There's a Radio in my Head

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

eTail Mid-Market in October

It's official - I'll be attending the October eTail conference in San Jose. I'll try to blog in as close to real-time as I can. Should be interesting.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Derek Trucks Band

Jim Richardson invited me to join him to go see Derek Trucks last Sunday night at Starr Hill Music Hall in C'ville. Trucks is one of the guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band, and he has been playing in his own band for quite some time. He's been playing since he was a child, and his talent is awe-inspiring.

He plugs his red Gibson SG directly into his amp - no pedals, no effects, no nothing. He gets a very pure Gibson tone, and does not use a pick. Seems that he uses his thumb and first two fingers to pick. He also uses a bottleneck slide.

The guy is frighteningly good. He showed a lot of versatility, playing everything from a sweet jazzy arrangement of "Greensleeves" to a raunchy encore of Derek and the Dominos' "Anyday." Derek will be touring as part of Eric Clapton's band this summer, and he (and the Allmans) have been playing several D&D tunes recently - hopefully EC will dig those tunes out for the coming tour. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing what he, Doyle Bramhall II, and Derek Trucks can do together.

Derek's band is super-tight. As an ensemble they're terrific, and it's very obvious that they have a great time playing together. This show was very soul/blues-based, which is a great platform for a guitarist such as Trucks.

Bottom line: if you appreciate guitarists, see him now.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Metrics, Usability & Analytics Day

Today is an "extra" conference day I signed up for. The sessions focus on the topic above. I've learned that when people here refer to "usability," they usually refer to site metrics (with the idea being that if the numbers are good, then usability must be good - this is somewhat flawed logic). Actual user experience testing seems to take a back seat to what the numbers say, so much so that user testing hasn't been mentioned except in passing. I anticipate the day to be all about the numbers.

At the end of the session, there's a set of roundtable discussions. I hope to participate in the one that will be led by an executive from Omniture, an analytics provider we're considering.

What to do between sessions

The sessions last almost all day long. Each morning, there's a general session which lasts from 8 until after 11. The early afternoon Track sessions lasts from 11:50 until 1:45, then we break for lunch (provided by a vendor). The Track sessions resume at 3:15 and end at 6:15.

There are three Tracks, each one loosely categorized. On Day One, I stayed on the Search & Metrics track. As stated below, here when people are referring to "search" it's almost always search engine marketing, not onsite search. In addition, most of the metrics discussed thus far have focused on tracking search engine marketing. Search engine marketing is a major, major facet of everybody's online store, obviously.

On Day Two, I hopped around instead of staying with one Track. In the early afternoon session, I worked the Multi-Channel track, and after lunch I dropped in on Multi-Aspect (which if it were a Jeopardy category would have been called Potpourri).

Unfortunately, some of the session titles don't actually correspond to what is actually discussed. "Customizing & Personalizing Your Product Mix Based on Proven Shopping Behavior" was actually about A/B testing - which was great, but not what I expected.

There are several breaks throughout the day, with refreshments provided by vendors in "The Solution Zone." The Solution Zone is in one of the ballrooms (which are huge) where all of the vendors have set up shop. There are about 6 long rows of booths. Surprisingly, the swag is relatively lame - lots of pens. Whoopee. I made a point to make courtesy calls on all of the vendors we currently work with, those we're thinking about working with, and those that grabbed my attention. Predictably, there are vendors with promising services, and others with not-so-promising services. Some of the vendors are very aggressive, and zoom in on your name badge and act like you're best buddies (if "I told you a year ago we're not interested and I'm tired of erasing your voice mail messages" equates to being "best buddies").

Some vendors have give-aways, and almost all of them are iPods. One vendor stood out, however. Omniture is giving away a Segway (here modeled by Kyler Bell and Jim Osborne, from Canada's largest food distributor, Loblaw). Should I win, I have no clue what to do with it. Albemarle County isn't quite Segway-friendly.

After the session ends, it's a short and nice drive back to the hotel I'm staying in. One thing about this area: there's almost a golf course on every block. This makes the blocks very long - easily 3/4 of a mile in many cases, maybe longer. Each hotel and housing development (typically a gated community) seems to be surrounded by its own course. The hotel I'm in actually has a "golf concierge." The greens fees are outrageous, so I haven't taken the time to work on my short game while here.

Day Two recap

General Session

Innovation, Acquisition, Retention, and Growth the Alloy Way
Matt Diamond, CEO, Alloy Inc.
The 3 C's: Content, Community, Commerce

Alloy markets exclusively to the youth market, and is finding them to be relatively sophisticated. They have never known a world without cell phones, the internet, and TiVO. Alloy considers this demographic "Millenials." They are a very influential market.
  • Direct spending power (themselves)
  • Influenced spending power (their parents and peers)
  • Future spending power (their future family)
Alloy has found that integrated marketing with nontraditional media is the most effective means of reaching this audience. This is the most diverse demographic in the history of the country, and it is nearly color/culture blind. They are extremely tech savvy. They multi-task constantly, and they want product differentiation. Only 18% of this demographic watch TV commercials (thanks to TiVO). Viral marketing works well with them, and their most trusted resource is their friends.

Alloy is a publisher and marketer, and they have found that 2-3% buy when they receive a catalog. Alloy therefore focuses on the 98% who DON'T buy, and strives to give them relevant and useful content.
  • Engaging the user is the Holy Grail of eCommerce. This demo thrives in web community spaces of all types, and is very comfortable there.
Social networking is ripe for marketing. It is unknown how much saturation this demographic will accept. If the marketing content is relevant, the hypothesis is that the demo will likely absorb a great deal of marketing.

What is the Total Economic Impact of Deploying Alternative Payments
Bill Zielke, i4Commerce (BillMeLater)
Carrie Johnson, Forrester Research

Forrester sez...
  • Loyalty of online buyers is declining and cannot be purchased
  • New online buyers are cynical, technophobic, and more mainstream than the web audience we've become accustomed to
  • Price is becoming more relevant than brands
  • New online buyers make up 41% of the market place
  • 4+ years online buyers make up 65% of online sales
  • New web users are 10% less likely to have broadband at home
  • Veteran web buyers are far more likely to be satisfied with their online purchases
  • Customer satisfaction levels are far lower in the web channel (NOTE: this contradicts what the University of Michigan tells us)
  • Security re: credit cards on the web is DOWN to 37% from 46% a year ago among 4+ years web veterans
  • 62% of ALL web users don't want to provide "personal" info online
  • Mainstream consumers will gravitate naturally to the brands they know (Wal-mart, Sears, Target)
  • All retailers need to step up their game to make the shopping process safer to instill trust and to make it more convenient.
  • Online sales are slowing. Retailers need to lock in these new buyers NOW.
  • Sire redesigns
  • Web 2.0
  • Cleaner brand messaging
  • Buying guides
  • Content
  • Alternative payment options
Alternative payment options are on the rise.
  • They address trust
  • Make shopping more convenient
  • Reduce payment costs and lift sales
Growing your share:
  • Conversion rates are still low (2.6%) and cart abandonment high (52%)
  • Earn customer loyalty by acting in their best interest
Gift Cards: Not tied to a credit card, multi-channel consistency
Private Label Card: Multi-channel consistency
PayPal: Stored info
Bill Me Later: Card info not entered online, improved conversion

Cabela's offers 14 different ways to buy. Customers LOVE that.

If you offer payment options, you must merchandise that info.
  • Nobody goes to FAQs to find out about payment options
  • Making customers comfortable begins on the home page
  • Weaving those same messages and options throughout the shopping process solidifies the message
  • Payment option placement is great for A/B testing
Bill Me Later
  • 5% of sales went through BML, 33% of which would not have occured without it
  • AOV up 75% vs. non-BML sales
  • Merchant processing fees are .5% to .75% lower than with credit card
  • To apply, users enter name, last 4 of SSn, andphone. Approval is in 3 seconds or less.
Attaining #1 Status in Customer Satisfaction by Truly Turning the Online Channel into an Extension of the Offline Brand
Marie Toulantis, CEO,
How does Barnes & Noble differentiate themselves?

  • Leading brand
  • Store format and real estate
  • Deep and wide selection
  • Service ("Put the book in the customer's hand")
  • Deep &Wide selection
  • Great search engine
  • Fast delivery (usually free)
  • Dedicated customer service - no outsourcing/off shoring - their customers consider this a HUGE differentiator
  • High site availability (99.9%)
  • Easy navigation with rich content
  • Proprietary products
  • Loyalty programs
  • Quick checkout
"Make it easy to find the right product; make it dumb easy to give us their money."

Barnes & Noble places great emphasis on making checkout smooth - online and in store.

The stores and site collaborate when possible, but they feel that eCommerce has its own complexities and opportunities.

Driving Profit-Centric Thinking & Decision Making: Ensuring All Activities have a Benchmark of Profitability
Matt Diamond, Alloy Inc.
Steve St. Andre, President, FordDirect
Seth Greenberg, CEO, eHobbies
David Liu, CEO, The Knot
Geoff Ramsey, CEO, eMarketer
Rob Wilson, CTO, Lyris

It's all about time-saving and convenience. We need to make it A LOT easier.

We all need to improve the serendipity factor and improve "surprise" sales opportunities (i.e., you go to a store to buy a sweater, and walk out with a sweater and a new jacket).

Give customers a way to shout out about their passions. This relates directly to engagement.

It helps to have a long-term eCommerce plan, and it really helps not to be too reactive.

"Do it wrong quickly, fix it quickly, and don't be afraid to try new things."

Test. Test. Test. Test. Test. Test. Test.

Institutionalize customer-centric thought & behavior. Try doing things solely for the customer, just for a month or so. See what happens.

Engaging Your Entire Enterprise in your Site Redesign to Ensure that you are Providing what your Business Units Want and what your Customer Needs
Chuck Jensen, Program Director Online Solutions, Delta Air Lines

Define the site's purpose, and publicize it. Primary purpose? Secondary purposes? Tertiary purposes?

Goals for customers:
  • high-value transactions
  • valuable content
  • advanced technology
  • simple and easy customer experience
Goals for the enterprise:
  • optimized revenues
  • cost savings
  • push and pull marketing
  • customer acquisition and retention
Provide specific personas for customer segmentations. Give them names. People can relate to names better than to marketing categories.

Lessons learned when redesigning
  • Must have laser-like focus on the customer and the bottom line
  • Must prioritize effectively and spend wisely
  • Many critical variables are beyond our direct control, so we must influence and educate whenever possible
  • The latest change is never the last

Multi-National, Multi-Lingual, Multi-Brand, Multi-Everything: Growing Your Retail Brand and Sales in as Many Ways as Possible
Kristen Celco, Director of eCommerce, Under Armour
Jeffrey Max, Venda, Inc.

Forrester: 50% of internet users do not speak fluent English (globally). On average, users stay 50% longer when a site is in their native language.

Simply translating a web site is never enough. Must consider culture.

Translation best practices:
  • Go for it
  • Leverage professional translation services
  • Consult with cultural experts
  • Design to accommodate multi-lingual
  • Provide a fully multi-lingual support system
  • Test

Examining Your Cross-Channel Marketing Approach to Find New Revenue: A Panel Discussion
Chuck Jensen, Delta
Nikhil Behl,
Ben Tatta, GSI Commerce
Multi-brand sites and micro sites work well in this environment
  • Maintain brand consistency across sites
  • Be careful when you start to stray
  • Use microsites to test
  • Use microsites to innovate
  • Consistent customer experience
  • Keep flexibility high, costs low

InfusingYour Brand into Your Internal Customer Experience in addition to your External Customer Experience
Brent Carter, General Manager, Oakley Direct, Inc.

This presentation was all about conveying corporate soul.

Brand affects employees
Employees affect brand
Brand affects customers

You must keep giving your employees shots of Kool-Aid. Don't ever let them forget who you are.

If you want to effectively sell or market your brand, you have to have real-life experience with the products.

The more employees feel involved in the brand's direction, the more they will give feedback to improve the brand.

Execs need to be part of every team.


Expanding Your International Horizons without leaving the US: The case for the US Hispanic Consumer
David Paschkes, Univision
Session canceled, which was most disappointing.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Day One recap

The days are split into a general session, which is attended by all, and three different tracks, each of which focuses on different elements of eCommerce.

General Session

Focusing on the Integration of your Brand in the Customer Experience
Sharon Turney, President & CEO, Victoria's Secret Direct
Fairly okay presentation, but it seems like it was written by the marketing department as a generic speech. Their web site had 8 million visitors in December, with an average of 20 pages per visit. She recommends that retailers focus on the few that drives the many - in their case, whatever bra happens to be hot at the time. She noted that in order to be successful, multiple ideas need to come from multiple sources - internal, partners, vendors, competitors, and of course customers. Their content philosophy is that bells, whistles, and editorial copy distract users, so they avoid those elements. They have discovered that high-dollar clientele is willing to shop at low-price stores (she gave an example of the woman parking her Lexus at Target). VS tries to focus on innovative and emotional connectivity to their clients. She pointed out that the average web user receives 361 emails per week, which highlights the need to be unique with email marketing.

Are Retailers Meeting Customer's Needs?
Larry Freed, President & CEO, ForeSee Results
Larry focused on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which is handled by the University of Michigan. He had some interesting information:

* The average customer visits a site 2-3 times before making a decision to buy.
* If your site has high customer satisfaction, you can and should leverage it.
* eCommerce has very high customer satisfaction - higher than mail order and retail.
* and Circuit have low customer satisfaction.
* Amazon and Barnes & Noble have very high customer satisfaction. People on Amazon expect the "Amazon" experience, even from retailers selling through their site.
* In 2004, there was a very strong drop in satisfaction as the shipping deadline passed. In 2005 e-tailers set better expectations and there was no drop in satisfaction when the deadline passed.
* Infrequent visitors make up 24% of the audience, and are significantly less satisfied than frequent visitors. The strong recommendation is to meet the needs of visitors who DON'T purchase.
* Satisfaction drives conversion, loyalty, and retention

True loyalty has enormous value, while "purchased" loyalty is almost worthless - competitors can out-bid you and buy your customers' loyalty. True loyalty is earned, not purchased, and is far more durable and valuable.

Important take-away: Analytics tell you what HAS happened. Satisfaction metrics tell you what WILL happen.

Transitioning from a Multiple Channel Organization to a Multi-Channel Enterprise
Sam Taylor, SVP, Online Stores & Marketing,
Sam spoke about conflicts BB experienced as their site matured. He likened it to kids playing in the same sandbox, arguing until they learned to get along. BB tried several strategies to resolve the conflicts. What it came down to is:

* Share the money
* Share the data
* Share the solution & the experience

Interesting market data:

* 50% of households with HDTV don't receive HD broadcasts
* 34% of households with digital cameras don't print their own photos

Best Buy has placed great emphasis on their Geek Squad, which currently totals 10,500 agents, all of whom are BB employees. They offer in-home, in-store, and phone support. Best Buy also now does their own installations, no longer outsourcing it. Customer satisfaction jumped when they did that. Best Buy is now offering in-home consultation and system planning.

Their in-store pickup has been extremely successful. 40% higher AOV than online-only. 20% make additional purchases. 65% are new to In-store pickup is a major initiative for them this year.

Next Generation of eCommerce: Delivering a Differentiated Customer Experience
Jim Caldwell, Director WebSphere Commerce & Retail Software, IBM
Allison Nichols, Executive Consultant, IBM Atlanta Innovation Center
Great presentation - one of the best I attended. IBM shared the following:

* Sources of differentiation are diminishing
* Consumers are totally in the driver's seat
* Customer experience is the only sustainable differentiator
* The web plays a growing role in the customer's experience
* A next generation eCommerce platform can help deliver a differentiated experience.

IBM then showed a beta demo of a new product selection tool. It is in Beta on LL Bean's site, and inaccessible without the secret url. It was, quite simply and by far, the most impressive product selection "solution" (I'm starting to despise that word, by the way) I have seen. It's Flash-based, and allows the customer to do almost anything - far frendlier than guided navigation, and very high cool factor. I'll describe it next week.

There may have been a perception of IBM sort of lagging behind the industry, but it's pretty obvious they've made up any lost ground and zoomed past the pack. I spent a great deal of time chatting with them at their booth, and of all the vendors I talked with (too many to count), they were the only one who wanted to talk about us, rather than pitch me on their hot new thing. They just exuded an air of interest and intelligence- it was rather refreshing.

How Brands Become Icons: A CEO Panel Discussion
Kent Anderson,
Marie Toulantis,
Michael Crotty,Bergdorf Goodman
Shelly Nandkeolyar, Home Depot Direct Brands
Patrick Bartlett, Canada Post Borderfree

* The web can add sizzle to a brand relatively inexpensively and efficiently
* Segmentation is essential - your best $$$ customers deserve your attention

When asked what each considers the key metrics,

* Canada Post Borderfree: Customer Value Index, which actually drives their corporate bonuses. They have extensive customer surveying to obtain this.
* Order composition, cross-sell, and # of inquiries to orders
* Home Depot: Top skus (Daily) and categories
* Bergdorf Goodman: Conversion and getting the absolute most out of the home page
* Macy's: Cross-shopping (in-store, online, and proprietary credit card applications and use)

Home Depot's goal is to make their site their brand's flagship.

The "Cover" home page can make a huge difference from one week to the next, and it's not possible to highlight everything there. Suggestion was to create "boutique" home pages for special events/seasons/product/categories.

Bergdorf treats their emails and catalogs as unique issues of a magazine. Each one needs to be interesting to their customers.

Play to the customer's passions - and more importantly UNDERSTAND WHAT THOSE SPECIFIC PASSIONS ARE.

One thing all of these CEOs have in common is they listen to the customer, and rarely try anything new without testing it first.

What can suppliers (our manufacturers) do to help? Provide streaming video, even commercials. Provide demos. It's cheap for us, and helps brand us and them as being topical. Retailers need to be prepared to handle this content sooner rather than later. It also keeps the customer from going to the vendor's site for more information. All agreed that it is crucial to have the manufacturer's "brand story" on our site.

All agree that there's too much friction in friction-free commerce, and that the Barnes & Noble concept of "Fast Cashiering" needs to be a key metric. There was general agreement at many sessions that online checkouts are too long and way too invasive. This is one thing consumers are universal in not liking.

Search & Metrics Track

Maintaining a Balance of Improved Search Functionality and Projecting Your Brand in an Already Effective Search Campaign
Don Steele, Director of eCommerce, The Food Netwetwork
The Food Network is an Omniture shop. For their SEO, they find what terms have the highest conversion and invest heavily in them. For them, their top terms are their celebrity chefs, or their talent.

Moving theNeedle When You're Already At The Top
Noah Maffitt, Director of eCommerce, Office Depot
Rich Stendardo, Industry Manager - Retail, ENDECA
This was pretty much a sales pitch (Home Depot uses ENDECA). The session title is a little misleading, since Home Depot's search engine really didn't work before they got ENDECA. Nevertheless, there was some good info shared.

* Rule #1: Don't mess up what works
* Rule #2: Try, test, iterate. Repeat as needed.
* Rule #3: Don't forget Rule #1.

The biggest opportunity to gain through site search is with new customers. If your search doesn't work, they're outta there. Makes sense.

Customizing & Personalizing Your Product Mix Based on Proven Shopping Behavior
Sally Babcock, SVP, American Greetings
This session actually was about A/B testing, which I learned most do NOT do. We're definitely in the minority. Some good pointers:

* Don't be afraid to retest what you've tested previously. What worked last year may not work now.
* AmericanGreetings uses Omniture, and they love the instant monitoring capabilities. Omniture also is very good with A/B testing.

She recommends testing

* Home page
* order paths
* merchandising
* cosmetics
* editorial
* payment
* marketing messages
* benefit statements
* mini-sites

American Greetings has an entire marketing team focused on analytics and A/B testing. They will often do 90-10 tests first, then 50-50 tests. They've culled some bad ideas that way. They use 30-day cookies, and ensure the same version of the test is served.

Beware that any promotional changes (i.e. new home page content) during a test can drastically affect the results.

AG has found that users are usually very comfortable using Beta areas/sites.

Measuring and Analyzing All Data Captured from Search to Maximize Future Sales: A Panel Discussion
Don Steele, The Food Network
Greg Foglesong, The Home Depot
Ed Bussey,
Dave Williams, 360i Search
This dealt with SEO, and wasn't that illuminating for me. I did learn that The Food Network bids on 15k keywords, Home Depot bids on 160k, and Figleaves bids on 100k.

They agreed that onsite search needs to serve relevant institutional content as well as relevant product results.

Mastering Site Search by Understanding what your Metrics are telling you
Greg Foglesong, The Home Depot
Home Depot receives 400k visits/day. They use their search results page to push content - featured products, top sellers, and promotions.

Best practices:

* spell correction
* "Did you mean?"
* Category matches
* Thesaurus
* Redirects

Focus on these levers:

* Thesaurus
* Redirects
* Search promotions
* Navigable attributes
* Product data modifications
* Relevance ranking/search tuning

Involve the web team, marketing, and merchandising in search.

* Weekly review of top terms
* Quarterly review of categories and trends
* Category reviews when new products are added

Strongly suggest customized landing pages for top category searches. They have seen a major lift.

Conversion: identify outliers and missed opportunities

Goal: serve the products BUYERS are looking for.

Online Analytics: Turning Data Into Dollars
Steve August, VP of Customer Marketing, Brookstone
This was definitely an executive-level presentation, and dealt with Brookstone's concept of a product's "contribution." It dealt primarily with SEO. In fact, nearly all of the "search" discussed in all sessions was SEO, with site search definitely secondary.

Re-engineering Your Enterprise through the use of an Optimal Dashboard of Web Analytics: A Panel Discussion
Justin Miller, eBay
Steve August, Brookstone
Sally Babcock, American Greetings
Larry Freed, ForeSee Results
Kent Zimmerman, The Finish Line
eBay has 25-30 people who do nothing but continually examining the qualitative customer experience, and the same number examining the quantitative customer experience.

* The QUANTITATIVE data tells you what happened
* The QUALITATIVE data tells you why it happened

Not every customer wants a "relationship." Many just want to buy something. LET THEM.

If your site offers any sort of freebies, make it very easy for people to find them. If that's all they came for, finding them easily will translate to a good site experience, even without a purchase. Having to work to find them will inevitably translate to a bad experience.

Day one of etail is over...FINALLY

Very, very long day. I took 17 pages of handwritten notes from seminars and discussions by folks from Victoria's Secret, Best Buy, IBM, Macy's, Barnes & Noble, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, Canada Post Borderfree, The Food Network, Office Depot, American Greetings,, Brookstone, and eBay.

It was also the first day for the Solution Zone. As you can probably imagine, the "solution zone" is the ballroom where they have the vendors set up. Walking up and down those aisles is like running the gauntlet.

Details will follow sleep. Tune in again late Thursday evening.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

eTail has begun

Today I made my way to the desert for the beginning or eTail. It's pretty big -not CES big, mind you, but a pretty good-sized gathering of eCommerce interests. Retailers, vendors, and "experts" galore have gathered. Especially vendors.

Tonight I was invited to dinner by one of our vendors - they bussed about 40 of their customers and prospects to a local seafood restaurant to wine and dine us. They are genuinely interested in doing everything they can to help us optimize our use of their product, and since we're at the point in the relationship where we're considering our options (and they know it) I received more than my share of their attention. Good for them - I'm glad they appreciate that we have some issues, and they definitely aren't running from them or brushing them off.

The crowd is a lot younger than I had expected - I supposed that only makes sense, as the internet is still a relatively young entity. There are salespeople GALORE here - if they don't outnumber retailers, it would surprise me. And it's kind of gratifying - most of the people I met tonight are familiar with Crutchfield. We may not be the biggest player in the game, but we're definitely very well-respected.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hollywood Tamales

This afternoon, I cruised Hollywood on foot and it was a blast. There are some pretty cool shops, and of course lots of stars. I was looking for souvenirs and cool things, and found plenty of both. There's a clothing store called Dragonfly, which is clearly positioned as the outfitter to the rock and roll performer. VERY nifty threads, not too expensive. Also stopped in at themost outrageous costume shop I've ever imagined - not your typical Halloween party type of costumes, but theatrical costumes, wigs, and props.

Ate lunch at a real hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that had food that made my eyes water it was so tasty.

In the late afternoon, I walked around Venice's canal district, checking out the properties, flora, and fauna. Years ago, some kind soul decided to protect and feed ducks there, so now there are ducks of all colors all over the place, and they have zero fear of humans. It's actually weird, but there you go. Said sayonara to the sun at the beach near Marina del Ray.

My sister took me to dinner at the Border Grill, which is owned and operated by the "Two Hot Tamales" of Food Netword fame. If there's such a thing as haute Mexican cuisine, this is it. Everything from the decor to the music to the service to the chips and creamy salsa (mmmmmm) and the entrees was just about perfect. It was simply superb in all respects.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tar pits, brazillion dollar homes, a $10 BLT, and a trader named Joe

My sister took me around to see some sights today. Her idea of seeing sights is from the inside of her SUV. However, we did park it long enough to visit a few places.

Our first stop was the La Brea tar pits, which is a pretty cool place. Enclosed in the park is the Page Museum, and it documents the many paleontology finds there. The active pit is enclosed, but the fence is very close and you can see what's going on there. Inside the museum, they have reconstructed many animals - from mammoths to sabre tooth tigers. The tar actually preserves the bones themselves, so they aren't actually fossils. They have a wall of dire wolf skulls, which is pretty impressive.

We then lunched at the Los Angeles Hard Rock Cafe. I had wanted to go to the Hollywood HRC, but it's actually in Universal City. Interestingly, the LA HRC is MUCH closer to Hollywood than the Hollywood HRC is. I've been in many Hard Rock Cafes, and this one lived up to the standard - awesome rock memorabilia (including Prince's purple pants- that's one TINY man) and pretty good food. I had the BLT, which at $10 was a little pricey, but at least it included fries and two really cool toothpicks.

After lunch we drove around Beverly Hills. It was just like on Tee Vee. Swimming pools, movie stars, the whole nine yards. Impressive privacy hedges, too. All the homes are immaculate, and I imagine having a decent landscaping firm that serves Beverly Hills is quite lucrative. And security is, how you say, tight. We saw more Beverly Hills cops in 15 minutes than you'll see state troopers while driving from D.C. to Daytona on a spring break weekend.

Finally, we made our way to - TA DA - Trader Joe's. Mike Gross had told me about TJ's, but it's hard to describe the uniqueness of the place. Most of what they offer is their own branded food, and it's all top-quality, and it leans toward the healthier end of the spectrum with minimal processing. If you're in Charlottesville, think Foods of All Nations without the slightest air of pretensiousness. And with better food. And SERIOUSLY lower prices (one of their mottos is "come save with abandon"). Some of the prices were too low - NOBODY sells pasta for 64-cents a pound, regular price. If you're in Crutchfield's eCommerce department, you can expect some Trader Joe's brownie cookies when I return. Mmmmmmm. I'll begin lobbying them for a C-ville location immediately.

One final note: the times of these posts are Eastern Time, but I'm actually posting on Pacific time, so subtract 3 hours. It's not really Monday yet. At least not here.