the mark? What would you have different then, and what are you going to do different tomorrow.

8) Explore and expand.

As much as we need to get better/smarter/more saavy at what we do, also look at who you are doing it for? Are there new markets, clients or customers who can use the service you provide? Simple answer: Yes. The challenge: Find them!

9) Find a new area of expertise.

Think about what you do, and then think about what you don’t do. Then figure how you can do it. Take a class? Read a book? Learn some new software or technology? What can you do to make your company or you more valuable on Labor Day than you are today?

10) Stay busy and stay focused.

If the work load is low, make yourself as busy as if you were overloaded. Get up early, stay up late. If you don’t have something to do, find something to do – professionally or personally. Learn to knit. Volunteer. Do Pro-Bono work. Do work on consignment or spec. Start the novel you’ve always wanted to write, or the paint the masterpiece you know you have in you, or dust off the old guitar and write a song for ages. Or write a poem that will make me cry.

11) Take a break.

If it’s a week, a month, a day or a hour, take the time to stroll away from what you do. Turn off the cell phone (if only for an hour). Don’t check email (if only for a day). Do this when, and only when, you have something to distract you. If you don’t have something to distract you, find it.

12) Look in the mirror.

There is your best friend. He/she knows how good you are, and knows where you may have stumbled. That person looking back at you knows where you’ve been – for good or bad – and even if you aren’t sure, knows where you want to go. That reflection knows where you need to go, and, although it rarely talks aloud, know what you need to do to get there. Listen.

Do I do all this? Admittedly no. But I should.

It’s easy to write it down. Harder to do. Even harder when pressures (bills, business, goals) seem to be just a whisp out of grasp.

Perhaps I’ve written this solely for myself. Perhaps there is something here for you.

John Rice

jr@komediagroup.com

www.komediagroup.com

7/21/2011

Abekas Mira Servers Deliver High-Quality Cost-Effective Live Instant Replay with Slow Motion

With television coverage of sports on the rise at the college, high school and even community level, the desire for a ‘broadcast-quality look’ in this coverage is creating demand for superior, but economical solutions. Viewers have become accustomed to the visual presentation they see in network broadcast and cable sports, and one key area of interest is for effects such as live instant replay with slow motion.  Abekas has responded to this desire by providing a top-quality yet affordable instant replay solution with its Mira Instant Replay server—which is being employed worldwide by production companies, local broadcast and cable operators, venues, colleges and universities.     

 Schoolcraft College in Livonia Michigan is one recent customer embracing the Abekas Mira server.  The community college covers campus sports including men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and soccer. which are all transmitted on the campus television channel—and often on the local community’s Brighthouse cable system.  The school’s media department also covers the Plymouth Whalers ice hockey games at the nearby Compuware Arena, which are broadcast on local cable. These games are also streamed by the Ontario Hockey League making them available worldwide.  During playoffs, if a Canadian team is playing against Schoolcraft, broadcasts are also distributed by Rogers SportsNet.

 These live sports productions at Schoolcraft College originate from a box truck which was donated to the school.  Media Technician David Brown estimates the size of the vehicle at about 100 square feet, including racks and countertops.  The truck supports six cameras, including a fixed overhead camera in the hockey arena.  The vehicle carries Sony PMX-EX3 cameras and employs AJA devices to convert the fixed arena camera into SDI for use with the Abekas Mira.  The main production switcher is a Broadcast Pix Slate G-2100.

 For Brown, the introduction of the Mira server has meant a world of difference in the school’s sports coverage.  “Before, we had a bare-bones system for instant replay,” he explains.  The old system had limited capability, “for example, you couldn’t do replays that played in reverse.”  And the Mira server provides “recording quality that looks so good, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t live.”

 Schoolcraft is using an 8-channel Mira Instant Replay server, allowing them to simultaneously record six cameras non-stop, with two output replay channels.  The 8-channel Mira can also be configured for two users; each with four channels for ‘2-IN/2-OUT’ or ‘3-IN/1-OUT’ replay operations.  Abekas also offers a 4-channel version of Mira for use by a single replay operator.

 Douglas Johnson, Chief Product Manager for Abekas, explains the instant replay/slow motion marketplace is divided into what he calls three ‘Tiers’.  The ‘Tier 1’ marketplace includes national network broadcasters and sports cable channels, which is fairly saturated with EVS instant replay servers.  “EVS has been in that market space for quite a long time, and really hasn’t had a lot of competition.”  For Abekas, the ‘Tier 2’ and ‘Tier 3’ marketplaces include regional network broadcasters, colleges, universities, local cable, sport arenas, and large high schools. The instant replay solution for these markets is the Mira server, which Johnson describes as “significantly less expensive with a significantly smaller chassis size; and Mira provides more video channels in that smaller package.”

 He adds that “Mira is using JPEG-2000 compression, which provides better image quality than what you find in most competing products.” Abekas also offers DVCPro native video recording hardware in Mira as well, with availability in August.

 For Brown at Schoolcraft College, the transition to the Mira Instant Replay system was smooth and effortless.  “It’s pretty much an ‘out-of-the-box’ experience,” he explains.  “Take out the old one and put in the really good new one!”

 Brown and his production colleagues are also taking advantage of the Mira’s built-in media file export capability.  Clips stored on Mira can be easily exported for post-game highlights editing.   “We go back, pull off the footage and hand it off to our editor,” says Brown.  For post-production of game highlights, Mira can export captured content into media files with Quicktime MOV or MXF wrappers, with support for Avid DNxHD, XDCam, DVCPro-50, DVCPro-100 and IMX video encoding.

 At the heart of the live instant replay operations is the ‘DMAT-AB’ control panel from DNF Controls.  “During live games, the input video channels continuously record from one to six cameras on the input side of the server.” Abekas’ Johnson explains. “The DMAT-AB panel controls only the playback channels of Mira.”  During the game, the DMAT-AB operator marks and saves clips with in and out points.  “The operator then constructs a playlist of highlights from a selection of those saved clips, to present various stories from the game.” says Johnson.

 The DMAT-AB control panel features a familiar layout and design with jog wheel, command buttons and T-bar for smooth and precise speed control of Mira’s slow motion capabilities.  Functionality includes fast and flexible clip mark, save and recall operations.  It’s unique ‘Instant Live Cut’ provides live switching between record streams, and can coordinate clips from up to six cameras and pre-loaded media files.  The main features of the replay system include ‘Active Instant Replay’ which provides fast instant replay without the need to ‘clip off’ anything.  It can be combined with live switching between recorded cameras on the active replay channel, which vastly streamlines operations.  The ‘Play List’ feature allows an operator to stack clips in any desired order, and play them out automatically with cuts or dissolves.  And the highlights ‘Melt’ feature gathers clips from any number of playlists and quickly exports them into a series of self-contained media files; with a choice of MOV or MXF file wrappers.  The DMAT-AB is also fully compatible with the Super Slow Motion recording option available in Mira.

 Every Abekas Mira Instant Replay system is fully HD capable, but can be used in SD environments such as found in the production truck at Schoolcraft College, where they are currently using Mira in standard definition.  Brown says they hope to upgrade to HD in the near future—school budgets allowing.  “Our cameras are already HD, and the Mira is HD,” he says.  “Probably next year we’ll go full HD.”

 And to put the icing on the cake, every Mira Instant Replay server can be instantly configured by the user to operate in stereoscopic 3D with the simple click of a mouse.  So every Mira user has a secure 3D future, when that future materializes.

 To Abekas’ Johnson, the success of the Mira Instant Replay server is based on the system’s combination of high-quality images, expansive feature set, ease-of-operation and exceptionally low price.

 Brown at Schoolcraft College agrees, simply saying “It’s excellent.”

Summer’s Here. I’m for That.

I live outside of Philadelphia.  On Thursday, the temperature hit 99-degrees and may have set a record.  I’m not sure, and I really don’t care about records.  I only know that it was hot, humid and the only release from the heat was an evening thunderstorm that threatened to destroy the canopy on my back-yard deck.  (There was modest damage.  It can be repaired.  Thanks for asking.)

 While my calendar says that we have a few weeks before it is officially summer, let’s be realistic.  Summer’s here.

 A few years back, 30 years to be exact, I was an occasional guest on the CBS Morning News discussing the latest gadgets, products and other cool stuff that was coming to the market.  The show wanted a ‘summer’ segment, and at the time, the latest, greatest, coolest thing was something called a camcorder.   So, we took a VHS camcorder and some friends to the beach and shot some silly stuff like romping in the surf and building sandcastles.  We made some simple edits and laid down a soundtrack using a James Taylor song, “Summer’s Here.

I can’t honestly remember what was on the videotape.  I can recall the song.

                “Summer’s here.  I’m for that.

                Got my rubber sandals.  Got my straw hat.

                Got my cold beer.  I’m just glad that it’s here.

                It’s my favorite time of the year,

                And I’m glad that it’s here.”

 We need some summer.  We need a break.

 Business will go on, news cycles will continue, problems will arise and they may or may not be resolved.  But, by and large, we all slow down a bit come summer.  (Try to find someone in their office after Noon on a Friday during the summer.  You know who you are, and you know what I mean.)

 We all slow down – because we can, and because we need to. 

 In the consumer electronics world, summer on a sales floor can and does feel parched.   The customers are dwindling, save that last burst of effort called “Dads and Grads.”  But, we are setting our sights (manufacturers, retailers, and salespeople) on the fall.   At worst, we try to survive the summer.  At best, we start planning for the next real selling season.

And we have a lot to think about as we start thinking about next fall.  We have choices to make, we have trends to decipher, and we may want to spend a moment or two on the beach wondering if we really have any clue about what the next season will bring.

In the past year, we’ve seen TV margins (once the core of the CE business profitability) essentially vanish.  We’ve watched – or participated in – a ‘democratization’ of the one-time, high-end technology selling opportunity as non-electronics box houses, discount retailers and the web have essentially reinvented the business while many weren’t looking.

Tablets and smartphones tease as being the next, best thing.   Maybe they are.  It will be a few months until we really know.

We have a few months to watch and wonder who and what will be in the game when the next season kicks off (with or without an NFL season).   There are plenty of retail casualties of the past year, and others seemingly on life support.  Will they be around when the customers get back from the beaches and the mountains?

As we try to take a break in these summer months, we should probably keep an eye on our tablets and smartphones, and maybe check the office for messages late on a Friday afternoon.   We can slow down, but we better not stop. 

Call it change, call it transition, call it disaster, call it a sea change or a paradigm shift, or call it opportunity, the coming season will be unlike anything we have seen before – and some of us will win, others will wonder what happened. 

Don’t worry –we have time.  We have a few months. 

We have our rubber sandals, we have our straw hats.  We have cold beer.  And, yes, we should be glad summer’s here.   Take a breath, take a break.  Take a moment, a day, a week or two to jump a wave in the ocean or find a tire swing or a waiting hammock when a cool breeze passes by. 

My father was a school superintendent.  His ‘summer’ wrapped up in the last week of July when, on the beach, he would begin to compose his welcome back letter to his faculty and staff.   I fondly remember watching him take on the task, relaxed from his seasonal respite, but ready, willing and eager to welcome the next school year.  

I learned a lot from my Dad.  I learned that each season (in his case, a school year) brought new challenges and changes.  I watched him reflect on the year gone by, but always be more excited about the future rather than focusing on the past.  

My Dad had rubber sandals.  He had a straw hat.

Summer, was, I believe, his favorite time of the year.

Except for the rest of the year when he did what he truly loved.

Yes, summer’s here.  I’m for that. 

Sing along.

John Rice

6/10/2011

And later we might sing “Will I see you in September?”  But that is a song/discussion for a later date – say mid-August?

TWICE.com: Looking for Today’s Norio Ohga

I was an early-adopter, and to a certain degree I still am.

I like what I have (and what I’ve had.)

Technology is cool, fun and there are those of us (and you know who you are), who revel in it. There is always a latest-greatest-gotta-have-it something or other that gets our juices going. It drives us as journalists, salespeople, and consumers. It’s, to a great degree, why we do what we do.

Back in the days of VHS and BetaMax and camcorders and CDs, I was new to all of this. I got to know some of the now legendary people of our industry. They taught me a lot. A few years after VHS won the market, one CE executive surprisingly announced his retirement. His company was at the forefront of this product and he was a passionate and dedicated advocate of both the technology and his company’s position in the market. I called him and asked why he was walking away.

Although far from traditional retirement age, he said it was time for him to go, “it isn’t fun anymore.” I am probably paraphrasing him, but he said it was energizing and exciting to introduce a new technology and bring it to the market. But, by the time he decided to say goodbye, that thrill was gone. Everyone was selling VHS decks.

“We’re just selling toasters,” he said. “I don’t want to sell toasters”. (That, to the best of my recollection is an exact quote.)

I never met Noria Ogha, the former head of Sony who passed away this week. I wish I had. He had a passion for both technology and its applications and implementations that re-invented Sony at a time when no one thought Sony needed to be re-invented. It did. And he did it. I mourn his passing. (And I wonder why there is not a greater mourning in this industry as we honor his life’s work.)

The electronics industry and the retail world are rife with the likes of Noria Ohga, and my old friend who helped make VHS a success. There are pioneers aplenty who invented, created, manufactured, marketed, sold and made dramatic and long-lasting changes in both what we wanted to buy and how we bought them. Maybe it is just nostalgia, or a touch of the curmudgeon in me, but I wonder “where are the Ohga’s of today.” With apologies to Steve Jobs, Bezos, Meg Whitman and Zuckerberg, who have admittedly, in their way, reinvented our electronics and retail experiences, I wonder if we need something more.

Perhaps in some garage, or the back room of some retailer, there is a glimmer of a great idea that someday we will celebrate as the reinvention of our industry and marketplace.

I have no idea what it is. But I do know that we need it. Whatever it is, and I sincerely hope that is it there, it needs to be a unique convergence of tech and sales. Of gizmos and marketing. Of gee-whiz and gotta-have.

By “it” I mean both products and the sales channels.

We’ve had it. We’ve reveled (and profited) in it.

We can spend our time wondering if the next generation of sales is coming from the Internet, or from smaller stores, or lower prices (and lower margins), or, god bless ‘em, those proponents of better customer service (of which I am admittedly an advocate). Or maybe we need something new, different and radical – something re-inventive.

I have no idea what it is. (If I did, I would be writing a business plan instead of this commentary.)

If we do nothing, we will gain nothing. It will be business as usual.

If all we make and sell are toasters. We will become, say it with me…..

Toast.
John Rice is a writer, consultant, and occasional sales professional.  Komedia Group provides marketing, training and informational services to companies in the electronics, automotive and pharmaceutical fields.  He can be reached at 267-980-5919, via email at jrice@komediagroup.com or at www.komediagroup.com

 4/26/2011

TWICE.com: How Can We Help You Today?

TWICE.COM (This Week in Consumer Electronics)
How Can We Help You Today?
This is a slightly revised version of a previously posted blog which was published/posted on TWICE.com – http://ricepaper55.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/twice-com-how-can-we-help-you-today/
March 25, 2011
As a child, I would often go shopping with my Godmother, who lived with my Grandmother and helped her around the house (and with her business, I should add.) On shopping days, Erna – my Godmother – and I would head out of the house in Reading PA and walk a few blocks to the downtown district, towing a two-wheeled cart behind us.We would go to the butcher for meat, to the grocer for vegetables, to the baker for bread, and on the good days, to the confectioner for a treat. At each stop, the greetings were personal. The shop owners knew Erna, and over time some came to recognize me. They knew her preferences and were often excited to show her a special item or occasionally give her a little extra – or give me a taste.

Yes, it was a different time.

During my high school and college years when staying on top of the latest music releases was as important, if not sometimes more important than studies, I had my favorite record stores. The good ones had the expert behind the counter. These were the guys -and they were always guys, I’m not sure why – who knew what were the hot releases on the horizon. And, the really good ones knew what I liked and sometimes would hold a record, yes a vinyl record, behind the counter until my next visit because they knew it was something that I just had to hear.

That too was a different time.

We all have those experiences – be it for food, books, music, fashion and the like. Whether you were born in the 1950’s (like me) or earlier or later, we all have good shopping experiences. And most of those were based on the relationship we had with the salesperson, whether it was a long-term, continuous relationship or just someone who impressed us and gained our trust on a single sale.

At one point in my career, I did work for a major, foreign car maker. Part of my contract was to create training material for its dealers as part of a substantial effort to change the selling style of the salespeople from one of selling a single car, to creating a long-term relationship with the customer. As part of that project, I spent a lot of time with many of the most successful salespeople across the country. The best ones didn’t sell cars. The best ones had friends who bought cars from them. Those friendships were based on nothing more than the relationships the customers and salespeople had about cars. Establish a good and honest relationship with a customer and he or she is your customer for life. We took those success stories and styles and tried to create a program – with video, on-line training and other support – that would hopefully make all this car makers’ salespeople successful.

It worked.

In today’s retail marketplace, cars may be one of the last vestiges of what is called ‘consultative selling’. Even so, the role of the salesperson is undergoing a metamorphosis. It really doesn’t matter if this change is for the better or worse. It is happening. And we have to deal with it. Be we salespeople or customers or both.

At another point in my professional odyssey, I sold consumer electronics – TVs, audio systems, home design and installation and the like. I entered that market at a time when high definition TVs were the latest, greatest thing – and were really expensive. I recently left that market, not altogether by my own choice, at a time when prices are plummeting, the technology has become mainstream, and my apparent value to customers was not that of a consultant or friend, but often as no more than a clerk. Yes, there were (and still are) customers who want and need advice. And there are businesses and sales professionals to serve them. But those numbers are dwindling fast.

Today, many can get their information and advice as easily from a website, or, as I was sometimes told, from a neighbor or friend, as they could from me.

The marketplace has undergone – is undergoing – a dramatic shift. I can’t say if it is a paradigm shift or merely an evolution, but the electronics marketplace, like the grocer, butcher, baker and music store of my youth, is not, and will never be the same.

I’m not complaining. (OK, maybe just a little.) I’m just stating fact. Many of us already understand it. All of us soon will.

To be honest, one has to wonder during a time of budget slashing (on the national, state and probably personal levels), what does it matter that a few electronics salespeople are pursuing new careers? What does it matter that there are many stores are closing their doors in any number of markets? What does it matter if we can still buy what we want to buy, just thru new and different channels? It’s happened before, and it will happen again.

My old music store was replaced by the mass-market retailer, who is now being usurped by iTunes. Erna’s grocer long ago gave way to the supermarket which is now being threatened by the Mega-markets. The corner bookseller that went out of business when the chain bookstores moved into town, is now watching those stores suffer as books can be bought on the internet and downloaded to any number of portable, electronic devices. While the local car dealerships (at least those that survived over the past few years) still have the latest models on the showroom floor, I can also design and buy my next car on the internet, and I can shop literally across the country for the best price I can find.

Stores are closing and many companies are failing, or at least threatened. Some may survive. They are the smart ones. They will find ways to adapt and adopt the changes, and may find new successes in reinvention. If they are really smart, and maybe a little bit lucky.

The other day, my college-age son and I went shopping. Admittedly, we went to a local Blockbuster store that is closing to see if there were any good deals. We stopped by the local Borders bookstore to see how deep the discounts were, because that store is closing too. The next stop was a big-box electronics store, where he wanted to get some new headsets. The store was very quiet, but no one offered to help us. My son pulled out his smartphone to see what information he could find about the three choices he was considering.

Are sales and profits at the big-box chain down (based on recent reports) because my son has a smartphone? Not in this case. But he could have also used his device to find a better price. And, he probably got as much information on the products as he might have gotten from a sales associate had one cared to speak to us.

Is Blockbuster closing our local store because of Netflix and pirated on-line videos? Or are they in trouble because of some bad decisions? Is Borders trimming stores because of Amazon and e-books? Or did they stumble at the boardroom level?

Is Ultimate Electronics liquidating because of the marketplace, or their business decisions? Is 6th Avenue Electronics leaving markets and closing stores because of the internet or bad expansion plans? Did Tweeter fail because new ownership didn’t understand electronics, or because the marketplace didn’t need a Tweeter anymore?

The answer is yes…and yes.

Is Best Buy rethinking its channel strategy away from brick and mortar stores and putting more emphasis on the web because they are really smart? Or is the big box giant reading the handwriting on the wall?

At another point in my storied career, I worked for a major electronics manufacturer, first as a contractor and later on staff. I watched, and participated, as their once undeniable supremacy in the market was challenged, successfully, by competitors. I watched, and participated, as their high-end, high-cost, high-margin products got better and more affordable. While percentage margins were maintained, lower costs meant lower profit-per-product. While remaining, still to this day, one of the premiere brands internationally, as profits and margins and market share slipped, so did budgets and staffing. Like me.

(At this point, in exposing some of my career, one might consider staying away from any industries or companies that I have, or am, involved with!)

Times change.

Technologies change.

Economies change.

People change.

And we move on.

For better, or for worse.

In the balance of things, is my life (as a customer) worse or better because I can garner the information I need to make a good purchase decision on the internet, and that I can get a better price? Of course, it is better.

In that balance, is my life (as a salesperson, consultant, writer, independent business owner) worse because the expertise I have to offer is lessened in value because my customers can get that information elsewhere? Of course, it hurts. But let’s face reality.

In this balance, is my life more substantially affected by changes in the consumer marketplace or a more global economic perspective? Take a moment. Think about it.

Come on!

Yes, I lost a sales job. I’ll find another job or expand my contract work. And I’ll continue to do what I always did even while selling – writing, consulting, producing – whatever it took, and now will take to pay the bills and maybe be a little ahead at the end of the month.

I’m watching my friends and my community. I’m seeing friends lose jobs. I’m hearing that budget cuts may substantially impact the high school and college that my sons go to. I’m sitting alone at a computer and wondering if there is some aspect, some iota of what I have done and who I am that can do something, have some impact on who we are and where we are?

I wonder if you are wondering the same.

We are in a time, not unlike many times before, when we need to rethink and re-invent.

The manufacturers, marketers, retailers and corporations will explore and move toward their re-inventions. They may or may not succeed.

We, I suspect, are already doing it, rethinking and re-inventing. We’re dealing with rising gas prices. We’re deciding if we really need that new TV, car, furniture or sports coat or dress and new pair of shoes. We’re trying to figure out how to pay next month’s bills, because we have to. We’re planning about what we are going to do if a public service is cut with the next budget, or tuition increases, or campuses close, or the store down the street closes, or something costs more tomorrow than it does today.

That’s what we do.

And if no one else will ask, perhaps we should ask.

“How can we help you today?”

John Rice can be contacted at jrice@komediagroup.com, or visit http://www.komediagroup.com.