The Hub Cool News

Enchanted Forest

enchanted-forestIt turns out that coloring books offer stress relief for grown-ups, reports Alexandra Alter in The New York Times (3/30/15). Johanna Basford’s “96-page collection of elaborate black-and-white ink drawings of flowers, leaves, trees and birds has become a global best-seller” among “adults who like coloring books.” When the book was released two years ago, Johanna says she thought she would have to rely on her mom buying “a lot of copies.” Since then, the book has sold “more than 1.4 million copies in 22 languages.”

That first coloring book, Enchanted Forest, has since been followed with another called Secret Garden, which has “sold out in many markets.” The appeal, in part, is stress relief. “Each page can transport you to a gentler time of life,” says Rebekah Jean Duthie, who “regularly gathers with friends for ‘coloring circles’ at cafes and in one another’s homes.” The trend is largely fueled on social media, such as Instagram, where Kim Ki-bum, a Korean pop star, “posted a delicately colored floral pattern” from the book to his “1.8 million followers.”

“People are really excited to do something analog and creative, at a time when we’re all so overwhelmed by screens and the Internet,” says Ki-bum. “And coloring is not as scary as a blank sheet of paper or a canvas.” An editor at Laurence King Publishing discovered Johanna online and initially approached her about a children’s coloring book. When Johanna suggested a book for adults instead, the publisher was skeptical, but sold once she provided some sample ideas. Other publishers are now following with their own coloring books for grownups.

Hello Barbie

hello-barbieThe “soul of Siri” is entering the body of Barbie, reports Natasha Singer in The New York Times (3/29/15). The concept has legs largely because children have observed their parents carrying on conversations with their mobile devices. “To converse with a mobile device is an assumed truth if you are 10 years old today,” says Oren Jacob of ToyTalk, “a company that creates conversational characters for children.” Mattel plans to use ToyTalk technology in Hello Barbie, “a Wi-Fi enabled version of the iconic doll” this fall.

The ToyTalk system analyzes “a child’s speech” and provides “relevant responses.” Oren thinks Barbie is a natural for this. “She’s a huge character with an enormous back story,” he says. “We hope that when she’s ready, she will have thousands and thousands of things to say and you can speak to her for hours and hours.” The concept does have its critics, of course. “Is this going to be some creepy doll that records what is going on in your home without you knowing it?” asks Nicole A. Ozer of the American Civil Liberties Union.

ToyTalk has implemented a “privacy process intended to give parents some control over their personal information.” Mattel also says that parents can record and delete conversations and any stored data will be secure. Others worry about the doll’s potential “to powerfully affect children’s imagination, learning and social development.” However, Dr. Sandra L. Calvert of Georgetown University suggests the potential is positive. Her studies have found that children respond better to personalized toys, and are more likely to learn from them.

The Big Blink

pilot-panelThe best way to read Big Data is to stop thinking about it, reports Benedict Carey in The New York Times (3/29/15). The key is “to develop an instinct for what’s important,” says John Greally of Einstein’s Center for Epigenomics. The key to this, essentially, is “letting go” of details and absorbing patterns based on gut feelings rather than reasoning. “We don’t just see, we look; we don’t just hear, we listen,” said the late Eleanor J. Gibson, a psychologist who specialized in perception, encapsulating the concept back in 1969.

In essence, the “brain works to find the most meaningful sights or sounds and filters out the rest.” It’s a skill pilots must learn to develop so they can instantly synthesize information from multiple dials. The good news is, this skill can be taught. In the 1980s, Dr. Philip Kellman developed a videogame-style lesson where non-pilots were given instant feedback on their snap judgements. After just an hour of this type of training “novices could read the panel as accurately and quickly as pilots with an average of 1,000 flying hours.”

Where Big Data is concerned, analysts need “to build a reliable catalog of digital patterns that provide meaningful ‘clues’ to the underlying reality” and “build a prototype for applying perceptual learning techniques.” It’s not about “bigger machines to crunch more data,” says Daniel Kohn, a conceptual artist who is working with scientists at the Einstein Center on ways to develop this “visual sixth sense.” Says Daniel: “It’s about frameworks of recognition; how you choose to look, rather than what you’re trying to see.”

Magnet Synesthetes

abc-magnetsFisher-Price’s letter magnets may have colored perceptions of the alphabet, reports Robert M. Sapolsky in The Wall Street Journal (3/28/15). The connection came to light during a study of “‘grapheme synesthesia’, where letters or numbers are perceived as having colors. Amazingly, some grapheme synesthetes (i.e., people who sense ‘a stimulus in an unusual multi-sensory way’) can rapidly read ‘words’ where colors were substituted for letters, or do mathematical calculations with colors instead of numbers.”

A Stanford University study by Nathan Witthoft and colleagues involved 6,588 grapheme synesthetes and found, perhaps not surprisingly, that Y evoked yellow, B blue and R red, for example. However, “for some reason, there was a strong association between A and red.” Further analysis “uncovered a subset of 400 individuals who all showed nearly the same pattern: A, red; B, orange; C, yellow; D, green; E, blue; F, violet. Then the colors repeat in this order through the rest of the alphabet … a six-letter repetition resembling the rainbow.”

One of the 400 subjects said the association “came from the brightly colored Fisher-Price letter magnets that she grew up seeing on her refrigerator door. Not only did this match the colors of the magnets that she encountered daily in childhood, but amid hundreds of possibilities, her pattern matched the hue, light saturation and brightness of the magnets … Of the 400, 97% were children when the magnet letters were marketed (from 1971 to 1990). Most of the remaining 6,188 subjects weren’t children during that time period.”


mickeyHow shoppers became known as guests is something of a mystery, reports Hilary Stout in The New York Times (3/28/15). The idea to refer to customers as “guests” probably began when the original Disneyland opened in 1955. Disney later published “a book called ‘Be Our Guest’ that devoted a whole chapter to ‘Guestology.’” In part, it read: “Guests are welcome visitors, whom you host; consumers are statistics. If someone is your guest, don’t you feel a great obligation to ensure his or her happiness?”

This outlook certainly made a lot of sense for the Disney experience, or a hotel. The relative mystery is how the concept made its way into retail stores. Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst, points to Mitchell’s, a high-end Connecticut apparel retailer. Jack Mitchell credits his mother with re-branding shoppers as guests in 1958. “It was like welcoming a friend into your home,” says Jack. The idea apparently first spread to a big-box setting when Target embraced it in 1993. It is now widespread, but the question is whether this makes any sense.

“If I am your guest, I should at least be served tea and cookies,” says Ellen Jovin, a consultant. “Swiping a credit card does not have a homey feel to it.” (For the record, Mitchell’s always offers a hot beverage to its “guests.”) However, that’s a safe distance from a chain-drug cashier shouting, “Next guest, please!” at “queued-up masses.” Nor is it likely to make a difference to shoppers, who likely care more about price and convenience than words. What would help more, one shopper noted, is “friendliness.”


curvesSome shoppers have had enough of being referred to as “plus-size,” reports Ben Zimmer in The Wall Street Journal (3/28/15). The backlash is such that there’s even a hashtag — #droptheplus — to help put an end to the term, which dates back to 1922. Before then, the fashion industry referred to those whose proportions were something more than model-thin as “stout,” which clearly didn’t offer much in the way of sensitivity, much less marketing genius.

Lane Bryant, the retail chain, apparently was the first to change this when it “began advertising ‘Misses Plus Sizes’.” Other retailers soon followed their lead, usually being careful to use the term to refer “only to clothes rather than the person wearing them.” It wasn’t until the late 1970s that “plus-size” was shortened simply to “plus.” This was “popularized by Plus Models Management Ltd,” which was “the first agency dedicated to plus-size models.”

Ajay Rochester, formerly of The Biggest Loser, is currently leading the charge “with Instagram posts encouraging people to stop using plus-size.” “Seriously, this is so ridiculous and harmful!” she wrote. “This is not empowering.” Meanwhile, Robert Casey of Maggie, Inc., a modeling agency, says he’s already on board with new and improved terminology, telling Fox News recently that the new “plus size” is called … curvy.

Carry That Weight

stanton-kawerHonesty anchors the unbearable lightness of responsibility. A Hub Essay by Stanton Kawer of Blue Chip Marketing. Honesty is a heavy word. It’s foundational, and ton-of-bricks heavy. This is as it should be, because honesty is the bedrock of trust — of responsibility. We feel its weight from an early age. When we were kids, our parents and teachers drove home ad nauseam the importance of honesty: It’s the best policy. Say what you mean and mean what you say. We pass these homilies down to our children, expecting (or hoping, really) that they will pass them down to their children.

Yet, often, when we go to work, we give ourselves permission to act within an opaque sphere of soft moral codes and imperatives. The weight of honesty becomes less so. ‘Responsibility’ is frequently used to define community relations rather than the underpinnings of the way a company conducts itself. Honesty becomes the wink-and-nod acknowledgement that, yes, we are civilized enough to know that honesty remains ‘the best policy,’ but maybe not necessarily the best for business. The question that most fascinates me, as a marketer, is what happens to us, our brands — our identity — when we begin to compromise on honesty? To whom are we ultimately responsible? Continue Reading.

November Project

november-projectAn “early-morning workout flash mob” is now in 19 US cities and Canada, reports Courtney Rubin in The New York Times (3/26/15). Known as November Project, it “blends the intensity of CrossFit, the cultishness of Soul Cycle and the weather agnosticism of a Polar Bear swim with the hijinks of an obstacle course and the camaraderie and accountability of a sports team.” Founding member Brogan Graham comments: “Some people need their exercise to be certified and sanctioned and expensive. We just want to have more fun.”

For Brogan and his tribe this means starting a group workout in a public space no later than 6:30, even — maybe especially — if it’s bitterly cold outside. For example, a workout “on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art” centered on “perhaps the most physical game of Pictionary ever played: Athletes sprinted to pick up clues, held plank poses while team members sketched and performed penalty burpees (an explosive squat/push-up combination) for failing to guess correctly.”

At each session, members “touch the nose of someone they don’t know and tell the person, ‘I’m happy you’re here’. Handshakes upon meeting are forbidden; this is a hugs-only zone.” Brogan and his co-founders started November Project in 2011 as a way “to head off the winter tendency to slack on exercise.” A blog and a Twitter account attracted followers and now anyone can start a “tribe” by spending “a year proving they can attract a following,” typically starting “in the dead of winter.” North Face sponsors the group’s annual summit.

Contra Dancing

contra-danceThe “centuries-old tradition of contra-dancing” is finding new fans among millennials, reports Tyler J. Kelley in The Wall Street Journal (3/26/15). Contra dancing is “derived from English country dancing — think of the long-paired lines of couples criss-crossing and partner-swapping in all those Jane Austen country-manor balls.” For “young urbanites” this translates into “an inclusive atmosphere where they can work up a little sweat away from a gym and touch human beings instead of screens.”

The idea is indeed “to interact with everyone on the floor and say yes when anyone asks you to dance.” It is all quite intimate: “Normally you don’t touch strangers, you don’t get that close to strangers and look them in the eye for extended period,” says Diane Stephenson, a contra dance newbie. “I don’t know what it is about the space,” she adds, “but it makes it feel okay.” Organizers keep an eye on anyone who may be getting too familiar and “quietly pilot the offender off the floor.”

The younger crowd is making some of its new traditions, however. For one, they are “requesting new, higher energy dances.” Dudley Laufman, 84, doesn’t like this. “Courtship and camaraderie is always what the dance has been about — not a workout,” he says. Referring to dancers by gender is also changing, with “jets” and “rubies” sometimes replacing “ladies and gents” to reflect a dancer’s role rather than gender. A “no booze” tradition may be on the way out, too. Newcomer Eileen Regan imagines Jell-O shots would be a real moneymaker.

Gender Menus

cookieMost restaurant patrons still “order along gender-based lines,” reports Alina Dizik in The Wall Street Journal (3/25/15). “A typical female pattern is to order a healthy, vegetable-centric entree and then splurge on dessert.” Men, on the other hand, can be pretty much depended on to order “entrees featuring both starch and meat.” This pattern tends to be even more pronounced “on a first date, at a business meal or when dining in a large group of friends.” Chefs, however, are doing their darndest to try to break these patterns.

At Love & Salt, in Manhattan Beach, California, chef Michael Fiorelli tries to make “vegetable dishes more attractive to male diners … by adding cheese or a small amount of meat or other protein. He serves a shaved kale salad with ricotta, and a roasted baby cauliflower dish with a thick salsa verde and breadcrumbs.” “You’re eating it with a fork and knife and you’re dragging it through a sauce,” says Michael. “It has the char of a wood oven.” As a rule, he designs his menu so dishes include both meat and vegetables for appeal to both genders.

For women, it’s helpful to offer dishes that don’t require them to ask for this or that on the side because they “don’t want to appear high maintenance.” Desserts, meanwhile, “are traditionally designed with women in mind and can be a tough sell to men.” Yet, calorie-conscious women don’t want dessert, either, so The Betty serves “micro-portions,” like a cookie. At Rancho Bernardo the pastry chef uses “complex fruit flavors” to appeal to women, and “childhood flavors,” like peanut butter, for men.

Just Desserts

cheesecakeDessert is a downer for most mid-priced restaurants, reports Roberto A. Ferdman in The Washington Post (2/10/15). "It’s hard to make money on desserts in the restaurant business today," says Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economist. The first problem is that fat content usually suffers from thin margins. In fact, food, in general, is not all that profitable — it’s drinks that typically pad profits. In addition, "there’s a limit to how much people are willing to pay for different parts of their meal," especially dessert.

At mid-priced eateries, the "limit is $30 for entrees, no matter the ingredients," according to Todd Kliman, dining editor of The Washingtonian. For desserts, the limit is significantly lower. "Dessert needs good ingredients to taste good, but you can’t psychologically convince people to pay even $20 for dessert," says Tyler. "You can’t really go cheap on it, but you really can’t charge extra, either." To do desserts right, restaurants must also hire "a pastry chef" and dedicate "space in the kitchen to the craft."

The other problem with desserts is that "the course creates a bottleneck at the end of meals." What happens is, patrons who "might have finished their dinner in a little over an hour instead linger closer to two when they opt for dessert. And they stay the extra 30 minutes while consuming only a fraction of what they did during the first part of the meal." One solution might be to promote dessert wines, which are more profitable. But, for now, if "a waiter is being coy about showing you the dessert menu," you’ll know why.

Wrap Shrink

saran-wrapSaran Wrap downgraded its brand experience because it was the right thing to do, writes Fisk Johnson, chief executive officer of SC Johnson in The Harvard Business Review (April 2015). At issue was the presence of polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) which provides Saran Wrap with two of its key benefits: “an impenetrable barrier to odor” and “superior microwavability.” The problem is that “when materials containing chlorine, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and PVDC end up in municipal incinerators … they may release toxic chemicals into the environment.”

PVC was also present in Saran Wrap’s packaging, which was easy enough to change. Creating a PVDC-free wrap was another matter. As Fisk writes: “To provide the odor barrier and microwavability of the original would require a multilayer film,” about the thickness of trash bags. Ultimately, the closest alternative was “less sticky, less effective at preserving foods’ freshness, and a lower-quality product overall.” Fisk decided to replace Saran Wrap with the inferior product, which has since resulted in a significant drop in sales.

The CEO cites something his great-grandfather said in 1927: “The goodwill of people is the only enduring thing in any business. The rest is shadow.” He also recalls that his father had made good on that ethos by banning ozone-damaging CFCs from aerosol products in the 1970s. Fisk sees himself as the guardian of his family’s “good name” and “a legacy built on the hard work of four generations” before him. His Saran Wrap decision, he says provides “a surer sense of who we are as a company and what we want SC Johnson to represent.”

Bingham Plastics

elmers-glueA “wet and slippery” coating is making wasted ketchup a thing of the past, reports Kenneth Chang in The New York Times (3/24/15). You know the problem: The last bits of ketchup — or mayonnaise or toothpaste — sticks like glue to the bottle. Actually, it’s a problem with glue, too. The result is not only frustration but also waste: “Tests by Consumer Reports in 2009 found that … up to a quarter of skin lotion, 16 percent of laundry detergent and 15 percent of condiments like mustard and ketchup” never make it out of their container.

Each of these products “are what scientists call Bingham plastics.” It’s not that they’re made of plastic but rather that they are “highly viscous” and do “not flow without a strong push.” Dr. Kripa K. Varanasi of MIT became interested in solving the problem after his wife “was having trouble getting honey out of a bottle and asked him, because he was an expert on slipperiness, whether he couldn’t do something about that.” At the time, MIT “was sponsoring a $100,000 contest for entrepreneurial ideas.”

Kripa and a colleague, J. David Smith, decided to enter. Their solution, essentially, was to coat the inside of the container with a lubricant “that binds more strongly to the textured surface” of the container wall “than to the the liquid, and that allows the liquid to slide on a layer of lubricant instead of being pinned against the surface, and the textured surface keeps the lubricant from slipping out.” They came in second, but have now launched a product, LiquiGlide, and attracted $7 million in funding and customers including Elmer’s Glue-All.

Meaningful Loyalty

michael-dillWhat a brand really means to a consumer is loyalty’s ultimate touchpoint. A Hub White Paper by Michael Dill of Match Marketing Group. We have an opportunity as marketers to create brand experiences that result in meaningful loyalty. For the most part, this is not what we’ve been doing in recent decades. We’ve said, “Hey, for a dollar, would you try this?” Or, “For fifty cents, would you buy it again?” That’s not about creating lasting loyalty; it’s just renting someone’s shopping behavior for a short period of time.

Marketers have spent trillions of dollars over the past 10-15 years on encouraging switching or trial behavior among shoppers, and yet our categories have grown very little, if at all. It’s clear that consumers are not as interested in buying something because there is a coupon or an offer as they are when the brand actually means something to them. Meaningful loyalty is rooted in a sense of humanity — it’s about shared values and a sense of community. This seismic shift toward meaningful loyalty is especially potent among millennials because they aren’t necessarily interested in clipping a newspaper coupon, even a digital one. Continue Reading.

House of Cards

business-card“Attempts to reinvent business cards for the digital age have gotten nowhere,” reports The Economist (3/14/15). One might think that in this digital age we would now be exchanging business information with the tap of a smartphone. This ignores that business cards date back at least to 15th century China, and apparently old traditions die hard. Indeed: “Nothing will provoke more discussion at a board meeting than the design of the company’s business cards.” Some companies take pride in making brand experiences out of their cards.

At Lego, for example, employees “give out miniature plastic figures with their contact details stamped on them. McDonald’s business cards are shaped like a portion of fries. Bon Vivant, a Brazilian cheesemonger, uses a miniature cheese-grater as its card. A Canadian divorce lawyer once gave out cards that can be torn in two — one half for each of the feuding spouses … That business cards are thriving in a digital age is a forceful reminder that there is much about business that is timeless.”

In Asia, cradle of the tradition, business cards “are something of an obsession,” even “semi-sacred objects.” Japanese businesspeople “make the exchange of cards as elaborate as a tea ceremony” and in China, even “nursery school children carry cards not only with their own contact details, but also with the job descriptions of their parents and even grandparents.” In any case, the “trust-building process,” seems to be more important than ever, and in an era of innovation and disruption, certain customs appear to be exempt.

American Megazine

american-megazineOther print media may be downsizing, but not American Megazine, reports Greg Beato in The New York Times (3/19/15). “American Megazine is five feet tall and more than three feet wide. Open it up, and it grows bigger than all but the biggest flatscreens. It does what newspapers and evening news broadcasts routinely did when the mass media were still massive: It demands that you pay attention.” It also demands that you pay up: Each issue of American Megazine sells for $12,000. Only one copy has been sold so far. But still.

As you’ve likely surmised, American Megazine is the work of an artist. Lisa Anne Auerbach got the idea after a project photographing megachurches, which she didn’t think would display well in a gallery. “It would be almost suffocating to be in a room filled with images of these buildings, or at least that was my fear,” she explains. So, she decided to publish her work in a magazine instead, and “given the capabilities of her Epson 11880 64-inch inkjet printer she could do so without diminishing the size or quality of her photos.”

The result is now “reaching a global audience through museum and gallery appearances,” in which “two human page turners wearing T-shirts that read ‘Bigger’ and ‘Better’ accompany it … their presence serves as a wry take on the state of print media: LIke all paper-based publications” it requires “an absurd amount of labor to reach readers.” It is also “literally Big Media, more physically impressive than anything the world’s largest newspaper and magazine empires would dream of producing at this moment.”

Michael Graves

alessi-kettleThe late Michael Graves “aimed to make design approachable at every scale,” writes Julie V. Iovine in The Wall Street Journal (3/17/15). This was true whether it was the Portland Building or the “blue handled Alessi tea kettle with the red bird whistle … While Mr. Graves was often labeled a postmodernist, to his dismay, his classical interests were not really about resuscitating shapes from the past, but more about injecting fresh juice into familiar and appealing forms.” He considered “modernist abstraction” to be “drained of vitality.”

One of his smallest-scale projects was “a paper bag for Bloomingdale’s stamped with the silhouette of an ancient urn.” One of his largest was “a decorated sheath to protect the Washington Monument during a restoration (a design that became as popular as the monument itself.).” Then there was his “prolific association with Target … producing everything from clocks and chess boards to juicers and toilet brushes.”

When he was left paralyzed from the waist down from a spinal infection, Mr. Graves “turned his creative eye to the deplorable state of health-care design.” He re-designed “the look and handling ease of everything from wheelchairs to entire kitchens.” Throughout his career, Michael Graves “remained true to his personal understanding of classical design — extending it beyond the historical with the goal of making the human measure more universal and everyday life a richer experience.”

Device Design

jawbone Big technology companies are snapping up small design firms, reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (3/19/15). “Google, Facebook, Adobe, Dropbox and Yahoo, for example, have all bought design-oriented startups since 2010,” according to a report by John Maeda, a venture capitalist. The primary reason is recognition that design — not just of products but of user experiences — is the crucial competitive advantage. “If you can make this amazing bracelet and the software is bad, you’re going to throw it away,” says John.

The primacy of function over form is spreading because really good apps are highlighting the potential of good user design in new categories. “Let’s say you’re a doctor and electronic medical records are really terribly done as an industry,” says Ben Blumenfeld, another venture capitalist. “Doctors are starting to use iPhones and they’re saying, ‘Wait a second, why doesn’t my electronic records system work like my iPhone apps?’” The potential has been particularly heightened by well-designed apps like Uber’s, which make a hard task easier.

However, “the real design victory is in carefully considering exactly how someone will want to navigate an app, communicate with another person or conduct a transaction. That’s a big shift for the tech industry, which has long prized engineering acumen and product management.” John Maeda says the traditional focus on product design alone is “just surface-driven thinking,” adding: “It isn’t that design is more important than technology or the business model. You need both.”

Continuous Commerce

brian-fRetail convergence enables the emotional connections that create customer value. A Hub white paper by Brian Fetherstonhaugh of OgilvyOne. By all appearances, the dawn of complete retail convergence is upon us. It’s never been a better time to be a consumer. So, you can imagine my disappointment when I heard the following story. Last year, right as the holiday break began, I was chatting with a friend — Jen Strickland — who, knowing what I do for a living, was just itching to tell me about the lousy retail experience she just had.

Jen wanted to send holiday wreaths to her three closest girlfriends, but Jen is busy. Full-time-job-single-mother-of-two-busy. One night in early November, Jen navigated to the ecommerce website of one of her favorite home stores, found the perfect wreaths, ordered three of them, and considered the matter solved. By mid-December, the wreaths hadn’t arrived. Jen, puzzled, checked the email confirmations she got when she first placed the orders. Buried at the bottom of a confusing, information-packed page was this small statement: “This item is backordered and will ship after January 6th.” Continue Reading.

The Leather Man

leather-manYou must be at least 21 years old to shop at The Leather Man, reports William Van Meter in The New York Times (3/19/15). Founded 50 years ago in New York’s West Village, the store “is renowned for its tailored-to-fit pants,” but its history also “traces the evolution of modern gay culture, from substrata of society to mainstream.” Its now-retired founder, Chuck Mueller, 78, says he started making leather goods because he couldn’t buy what he wanted. “I’d tear existing garments apart and make a pattern and translate it to leather,” he says.

At the time Chuck was working in market research in the steel industry, but his fashions caught attention at local bars and before long he was “fitting clients at his Upper West Side apartment.” In 1965, he moved to a store on Christopher Street, which was dark and quiet then. Chuck says “the leather scene” is different now: “People are perfectly willing to be seen wearing leather jeans and a white shirt and tie,” and leather has gained “wider acceptance … as an interesting item of clothing. You could wear leather for no reason.”

The store’s current manager, Max Gregory, attributes The Leather Man’s long run to certain timeless principles, like quality products and a high level of customer service. “During the last decade, with the rise of online stores, the market has been flooded with cheap … stuff. The quality of the leather and customer service … people come here and get exactly what they want.” AJ Afano, a designer and salesman at the shop, observes that enduring design is also key: “We have that old-school leather look,” he says.