Tuesday, December 28, 2010

4 trends may help sharpen marketing for 2011

We seem obsessed with predicting the future, and it goes beyond who will win the Super Bowl or how many more times Lindsay Lohan will be ordered to rehab.
For marketers, there is no lack of pundits and organizations lined up to help you see what is around the corner. One group that appears to have a good handle on trends that will help define business is Vistage International. This San Diego-based executive leadership firm is made up of 14,000 business professionals worldwide who work together in small, peer advisory groups.

Vistage recently published a report on 12 trends it believes create opportunities for business. I found four of the predictions especially relevant to marketers.

Short-term consumer thinking: Coming off the worst financial crisis in decades, fear based on the inability to predict what might happen next has prompted purchases based on immediate need.

"People are now thinking more about the here and now and less about things that may or may not last a long time," said William Higham, trend analyst and author of The Next Big Thing-Spotting & Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit .

Mobile purchasing: The U.S. will soon catch up to consumers in Japan and Sweden in the ability to use mobile phones for transactions. If you have been in an Apple store recently, you might have seen a card reader attached to an employee's iPhone. Without going to the checkout desk, the employee will swipe your credit/debit card and offer to e-mail you a receipt. Quicker, faster, cooler.

Behavioral segmentation: That's a mouthful. But it means you can craft more relevant, and therefore more effective, communications by taking steps to better understand your customers' behavior, especially how they act and react to your digital offerings.

Using non-threatening analytical tools, you can develop profiles based on how people use your website content, which offers they respond to, what they buy, which e-mails they open and the information provided during registration.

The product offerings served up to customers on Amazon and Netflix are a great example of proper behavioral segmentation.

The traditional sales model evolves: The traditional sales cold call may be a thing of the past for many industries.

"Now the process has been reversed. We attempt to get the client to come visit us. Pull marketing instead of push selling," said Vistage speaker and sales consultant Sam Bowers.

Here are some of the basic elements of an effective pull marketing program: a robust and highly functional website with detailed product information, an easy way to buy online, customer product reviews posted on third-party sites, targeted advertising that leads prospects to your site, and an aggressive website search optimization program.

Also, research trends and seek sound advice to help plan your business's future. Using your own shoe leather and intellect can be even more reliable than following some pundit's sound bite prediction of the next big thing.

David Bohan founded BOHAN Advertising|Marketing, a Nashville agency with clients in travel, hospitality, health care and consumer products, in 1990. He has worked in marketing and advertising since earning a degree at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1970.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Buyers Interested in WalkabilityNashville People in Business

Retailers expect big end to 2010

ATLANTA — An East Coast snowstorm put a damper on after-Christmas shopping Sunday. But shoppers across the rest of the country scoured clearance racks and spent gift cards during the afterglow of the best holiday season for retailers since 2007.
Blizzard warnings stretched from New Jersey to Maine. Up to 20 inches of snow was expected in Philadelphia and Boston and up to 16 inches in New York City.

"The forecast will tend to keep (shoppers) at home. It's not the best day for shopping," said Scott A. Bernhardt, chief operating officer at weather research firm Planalytics.

Because the storm is after Christmas, the loss will hurt retailers less than last year's snowstorm the Saturday before Christmas that buried much of the same area. That one cost retailers about $2 billion. This time, there's no Dec. 25 deadline.

RelatedChristmas Eve rush caps banner shopping seasonLast-minute shopping in Nashville area gives retailers high hopesGroceries as gifts indicate new practicality for holidayShoppers crowd stores as season winds downBeware: Return policies vary widelyMore shoppers make Nashville stores upbeatStrong holiday sales may indicate better 2011Smart phone users expect a lot from retailers

"People will just wait a day to do exchanges and use their gift cards. It's no big deal," said Greg Maloney, CEO of the retail practice of Jones Lang LaSalle, which manages malls across the country.

He expects December revenue to grow a healthy 7 percent to 10 percent from last year.

Strong spending this week would build on the highest-spending holiday season since 2007, a record year. Dec. 26-Jan. 1 makes up less than 10 percent of the Nov. 1-Dec. 31 season but accounts for more than 15 percent of holiday spending, research firm ShopperTrak says.

Predictions call for retail revenue increase of 3 percent to 4 percent for the whole season, the best percentage increase since 2006.

The snow will send some shoppers online, where sales have been stellar. IBM Coremetrics said online spending rose more than 16 percent the week ending Christmas Day, while the average order rose 13 percent to $192.52. From Nov. 1 through Dec. 19, total online spending rose 12 percent to $28.36 billion, according to research firm comScore Inc.

The day after Christmas was the second-highest revenue day for retailers last year, with $7.9 billion spent, according to ShopperTrak.

Improved weather outside the East Coast will bring out the shoppers. The nation's largest mall, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., expected 100,000 shoppers Sunday.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Shoppers crowd stores as season winds downReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Lower concert ticket prices expected as attendance slips

LOS ANGELES — Concertgoers sick of ballooning ticket prices should have some extra pocket change to rattle with their rock 'n' roll in the new year.
This year was tough for the concert business as high prices kept many fans at home. Promoters now say they plan to make shows more affordable in 2011. But they'll also try to sell more T-shirts and other merchandise to make up for lost revenue.

Heading into last summer, usually the busiest time of the year, prices were set too high despite the sluggish economy. Managers and promoters believed fans would keep paying for the one or two concerts they see on average each year.

Instead, many stayed home, and dozens of shows were canceled. Lots of venues filled seats with fire-sale prices.

Now, rather than charge lots early and offer discounts later, some promoters say they'll offer cheaper tickets from the start, partly because they know fans will spend as much as usual on beer and tchotchkes when they arrive.

ZZ Top, for one, expects to set prices below the 2010 average of $55. Some tickets will go for as little as $10.

"It's time to give the value back," said Carl Stubner, manager of the long-bearded rock band from Texas. "We'll find other ways to make money."

That doesn't mean all acts will be cheap — not even Cheap Trick, whose tickets for 2011 are selling for around $80 with fees. Fans of hot performers including Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga also shouldn't expect to get much of a break.

Neil Diamond, for instance, who's continuing his comeback tour in New Zealand in February, said he'd like to bring ticket prices down but can't because of the size of his production.

"As the shows get bigger, the expenses get bigger, so it's got to be translated somehow to the ticket price," he told The Associated Press. "If I just used the guitar, it'd be a lot simpler, but then I'd have to put 50 people out of work."

More artists than ever are going out on the road to make up for falling CD sales. With more tickets on sale and consumers still pinching pennies, the pressure on prices is down.

(2 of 2)

Holiday airfares climb higherBuyers Interested in Walkability

For UPS' peak shipping day, growth forecast is optimistic

NEW YORK — For UPS, it's beginning to look a lot like a normal Christmas.
Wednesday was forecast to be the busiest day of the year for the world's largest package delivery company. It expected to deliver a record 24 million shipments worldwide in 24 hours. That is 9 percent higher than last year and 2007 — the year before the recession took hold. It's 60 percent higher than a normal day.

The glowing forecast for holiday shipping continues a trend of higher revenue and shipping volume for UPS during the first nine months of the year. U.S daily package volume improved by almost 2 percent, while international volume rose more than 17 percent.

In the U.S., after two lackluster holiday seasons, consumers are shopping and shipping again. Much of it is online, where they're spending more than ever. As of Friday, shoppers have spent $27.46 billion online since Nov. 1, up 12 percent from last year, according to research firm comScore Inc. Online holiday sales rose just 5 percent between 2008 and 2009.

Retail experts predict holiday spending will increase by two to four percent over last year.

FedEx grew, too

UPS' smaller rival, FedEx, had its busiest day last week, when the company predicted it would pick up a record 16 million shipments on Dec. 13. That's up 13 percent from last year and double that of a normal day.

FedEx defines its busiest day in terms of shipment pick-ups, while UPS marks its busiest day by number of deliveries.

FedEx, based in Memphis, expects to deliver more than 223 million shipments worldwide this holiday season. UPS forecast double that number.

Most deliveries on UPS' busiest day will come from online retailers such as Amazon.com. The items shipped most often through UPS and FedEx this year include books, clothes and personal electronics such as iPads and smart phones.

The companies are also benefiting from rising imports of computers and other technology gadgets being ordered by businesses.

Jeff Kauffman, an analyst with research firm Sterne Agee, says that the holiday shipping predictions by UPS and FedEx suggest the economy is faring better than most believe.

Last year UPS estimated that 22 million packages were delivered on its busiest day, about the same as in 2007. UPS and FedEx did not offer holiday shipping predictions in 2008, when the recession hit.

UPS, based in Atlanta, hired about 50,000 part-time workers to help with the holiday rush. That's the same as last year.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

UPS to hire 50,000 temporary workers for holidaysReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

More homeowners drop out of mortgage-relief program

WASHINGTON — More troubled homeowners are dropping out of the Obama administration's main foreclosure-relief program, which has been widely criticized for failing to help more people keep their homes.
The Treasury Department said Wednesday that about 774,000 homeowners have dropped out as of last month. That's about 54 percent of the more than 1.4 million people who applied. And it's up from October, when approximately 756,000 had fallen out.

The program is intended to help those at risk of foreclosure by lowering their monthly payments. Borrowers start with lower payments on a trial basis. The program has struggled to convert them into permanent loan modifications.

An additional 505,000 homeowners have secured lower payments permanently. That's about 35 percent of the number who enrolled on a trial basis, up slightly from October's reading.

However, the program reached more homeowners in November than in October. The number of new trial modifications increased to about 30,000, up from about 24,000 in October. And the number of trial modifications that turned permanent rose to about 31,000, up from about 26,000.

Foreclosure filings fell by 21 percent last month, their largest monthly decrease since 2005. However, the government warned that the decrease likely probably be temporary. Lenders are expected to revise and resubmit paperwork in the coming months.

Several major mortgage companies halted foreclosures this fall after acknowledging that they might have mishandled court papers.

Homeowners applying to the foreclosure-relief program say the program is a bureaucratic mess, with banks losing documents and failing to return phone calls. Banks blame homeowners for failing to submit needed paperwork.

Homeowners accepted into the program can receive interest rates as low as 2 percent for five years and can repay their loans over a longer period. Those who remain in the program see their monthly payments cut on average by about $500.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Nashville area’s median home price is highest in 2 yearsUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

Shoppers crowd stores as season winds down

Holiday shoppers are racing to the end of the Christmas season at a more feverish pace this year on foot and online.
U.S. retail revenue was up 5.5 percent on Friday through Monday — the last full weekend before Christmas Day arrives, according to the ShopperTrak research firm.

ShopperTrak said Wednesday that retail sales over the Dec. 17-19 weekend accounted for $18.83 billion in consumer spending, with more than one-third of that occurring on Saturday alone.

Some Nashville boutique-style retailers say they also have seen increases in their online sales, and that has boosted their optimism.

RelatedBeware: Return policies vary widely

"We've gotten people we would never have seen as customers in our store," said Ashley Tomichek, owner of Corzine & Co., whose offerings include china, home accessories, baby gifts, antique tableware and stationery. "But online pretty much wrapped up last week, and the only last-minute shoppers we're seeing now are the ones coming into our store."

Elizabeth Nichols, chief executive of Taigan.com, a Nashville-based virtual shopping site for boutiques, said orders on its 1-year-old website, which includes more than 80 specialty retailers, have been robust. "I hope it's a sign that the economy is improving," she said.

The Nashville pet accessories store known as "Come.Sit.Stay" didn't have a Web presence last year but has done a booming business online using the Taigan virtual mall so far this year, including "phenomenal sales in November and December," owner Robin Cohn said.

"This gives me a whole new audience," Cohn said. "It started slowly, but now it's really growing, and 99 percent of the online sales are going out of state. It's the icing on the cake for us."

This year's apparent improvement in holiday sales is especially encouraging for retailers.

ShopperTrak expects retail spending to rise 4 percent for the holiday season nationally. It fell 0.4 percent during the 2009 season. Anything over 4 percent is considered a healthy gain.

Nashville malls crowded

The final days leading up to Christmas are important for retailers, and crowds at malls in the Nashville area seemed to be picking up.

On Wednesday, shoppers crowded Cool Springs Galleria at midday, and some shoppers said it was hard to drive to the mall because of congested traffic.

"I like last-minute shopping, but I don't like it enough to come back here on Christmas Eve and fight this traffic again," said Brentwood resident Jean Rich, resting on a bench at the Cool Springs mall in the early afternoon.

Recent data from MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash, shows Americans were spending more on clothing, luxury goods and even furniture during the period from Oct. 31 through Saturday.

Online spending also has been strong. As of Friday, shoppers have spent $27.46 billion online since Nov. 1, up 12 percent from a year ago, according to research firm comScore Inc.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Real Estate Outlook: Small GainsValue remains important for Christmas shoppers

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dell to buy Compellent for $27.75 a share

SAN FRANCISCO — Dell Inc. said Monday that it is buying Compellent Technologies Inc. for $27.75 a share in cash in the latest data-storage acquisition by a big tech-sector player, highlighting the growing importance of cloud computing.
Shares of Dell fell nearly 4 percent to close at $13.36. Compellent lost 2.5 percent to close at $27.98, although the stock has risen more than 50 percent as speculation has grown that it was one of several potential acquisition targets in the data-storage space.

Dell had disclosed the negotiations with Compellent last week, including a proposed sale price of $27.50 a share, a move that some analysts said may have been aimed at tempering market expectations for a higher deal value.

Texas-based Dell put the final deal's total equity value at about $960 million and the aggregate purchase price at about $820 million, net of Compellent's cash.

The companies said they expect the deal to close in early 2011.

Dell had been looking to expand its data-storage port folio to become more competitive in the corporate technology market. Earlier this year, it lost a bidding war with rival Hewlett-Packard for 3Par Inc.

The 3Par bidding war triggered a rise in the shares of data-storage companies as Wall Street anticipated the wave of data-storage mergers to continue. Compellent shares have soared more than 130 percent since mid-August.

The focus on data storage was based largely on the push toward cloud computing, which lets companies tap computing power through a network instead of in-house data centers.

'Higher margins'

Wedbush analyst Kau shik Roy said the Compellent deal gives Dell "a product that is much higher margins than what they sell — PCs and servers."

"They are building their own storage product portfolio, which from Dell's standpoint (is) the right to do," he said by e-mail.

But analysts also said the deal could harm Dell's ties to data-storage giant EMC Corp.

"We think the Compellent deal will cause further strain on the EMC relationship," Wells Fargo analyst Jason Maynard said in a note. "However, Dell still has product holes in the high-end storage and deduplication markets, so we think there is room for Dell to continue to resell EMC VMAX and Data Domain."

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Real Estate Outlook: Small GainsFirst Horizon turns profit in third quarter

92 jobs cut in Lebanon, Murfreesboro

Layoffs at two companies in Lebanon and Murfreesboro, affecting 92 workers, were reported Monday by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Menlo Worldwide Logistics, a division of the California-based Con-Way Inc., said it would furlough 68 employees as it closes a warehouse in Lebanon that it operates on behalf of Nortel Networks, which earlier this year was taken over by Avaya Inc., after Nortel filed bankruptcy.

Avaya is moving the operations of the Lebanon facility to another warehouse in Memphis, said Con-Way spokesman Gary Frantz.

Most of the displaced Menlo workers will leave the company Jan. 4, he said, adding that they are being offered severance and outplacement services.

B&W Wholesale Distributors, which provides candy, tobacco, and health and beauty products to supermarkets and convenience stores in a multi-state area, will trim 25 workers beginning Friday, the Labor Department said.

The company's website says it has about 100 employees now.

B&W Chief Operating Officer John Smith, reached by phone, said he had no knowledge of the layoffs, and several other company officers, also contacted by phone, declined to confirm or comment.

Contact Tennessean business writer G. Chambers Williams III at 615-259-8076 or cwilliams1@tennessean.com.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Managing SoloLaid-off workers pick up hot skills

First Horizon moves to pay bailout debt

First Horizon, the parent company of First Tennessee Bank, is taking steps to begin repaying more than $866 million in federal bailout aid it received indirectly from taxpayers and directly from the U.S. Treasury two years ago.
The bank said Monday it plans to sell $250 million in common stock to help repay federal funds it had borrowed as the financial crisis mounted.

First Tennessee's parent, a major player in retail banking in Nashville and statewide, said it would combine the proceeds of the equity offering with net proceeds of a planned debt offering to repurchase all 866,540 shares of preferred stock it sold to the U.S. Treasury in November 2008.

The deal still needs approval of the Treasury.

The Treasury borrowing was part of First Horizon's participation in the Capital Purchase Program, part of the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program that was instituted during the financial crisis.

First Horizon borrowed $866.5 million in TARP funds.

Moving to repay the money could be a sign that regional banks are seeing light ahead after many quarters of loan losses and weak loan demand.

First Horizon's stock edged higher on the news, rising 3.7 percent to close at $10.92 a share on the New York Stock Exchange.

But another regional bank, based in Columbus, Ohio, saw its stock slide when some analysts questioned whether its plan to repay the federal government $1.4 billion in bailout funds was premature.

Huntington shares fall

Huntington Bancshares, which trades on Nasdaq, could be in danger of diluting its stock by issuing more shares to repay the federal treasury, at least one bank analyst said.

The Ohio bank's offering comes as shares of Huntington have surged in 2010, but analysts questioned the timing and size of its stock offering. Its share price is up 87 percent this year, and 19 percent in the fourth quarter alone.

Huntington said it also planned an offering of $300 million in subordinated debt to cover the remainder of its bailout repayment.

"Two quarters from now, could they have waited and gotten a better deal? Probably," said Morgan Keegan & Co. analyst Bob Patten. "But the stock has performed well, and this gets them out from under the government and back into being a buyer for small, troubled banks in the Midwest."

Huntington's stock offering will cover nearly two-thirds of its government repayment obligation, but will increase outstanding shares by 19 percent, diluting the value of stock, analyst Erik Oja of Standard & Poor's said in a research note.

The rating agency cut its recommendation from "buy" to "hold" for Huntington's stock.

Huntington's shares fell 2.7 percent in value on Nasdaq on Monday.

Tennessean Business Editor Randy McClain and Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

GM raises share priceReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cracker Barrel will have electric-car chargers at 24 stores

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store chain said today that it would install 30-minute electric-vehicle chargers for customers to use at 24 of its locations in Middle and East Tennessee over the next year.
Of the 24 locations, 12 have already been identified, and include stores along the Interstate 40, 24 and 75 corridors between Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville.
In Nashville, there will be chargers at the Cracker Barrel on Stewart’s Ferry Pike.

Elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, chargers will be at the company’s stores in Lebanon, Murfreesboro, Manchester, Cookeville and Crossville.

Cracker Barrel said the other 12 locations would be in and around Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga to serve mostly local users, rather than those driving longer distances on the interstates.

The chargers will allow drivers of electric vehicles such as the new Nissan Leaf to recharge their vehicles’ batteries in about a half-hour – while shopping or dining in the Cracker Barrel stores.

Plans call for installation of the chargers to begin in the spring, and to be completed within a few months.

Putting chargers in public locations is part of the rollout of the Leaf, which goes on sale sometime in December in Tennessee and four other states.

The Leaf has a range of about 100 miles between charges, and Cracker Barrel said its chargers would be located strategically so people could drive the cars the entire 425-mile triangle of interstate highways between the three cities by stopping at the stores along the way for recharging.

Contact Tennessean automotive writer G. Chambers Williams III at 615-259-8076 or cwilliams1@tennessean.com.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Scripps TV unit to relocate HQ to KnoxvilleBuyers Interested in Walkability

Take Part: Are you about to exhaust your unemployment benefits?

Jobless benefits may end for more citizens
Are you about to exhaust your unemployment benefits after 99 weeks? Contact Tennessean business reporter Naomi Snyder at 615-259-8284 or nsnyder@tennessean.com. Please leave your name and contact information for a news story about federal aid running out for more unemployed workers even after extensions that boosted some people's aid to nearly two years.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Jobless benefits extension is mired in political bickeringReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Many life insurance claims are denied

LOS ANGELES — American General Life Insurance Co. markets its policies as protection for "the hopes and dreams of American families" — a promise Ian Weissberger took to heart during his losing battle with Lou Gehrig's disease.
But after the Cathedral City, Calif., mortgage broker died in 2005, American General canceled his life insurance policy and refused to pay his widow the $250,000 benefit.

The Weissbergers' premiums were paid up. No foul play was suspected. There was no question Sheila Weissberger was the widow and sole beneficiary. And Ian's illness was diagnosed months after he took out the policy.

The problem, the insurer told Sheila Weissberger, was that Ian's application for coverage was incomplete.

American General concluded that he had failed to disclose conditions, including bipolar disorder and pulmonary disease, that, according to his doctors, he did not have.

For the company, which collected $2.3 billion in premiums last year, the amount at issue was minute. But it was no small matter for Sheila, 62, who reached a confidential financial settlement with American General earlier this year.

"I lost my house. I lost everything," she said in an interview. "It was very, very devastating."

More often than not, life insurers make good on policies, paying $38 billion in death benefits on individual policies last year. But what happened to Sheila Weissberger was not unusual. The claims of thousands of beneficiaries are denied or disputed every year — more than 5,000 last year alone — many for allegedly flawed applications, a Los Angeles Times review found.

Overall, the amount of money that life insurers withheld from beneficiaries has more than doubled over the past decade, to $372 million last year, even as policy sales went down, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Disclosure is often issue

Insurers can dispute claims for a number of legitimate reasons: unpaid premiums, suicide, foul play by the beneficiary. But the No. 1 reason, accounting for about two-thirds of disputes last year, is "material misrepresentation." That's failing to disclose information that insurers deem important in assessing risk, and it allows insurers to rescind coverage altogether.

(2 of 2)

Managing SoloGetahn Ward: Insurer’s exit from TN may put small firms in bind

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Insurer Humana buying Concentra for $790 million

Insurer Humana said it has an agreement to acquire Concentra Inc., which operates a chain of urgent care clinics with five Nashville area locations, for $790 million.
The acquisition would diversify revenues of Louisville, Ky.,-based Humana, which said that the deal fits well into its consumer-focused strategy. Nearly 3 million Humana medical members live near a Concentra center, officials said.

Pending regulatory approvals, Humana hopes to close the deal in December. Addison, Texas-based Concentra has annual revenues of $800 million.

The privately held company delivers occupational medicine, urgent care, physical therapy and wellness services to workers and the public from more than 300 medical centers in 42 states.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Vanguard Health Systems will get more time to close acquisition dealBuyers Interested in Walkability

Big retailers tailor outlets to shoppers' frugal tastes

BALTIMORE — Shoppers with upscale tastes but shallow pockets are finding more choices with a recent resurgence in outlet and off-price stores being rolled out by major retailers.
Discount shopping isn't new. Bargain shoppers have trekked to outlet malls for decades seeking discounts. Stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, who buy leftover goods from department stores and other places and sell them at a markdown, have prospered during the weak economy.

But retailers are discovering new opportunities in discount and outlet shopping as frugal consumers are being more careful about what they spend and retailers are looking for ways to grow.

Neiman Marcus opened a new concept it calls Last Call Studio in Rockville, Md., last week. The off-price boutique offers this season's designer goods at up to a 65 percent discount. It is able to offer the prices by buying overstock directly from manufacturers. It also recently launched LastCall.com, an off-price website.

The studio store is different from its outlet stores, Neiman Marcus Last Call, which also offer goods at bargain prices, but are much larger and sell older merchandise.

Tom Lind, senior vice president of stores and store operations for Neiman Marcus, said the retailer is targeting shoppers who might not have time to make a regular trip to an outlet mall, which are typically 30 miles or more from major cities. Now, they can shop the discounts on a weekly basis, rather than four or five times a year, Lind said. The company also hopes to tap into a whole new customer base that might not think they can afford Neiman Marcus.

"The off-price segment is one of the healthier retail segments, and we saw this void," Lind said.

Other retailers are also jumping on the outlet and discount trend.

Macy's launched an outlet for its Bloomingdale's chain this year and is exploring whether to open Macy's outlets, as well. Ann Taylor Stores announced last month that it will expand its factory outlet footprint in 2011 with plans to open 35 LOFT Outlet Stores and five Ann Taylor Factory Stores. It plans to take over locations occupied by Liz Claiborne, which is closing stores. Ann Taylor now has about 110 outlet stores.

(2 of 2)

Holiday shopping battle heats upBuyers Interested in Walkability

Wall Street tries to undo financial regulations overhaul

WASHINGTON — The heavy hitters of finance lost big battles earlier this year during the overhaul of financial regulation, but they're working hard to win the war. They're quietly trying to soften, if not kill, some of the more controversial provisions.
Lobbyists for Big Finance are working hardest to neutralize the so-called Volcker Rule, which would force big banks to spin off their lucrative proprietary trading operations, in which they invest their own capital in speculative deals.

The measure — named after its proponent, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker — seeks to prevent big banks from betting against trades they made on behalf of their customers, a popular practice until the financial crisis exploded in 2008. For example, big investment banks such as Goldman Sachs sold customers overvalued mortgage bonds even as they bet secretly that those bonds would default.

Financial lobbyists also are working to soften requirements that Wall Street firms put more "skin in the game" by retaining more mortgage bonds on their books to guard against shoddy lending. They're also trying to undercut the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

RelatedMoney and markets page

Through Republican lawmakers who soon will hold leadership positions in the House of Representatives, big banks are backing proposals that could lead to its being defunded or subject to conditions that weaken it.

New council has oversight

Implementing the Volcker Rule falls to the newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council, whose members include regulators over banks, stock and commodities markets. The Treasury Department is first among equals on the council, which began taking comment in October on how to implement the rule.

Big Finance argues that the new rules are job killers.

"We believe that the Volcker Rule is in fact harmful to the ability of the United States to sustain vibrant capital markets and … to create private sector jobs," David Hirschman, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, wrote to the council. "In its current form, the Volcker Rule will likely add to regulatory uncertainty for banking entities and will hurt the global competitiveness of the financial services industry at a time when growth is most needed."

Volcker wrote a letter to the council, urging regulators to stand pat.

"Clear and concise definitions, firmly worded prohibitions, and specificity in describing the permissible activities will be of prime importance for the regulators," he wrote.

"Bankers and their lawyers and lobbyists will no doubt search for and discover seeming ambiguities within the language of the law."

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from Columbia University, reminded council members in a letter that proprietary trading helped cause the near meltdown of the U.S. financial system.

"Through the rise of proprietary trading at our nation's banks and the largest non-bank financial firms, firms doubled down on the accumulation of risk, much of it with little benefit to the real economy," Stiglitz wrote. He added that "the financial system in this country and around the world became disconnected from its fundamental purposes."

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Underwater? Alternatives to Walking AwayGM’s offering likely to leave smaller investors behind

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cable provider Cox to package cell phone service

Cox Communications has becomes the first U.S. cable company to commercially sell its own wireless phone service, taking on AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.
The third-largest cable company says research shows that its customers want a wireless service packaged with Cox's TV, broadband and wire-line offerings.

Cox initially will offer its service in three markets: Hampton Roads, Va.; Omaha; and Orange County, Calif. The company would not say how long it would take to make wireless available to more than 9 million homes in its territories, which include Phoenix, New Orleans, San Diego, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I.

Cox said earlier this year that about 24 percent of its customers said they are willing to switch to its mobile service.

Getting this far has been a struggle for Cox, which tried five years ago to develop a wireless service, called Pivot, in a partnership with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Advance/Newhouse Communications and Sprint Nextel. But the alliance fell apart in 2008 as the companies grappled with differing agendas and financial problems. Wireless is no longer a major focus for the rest.

The lesson from that failure: "We needed to own the experience from front to back," Cox President Patrick Esser says.

Cox expects to be "competitive to any other provider in the market, not only in rate plan pricing but also with the device portfolio that we have," said Stephen Bye, vice president for wireless.

Cox will offer 15 handsets, including smart phones from HTC, LG and Motorola that run Google's Android operating system.

Cox is looking to win over consumers by addressing some common complaints about the incumbent providers' service, such as overage charges and paying for unused minutes. Cox will offer alerts when a customer is approaching the maximum number of minutes, and give 5 cents back for every unused minute, up to savings of $20 a month. Cox will sell monthly mobile-service contracts starting at $39.99.

Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Comcast drives growth with pricier bundlesUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

Pathway invests in low-income entrepreneurs

Clint Gwin is the president of Nashville-based Pathway Lending, a nonprofit lender formerly called Southeast Community Capital that raises capital from financial institutions and the state to lend out to small-business owners in Tennessee.
It got started more than 10 years ago under the Southeast Community Capital name as a micro-lender in Oak Ridge designed for entrepreneurs. It has since grown to make loans to 350 businesses, many of them in low-income or rural areas.

The organization estimates it has helped create 1,500 jobs and keep 3,200 other jobs in place by financing the employers.

Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration has announced new public-private funds this year that will nearly triple the nonprofit's available capital for lending, to $75 million.

Gwin talked with Tennessean banking and finance reporter Naomi Snyder about those funds, what Pathway Lending does, and his dealings with a controversial new firm headed by Reagan Farr, former state revenue commissioner, who reportedly will help solar companies find investors.

How was Pathway Lending founded?

We were founded in December 1999 in Oak Ridge as part of a comprehensive entrepreneurship program. The entrepreneurs were struggling to access capital, and Technology 2020 created Southeast Community Capital to bring capital together and make it available in the Oak Ridge-Knoxville area.

We started as a micro-lender with half a million dollars in capital; and we made loans for $35,000 and less. We continued to grow and attract capital from lending institutions. The individual behind it was Tom Rogers, who was the founding CEO of Technology 2020. He is now with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

How did it move to Nashville?

I joined in 2002 after almost 11 years with the FDIC as a bank regulator. We were seeing a lot of requests from rural parts of the state. At the same time, the state of Tennessee — Matt Kisber's group at (the Department of Economic and Community Development) — also was seeing a lot of those requests. We both started talking about what we could do to make sure the rural parts of the state had access to capital.

(2 of 4)

TN, bankers form partnership for loan fund to kick-start small businessesReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Next Up: Andy Moats

Name: Andy Moats
Company/title: Avenue Bank, executive vice president and chief credit officer

Age: 34

What he does: "I handle all things credit-related for Avenue Bank. That would entail any credit approvals, the underwriting department, all bank policies and procedures, and the loan review department."

RelatedNashville People in Business

Background: Born and raised in Nashville, he went to Montgomery Bell Academy and Vanderbilt University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics. He is single.

Why did you choose banking? "With my degree in economics, it seemed like a good fit. I'm able to get my hand in a lot of different industries, and you're very connected to the community when you're in banking."

On landing at Avenue Bank. "I was originally with a large corporate bank here in town, working in their credit department. I left that job when I was asked to help start Avenue Bank in October 2006. I was part of the founding group."

Other interests: "I'm always looking for ways to get involved in the community. I am president of the board of the Nashville Exchange Club Family Center, a nonprofit that exists to help prevent child abuse and neglect in Middle Tennessee."

Favorite places: "Centennial Park is right around the corner from my house and I love going there. I also love going to Titans and Predators games.

What do you like best about Nashville? "It's a big small city, and it has all the sophistication of anywhere else I would want to live — but (with) the comfort of knowing your neighbors and having an open and friendly spirit."

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Nashville area to get Verizon 4G by end of yearUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lack of snow won't slow Opryland hotel's winter show

Rain and warmer weather have slowed the accumulation of machine-made snow that's to be part of Gaylord Opryland's grand reopening holiday sales blitz this week, but no one seems too stressed out about it after six months of costly flood recovery efforts.
The hotel will go ahead with its Christmas decorations and tree-lighting ceremony this evening regardless.

"No matter what happens with the weather, the show will go on," said director of special events Ken Groneck, who is overseeing holiday preparations. Those include a relentless effort to keep churning out 130 tons of snow per day to cover an outdoor children's play area called "SNOW!" debuting this weekend.

Two million Christmas lights strung outdoors on trees and shrubs will be lit with a flick of a switch at 6 tonight as part of the annual lighting ceremony. The Rockettes dance troupe will perform at the public event.

RelatedChristmas over the years at Opryland hotelRenovated Opryland hotel reopens Monday, glitzier than everRenovated Gaylord OprylandChristmas over the years at Opryland HotelGuests return

Already, guests are filling the repaired hotel, which was closed for a half a year after the early May flood.

Elaine and Bob Mason, a couple from Toronto, have visited two or three times before and secured an eight-day reservation for the opening as soon as Gaylord announced the reopening dates.

"We come here because it's such a unique place, the service is great and we like to catch the shows at the Grand Ole Opry ," Elaine Mason said. "It's a little more modern now but still beautiful."

Many of the guests wandering through Gaylord's signature atriums filled with newly planted foliage, potted poinsettias and 200,000 Christmas lights were equally enthusiastic, although 9-year-old Reese Phinney, who lives in Franklin and was visiting the hotel with her parents and relatives from Belgium, had a single complaint.

"There's not as many fish," she said, referring to a man-made waterway snaking through the hotel's interior.

Business is brisk

Early business is brisk among paying customers and guests, though.

The hotel's 2,881 rooms are sold out beginning Friday for advertised holiday events, including the SNOW! exhibit, according to Jenny Barker, public relations director at the hotel.

(2 of 2)

CS Week conference group donates $60,000 to flood reliefManaging Solo

Fed's hand strengthens on tame inflation data

WASHINGTON — Consumer prices barely changed for the third straight month in October, strengthening the Federal Reserve's hand at a time when it is defending a plan to boost the economy by buying more government debt.
A report Wednesday from the Labor Department showed that inflation remains super-low.

A steep rise in gasoline prices drove the consumer price index up 0.2 percent in October, the fourth straight monthly increase. But excluding volatile food and energy costs, core consumer prices were unchanged for the third straight month. In the past year, the core index has risen only 0.6 percent, the smallest increase since the index began in 1957.

Many leading Republican economists and lawmakers have criticized the Fed's bond-buying program, saying it could lead to runaway inflation. Some contend the central bank is essentially printing money to lower the value of the dollar and make U.S. goods cheaper overseas.

But other economists say the bigger threat to the U.S. economy is deflation, a widespread drop in prices and wages that could further erode home values and cripple an already weak economy. The nation hasn't grappled with deflation since the Great Depression.

"The data is definitely in the Fed's camp today and should help keep the Fed's critics at bay," said Christopher Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. "There is nothing in this data that would push the Fed off its course of continuing to buy government securities."

Warning signs, however, hint that deflation may be coming closer and the recovery in housing seems to have been aborted.

Among troublesome signs in the October report were price declines on new cars and clothing.

While flat prices may seem like a good thing for shoppers, the Fed would like to see prices rise more quickly to keep deflation at bay. When it announced the bond-buying program, the central bank said inflation is "somewhat low" compared to levels it considers consistent with price stability.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Stocks retreat; Dow off by 37Real Estate Outlook: Small Gains

GM's offering likely to leave smaller investors behind

NEW YORK — When General Motors finally offers stock to the public today, small investors probably will be left out.
Pension funds, mutual funds and other big institutions all want a piece of the rehabilitated GM. That means the three dozen banks divvying up the new shares may not have much left for individual investors.

And being left out of the initial public offering can mean being left out of some big profits: Shares of newly public companies sometimes jump 10 percent or more on the first day of trading, handing easy money to those lucky enough to get access at the offering price.

"Wall Street is only begrudgingly involving individual investors," said David Menlow, founder of research company IPOfinancial.com. The attitude is it's "our ball and our rules."

RelatedWith IPO today, GM caps rebirth as public company

The most important rule of all: The banks handling IPOs — called underwriters — get to pick who gets the shares at the offering price. And critics say those shares often go to favored clients or potential clients — that is, institutions that pay lots of trading commissions to the banks, not the small fry.

"It's still the good-ole-boys network," Menlow said. "As much as the firms would argue to the contrary, it's still, "How much business are you doing with us?' "

The GM sale is one of the largest and most anticipated IPOs in years. For sale are 478 million shares and a piece of an iconic American manufacturer. The biggest seller is the U.S. government, which hopes to cut its ownership from 61 percent to 33 percent or less. The government got the stake in exchange for help in saving GM from near collapse with $51 billion in taxpayer money.

That the small guy had to rescue the company when it was sick but could get shut out now that it's healthy has rankled some investors. The U.S. government had said it wanted small investors to have an opportunity to invest in the IPO, though it never specified just how many shares would be made available.

The backroom deals by bankers helping companies go public have drawn fierce criticism over the years. Longtime Silicon Valley financier Bill Hambrecht says the bankers often don't get the highest price possible for new shares and are rewarded too much for their work anyway. He favors Dutch auctions that allocate new shares to the highest bidders, including small investors. His company, WR Hambrecht + Co., used such an auction to take Google Inc. public in 2004.

Treasury spokesman Mark Paustenbach had no comment on whether an auction was considered for GM or on how many shares will go to individual investors.

Of course, a successful return by GM to the public markets should be celebrated. Though it's not certain Washington will get all its money back, a successful IPO at least makes it more likely. And a lot of small investors shut out of the IPO will have money in mutual funds that are allowed to buy.

AP auto writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Real Estate Outlook: Small GainsGM raises share price

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

GM raises share price

DETROIT — Fueled by strong investor demand, General Motors is setting a higher share price for Thursday's initial public stock offering. The increase boosts the automaker's market value to $50 billion and moves its largest owner, the U.S. government, closer to recouping all of the money it spent saving GM from ruin.
But even with the increase, GM's value is still short of what the government needs to recover the whole bailout.

During the past two weeks, investor interest in GM has risen as the company's executives flew across the globe making sales pitches to big investors. The company has made profits for three straight quarters and thinks earnings could increase even more if the U.S. auto market rebounds from a 30-year low last year.

GM announced Tuesday that it would raise the price range for common stock being sold this week to $32 to $33 per share, up from the range revealed two weeks ago, $26 to $29.

At $33 apiece, the total value of the 1.5 billion outstanding GM shares would be nearly
$50 billion, up $6 billion in the past two weeks. That's a huge improvement but still short of the $65.6 billion market value needed for the government to get back all of the taxpayer dollars it used to get GM through a painful bankruptcy restructuring.

The government, which became GM's biggest shareholder when it gave the automaker $50 billion to get through bankruptcy, hopes to get the money back through the IPO and several follow-up sales that could take two or more years.

The share price increase and the rising market value are good news, though, because they reduce the amount of money the government has to earn back in the follow-up sales after the IPO, said Joe Phillippi, president of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J.

"If GM performs as expected, the stock will steadily improve in valuation," rising to $45 or more in the next year, he said.

Shares may rise

Bankers handling the GM stock sale, which is planned for Thursday, probably will exercise an option to sell 15 percent more shares from the government and two of GM's other owners, the combined Canadian and Ontario governments and a union health-care trust fund. That could bring in even more money.

At the high end of the new price range, $33 per share, the government could reap as much as $10 billion in the IPO. That's $2.3 billion, or about 31 percent more than it would have made two weeks ago.

If the IPO generates $10 billion for the government, GM would still be on the hook for $30 billion in taxpayer dollars. The U.S. would hold roughly 609 million shares after the IPO. If it sold all of those shares at $33, it would make $20 billion, falling $10 billion shy of getting all of the money back.

But analysts say GM's share price probably will rise above $33 once it begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the company's old symbol, GM. The shares should rise, they say, as auto sales continue to slowly improve during the next few years. If the shares get to $50, the government will get back all $30 billion left from its original $50 billion bailout.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Real Estate Outlook: Small GainsGM to sell $13 billion in upcoming IPO

Study's leader says mortgage industry problems are broad

WASHINGTON — The problems in the mortgage industry go far beyond the controversy over flawed foreclosure documents and call for an overhaul of the system of administering home loans, the state attorney general leading a nationwide investigation told a Senate panel Tuesday.
As Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller testified at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, senators also insisted that focusing solely on the so-called "robo-signing" is a mistake. And the banking industry was criticized for maintaining that the problem was mainly technical.

That view "shows a certain type of arrogance," Miller said.

"There's so much at stake," he told the panel. The entire system of servicing and modifying mortgages, and foreclosing on borrowers must be changed "so that it works productively," he said. A resolution could involve penalties for mortgage companies that don't comply with required practices, Miller said.

"We'll need ultimately agreement from the banks and so far our discussions have been productive," he said.

CNBC reported that Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. are nearing a settlement with the 50 attorneys general in which they would compensate borrowers whose homes were improperly foreclosed upon.

But Miller said after the hearing that a settlement wasn't close. "That's totally wrong. We're a long way from an agreement," he told reporters. "We're at the beginning stages of a negotiation."

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

TN borrowers could benefit from national mortgage investigationUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

UPS to hire 50,000 temporary workers for holidays

ATLANTA — UPS plans to hire about 50,000 temporary workers to handle the crush of holiday shipments this year.
United Parcel Service said Tuesday that it expects to deliver 430 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The busiest day should be Wednesday, Dec. 22, when UPS expects to deliver 24 million packages worldwide, up nearly 60 percent from a normal day.

Rival FedEx said it expects to move nearly 16 million packages on its peak day, Dec. 13.

RelatedJobs resources, tips and videos

Economists watch the predictions from UPS and FedEx for hints about the direction of the economy. Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, and many consumer goods are handled by UPS or FedEx.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Stores beef up staffs for holiday seasonReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

David Bohan: People spend as much time using media as sleeping

Doctors tell us we need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Let's say we get a full eight hours. That leaves us with 16 hours to do all the other stuff we need to do each day — work, eat, spend time with family, pray, read, etc.
Well, if you are "average," you are spending at least half of your waking hours with media, according to a survey by media research giant Ipsos OXT. In fact, its Longitudinal Media Experience survey found that daily media use has grown by 40 minutes each year since 2008.

One of the big reasons for increased media use is portability. Laptop computer ownership grew from 46 percent in 2008 to 63 percent in 2010. Almost one-quarter of all U.S. consumers now have Web-enabled smart phones.

Devices coupled with increased bandwidth and seemingly universal cell service now allow for communication virtually anywhere anytime.

"Today's consumer is benefitting from a media ecosystem with better content, media access and technology," said Ned Greenberg, vice president of Ipsos OXT. "They can be more in control of their media experiences than ever before."

Time spent watching television is at an all-time high. Nielsen reported that the average person watches 35 hours and 34 minutes of television weekly. Also, households have more televisions than people. There are four or more TVs in almost one-third of all American homes.

Another factor is that time-shifted viewing has exploded as the presence of digital video recorders has increased (1.2 percent of households in 2006, but 37 percent today).

"The initial fear was that Internet and mobile video and entertainment would slowly cannibalize traditional television viewing, but the steady trend of increased TV viewership alongside simultaneous usage argues something quite different," said Matt O'Grady, media product leader at Nielsen.

So assuming your job or school does not allow you to spend half your time using media, how do you get in your eight hours a day? We do it by multi-tasking.

In December 2009, Nielsen reported that 59 percent of everyone age 2 and older watching television was online at the same time.

Stay busy, consume media

So what else are we doing while we watch television? One big thing is using social media. In fact, 40 percent of online time is spent playing games, e-mailing or visiting social network sites, and social network time is growing — up a half-hour per user per day in just the last year.

"Communications is now entertaining, and entertainment is communications," said Bruce Friend, president of Ipsos OXT. "The speed at which things can be delivered thanks to broadband, and the ways it can be delivered, with digital video recorders and video on demand, mean that the speed of change has ramped up in an unprecedented way."

For marketers, one message is clear: Find ways to get your product or service on a screen.

David Bohan founded BOHAN Advertising|Marketing, a Nashville agency with clients in travel, hospitality, health care and consumer products, in 1990. He has worked in marketing and advertising since earning a degree at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1970.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Meager increase forecast for holiday retail salesReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Good jobs vanish, may never return

WASHINGTON — The well-paying, predominantly white-collar jobs that once sustained many American communities are disappearing at an alarming pace, keeping the unemployment rate stubbornly high despite the end of the Great Recession.
More troubling, these jobs in accounting, financial analysis, commercial printing and a broad array of other mostly white-collar occupations are unlikely to come back, experts predict.

There isn't a single cause to the trend. Some of it is explained by changing technology, some of it is the result of automation. Sending well-paying jobs to low-cost centers abroad is another big part of the story. So is global competition from emerging economies such as China and India.

The result is the same in all cases, however. Jobs that paid well, required skills and produced vital communities are going away and aren't being replaced by anything comparable.

RelatedLame-duck Congress faces budget, tax decisions that will affect most TennesseansExtended jobless benefits will end soon unless Congress actsJobs resources, tips and videos

"Unfortunately, the evidence is that you see a form of downward mobility of workers who are displaced from middle-skilled, stable career occupations," said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an interview.

Autor published a much-discussed paper in April, suggesting that the U.S. labor market has become polarized, with employment growth in the high-skill, high-wage end, and the low-skill, low-wage end. The vast middle, he concluded, is shrinking.

"The Great Recession has quantitatively but not qualitatively changed the direction of the U.S. labor market," Autor concluded, pointing to an accelerating trend that he said has been under way for more than a decade.

Income keeps declining

Lois Williams-Norman is on the upper end of what could be called a middle-skill job, working her entire career in corporations as an internal financial and budget expert.

Like millions of Americans, she has had to swallow her pride and step down the income ladder.

"I've gone from a six-figure income to seriously looking at positions that are going to be paying probably half as much. So over the past 10 years, my income has continued to decline year after year," Williams-Norman said during an interview in the western New York city of Rochester, in between networking events where she searched for employment.

(2 of 2)

Underwater? Alternatives to Walking AwayPaid tax preparers must sign up for new ID number, IRS says

Disney hopes bear's success in Japan will translate elsewhere

ORLANDO, Fla. — A few weeks ago, Disney introduced a new costumed character into company theme parks in Orlando and California. He did not arrive alone.
"Duffy the Disney Bear" made its debut in Walt Disney World's Epcot and Disneyland's Disney California Adventure with an army of merchandise. Park souvenir shops began stocking three sizes of stuffed-plush bears and accompanying Duffy costumes, key chains, magnets and more. Additional souvenirs are on the way: Disney says it will have nearly three dozen Duffy items for sale in its theme parks within the next year.

It's a long line of products — all riding on a character that even many Disney fans don't know.

Not in movies

Duffy, unlike Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear and other well-known Disney characters, has never starred in an animated movie or television show. He is instead a retail creation of Tokyo Disney, where he is one of the most sought-after souvenirs in the Japanese resort that draws 26 million visitors each year.

Now, after a brutal recession that sapped spending in its domestic parks, Disney is betting Duffy's merchandising strength in Japan will translate to the U.S.

"This is really a model that we've not done before," said Dara Trujillo, manager of merchandise synergy and special events for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Born in Orlando

Duffy was actually born in Orlando. The stuffed bear, which has a Mickey Mouse-shaped face and a Mickey-shaped birthmark on its hip, was initially designed as a unique product to sell in "Once Upon a Toy," the 16,000-square-foot toy shop that opened in Disney World's Downtown Disney in 2002. But back then it was known only as "Disney Bear," and it never caught on.

But two years later, the toy was adopted by Tokyo Disney, where executives were searching for fresh content for Tokyo DisneySea, one of the resort's two theme parks. They figured it could sell well in Japan, where teddy bears are a popular cultural symbol.

To make sure, they gave it a push. First came an elaborate back story: The bear had been made by Minnie Mouse, who gave it to Mickey to keep him company whenever he traveled. Mickey named it "Duffy" because Minnie gave him the bear in a duffel bag.

(2 of 2)

Buyers Interested in WalkabilityBuild-A-Bear brings joy to RiverGate

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dr. Charles P. Mouton hopes to build on Meharry Medical College's legacy

As senior vice president of health affairs and dean of Meharry Medical College's medical school, Dr. Charles P. Mouton leads an academic and clinical enterprise ranked among the nation's top producers of primary care doctors.
With an estimated 30 million more Americans expected to obtain insurance coverage under the health law passed earlier this year in Washington, access to sufficient primary care doctors will become even more critical.

Mouton, who joined Meharry on July 1 after a stint chairing the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Howard University's College of Medicine, spoke with health-care business writer Getahn Ward about the role of academic health centers in meeting that supply-and-demand challenge. He also discussed what he sees as the importance of maintaining a diverse labor force of doctors in the United States to deliver care.

How did you end up choosing family medicine as a specialty?

When I grew up in New Orleans, my exposure to medicine was through having a family doctor. I decided to go to Howard University, and I majored in mechanical engineering.

I finished mechanical engineering and entered Howard Medical School. I originally thought I wanted to be a surgeon mainly because one of the faculty leaders there was probably one of the most dynamic individuals in the surgery community, even to this day, and I wanted to be just like him.

I didn't really get exposed to family medicine until late in my senior year, and I had actually already matched to surgery. Once I started to get into my training program, I discovered that wanting to have my own patients was of primary importance for me. So, I switched out of surgery to go into family medicine. I wanted to have the opportunity to engage in these (patients') lives.

And although surgery was fun — and I was good at it — it is basically a sub-specialty where you rely on referrals, and you don't have the chance to make an intense connection as you do with family medicine.

(2 of 4)

Hospitals reach out to suburbs for outpatient dollars

Development Briefs: Suffolk Construction opens office

Suffolk Construction Co. Inc., a privately held construction management company, said last week that it has established a national health-care construction office in Nashville, at One American Center at 3100 West End Ave.
The company said its health-care construction business has grown 20 percent in the past few years, and during the past five years it has delivered more than 500 health-care projects nationwide worth an estimated total value of $2.5 billion.

Leading Suffolk's National Healthcare Group is Executive Vice President Terry Brantley. During his 30-year career as a health-care construction executive, he has managed major health-care client programs for not-for-profit and for-profit systems, including Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., HCA, Triad Hospitals, Community Health Systems, and Quorum Health Resources.

Chris Gilliam is vice president, director of operations; Craig Mulliniks is director of preconstruction services; and Paul Moffat is project executive.


White House Lowe's plans expansion

Home improvement retailer Lowe's Cos. is expanding its space at its millwork facility in White House, going from 143,532 square feet to 252,000 square feet, according to its landlord, HSA Commercial Real Estate in Chicago.

The building is at 510 Hester Drive.


.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Managing SoloHealth care propels Nashville economy

Nashville-area Business Bankruptcies

Blu Sky Media Group Murfreesboro
Assets: $73,373

Liabilities: $298,712

Filed Nov. 11

Seagraves Holdings LLC, a Georgia limited liability company, Manchester

Assets: $18,005

Liabilities: $1.03 million

SOURCE: U.S. Bankruptcy Court

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Tennessee Commerce has $1.5M loss, bad loanManaging Solo

Tech advice: Recover pics from memory card

I accidentally formatted my camera's memory card. Is there a way to recover my photos?
There are a few free file recovery programs that will work. Recuva is a powerful free recovery program. It will work on almost any digital media, but it may not detect all photo file formats.

Zero Assumption Recovery is designed to read photo files, including many proprietary RAW formats. When recovering files, do not restore files to the same place you are recovering them from. You will overwrite the files you are trying to recover. Visit www.ko
mando.com/news to download these free programs.

I have several flash drives. Some are much slower than others. Why is that?

Flash drives are based on flash memory. However, not all flash memory is created equal. There are faster and slower varieties. Naturally, faster varieties are more expensive. Speed is also dependent on the memory controller.

A basic memory controller will be slower than a high-quality memory controller. That means bargain or off-brand flash drives tend to be slower. Manufacturers often put read and write speeds on flash drives. Look for faster speeds. I recommend a write speed of 30 MB/s or faster.

I am concerned about using public Wi-Fi when I travel in my RV. Can I set up a personal router to rebroadcast the signal securely?

Rebroadcasting a Wi-Fi signal isn't terribly difficult, but it is hard when it isn't your own network. In some cases, it won't be possible. Plus, it won't add much extra security. The connection between your router and the public Wi-Fi won't be encrypted. You're better off making sure your computer is secure. That means installing security software, including a firewall.

Disabling file sharing is also a good idea. Visit Komando.com/news for links to free security software and to learn how to disable file sharing.

Apple just released iLife '11. It looks like it has some good features. However, I just bought a Mac recently. Do I have to pay to upgrade?

ILife, Apple's popular media software suite, helps you manage your photos, create music and edit videos. It comes bundled on all Mac computers. Apple also sells upgrade versions for older computers. You may be able to get a free copy, depending on when you bought the computer.

All Macs purchased in October get a free upgrade. You just pay for shipping and handling, which is $7. Otherwise, it will cost you $50, plus shipping. You can order the upgrade from Apple's website. The free upgrade cannot be picked up at an Apple Store.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. E-mail questions to C1Tech@gannett.com.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

EVO tops iPhone 4 in many featuresReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Nashville People in Business

Vanderbilt University education scholar Richard Milner won the 2010 Carl A. Grant Multicultural Research Award from the National Association for Multicultural Education. Milner is Betts associate professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt's Peabody College of Education and Human Development.
The White House Fellows Foundation and Association awarded Phoenix Holdings President Sam Howard the 2010 John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award.

Collier Roofing of Nashville is designated as the national 2010 Contractor of the Year for Commercial Roofing in the November issue of Roofing Contractor Magazine.

The Middle Tennessee Certified Commercial Investment Member Chapter recognized members certified in commercial real estate at the association's fall business meeting: Moren Adenubi with Crown Realty, Austin Barrett of HCA, Amy Byrd with Healthcare Realty Trust, Jim Foley with CB Richard Ellis, Brian Forrester of The Shopping Center Group, Joe Massa with Marcus & Millichap, Jay McRae with OGA Realty, Park Owen with The Parkes Companies and Julie Wilson with Healthcare Realty Trust.

Belmont University's McWhorter Hall received a Citation of Excellence Award in the national Learning By Design competition sponsored by the National School Boards Association and Stratton Publishing and Marketing Inc. Earl Swensson Associates designed the building that holds the university's School of Pharmacy, School of Physical Therapy and Department of Psychological Science.

Anchor Trailways & Tours won three distinguished marketing awards for best magazine, best public relations and best trailways website at the National Meeting of the Trailways Transportation System.


Fifth Third Bank promoted Buffy Bundshuh to manager at its downtown Nashville location. Luis Parodi was hired as the bank's Tennessee Community Reinvestment Act executive. Jacob Kassinger and James Victery were hired as retail personal bankers. Michael Bishop, Jason Hill and Jared Autrey have been hired as retail financial center managers.

(2 of 4)

Managing SoloNashville People in Business

Holiday shopping battle heats up

NEW YORK — From free shipping from Walmart to Sears stores open on Thanksgiving for the first time, the battle for holiday shoppers' dollars has begun in earnest.
The early competition to break through shoppers' caution about spending promises savings for those willing to buy amid an economy that's still worrying many. It also promises convenience. Retailers are offering deals anytime, anywhere their customers want, through websites, smart phones and Facebook.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically kicks off holiday shopping, is not only being marketed as "Black Friday week," but for a growing number of stores, "Black Friday month."

As for Thanksgiving, some retailers like Sears and Gap's Old Navy hope shoppers will head to stores after they finish their turkey feasts. On the Web, Kohl's Corp. and Target Corp. are among many merchants dramatically stepping up deals that day, counting on that holiday to be one of the busiest days of the year online.

"Everything is faster and sooner," said Dan Grandpre, editor-in-chief of Dealnews.com, which opened an office in Dublin, Ireland, a few months ago to monitor the frenetic pace of offers, particularly during the holidays. Dealnews is based in Huntsville, Ala.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is clearly going for the jugular in the holiday retailing fight. It announced Thursday that it will offer free shipping on nearly 60,000 online items — with no minimum purchase requirement. The offer, which includes most electronics, jewelry and toys, will run through Dec. 20. Return shipping is also free, or items can be returned to a local store.

Wal-Mart's free offer comes on top of similarly aggressive free shipping programs from Target and J.C. Penney. Wal-Mart's deal adds to the discounter's Site to Store program, which lets customers buy an item online and have it shipped free to their local Walmart store for pickup.

Walmart.com is even testing a service at nearly 800 stores that lets customers see inventory and purchase products right from home. The online orders usually are ready to be picked up at a store within four hours.

(2 of 2)

Value remains important for Christmas shoppersBuyers Interested in Walkability

Bank of America takes aim at lawsuit complaining of 'robo-signers'

Bank of America Corp., the biggest U.S. lender, asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by foreclosed homeowners who accuse it of racketeering.
Dwayne Ransom Davis and Melisa Davis sued last month in Indianapolis, claiming Bank of America "routinely" submitted perjured affidavits to support foreclosures. They lost their Knightstown, Ind., home last year.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, in papers filed Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, said the Davises were improperly using a federal court to attack a state court proceeding and hadn't shown they were injured.

"While plaintiffs claim they do not seek to overturn the judgment in the foreclosure action, it is clear they are trying to do precisely that," in violation of federal law, Bank of America told the court.

The Davises didn't ask the court to reverse their September 2009 foreclosure. They said in their complaint that the use of "robo-signers," or people who sign affidavits attesting to facts underlying foreclosures without actual knowledge of them, constitutes racketeering.

They seek class-action, or group, status for anyone whose home was taken under such circumstances since October 2006, and compensatory damages, which would be tripled under U.S. racketeering laws.

"Plaintiffs plead no facts to support their claim that the result, i.e. a judgment of foreclosure, would have been any different had the alleged inaccuracies in the underlying affidavit been discovered in the state court proceeding," Bank of America said.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

The foreclosure freeze: questions and answersUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

Nissan recalls 600,000 vehicles

DETROIT — Nissan Motor Co. is recalling more than 600,000 vehicles in North and South America and Africa because of steering or battery cable problems.
The Japanese automaker said Thursday that the steering recall affects 303,000 Frontier pickup trucks and 283,000 Xterra sport utility vehicles in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Nissan said a corrosion problem with the lower steering column joint and shaft can limit steering movement, making the vehicles difficult to steer. In some cases the corrosion can cause the joint to crack.

Nissan also is recalling 18,500 Sentra sedans because of a battery cable terminal connector problem that can make the cars difficult to start or stall at low speeds.

The Frontiers covered by the recall are from the 2002 through 2004 model years and were made from July 9, 2001, to Oct. 20, 2004, in Smyrna for the North American market, Nissan said in a statement. Frontiers made from Nov. 30, 2001, to June 26, 2008, in Curitiba, Brazil, for South and Central American markets are in the recall.

The 2002-2004 North American Xterras in the recall were made from July 9, 2001, to Jan. 6, 2005, also at the Smyrna plant. Xterras made from Feb. 17, 2003, to June 13, 2008, in Curitiba, Brazil, for South and Central American markets also are affected.

Owners will be notified in early December when parts are available. Dealers will fix the problem at no cost to the owners.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Auto sales top 2009 but flat since AugustReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Paid tax preparers must sign up for new ID number, IRS says

People who charge others to prepare their income-tax returns must sign up with the IRS to get a new federal preparer identification number before doing any returns for tax year 2010, the federal agency says.
The new ID number is part of the IRS move to begin regulation of those who make it a business to prepare returns for others.

Later, they will also be required to take an IRS competency test and complete continuing-education courses to be eligible to charge for tax-preparation services, said David R. Williams, the IRS official in charge of the new regulatory program.

“All must have a preparer ID number as a first step in identifying who is preparing tax returns,” Williams said today in a conference call with reporters.

“We are trying to get the message out” to people whose business it is to prepare returns, he said, “and get a broader message to consumers that we are taking steps” to make sure that tax preparers are qualified.

Tax-preparers may apply for the ID number online at www.IRS.gov, The process takes about 15 minutes, and has to be completed by everyone who prepares returns for a fee, even those who already had an IRS tax-preparer number in the past, Williams said.

The ID number is officially known as the Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN, the IRS said.

Sixty percent of taxpayers use tax-return preparation services, the IRS said, and an additional 30 percent use tax-preparation software programs.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Local business briefs: Community Health Systems expands in S.C.Real Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Private equity firm invests in MedSolutions

A Boston-based private equity firm has acquired a minority stake in MedSolutions, the Franklin-based radiation benefits manager.
Additional terms of the minority investment by TA Associates weren't disclosed. Mark H. Carter, a TA principal, and David S. B. Lang, an advisor at the private equity firm, will join MedSolutions’ board.

Current MedSolutions investors MedCare and Ridgemont Equity Partners will each retain a portion of their stakes.

MedSolutions employs more than 500 people, including at its headquarters and at call centers here and in Melbourne, Fla. The company provides cost management for more than 27 million individuals.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Scripps TV unit to relocate HQ to KnoxvilleUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

Small businesses turn to microlenders when banks say no

DALLAS — Michelle Matta had never heard of microfinancing before landing a microloan.
After working for a promotional products company for eight years, she decided to branch out on her own. In 2007, she started A Turtle Loves Me, using her husband's nickname.

Within a week, she landed her first big contract — a $152,000 order for travel mugs from Corner Bakery Cafe. Within a month, she spent $5,000 in family savings.

Six months later, she asked her bank of 20 years for a $25,000 loan to buy an embroidery machine. The bank turned her down because she hadn't been in business for three years, Matta said.

Undeterred, she approached microlender Accion, which lent her the $25,000 at 13.5 percent interest.

"I really thought this would be a company that I ran on my credit cards for a while," said Matta, 42, who dropped out of high school at 17. By the end of 2007, sales totaled $233,000, and the home-based business was profitable. In the second year, her husband was able to quit his trucking job to work with her.

Since then, she has received two small loans from Accion Texas-Louisiana, which is based in San Antonio but has a Dallas office.

Microlending — lending small amounts of money to help people start or expand a business — usually is associated with developing countries.

Such programs began in the 1970s to provide credit and banking services to the poor.

On the rise in U.S.

Microlending is on the rise in the United States, filling a void as banks have tightened credit in the past few years. It serves a crucial role in helping entrepreneurs, especially low- to moderate-income people and minorities, gain access to capital.

U.S. microlenders made 9,191 loans totaling $100.9 million in fiscal 2008, the latest data available from the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit research group. Most of them provide loans up to $35,000, with a third making larger loans. There are
360 microlenders in the U.S.

U.S. microlenders have existed "below the radar" for a couple of decades, said Tammy Halevy, a senior vice president at the Association for Enterprise Opportunity in Washington.

(2 of 2)

TN, bankers form partnership for loan fund to kick-start small businessesUnderwater? Alternatives to Walking Away

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stocks retreat; Dow off by 37

NEW YORK — Stocks pulled back Monday as traders retreated from a rally that brought indexes to their highest levels since the peak of the financial crisis in September 2008.
Gold crossed $1,400 an ounce to another record on Monday as traders looked for safe places to park money.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 37.24, or 0.3 percent, to close at 11,406.84. It surged 2.9 percent last week after the Federal Reserve announced a $600 billion stimulus package for the U.S. economy.

The Standard and Poor's 500 index fell 2.60, or 0.2 percent, to 1,223.25.

RelatedMoney and markets page

The Nasdaq composite index continued to outperform other market measures, as it has done all year, edging up 1.07, or 0.04 percent, to 2,580.05. The technology-focused index is up 13.7 percent for the year, compared with a 9.4 percent gain for the Dow and a 9.7 gain for the S&P 500.

Financial companies were down the most among the 10 industry groups that make up the S&P 500 index. Technology, energy and materials companies were the only groups in the index to show meager gains.

"Today is shaping up to be a modest sell-off, and that's to be expected," said Barnaby Levin, a managing director at HighTower Advisors.

Earnings lifted stocks

Stocks have risen in recent weeks on better-than-expected corporate earnings reports and the introduction of a bond-buying program by the Federal Reserve that is intended to stimulate the economy by driving interest rates lower and encouraging spending.

The dollar rose 0.5 percent against a broad basket of currencies. That's a negative for big U.S. companies such as Caterpillar Inc. that do a lot of business overseas, since a stronger dollar makes their products more expensive in other countries. Caterpillar was off 0.5 percent, and Boeing Co., another big exporter, was off 1.5 percent, putting it in a tie with Travelers Cos. for biggest laggard among the 30 companies that make up the Dow.

Despite weakness in other financial stocks, shares of Bank of America Corp. rose 1.9 to make it the best performing company among the Dow 30, followed by Hewlett Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc.

The euro fell 0.8 percent from recent highs, in part on renewed concerns about the debt burdens of the weaker economies among countries that use the Euro. Ireland announced Thursday that it would raise taxes and seek additional cuts in government services to rein in its deficit.

Yields on 10-year Irish bonds rose sharply in response. U.S. markets had swooned this spring over concerns that a fiscal crisis in Greece would spread to Portugal, Spain and other weak economies in the euro zone.

Prices for Treasury bonds fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond rose slightly to 2.55 percent, from 2.53 percent late Friday.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard on Monday defended the central bank's stimulus program in a meeting at the New York Society of Security Analysts. Bullard said that the pace of economic recovery had slowed, which made deflation, rather than inflation, a greater concern for the Fed.

.tweetbutton { margin-top: -3px; margin-right:-18px; }

Dow settles near 2010 high as voters go to pollsReal Estate Outlook: Small Gains

Music industry recovers after flood destroyed instruments, venues

In a white clapboard house on a quiet street in Berry Hill, a six-month marathon effort to save dozens of flood-damaged musical instruments remains a daily labor of love with the goal of salvaging Nashville's best-known industry from near disaster.
Joe Glaser's repair shop has resuscitated about 100 guitars — along with musicians' livelihoods — some of which were "given up for dead" after being found warped or smeared in river sludge when the Cumberland River overflowed after torrential rains in early May.

Damaged goods sat waterlogged in artists' homes, in recording studios and inside the massive SoundCheck music storage warehouse near the river, where working musicians and big-name stars alike stored thousands of valuable instruments.

"In the beginning, when I saw all of those instruments, I thought, 'Oh, no way. It's too many. They're warped. They're dead. It's hopeless,' " said Glaser, who has been repairing guitars in Nashville for 30 years.

RelatedFlood cost Nashville a year's worth of economic activityNashville Flood 20102010 Flood StatisticsNashville Flood: Six Months After

"Then we just focused on one instrument at a time. In a lot of cases, instruments couldn't be saved. But in others, in a peculiar way, the guitars sound better. They've got more soul."

Nearly every aspect of Nashville's music industry was hurt in some way by May's flood, but slow and painstaking restoration efforts such as Glaser's are getting musical landmarks back in shape, companies back on their feet and musicians back in business.

For instance:

• SoundCheck, the 160,000-square-foot warehouse and rehearsal studio that stored an estimated 60 percent of Nashville musicians' instruments and professional gear, reopened in July. Insurance and Small Business Administration loans covered $2.2 million in damages to the facility, but owner Ben Jumper said few musicians had insurance to cover an estimated $10 million in damages to individual instruments stored there.

• The Schermerhorn Symphony Center sustained $40 million in damage when up to 24 feet of water flooded the building's basement and sub-basement. Two weeks ago, power was finally restored. Two 10-hour shifts of workers continue on the highly specialized restoration work required to maintain acoustic perfection in the hall, while experts in San Francisco work to save a valuable and badly damaged organ. The symphony is on track to reopen with a New Year's Eve concert, featuring violinist Itzhak Perlman.

(2 of 3)

CS Week conference group donates $60,000 to flood relief

Gaps in broadband access persist as use grows

WASHINGTON — The U.S. still faces a significant gap in residential broadband use that breaks down along income, education level and other socio-economic factors, even as subscriptions among American households overall grew sevenfold from 2001 to 2009.
What's more, even when controlling for key socio-economic characteristics, the U.S. continues to confront a racial gap in residential broadband use, with non-Hispanic white Americans and Asian-Americans more likely to go online using a high-speed connection than African-Americans and Hispanics.

Those are some of the key conclusions of a new analysis of census data released Monday by the Commerce Department.

It found that the percentage of households that connect to the Internet using broadband grew to 63.5 percent in 2009 from 9.2 percent in 2001, reflecting increases across nearly all demographics.

The report — prepared by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, or NTIA, and the Economics and Statistics Administration — is based on a census survey of about 54,000 households conducted in October 2009.

The new study provides some of the deepest analysis yet of broadband usage trends in the United States. And it is likely to help guide Congress and the Federal Communications Commission as they develop policies to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable high-speed Internet service.

The analysis, said Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, shows that "there is no single solution" to make this happen.

Among the major findings:

• 94.1 percent of households with income exceeding $100,000 subscribed to broadband in 2009, compared with 35.8 percent of households with income of less than $25,000.

• 84.5 percent of households with at least one college degree subscribed to broadband last year, compared with 28.8 percent of households without a high school degree.

• 77.3 percent of Asian-American households and 68 percent of non-Hispanic white households subscribed to broadband last year, compared with 49.4 percent of African-American households and 47.9 percent of Hispanic households.

(2 of 2)

More Americans’ credit scores sink to new lowsBuyers Interested in Walkability