Tuesday, December 13, 2011 | Edited by Daniel Moores
||What's Hot This Season for Gifts? Retro and Quirky
Jewelry sales are up, but so are book sales. Superhero footie pajamas and racy lingerie are also big sellers, at least for certain demographics.
It's going to be a very merry -- if not mystifying -- Christmas when it comes to often-discretionary gift buying this year.
"Consumer spending behavior is much more stable than consumer sentiment," says PNC Financial Services chief economist Stuart Hoffman.
And people are indeed spending, often on increasingly pricey, and quirky, products. Apple was the third-most-popular website last month, topping Target, according to data out Friday by digital measurement company ComScore.
Looney Tunes, not mixed martial arts, are especially big at youthful retailer Spencer's, also home of Batman footie pj's.
• Retro. Some of the hottest toys this holiday season are throwbacks. Barbie and Legos are near the top of some wish lists and online searches. Spencer's CEO Steven Silverstein says lava lamps and shirts and sleepwear with Elmo, Cookie Monster and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles are big sellers.
• Tech-inspired fashion. J.C. Penney says hot sellers include Hoodie Buddies -- hooded sweatshirts with a place to route MP3 player cords -- and gloves that can be used with phones.
• Jewelry. Sales at independent jewelry stores were up 4.5% since January 2010, says financial data company Sageworks. Holiday sales at online jewelry retailer Gemvara are triple what they were in 2010. Macy's says earrings and gold and colored sequins on clothes are big sellers.
• Books. Sales at independent bookstores were up more than 15% over the Thanksgiving weekend, and bookstore websites powered by the American Booksellers Association were up 60% through Cyber Monday vs. 2010, ABA says.
• Lingerie. Market researcher NPD Group says undergarment sales overall were flat this year, but bra sales were up 5%. Urban fashion website Karmaloop says its lingerie sales were up 200% this season -- especially bras and designs that can be worn as outerwear.
• Footwear. Upscale men's shoemaker Allen Edmonds has a boot in its top 10 most-popular styles for the first time. Men's boots are outpacing growth in sneakers at Karmaloop, too, and are up 450% this season.
"The most popular deal this year was a rare sale on Ugg boots, a 'want' by any definition," says BradsDeals.com founder Brad Wilson.
(Source: USA Today, 12/12/11)
||Dentists Turn to Marketing After Getting Brush-Off from Patients
For a quarter-century, Dr. Terry Vines built his Redlands, Calif., dental practice the old-fashioned way: one mouth at a time.
Vines sponsored youth soccer teams. He renovated historic buildings around town to build good will. He turned his waiting room into a cozy nook with soft chairs and a big-screen TV.
As business increased, Vines hired more dentists to accommodate his thriving practice, Pure Gold Professionals in Dentistry.
Then the economy tanked, hundreds of patients stopped coming, and Vines decided he needed help.
Scouring the Internet and dental magazines, the 53-year-old dentist discovered a host of marketers and consultants -- all promising to make dentistry pay.
For the right price, the marketers would unlock the mysteries of success, offering seminars and coaching sessions with titles like "Profit Centers for Your Practice" and "Secrets of the Dental Insurance Industry."
This year, Vines hired one of the marketing firms, Excellence in Dentistry. The Indiana company redesigned his website, adding colorful photographs of his staff, biographies of the office's six dentists and glowing patient testimonials. "I would definitely recommend these caring and gentle people to any of my friends and family," a patient says in one of the tributes.
In 2012, Vines' consultant plans to launch an email newsletter for patients and a blog to promote teeth-whitening techniques, new laser technology to identify cavities and other services.
Vines also intends to give patients a little post-treatment pampering, supplying warm towels to go along with the bottled water in the waiting-room refrigerator.
"It's time we step it up," said Vines, who cut back his hours over the last two years when revenue dropped about 10%. "I believe I'm in a position to grow with the right marketing."
For years, dentists relied on their good reputations to attract customers, figuring it was enough to hang a shingle, perform a valuable service and earn a trusted name.
That was before patients started skipping twice-a-year cleanings, postponing fillings and taking a pass on root canals.
Dentistry, once thought recession-proof, has become a casualty of the tough economy. Americans increasingly see dental care as a luxury, even though neglecting their teeth can lead to serious health hazards, including heart disease.
Dentists say many patients no longer can tap equity in their homes to pay for implants and other elective treatments. Bank financing for dental work, long a popular way to pay for care, has dried up as lenders stiffened loan standards.
California's budget crisis has contributed to the problem. The state sharply slashed funding for its Denti-Cal program for the poor two years ago, leaving vast numbers of low-income adults without dental coverage.
Dentists are feeling the pinch: Revenue at American dental offices has dropped steadily over the last three years, according to financial data from nearly 8,000 practices collected by Sageworks Inc., a financial analysis firm in North Carolina.
This year is shaping up to be the worst since 2005. In the first nine months of 2011, dentists have reported an average 3% decline in revenue and profit.
The downturn has forced dentists to cut hours, lay off staff and slash their own pay. Many remain worried. In an August survey by the American Dental Assn., 45% of dentists said they were "not at all confident" about future economic conditions. Older dentists were more downbeat than younger ones.
"Right now, your practicing dentist is very unsure of where the future is going," said Dr. Matthew Messina, a Cleveland dentist who serves as a consumer advisor for the American Dental Assn. "We're looking for any ray of sunshine."
Dr. Luis Dominicis has responded by working harder. He extended weekday hours at his Downey, Calif., dental practice, and he sees patients two Saturdays a month. He hasn't raised prices in five years and said he has no intention of doing so, despite rising costs for anesthesia and other supplies.
"You've got to stay competitive," Dominicis said. "At least I'm able to put in the extra hours."
The sense of uncertainty has created an opening for marketers. One of the most successful, DentalWebsites.com, said its client roster has doubled in the last 18 months, to about 800 customers.
The West Virginia company charges an average $5,000 to design websites, and $300 to $400 more each month to update the sites and position them on Internet search engines, among other services.
The firm is owned by a husband-and-wife team, Greg and Mary Rahall. He's a computer engineer; she has a master's degree in industrial relations. They got their start in dental marketing more than a decade ago when they created a website for a dentist in their family, who recommended them to others.
"I feel great that our business is booming," Mary Rahall said. "We help dentists get a bigger share of a shrinking market."
Not all dentists are sold on marketing as the answer to their difficulties.
Dr. Victor Sobrepeña has been advertising his Northern California practice for nearly a decade. But even with billboards, a website, and radio and television ads, business at Foster City Sedation Dentistry has dropped by about half since the recession struck in 2008.
Sobrepeña has cut his marketing budget to about $1,000 a month from $10,000.
"If you're spending money on marketing and you're not getting the return on investment and you're actually losing money, you're not going to be following that strategy very long," Sobrepeña said.
Vines, however, sees marketing as the smartest way to grow, even though it's new and unfamiliar.
When Vines entered dentistry in 1985, he wanted to follow the path of his childhood dentist, a mentor who made the job seem worthwhile because it involved helping people.
Vines stayed close to home after earning his degree from the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, briefly practicing in San Bernardino before moving to Redlands.
"I'm a local guy," said Vines, an elder in his Redlands church who has raised five children with his wife of 31 years, Geneil.
Vines figured that as a dentist, he would enjoy a comfortable living. But the economy changed, and that meant viewing fellow practitioners not only as peers but also as competitors.
That's why Vines hired Steffany Mohan, a fellow dentist and marketing consultant who says that keeping patients satisfied is as important as persuading them to walk through the door.
Mohan emphasizes personal service: Dentists should offer sedation to patients nervous about pain, and make dental care feel like a trip to the spa with amenities such as scented neck wraps, moisturizing lotions, heated massage pads and video screens mounted on the ceiling above dental chairs.
"People don't necessarily remember what you said or did, but they'll remember how you made them feel," Mohan said. "We're going for giving them an experience they'll remember so they won't go anywhere else."
Vines said he expects to spend $35,000 to $50,000 over the next year on Mohan's marketing strategies. Some of her tips are old-school: sending postcards to patients reminding them to return for checkups and teaching the staff to be more friendly and upbeat when answering the phones.
But her advice also is prompting Vines to rethink the way he builds his business. For the first time, he is marketing on Facebook, and he plans to add Twitter and Groupon early next year.
"Word of mouth will only take you so far," he said. "I want to take it to the next level."
(Source: Los Angeles Times, 12/01/11)
||Indian Casinos Target Las Vegas-Style Features
Casinos on American Indian reservations have blossomed into a $26 billion-a-year industry scattered across the nation. And, as they've grown in number and revenue, they've also added resort-level amenities.
Although tribal gaming has matured since the mid-1970s, when tribes in Florida and California first introduced bingo halls, the industry remains positioned as regional entertainment, competing among themselves rather than challenging Las Vegas as the nation's premier gaming destination.
That's not to say some in the industry aren't thinking big and adopting Las Vegas-quality trappings to lure business away from other regional venues.
"There is growing competition between tribal casinos," said Mark Birtha, president and chief development officer of Sol Casinos in Tucson, Ariz. "My goal is to create a property...that has all the bells and whistles of a Las Vegas resort. We are boutique properties that are more intimate."
In February 2010, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe broke ground on a $130 million expansion of the Casino del Sol near Tucson. The 17-month project completed this month features a 215-room hotel and more than 65,000 square feet of meeting and convention space.
The pool has a beachfront entrance and VIP cabanas. Indoors, there's an upscale steakhouse, a spa and two Starbucks coffee shops. The resort employs a master mixologist and a sommelier, positions seen only recently at tribal casino-resorts. A golf course and more retail space are planned in 2012.
"What we brought to Casino del Sol with this expansion was a level of sophistication and design not seen in this market before," said Birtha, who joined Sol Casinos in March 2010 after 15 years with Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Marriott International.
He described the expansion as a "four-star operation" with the attention to detail that you would find at Wynn or The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Continuing to grow
According to the most recent figures available through Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, 237 tribes -- or 42 percent of all federally recognized tribes -- had some kind of gaming operation in 2009.
While some tribes had operations early on, it wasn't until 1988, when Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, that tribal gaming revenues started to skyrocket, growing from $100 million per year to $16.7 billion 2006. The past five years have seen even more expansion, with annual gaming revenues now topping $26 billion. By comparison, all non-Indian gaming in Nevada generated $10.4 billion in revenues in 2010, according to the state Gaming Control Board. Total consumer spending on non-tribal casinos in 2010 was $34.6 billion.
That steady revenue has helped many tribes long plagued by limited economic prospects and high reservation poverty to fund health clinics, schools, housing and other services.
While most tribes are financially successful, some are looking beyond casinos to build more inclusive resorts that can compete regionally. They're also building more amenities that yield higher returns to build an economic base.
Now the tribes are upgrading, transforming their properties into lavish, full-service casino-resorts that offer everything from branded restaurants and upscale shops to luxurious hotels and signature golf courses.
"What is going on with tribal casinos is just a natural evolution," said Victor Rocha, owner of Pechanga.net and member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Riverside County, Calif. "Tribal casinos began in trailers and tents, before we built stand-alone buildings. These resorts are just a natural evolution of the product."
Learning from Las Vegas
While tribal gaming has seen healthy growth over decades, it hasn't been recession-free.
Tribal gaming nationwide generated $26.4 billion in revenues in 2009, a 1 percent decline from the $26.7 billion in 2008, according to the 2009-2010 Indian Gaming Industry Report by Nathan Associates Inc. in Irvine, Calif.
The decline was slight considering the 8 percent decline in the commercial casino segment of the gaming industry, but continues a slowdown in tribal gaming over the past several years.
"We've learned a lot from Las Vegas, especially what not to do, which was not to overbuild," Rocha said. "To be honest, some tribes overbuilt, but most built to suit their demand."
Rocha said some in the tribal gaming industry are still working to repay billions spent in better times to build resorts. Two of those casinos, he said, are the Mohegan Tribe's Mohegan Sun and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's Foxwoods, both in Connecticut.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which owns the Mohegan Sun, has $800 million in debt coming due in the spring of 2012, financial reports show. The authority also has $250 million in debt coming due in 2013.
"The recession was one of the best things to happen to tribal gaming," Rocha said. "It forced them to think about their properties and how they were spending their resources."
Now, with construction costs as much as 15 percent lower than in recent years, forward-looking casino owners are expanding and renovating.
Besides lower construction costs, several other factors contribute to the expansion of tribal properties. Those reasons range from slight increases in consumer spending on gaming, improvement in the lodging and travel business and a finance community becoming more receptive to deals.
One of those projects was a new entertainment center expected to open adjacent to the Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino Resort on Ak-Chin Indian Community land, south of Phoenix. Construction began last month on the 162,000-square-foot entertainment complex that will feature a 12-screen movie theater, 24-lane bowling alley, arcade, laser tag, restaurants and an amphitheater.
The project will also have 22,000 square feet of retail space. The expansion cost has not been disclosed.
A recent study by ESI Corp. found the Ak-Chin casino accounted for nearly 1,100 jobs, or about $36.7 million in annual payroll. It also generated more than $205.3 million in economic activity for Pinal County last year.
Some projects are as small as adding a new restaurant. The Pokagan Band of Potawatomi Indians will add a 12,000-square-foot Hard Rock Cafe as part of an expansion of its Four Winds Casino in Michigan.
Even small upgrades can have a big impact.
Knowing your market
Sol Casinos' Birtha said the addition of 215 hotel rooms and 65,000 square feet of convention space has had an immediate impact.
"We already have an excess of $1.5 million in booking from across the country," he said. "We have meetings already booked for 2012 and into 2013, which is something we are very pleased with."
While increasing amenities and quality, the resort isn't aiming to divert trade from Las Vegas, Birtha said. He described Casino Del Sol as a "boutique property" that competes locally and regionally for business.
"Las Vegas is the brand-named market in the hospitality and gaming business," Birtha said. "We expanded to better compete in the regional and local marketplace."
To compete in a local or regional market it's about knowing your customers and what they want, not building 3,000-room hotels and 100,000-square-foot casinos.
"Absolutely, there is competition between tribal casinos," Birtha said. "But we are also in competition with large local resorts."
In the greater Tucson area, the Casino del Sol faces tough competition from upscale resorts including the Westin La Paloma Resort and Lowes Ventana Canyon, as well as brand-name hotels such as Hilton and J.W. Marriott.
Birtha said he wasn't competing with Las Vegas for convention business, but he wouldn't complain if the University of Arizona, Raytheon Co. or another large Tucson company choose Casino del Sol over Las Vegas.
"We have a very stable market," he said. "We have a stable base of customers. Mexico is huge for us. Plus our cash flow is much more stable because we didn't get ahead of ourselves."
Birtha said tribal gaming was a "unique" industry to work in, but it's a growing industry.
(Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12/04/11)
Daily Sales Tip: Start a Job Immediately
Here's a great way to show a prospect, right off the bat, how it'll feel to work together:
Four companies were given the chance to bid for a large account.
The last group walked in and won the account by saying:
"We can give you the Dance of a Thousand Slides (like the others), but you have a choice.
"You can pretend you already hired us, and for the next two hours we can start brainstorming on your account.
"If you hire us, you've received two hours of free consultation...and if you don't, you've still had two hours free."
The group's approach proved to the prospects they were flexible and able to think on their feet.
Source: Sales presentation expert/author Patricia Fripp