Service of Second Careers Started Later in Life

December 11th, 2017

Categories: Careers, Food, Radio, Retail, Second Career

Photo: zootscoop.com

 

Folks are living–and remaining vigorous and creative–much longer than before and are reinventing themselves after award-winning careers, sometimes doing both at once. Here are three inspiring examples.

The Voice of Radio

Len Berman

I listen to “Len Berman in the Morning” on WOR 710 radio. Len made a name for himself as a beloved TV sportscaster before he hung up his mic for a few years. Three years ago he launched a radio program to wake up the NYC metro area with a partner.

He’s the star now in a tough market, a flourishing generalist–and a gentleman–in a medium that is his to dominate with his guest co-hosts sharing thoughtful, funny, honest—but not disrespectful—fast-paced commentary.

He mentioned on-air the other morning that although he’d been offered another sports TV gig when he left NBC, he didn’t accept it. He must have been waiting for something new and exciting—and certainly challenging given the punishing length and time of the show, 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Since becoming the principal player, he seems to be having a wonderful time.

 Fitting Furniture

Michael Miller in the American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn Museum booth

I first met Alexandra and Michael Miller at my client’s American Fine Craft Show at the Brooklyn Museum where they exhibited furniture. Before I saw their whimsical tables and sideboards in person, I’d worked with images of their work that they describe as “handcrafted furniture featuring marquetry and inlay to create imaginative visual stories.” These hinted that the Millers were hip 30-something designer-artisans. They are the former–hip–but not the latter. Before launching Everyman Works, LLC two years ago, they designed and sold prints for packaging, illustration, interior décor and textiles around the world.

So where did furniture fit the picture? “Our decision to open the business came from the outcome of an injury,” said Alexandra. “Michael was convalescing and bored with reading and jigsaw puzzles. He decided to do a bit of marquetry, something he’d enjoyed as a boy. Having made the piece, the idea of applying it to a small table took hold and when it was finished, we both knew there was the germ of a good idea in front of us. Using a contemporary approach to an ancient craft was intriguing.

“We didn’t always dream about doing this; we never thought we could do it better than anyone else; and we were pretty certain we wouldn’t make a lot of money! However, the desire to create is deeply entrenched in us both. Our imaginations and design abilities are, as yet, no less diminished due to age – so why not use them,” said Alexandra.

“Our friends and colleagues were at first astonished and then supportive; our family incredulous and then anxious! They asked ‘Why, are you doing something so risky at this time in your lives?’”

As to the future of their business, they hope “that everyone would have a piece of Everyman Works furniture in their homes!!!” Alexandra added, “Seriously, we hope to keep designing to our own truth; encourage others to view furniture differently; and to make enough money to remain independent for as long as possible.”

Fudge Sauce for Thought

Francine Ryan

Francine Ryan founded “Francine’s Outrageous Fudge Sauce” in October. She continues to be president/CMO of The Ryan Group, a thriving enterprise which she describes as “Not an ad agency. A solutions agency.”

For a decade Francine gave the sauce–she created the recipe–to clients as a holiday gift. She now sells it at high end venues such as the Golden Goose Gala in Garden City, N.Y. and the Monmouth Conservation Foundation holiday event in N.J. There India Hicks, Princess Diana’s bridesmaid, former model and owner of a lifestyle brand, was one of her many customers. (Hicks later posed happily with a spoonful of sauce for posting on Instagram and purchased the sauce to take with her to England – perhaps to serve at dinner with her godfather, Prince Charles?) “Once potential customers get a taste, 75 to 90 percent will buy a jar,” Francine said.

Francine Ryan, left, with India Hicks

The business is a family and friends affair. “One son in law signed me up for an LLC; a dear friend is trademarking the name; another son in law is building a website, a son and daughter work on sales and marketing and my husband, who named it, designed the label and is contributing the creative for the website.”

Her friends were enthusiastic with one exception, a fellow in the food business. He asked: “Why are you doing this at this stage of your life?” She replied: “Why not?”

Another, who dresses some of NYC’s most prestigious retail windows said “What an incredible idea,” admitting that she was jealous and also wants to do “something that’s mine.” A grateful recipient of the sauce agreed with the second friend and reminded Francine that Stonewall Kitchens, now owned by Heinz, was started by two men selling blueberry preserves at fairs in Maine. A former editor of a major magazine said “It is absolutely fabulous and I’m not putting it on ice cream or anything else except my tongue.”

It’s far too soon in the life of this fledgling business for Francine to predict far into its future. For now she envisions applying for certification so she can sell at Farmer’s Markets in upscale environs, at more events, and perhaps at select retailers where customers can taste the sauce on ice cream. She’s also looking into a local commercial kitchen to produce more jars from bigger vats. Currently she produces 100/day. Want to order a bottle or two? Call 917-796-7586 or email francinesfudge@gmail.com.

This successful marketer of sophisticated products and concepts glows like an ingénue when she watches the reactions of people tasting the sauce. “It’s the best feeling in the world when only you can make something that people are mad for. I can continue as long as I want to; I love stirring the vats and having my family involved.”

Do you have a dream second career in the back of your mind at a time you might otherwise be considering hanging up your work gloves? Can you share the names of others who have similarly ventured into uncharted waters?

Photo: Pinterest

Service of Fair Wealth Distribution

December 7th, 2017

Categories: Gifts, Holidays, Homeless, Wealth Distribution

A homeless man hangs out in a post office satellite the size of a small room that is unattended but has a self-service mail kiosk that I use frequently to weigh and mail packages. I’m afraid to be alone with him so I walk by with package in hand. He’s there on my way to and from work.

A few blocks away I found myself in a Godiva chocolate store earlier this week with a friend who was making a purchase. I noticed the handsome Swarovski luxury box [photo above], priced at $125 or $2.08/per chocolate. There are millions in the city who would relish such a gift to share with family and friends but I don’t think that they will be the recipients. I envision the executives and business owners who will receive it who may wince at the calories or put the box out at the reception area or not even bother to take it out of its gift bag.

All the talk about the one percent got me thinking of something that has always been true: The people who don’t need and often could care less about expensive gifts receive them. This goes for taxes, benefits and holiday presents.

Photo: amazon.com

Which led me to think: I wish that there was a City Harvest for holiday business gifts. City Harvest rescues food from restaurants and other venues with leftovers in NYC and distributes it to the hungry. This hypothetical organization would scoop up unwanted or unneeded executive gifts and redistribute them to those who would appreciate them.

However, the concept wouldn’t work because corporations send notes to vendors asking them to restrict gift-giving to a modest sum, maybe $25, or they forbid gifts altogether. Executives receive their gifts at home. And they can’t admit to receiving expensive gifts as they aren’t supposed to get them so how could they volunteer to give away something they shouldn’t own in the first place?

Some businesses send electronic holiday wishes noting that they donate to charity the money normally spent on cards and postage. I hope they really do.

I don’t mean to pick on Godiva or other purveyors of luxury treats and manufacturers of gifts like chef’s knives, drones and wireless headphones. It just seems that giving fancy business gifts to the wealthy is like bringing diamonds to Amsterdam.

Similarly, does it make sense for the wealthiest to benefit from the tax plan that’s about to be voted on in Washington, causing a deficit for the poorest and middle class to shoulder via paltry tax reductions and reduced Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits?

If you were giving a gift to a wealthy client, what would it be?

Photo: metro.us

Service of Pushing the Envelope: What Does it Take for a Bank to Get the Message?

December 4th, 2017

Categories: Banking, Cheating, Pushing the Envelope

Photo: whats-thesayinganswers.com

Parents expect their kids to test them daily but is it natural for a bank, caught red-handed in one scandal, to again test a federal regulator with another cheat just a year later? I’m referring to Wells Fargo, once a stalwart bank with stellar reputation and the third largest in the US.

Last year staff, to gain bonuses, created as many as 3.5 million accounts, some fictitious, others without customer approval. In addition to the chink in its standing, this cost the bank a $35 million penalty, restitution to some customers and a freeze on executive golden parachutes. Plus the chairman was forced to resign.

What now? “A federal regulator has advised Wells Fargo & Co.’s board of directors that it is weighing a formal enforcement action against the bank over improprieties in its auto-insurance and mortgage operations,” according to Gretchen Morgenson and Emily Glazer in their Wall Street Journal article, “Wells Fargo Gets New Warning.” The regulator is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency [OCC].

Photo: dialforloan.com

The reporters wrote: “This summer, the bank conceded in a news release that for years it had forced nearly 600,000 customers who financed their car purchases with Wells Fargo to pay for collision coverage they didn’t need. The bank said about 20,000 customers had their cars wrongly repossessed. Those customers failed to pay the improper insurance charges.”

Photo: fhmtg.com

In addition they reported: “The bank has also said it charged some customers improper fees to extend the interest-rate commitments they received from Wells Fargo on their mortgage applications. In October the bank said it is reaching out to around 110,000 customers who paid a total of $98 million in such fees, and expects refunds to be lower than that total because, the bank said, it ‘believes a substantial number of those fees were appropriately charged under its policy.’”

The OCC “gave the bank credit for identifying the irregularities in its insurance operations but characterized Wells Fargo’s management of compliance risk as ‘weak.’ The report also said the bank had underestimated the amount of restitution it owed to wronged customers.”

Does today’s business atmosphere, inspired by Washington, give signals to businesses to push the envelope and hope for the best? Recent indicators include loosening of climate regulations, and the appointment by the president of Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when Mulvaney doesn’t believe in restrictions. Do the small fries in this country feel sufficiently threatened yet? Why would a bank allow its reputation to take such a beating?

Photo: cardtrak.com

 

Service of Self Restraint

November 30th, 2017

Categories: Christmas, Flowers, Food, Frugality, Gifts, Holidays, Self Restraint

Photo: jbsa.mil

Many stretch their money to give a little or big something to family and friends at this time of year. If you don’t put self restraint to work, you literally pay the price. I had a great idea for a gift for 2 good friends but to implement it meant spending a ridiculous sum. It’s not every day you think of the perfect gift for people who have everything but common sense said “move on.” I did so far.

Photo: foodiesnyc.com

There’s a new bakery that also sells sandwiches and salads near my office. I’ve been in twice to reconnoiter and I’ve left empty handed. One small beautiful pastry, that may or may not be tasty, costs what a scrumptious, though not as glam, cake does at Trader Joe’s. The price of an éclair, gone in two bites–far smaller than standard size–is $4.95.

Photo: yelp.com

I love flowers but daily pass by the many delis that sell tempting sunflowers and roses in peach, yellow and magenta. It makes no sense to buy them for myself. In summer, our apartment gets too hot when we’re not home so they don’t last long and in winter, the shock of the overheated apartment, when they come in from the cold, kills them pronto. And anyway, I have a collection of orchids, many of which, as I write, show signs of blossoms to come. When they bloom in winter I’m enchanted. In spring I cut daffodils, lilacs, peonies and daisies.

Self restraint isn’t any easier if faced with dietary restrictions. It rarely fails: people are forced to give up things they most love to eat. Was anyone advised to avoid grouse or liver ? [the two foods I most dislike].

Are you good at self-restraint? What are your tricks for avoiding temptation?

Photo: cartoonmovement.com

Service of a Happy Surprise When a Stranger Takes a Minute to Help

November 27th, 2017

Categories: Dependability, Help, Service, Service Personality, Strangers

 

Photo:theawesomedaily.com

There’s plenty to gripe about but I want to write about two positive things because you don’t want to hear about my attempt to get to Brooklyn by subway on a recent weekend. Embarrassing how nonexistent were communications that day between the track repair, motorman and station staff for a city the size of NY. We’ve never lived in such a well-connected world and I’ve rarely seen an example of such incompetence as happened that Saturday. Even the relatively new electronic messaging machines were out of order in all stations, bad timing or bad planning? There are NYC neighborhoods, such as Red Hook Brooklyn, where people lose their jobs because city transport consistently prevents them from arriving on time. A disgrace.

Photo: 123rf.com

This is why I especially appreciated what happened on a Metro-North train recently. The doors had closed at our upstate N.Y. station and the train was about to move south when over the loudspeaker the conductor said loud and clear, “We’ve got a runner!” That could have meant lots of things [had someone robbed a passenger and was the person running away? I watch too many “Blue Bloods” re-runs.] But in this case he’d observed a passenger racing from the parking area towards the steps to the train platform. Had he missed this one, the runner would have had two hours to wait for the next train. I trust everyone else appreciated, as I did, the one minute wait so he could travel with us.

Photo: ediblemanhattan.com

In another instance, I was about to leave for the station to meet my husband when over the office loudspeaker we were told that all elevators were stopped until the fire department checked out a smoke condition on the roof. This meant that I was probably going to be late arriving at the gate for our train at Grand Central Terminal because I couldn’t drag my suitcase down 11 flights of stairs.

“Big deal,” say you, because all the people you know carry a mobile phone. Not my husband. I knew he was at the Oyster Bar and I called there. I described him and his suitcase and the approximate location I knew he’d be seated to the woman who picked up the phone and she found him and gave him the message. Wow.

We’re all in such a rush or so involved in our own world we often don’t stop to do something meaningful for a stranger. Do you have any good examples of strangers helping others?

Photo qsb.stanford.edu

Service of Disregarding the Obvious: Laziness, Stupidity or What about Disengaged Travel and Real Estate Agents?

November 20th, 2017

Categories: Real Estate, Training, Travel

Photo: business insider

News of two incidents fell into my lap at once involving agents, one travel, and the other real estate. Both could have caused costly inconveniences.

  • The first customer immediately discovered the omission made by the travel agent yet the agent fought tooth and nail not to fix it.
  • Luckily, in the second instance, the customer found the alarming basic oversights of the real estate agent before damage was done.

 Up, Up and Away–Almost

Photo: 123rf.com

A well travelled friend, Mary Joyce Smith–not her real name–has used the same travel agent for decades but the semi-retired expert was out of town when she needed to book a flight to Japan via LA. So instead Smith used a nationally known agency and was dismayed by the lackadaisical, inadequate service.

The tickets and itinerary came back with the name “Mary Smith.” Her middle name was missing. She asked for the addition of Joyce. She wanted her documents to match the name on her passport and official documents, especially important when travelling internationally in an age of hacking and stringent Homeland Security measures.

The agent told her, “I called Japan Airlines and they say it doesn’t matter.” [In the time this took, if she really called the airlines, she could have done what had to be done to add “Joyce.”]

More important: it mattered to Mary Joyce Smith, the kind of customer you want to have because she flies thousands of miles a year. She didn’t want the omission to delay her at airport security but really, she was the customer and the reason should not have mattered to the agent..

After numerous calls through “press one, press two” hell—she reached a supervisor who asked, “Why would they have left off Joyce? Of course it should be on the documents.” Nevertheless she received yet another email from the original agent who clearly has a hearing problem when it comes to customer requests. “The missing middle name doesn’t matter,” she repeated.

I was with Smith when she got this message and knew something was up as her lips tightened, her cheeks became slightly red and she rolled her eyes in irritation.

Open and Shut Case

Photo: thebalance.com

Another friend is selling his weekend house. On his return after a Sunday showing by a substitute real estate agent, he discovered one of the doors was left wide open to the elements, uninvited wild creatures great and small as well as humans. She also left lights on all over the house. What if he hadn’t returned until Friday?

The usual agent said she’d given strict instructions to the substitute—such as that the owners aren’t there during the week. But did she have to also tell the woman to close doors and turn out the lights? You wouldn’t need to go to real estate school to know this.

Why would someone in a service business fight a customer so hard when a fix is simple? How could an agency put a flake in charge of the security of a person’s home? As for both agents, is their approach due to laziness, stupidity or are they disengaged and in the wrong jobs? Can you share examples of fabulous agents?

Photo: thegrindstone.com

 

 

Service of Name Changes, Deliberate & Not

November 16th, 2017

Categories: Brand Loyalty, Branding, Name

Photo: yelp.com

A recent weekly conference call began with many admitting that they were often called by other names, Roberta for Ramona; Maxine for Francine and for me, a mispronunciation: Gee-Anne for gene. I’ve previously written that some call my husband Homer, Horace.

But some change their names on purpose–my aunt, for example. She had been known as Lili until she was in her 70s when out of the blue she insisted on Elisabeth, also a nice name, but hard for friends and family to get used to. I never learned why the change.

Photo: poshmark.com

Maybe the itch has grown up as 70 seems to be the magic number. Coach, at 76, is Tapestry now. Execs at the company that began as a high end handbag manufacturer [vintage bag at right] said it wanted to change its corporate image to reflect the luxury brands it had acquired–Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade.

According to a Reuters feature I read in the New York Post, Coach chief exec Victor Luis responded to criticism of the change and choice of name on social media by saying: “At the end of the day some of the social media reaction is misplaced because people think we are changing the name of the Coach brand, which we are not doing. It’s really about creating a new corporate identity for Coach as a house of brands.”

The Reuters article continued: “Coach, however, lost some shine in recent years in part due to the financial recession and increased online shopping. The company is trying to regain its former glory by buying new brands, keeping a tight lid on discounting and pulling back from department stores.”

As for that tight lid on discounters, I just bought a classic pair of Coach-brand loafers at T.J. Maxx at a very comfortable price.

I kept thinking of the $millions spent over decades to make the Coach brand familiar and admired by many. It, Spade and Weitzman will still appear on shoes and fashion as Tapestry is the corporate umbrella. Wise minds in the C-suite had clearly lost faith in the power of the Coach name. Some reporters covering the Coach story reminded their audiences that Google’s new corporate name is Alphabet. Have you heard anyone call it that?

Photo: youtube

Reminds me of some of the bridges around NYC—I think “59th Street” and “Triborough” not “Koch” or “Kennedy.” I adapted well to the Met Life Building taking over for what once was the Pan Am building, no doubt because of the Met Life’s Snoopy dog connection. [That they deep sixed the spokesdog is another matter.] Met Life no longer owns the building but is a major tenant so its name remains.

What do you do when people call you by the wrong name? Do you know adults who have changed their names [and I don’t mean through marriage]. Do you think a venerable name in fashion should change its corporate name—does it show lack of faith in the brand—or that it doesn’t matter as the public’s memory is short? How long will it take for New Yorkers to remember the changed names of buildings and bridges?

Photo: stuartweitzman.com

Service of Antidotes to Decorating and Fashion Insecurities

November 13th, 2017

Categories: Craft Show, Fashion, Insecurity, Interior Design

Alexandra & Michael Miller, Everyman Works, Brooklyn

Americans’ insecurities about decorating their homes is well documented. Google the subject: you’ll see. I know this first hand from interviewing retailers and interior designers over years, starting with a stint eons ago at Art & Antiques Magazine. Fine antique shop owners had a heck of a time fighting a fear of being different. For starters, people dread unsolicited feedback from friends and mothers-in-law, as in “Why did you choose THAT style, color or pattern?” on walls and upholstery to china. Frame shops thrive when called in to fill a new house with art because a homeowner doesn’t know where to start [and perhaps would like someone else to blame?]

Renee Weiss Chase, Cloth2Clay, Collingswood, N.J.

The good news: According to Newton’s third law, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I maintain that there are those who bend over backwards to achieve a special look in their homes filled with visual surprises that they love—that are the decorative equivalent of a squeeze of lemon or lime to perfect a dish or drink. And these people are in luck: American-made decorative accents, photography, sculpture and furniture will be exhibited this weekend at the Brooklyn Museum at my client’s American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn. [The Eastern Parkway subway stop is literally steps from the museum door and there’s a large parking lot.]

Lori Kaplan, NY jeweler

Does the same self-doubt apply to fashion? I’ve not studied the industry so I can rely only on my own experience and observations: A remarkable accent—scarf, jewelry, hat or jacket–on a classic ensemble brightens the wearer whose posture and expression beam with joy and confidence. Imagine giving such a bonus with your holiday presents this season. One Brooklyn Museum member, a loyal craft show visitor and successful business owner told me: “My whole wardrobe this year was from [last year’s] show. ”

Why do you think so many fear decorating their homes? Do you? What is one of your favorite fashion accessories? Where did you find it or was it a gift? Do you explore fine craft shows as a resource for unusual, handsome gifts and additions to your home and wardrobe?

 

Milliner Karen Morris, Minneapolis, Minn.

Catherine Joseph, C Joseph NY, Huntington

Furniture maker Bok Read, Media, Pa.

Service of When Simple Things Confuse

November 9th, 2017

Categories: Acronyms, Communications, Signage

I wonder if I live on a different planet sometimes. To illustrate what I mean, I’ve photographed a few signs and a sales pitch that I’ve recently noticed or received. I cover communications—mostly poor–in many of my posts.

On a bus at night this week I looked up from what I was reading to see where I was. I admired the new lit street sign [photo above], but from where I sat, I could only see the Avenue—the street number, which is what I needed to know, was hidden. Did the designer think of that?

I know why real estate people do it, because the avenue may have more cachet as an address to the building owner, but it has always confounded me when a door that opens many paces up a NYC street has an address referencing an Avenue. I’m surprised that it’s allowed. The photo, right, shows 350 Lexington Ave. quite a bit up on 40th Street facing west.

I got a letter from Stig Abell, whom I don’t know, asking me to subscribe to the TLS with not a hint of what it was anywhere. I bet every reader of this blog knows what TLS is but on arrival home late one night, I didn’t. Because I was planning to write this column, instead of tossing the letter immediately, I looked it up: The Times Literary Supplement. I guess it was one of those “If you have to ask, you’re not worthy of it,” sales pitches.

I didn’t snap a shot of a poster that was at bus stops all over town a few months ago—and I couldn’t find an image of it on the Internet either so you’ll have to believe me. It told the reader to fly out of EWR because of convenience etc. I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and had no idea where EWR was so the poster was wasted on me—I’ve never been good at acronyms anyway. I later learned in a Facebook conversation that it refers to Newark Airport as well as why the airport uses the letters EWR. Because the letter N is reserved for all things Navy, it cannot be used to identify airports.  EWR refers to some of the other letters in the word nEWaRk.

Have you been left in the dark due to confusing signs or mysterious sales pitches?

Photo: airportparkingguides.com

Service of Every Little Bit Helps: Bard College Serious about Education for All

November 6th, 2017

Categories: Education, Innovation

Photo: bard.edu

I increasingly admire Bard College. We have enjoyed concerts at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, and outdoors in summer before that, for some 20+ years and most recently, during parent’s weekend. We attended a concert at which the students played. [We have most often heard the American Symphony Orchestra replaced by The Orchestra Now, but the student performances are always a treat.] Leon Botstein, conductor, music director and president, reminded the audience made up, I suspect,  of many music lovers like us who had no undergrads in the game, that while each of the students major in music, they all have a second major. So smart for a college known for its outstanding creative offerings. So practical. So necessary today.

Bard president Leon Botstein confers associate degree to member of prison college initiative. Photo: dailyfreeman.com

The college is innovative in more than the arts. Its college program for prisoners made headlines in 2015 when the prison debating team beat Harvard’s. And now Bard has launched a “microcollege,” at the Prospect Heights public library. Leslie Brody wrote about it in The Wall Street Journal in “Bard Launches Free ‘Microcollege,’ in Brooklyn.” The free two year college is for “low-income applicants who haven’t sought degrees due to the price tag or personal hardships.”

The director of both programs–prison and library–is Max Kenner, VP for institutional initiatives at Bard. He calls access to college in this country “a catastrophic failure.” The “intellectual power of prison inmates,” that surprises many and frustrates Kenner, inspired the idea for the microcollege. Kenner mentioned never-ending jokes about his beloved prison initiative with “a punch line something about a captive audience.”

As in the prison program, Bard instructors will teach small seminars. Graduates will receive a liberal arts associate degree. The students will all be from Brooklyn, the program starts in January, 2018 and the goals: To grow to 64 students and that the graduates continue their studies to earn a four year degree elsewhere.

Do you also admire pioneering programs like this? Should it work, do you think it will become a template for other colleges to begin to chip away at one of the many closed doors to education?

Photo: dance.bard.edu

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