The computer retail market is naturally more developed out here than in Europe - but that doesn't mean it is better. The gap also implies that European companies can learn from their US counterparts' mistakes.
For as long as I have written about the reseller market, dealers and distributors have been absolutely clear that excess inventory is a bad thing. The bigger you are, the more expensive it is and the more damage it can do to your bottom line. On a smaller scale, just think of Derek Trotter in Only Fools And Horses - he would panic at the start of every episode, saying something like: 'It would be cushty if we could offload them 20 Russian army video cameras, Rodney, but I'm sunk to the tune of a monkey if we can't.'
US retailer Best Buy went through an aggressive period of growth as the electronics boom propelled it onwards. It cut prices every month, put rivals out of business every week and grew every day. But its all-encompassing strategy had a flaw. By last year, Best Buy carried so many lines that customers couldn't work out which to buy. It also made such a small margin that any sales slowdown proved very expensive. Profits also suffered as the retailer invested in additional stores on almost any plot of land within 50 miles of a city.
Now, Best Buy is growing rapidly again because it is only building a few stores a month, improving efficiency and cutting the number of products it carries in its stores by almost 50 per cent. This means customers have a simpler choice, and Best Buy can wring better terms from vendors that want to be included in the stores. Its inventory has also been cut by more than a half. It is making more monkeys every day - Del Boy would be proud.
American football players are considered as thick as two short twigs out here, which is why I was so surprised to find that the New York Jets are using streaming video to coach players. The coaches are showing the jocks, as they are affectionately known, a video of what they want done using an Endeavour Software application - all the players have to do is plug their laptops in, dial on and watch. Ah. Perhaps it won't work, then.
Doh Rays Me So Far LA (I)T Dough
Los Angeles is associated with films, beaches and plastic everything.
But the area is now trying to promote itself as a centre for information technology.
LA's mayor claims its multimedia industry is bigger than both Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley - New York's equivalent - put together. The city itself is even putting money in to promote the idea - under the brand Digital Coast.
I must admit to being very sceptical about LA's chances of getting the computer industry to accept Digital Coast as the best place to locate a technology business. But then, if there is one thing Hollywood can do it is promote itself.
I have seen a couple of interviews with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates recently - all typically fawning, as most interviews with him are. He has learned how not to answer questions and say what he wants - regardless of the topics discussed. The only interesting snippet came from the answer about his role in history.
Apparently, Gates wants to be remembered as the most humble man of the new era of technology, and if anyone has any suggestions as to how he can achieve this, they should email them to him.
Perhaps the fact that he assumes everyone not only has his email address, but also believes he reads all his email himself, proves he is not really all that genuine - and perhaps a little less humble than he would have us believe. Maybe he should back down on something or, say, concede when Microsoft does something wrong - for instance, when his company accuses the government of stupidity.
Years of media training, success and expensive luxuries have allowed him to shed the nice geek image and become less humble all round.
The blunt edge of US technology
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some show technology out here. It's a kind of self-service supermarket scanning idea, which some Silicon Valley contacts told me was the cutting-edge of technology in the retail market.
But do-it-yourself checkouts and scanning are not new, according to Steve Lee, MD of Atlantic Coast, who kindly advised me that Safeway has been doing this for about two years, complete with plastic trays to carry the shopping in. I must remember this anecdote the next time some self-important Silicon Valley exec tells me Europe is always two years behind the US in technology.
Meeting boredom with bingo
One of my pet hates is long, boring, unproductive meetings, particularly those that involve circular debates or people who love the sound of their own vainglorious voices.
Help is at hand. A friend sent me Meeting Bingo - a game the whole corporate family can enjoy during meetings to relieve the boredom. It is a spreadsheet of overused industry cliches and terms, and the object is to cross off each term as some loser uses it during a presentation.
The table contains the classics - bring to the table, paradigm shift and win-win scenario. And who can forget commonality, core competency or maximising value - and, my personal favourite, going forward. When you cross off the last line, you shout 'house', claim your prize and walk out of the meeting to do something less boring instead.
I guarantee your meetings will improve no end as a result, particularly if you are the chief executive.
James Harding is US editor of VNU Newswire, based in San Francisco.
He can be reached at [email protected] or on 00 1 650 306 0879.
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