Chikashi Miyamoto

Attracting, Cycling, Drinking, Eating, Giving, Persuading and Travelling

A Perennial Challenge in Retail

A bizarre encounter that the Little Brunette had when she recently visited Harrods with her aunt reminded me of a perennial challenge faced by retailers: how to select and train the front of house staff. With the notoriously high employee turnover in retail, it is difficult enough to recruit, train and retain good staff. Training often focusses on things like consultative selling and product knowledge, but what about tact? I suppose the more fundamental question is whether people can actually be trained in tactfulness at all in the short period prior to sending them onto the shop floor if they have not had acquired the basics prior to coming to the job interview.

Or, is it a case of ‘a pig with a lipstick is still a pig’?

The Little Brunette and her aunt were browsing the Saint Laurent concession when a young sales associate approached her and informed the Little Brunette that the Maharishi trousers she was wearing are fake. Immediately following the declaration, the sales associate dove down to physically examine the trousers and in the process stuck a few fingers inside the trouser waist. Both the Little Brunette and my sister were too deep in a WTF moment to do or say anything.

I am an ex-Harrodian from Mohamed Al Fayed’s days. I like Mo for reasons that the media never mentions. It was never dull to be summoned to his office; it must be said that it helps to take one’s job, but not oneself, seriously when dealing with a personality like Mo. When Mo was chairman, it would have been extremely unlikely that the above episode would have occurred. If it did, he would have found out about it in no time and would have immediately and permanently removed the sales associate from the premises, regardless of whether the sales associate was actually on the concessionaire’s payroll. However, I do not know how the place works these days.

Was it tactlessness or an overwhelming, puerile desire to appear knowledgeable about a product, a product that had nothing to do with YSL? Even if she had been right, what would have been the point of her remark? Did she think that it might lead to her making a sale of Saint Laurent products? Do I hear Yves spinning in his grave, Pierre sneezing?

The Saint Laurent, Harrods episode reminded me of an experience few years ago.

I brought in my briefcase to the Bottega Veneta boutique in Paris to have a repair done. With nearly 2 decades of abuse, one of the handle loops was falling apart and needed a replacement. Considering the abuse it endured for a long period of time, I was actually surprised that it held up so long, having done well over a million air miles with me and being subjected to unreasonable load, dust, dirt, heat, cold, extreme humidity, downpours as well as acute aridity. This was in contrast to their soft-sided suitcase and garment bag that fell apart beyond repair much earlier.

I was attended to by a young sales associate of Chinese extraction who listened to what I wanted. He proceeded to give a thorough examination of my briefcase, clearly in search of a clue of some sort, perhaps for that rather pointless paper ‘certificate of authenticity’ that had been sewn into the seam inside the interior pocket but fell off shortly after I started using it. Perhaps he was searching for some sort of feature that BV implemented after the company was sold to the Gucci Group, now Kering.

‘Where did you buy this briefcase?’

‘In New York, from the Bottega Veneta boutique.’

‘In New York?’

‘Yes, Madison Avenue and 59th Street.’ [Not Canal Street, mind.]

‘When did you buy it?’

‘About 18 years ago.’ [My dear squirt, that’s 1991 or 1992. The Chinese counterfeiters had not even heard of BV yet. Before the Gucci Group. When you were still wearing nappies.]

Still looking into every gusset and pocket, ‘So you bought it in New York about 18 years ago?’

‘Yes.’ [Is that a drop of breast milk behind your ear?]

He shuffled off to consult with his manager, returned, filled out a work order form and took in my briefcase. Needless to say, I did not spend any more time in the shop than I needed to.

Bottega Veneta briefcase

The briefcase came back a few weeks later looking mint, with new handle loops, handle and serrure, the original of which was actually looking a bit tatty from being banged up numerous times. I forget what the repair cost was, but it was a nominal amount, with very little operating margin, if any. It was a happy ending with the briefcase getting a new lease on life, but the episode had an unfortunate start, thanks to some sprout who fancied himself an expert but didn’t know how to handle himself.

The feedback in consumer suverys that come up time after time in various countries is a reason why many consumers prefer to shop online: not having to deal with sales people. Retailers have had this personnel challenge for as long as the trade has existed. The only difference in modern times is that consumers have the alternative of not dealing directly with another human being in order to complete a transaction. The opportunities to build and nurture customer relationship and loyalty are not as abundant despite all that is being said about benefits arising from good online shopping experience.

Ironically, because it is a human problem, it is more difficult to address than overhauling a web site. Commerce has become much more transactional than in the past. Many retailers and brands moan about consumers’ declining sense of loyalty. However, experiences like the above will only serve to accelerate the evolution. There are market segments where this is actually desirable even from the retailer’s standpoint. Whether a venerable maison belongs to one of those segments is a different question.

Conversion to the Cult of Tubulars

I am not entirely certain what finally pushed me over the edge, but I recently had a tubular wheel set built by my favourite wheel builder, Gilbert Cattoir. The current prognosis after having done about 500 km is that I might be completely hooked.

At the risk of sounding rather quaint in the age where ‘aero’ and ‘carbon’ routinely pop up in discussions about bicycle wheels, my idea of a dream road wheel set has been one built with Ambrosio Nemesis rims and Campagnolo Record hubs. The only thing that held me back from getting a set built was the fact that it would involve the use of tubular tyres. Of course, I had all the concerns about the possible downside of using tubs, like anyone accustomed to, and have bought into the idea of, the benefits of clincher tyres with inner tubes. The upside of clinchers seemed to outweigh their downside, and the downside of tubulars seemed to outweigh their upside. If you have bothered to read this far, then you already know what they are.

A few years ago, when I was anticipating my first entry in the Paris Roubaix Challenge, I had gone to see Gilbert about wheels. He brought out an unlaced Nemesis and told me that this is the rim I should be using. I thought, ‘Dood, don’t tease me. I really want a Nemesis wheel but cannot get my head around the tubs thing. What if I have a flat???’ So, I stuck with clinchers.

Fast forward a few years during which time my priority was grippy but very durable tyres. The Continental Grand Prix 4-Season was at the top of the heap as far as I was concerned. Then I switched to the newly launched Panasonic Gravel King that claimed durability, stickiness and versatility with road surface variations. The Gravel Kings roll much faster and was much more supple and supremely confident going around corners. In other words, they have a much better ride quality at a lower price, and I actually had much fewer punctures. Consequently, ‘ride quality’ bubbled up as one of my new priorities. When the Gravel King got retired because of a large-ish gash, I switched to Veloflex Master with latex inner tube. After 1,000 km on the Masters without flatting once, I decided that ride quality is now my top priority.

Punctures are inevitable regardless of the type of tyre. If I’m going to get a flat anyway, I’d rather get one whilst rolling on tyres with great ride quality, I thought. Life is too short for harsh tyres.

Of course, this got my mind wandering back to tubular tyres and Ambrosio Nemesis. I started reading up on admittedly completely biased views of tubular tyre proponents. They were encouraging, but you need to treat opinions floating around on the Internet, like the one you’re reading right now, with a big pinch of salt particularly since you tend not to know anything about these people. And then, I found out that Greg LeMond always rides tubs. Always has, still does. Everyday.

Ambrosio… a name steeped in Spring Classics history and lore… a fabulous underwear model was born with the same name, under the same stars as me…a fabled Neapolitan bespoke trouser maker goes by a very similar name. Ergo, I really should get them. Amazing how a mind can get incredibly creative in an attempt to rationalise something.

But I think the LeMond story pushed me over the edge:  Gilbert, build me an Ambrosio Nemesis / Campagnolo Record / Sapim Race set, please… Et voilà. Handbuilt by Gilbert Cattoir, 32h Ambrosio Nemesis rims Campagnolo Record hubs Sapim Race spokes FMB Paris Roubaix tyres, how to mount a tubular tyre I didn’t see much point in doing this tubular thing without getting good tubs, so I considered Veloflex and FMB. I decided on FMB’s Paris Roubaix 25. François despatched the tyres to me without delay, and I glued them on using Vittoria Mastik One. I did consider having the tubs mounted by Gilbert or at the LBS, but I figured that I won’t learn unless I did it myself, especially if I need to perform a tyre swap on the road. I didn’t think it was too traumatic actually.

Gerry, to answer your question, yes, the ride quality is ‘da shit’. I think the result will depend significantly on the selection of tyres and rims, and as such, I think that you would end up with a very different impression if you were to use, for example, Tufo tubs. The Nemesis / FMB (inflated to 6 1/2 bar rear, 6 bar front) is so cushy on tarmac that it feels like you’re gliding over the surface.

With 3-cross 32 spokes, I thought that the Nemesis would be sluggish in acceleration, but it’s not. As many veteran wheel builders argue, the spokes don’t weigh much so decreasing the spoke count won’t give you much advantage but instead will only give you weaker wheels. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Nemesis is sprightly, but given that it is a tubular rim, it is not shouldered with all the extra rotational weight that clincher rims have.

What has been a real eye-opener is the way they roll over cobbles and gravel over washboard surface (at 5 3/4 bar rear, 5 1/2 bar front). In a word, wow. I don’t think I can describe it adequately in words, except to say this: when riding with clinchers, the road ahead tends to appear blurred because of the vibration coming from below, but with the Nemesis / FMB, the road ahead appeared clear and defined. I’m referring to the Belgian cobbles rather than, say, the Trouée d’Arenberg or Carrefour de l’Arbre, so I am not claiming that my observation is universally true. That said, the visual feedback is actually quite astonishing. Handbuilt by Gilbert Cattoir, 32h Ambrosio Nemesis rims Campagnolo Record hubs Sapim Race spokes FMB Paris Roubaix tyres, how to mount a tubular tyre The Nemesis is nicknamed the Queen of the North. The colour of the bike is named after Marquise de Pompadour, and the chief mistress is said to have had a cordial relationship with Queen Marie. It all seems auspicious. That would make me Louis XV, n’est ce pas? OK, maybe not. But I’m a card-carrying member of the Tubs Cult.

For those considering entering the world of tubulars, some practical notes on how to mount a tubular tyre:

Mounting tubs is a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it before. I’ve been there. However, the truth is that it’s not as hairy as one thinks. It just requires a bit of patience because it takes a few days for the layers of cement to cure. As far as mounting instructions are concerned, I found Colin ‘Chip’ Howat’s narrative most helpful. Howat is an engineering professor that has done extensive research on how best to mount tubs using which cement. This piece is very helpful in understading the why, how and what of mounting tubs: ‘Tubular Tires: Adhesives and Practice’. The only step that I would add is to cover the rim’s side walls with electrical tape before you start layering on the cement. Like this: Handbuilt by Gilber Cattoir, how to mount a tubular tyre This will prevent excess cement to get on the side walls. The electrical tape is to be removed once the tyre is mounted, revealing a clean set of braking surface.

If you really want to geek out on gluing tubs, then you can read Howat’s other papers on tubular tyre adhesion (Parts 1-4 is the main paper linked in the preceding paragraph). They are not essential reading material, but they might be of interest to thermodynamics nerds. (I didn’t even know that there is a difference between bond and adhesion…)

If you use, or are thinking of using, carbon rims, then you should also read this piece about Continental Carbon Rim Cement. The background is Howat’s previous research on adhesion to carbon rims.

If you find video instructions helpful in visualising some of the bits explained by Howat, here are 2 clips that I found helpful. However, I still think it’s important to read Howat’s piece and treat the video clips as visual aids. Good luck.

Teletubbies in Black and White, Set to Joy Division

Originally posted on Nobody Puts Baby in a Horner:

I find this comforting, like a Bergman movie.

[via Mashable. Much love to Nathan for this.]

View original

Why Is It Called a Nipple?

I recently enquired about some specs on rims for tubular tyres. Given that the tyres will be glued on, I wanted to make sure that the rims are made to take external, not internal, nipples in case the wheels need to be trued at any point after the tubs have been mounted. Outies, not innies.

Someone called Nancy replied, so I’ve been exchanging emails with a woman about nipples, amongst other things.

She said that I can have external nipples. I thought, I love it.

I believe that the French simply refer to it as écrou, which means nut. Terribly unimaginative, but ruthlessly efficient.

I Just Learned a New Word

Vajazzle.

OK, so it seems that I’ve been under a rock for several years…

I don’t imagine that it’s a good look anywhere except, perhaps, at the Rio Carnival.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I took a computer programming course and earned an A for effort and F for grade. I vajazzled.

If Savile Row Made Chain Lubes…

NFS for SilcaI have yet to decide which I dislike more, a noisy chain or a dirty chain. I had been using a  wax-based chain lubricant, White Lightning Clean Ride, because I wanted to minimise the need to clean the chain frequently and to avoid the chain ‘tattoo’ on the right leg resulting from touching the contaminated chain oil. I recently ditched the Clean Ride and switched to an oil-based chain lube.

I was sold on the theory of how a wax-based lubricant can minimise friction whilst expelling contamints as the rollers of the chain moved, which is why I started using Clean Ride several years ago. It meant that the chain needed cleaning less frequently whilst running smoothly and silently without the dirt-atttracting oil. Nice theory. Reality didn’t live up to the theory, but the problem was finding a better alternative. I switched to Pedro’s oil-based Go! chain lube for a little while but wasn’t impressed. Consequently, I went back to Clean Ride.

And then, I caught onto a lot of fuss being made about a chain lube that Josh Simonds cooked up, Nix Frix Shun. Silent, smooth running and long lasting even in nasty conditions. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Simonds was asked by Joshua Poertner of the new Silca to cook up a more ‘performance’ version of the lube and came up with a slightly lighter sauce, which is what I have been using for the last 2000 km. It does what it says on the tin. It is impressive: quiet, smooth, and lasts longer than anything else I’ve tried. Additionally, both NFS and Silca claim that the little bottle will last 16,000 km, but I think that it is a conservative estimate.

Because unlike other products on the market, it is 100% lube and solvent-free, it does smell like motor oil. Therefore, it’s not for aromatherapy unless you’re a certifiable motorhead. However, it is that way for a very good reason: no solvents.

What surprises me even more is the fact it seems easier to keep the chain clean. It doesn’t seem to attract all that much dirt.

The little bottle is full of surprises.

I would be interested in trying the original NFS sauce as well, perhaps in winter.

Get one. You’ll be delighted. 

A Tip for Fathers (and Husbands and Lovers) Visiting a Victoria’s Secret Flagship Store

Victoria's Secret New Bond Street London There are women’s undergarment shops, and there are women’s undergarment shops.

The former are found amongst department stores like Harrods or Bergdorf Goodman and boutiques of more established brands like La Perla or that of a relatively new market entrant like Agent Provocateur. There is usually a reasonably comfortable chair somewhere in the corner. We boys can sit down and do some serious people-watching. Witnessing the clientele in all sizes and shapes going through the racks and holding up pieces in all sizes and shapes that pique their interest, one can go through a very broad range of emotions from horror to bemusement to, on rare occasions, delight. Some of the clients are old enough to remember being an 18-year old fainting whilst screaming S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night! at a Bay City Rollers concert.

You walk into the latter, and you think you took a wrong turn and entered a One Direction gig. Absolutely packed with teenagers who have never even heard of Bay City Rollers or seen a rotary telephone. In the middle of New Bond Street.

Bond Street used to be a very different thoroughfare.

But, never mind, you’re there with your own teenager(s). And, you’re being weighed down with sensory overload. The overwhelming scent in the fragrance department near the entrance, the crowd, the youthful energy, the loud clothes they’re wearing… You’d think that seeing all those MAMiLs regularly would have prepared you for seeing all those girls wearing fluorescent clothing, but no, the density and intensity of the visual onslaught are of a different scale. You feel light-headed. A large martini to ease the nerves would be lovely. The bar at Claridge’s is just around the corner, but it might as well be a million miles away.

What to do? Leave the girls to their own devices and head to the top floor. There are comfortable chairs (yes, more than one) and benches. And, the loo. Clean, spacious and walls covered with framed photos of VS Angels with come-to-bed eyes. It’s silent, and there is no crowd. It’s just you (and perhaps another poor sod) and the Angels. Take a deep breath. Splash some cold water on your face. Relax.

It’s the most appropriately decorated boys’ room, perhaps with the exception of one that is decorated with Pirelli calendar images.

Presumably, the girls’ loo is decorated in an identical manner. Over there, the images are inspiring them to wear Victoria’s Secret products in the hopes that the little garments will make them look like the Angels, before they rush back to the shop floor to grab a few more products.

And, we boys can stay on the top floor until the girls are done.

Brilliant. 

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