Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This is the kind of innovative business where you're pulling for them to succeed. Pizza places seem like one of the most common small businesses to open. It seems easy--some dough, tomato sauce, cheese and cut up toppings and you get to charge 15+ bucks for it, right? The problem of course becomes that many see this and you get a litany of pizzarias opening up that all seem about the same regardless of whether they're chain or locally owned. Therefore its great when someone actually puts a little innovation into this somewhat-tired industry. The layout and functionality of the site looks great and so does the corporate culture. Hope they make it to the U.S. someday!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Well the Oscars have come and gone and I most definitely did not watch it this year you might think is strange considering I made a good effort to see most of the major movies leading up to it. Besides the fact that I wasn't greatly looking forward to Ellen Degeneres hosting (too bad Billy Crystal can't just do it forever), the movies this year have really been disappointing. With the exception of Little Miss Sunshine, I hardly cared much for anything in 2006 (Prestige is the only one I would add next to Sunshine). The Departed was a pretty unoriginal cop/mafia story that would look pretty sorry without its all-star cast. Babel seemed like it was just trying to fit the mold of a 'powerful-movie-with-a-message', but just seemed bland to me. The Queen was interesting at first since I didn't know what it was about and thought it was bold to do a movie on something so recent as that without the guide of memoirs or first-person narratives, but it somewhat bored me after a while since I knew where the story was going and nothing seemed to really grab my attention. I never quite felt in the mood for Iwo Jima, so I can't really comment on that, though it didn't seem like a movie I'd particularly love. The only war movies I've liked in the past have satirical black comedy thrown in.

It's certainly possible that I just missed the movies that I would have liked better. I still haven't seen the foreign films such as Pan's Labyrinth, the Lives of Others and The Science of Sleep.

Regardless, here's hoping 2007 picks it up!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Whole Foods has just announced that they've merged with Wild Oats. I always find this an interesting practice where companies are getting a little competition from another company so what do they do but simply buy them out. I better know "Wild Oats" as "Henry's", where I go to for the kind of items Whole Foods carries without the ridiculous markup. In the summer the differences in pricing between those two stores' produce is incredible--I remember them selling 7 lbs of oranges for $1 at one point. Hopefully Whole Foods will keep Henry's as it is and just leave it as filling a niche that their main store does not--the way that the Gap has Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch and the Gap to bridge niches in the market.

No matter what though, at least I'll still have good ol' Trader Joe's!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Zillow's Report Card: Proceed with caution

Definitely one of the coolest Web 2.0 sites that can be used for business out there is Zillow. The basic premise is that it is a real estate service company which combines satellite data with value estimates of homes all across the country. Certainly not without criticism, but a recent article from the Wall Street Journal found that although it is surprisingly accurate most of the time, approximately 1 out of every 10 of these "Zestimates" can be woefully off by 25% or more. Still, as a ball park figure, it certainly can aid both buyers and sellers estimate the homes value. Furthermore, Zillow is always in development, having created a wiki recently with possibly more such tools in the future. As always though, a market comes down to how much a buyer is willing pay for the good and how eager a seller is to relinquish it. This is something a general algorithm will never be able to accomplish with complete precision.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Recently Wal-mart executives (ironically joined by union leaders from other parts of the country) made a public call for Universal Health Care to be offered by the state. Naturally, given the general public perception of Wal-mart's altruism, many are skeptical of the multi-national corporation's true intentions. Certainly it can't be ignored that getting taxpayers to fund their employees' health care benefits would save the company billions of dollars--perhaps even increase employee productivity among those who are not covered by the health plan (over half). Perhaps this is being a bit too skeptical though. I do think Wal-mart gets a disproportionate amount of negative attention simply to due to being the biggest of the retail superstores since it makes them the most cost-effective for advocacy groups to target. I must agree with them however, the current plan of depending upon employers to give health benefits is certainly not working fantastically, with 45+ million Americans uninsured, with Wal-mart being a prime example of this.

Friday, February 09, 2007

When searching for a used car to buy last month following getting rear-ended, I decided to subscribe to Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Kit, which although seemed quite expensive ($24) was probably worth it in the end given how much money was being spent on the car itself. I must say the website is very useful. From the Buying Kit, I went from being very sure I would get a used Nissan, to finding a Toyota Avalon that I am very happy with yet I knew next to nothing about the Avalon model before seeing it as a recommended car on the website. Not only was the Kit extremely helpful, but the website itself is very useful for other random consumer reviews such as: hefty being superior to glad, Trader Joe's dishwasher detergent being very good, Wal-mart's laundry detergent being easily the best buy and Sears' vacuum beating out the much fancier and expensive Dysons. I doubt I'll keep up the subscription, but I think I might print out some of these reviews while I can...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

In what is probably unsurprising news to those of us at the pump, Exxon Mobil recently reported the largest annual profit in U.S. history, $377 billion (beating the previous record that was held by none other than Exxon Mobil with $370 billion the previous year). Alongside them Royal Dutch Shell set a personal best as well this year with $25 billion.

Now I am someone who respects a company with a sound business policy that satisfies customers and makes huge profits, but this is just an antitrust robbery! How else can a company make these sorts of achievements while really doing nothing to improve the way they do business? There has been no significant raise in demand for their product, yet they thrive. Obviously I'm not the only one to be a bit shocked by all this, and yet nothing continues to be done. Given the current state of affairs, it seems like an alternative product or perhaps a cut in demand for oil seems the only way Exxon Mobil et al. will cease to continue setting records at the expense of frustrated consumers.