Last night, on my way home from work, I encountered my first lemonade stand of the summer. It’s pretty unusual to see one in New York, and something about the city atmosphere made me scream inside “don’t take food from strangers!”, but, of course, I stopped.
The proprietors were two ‘tween-age boys. One of them was attracting attention of passersby (no easy feat in New York) by spinning a dish on a magic wand. Once hooked, customers were asked “small or large” and directed to a sign that listed small for $1 and large for $1.50. (Yeesh!) I ordered one small and was told I could buy two and get one free. I complimented their strong sales pitch, but since I didn’t want to be triple-fisting lemonade for the rest of my walk, I took the one and left.
One sip of the “lemonade” and it went in the garbage. Seriously, I’ve had ice water with a lemon wedge that tasted more like lemonade. Not that I ever expect much out of the product—I think I can safely say I’ve made a purchase from every lemonade stand I could feasibly stop at (what can I say, I like to support budding entrepreneurs), and I’ve never reacted with, “wow, that is good lemonade!”
I JUST DON’T GET THE BIG DEAL WITH SUSAN BOYLE. I watched the video on YouTube. In case you haven’t seen it (but almost everyone I know has), it’s a clip from the British TV show Britain’s Got Talent (which is, from what I can tell, just a televised talent show, with Simon Cowell as the head judge.) It starts with the pre-performance interview showing a small-town, homely 40-something woman, mentioning that she’s never been kissed—Susan Boyle.
She waddles out on stage, in a frumpy, awkward-length dress. For the next few minutes, Simon Cowell and the other two judges make snarky remarks about how simple and unattractive she is (most of which seem to go over her head). It’s uncomfortably obnoxious. She mentions she wants to be like some singer, who I can only assume is a famous British soprano, and states that she’s going to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. (Although, with her Cockney accent, I didn’t realize what she said until she actually started singing.) The mere fact that I was viewing this on YouTube made me certain her performance would either end in Will Hung notoriety or she would do an excellent job.
How often have you had an experience as a customer that was SO awful your immediate reaction is “I have to write them a letter!”?
Last week I had, hands-down, the worst experience I’ve ever had with air travel. My husband, two daughters, and I were coming back to New York from San Diego. Without getting into too much detail, our debacle started with our 6:00 a.m. Delta flight being overbooked (a business practice I begrudgingly understand). An abrasive, chip-on-his-shoulder gate agent apathetically “tried” to get us seats on the flight. When he finally did, he wouldn’t print them, because my husband (who had returned the rental car and was behind us in security) was not with us and, “how did we even know he would show up at all?”—a comment that the implications of which did not escape my 4 year-old daughter.
After not getting on our flight, the same agent made a meager effort to rebook us—at best we would arrive 48 hours later having traveled through who-knows-how-many cities to get home. We ended up purchasing full-fare tickets on Continental and eventually arrived only 12 hours later than expected. Of course, our luggage did make it on our original flight, but since we took a different airline home, Delta was in no rush to get it to us. Another 24 hours, 14 phone calls and $33 later we had our bags. Which, of course, we paid $60 to check in the first place.
To me, Disneyworld is like giving birth. It’s a really painful experience, but you have to do it once for your kids. I went last weekend and realized, though, it has a lot in common with one of my favorite places to visit–Las Vegas. There’s the obvious–two destinations based on unadulterated entertainment of tourists, with themed hotels, people in costume, and wildlife roaming out of their natural habitat. But from a business perspective, I also noticed some interesting marketing commonalities:
Fantasy Exploitation – The Bippety Boppity Boutique is a new addition to Disneyworld (since I was last there 20 years ago). Just like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, they take little girls who dream of being princesses and transform them with shiny costumes, hair extensions, hair spray and glittery makeup. Other little girls see these princesses and want the same look for themselves. The next thing you know, these little princesses are everywhere you look. The thing is, it’s not hard to picture them in 10-15 years with the same shiny costumes, hair extensions, hair spray and glittery makeup, only as cocktail waitresses and showgirls in Vegas. And then it’s their dreams of being an actress, singer or model that are being exploited and used to exploit men who have entirely different fantasies on their mind. It’s disgusting, but it works.
Earlier this week, I was surfing through my Facebook friends’ status updates, and I noticed a former classmate had attended our high school’s career day. She mentioned that it had quickly spiraled into an intense debate as to whether or not one can “have it all.”
By way of background, I went to a stereotypical, ultra-competitive, over-achieving private all-girls school in Washington, D.C. At the age of nine, we were taught that we can and should be anything we want to be. Because it was an all-girls school, it was all girls who were the star athletes, valedictorians, student government leaders, yearbook and newspaper editors. We had an annual “Women in Power” day. In short, we were taught that with the right combination of hard work, social responsibility and, of course, good grades, there was no reason we couldn’t have it all.
No one ever told us that we were chasing an impossible dream. Having it all is an illusion. Life is all about making choices—sacrifices—leaving roads untaken, and anyone who says you “have it all” demeans the sacrifices you’ve made in life. But many women are too caught up in envying the greener grass and don’t take the time to appreciate the decisions they’ve made for themselves.
A few months ago, my husband, Robin, started working out with a personal trainer. When he came home from his first session, he mentioned the trainer asked him to name a celebrity that had the body type he was going for, and Robin told him “Owen Wilson.”
I almost spit out my water. “Interesting choice,” I said. Not that there’s anything wrong with Owen Wilson—he has a perfectly good body. In fact, I thought Owen Wilson was a fair analogy to Robin’s status quo. You know the type—skinny, not-so-toned guy. I just wondered why he needed to enlist a personal trainer for this.
Robin asked, “he’s the guy who’s always hanging around Lance Armstrong, right?” I said yes, but that doesn’t make him fit by association, and I dropped the subject, suspicious that this was too easy a goal.
So typically in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, I can barely find time to talk to my husband, let alone answer all the emails or phone calls that come in to the bakery (try as I might). But, sitting at home on the evening of February 11th, an email came through that particularly caught my attention.
Addressed generally to the bakery: “I am writing from Paris Hilton Entertainment and am looking to get the price quote on a birthday cake for Paris. Please see the attached pictures of what we’re looking for.” (Photos of “Barbie” cakes were attached.) Now, these kind of inquiries are not infrequent to us–assistants or publicists needing something fabulous, usually at the last minute, send out a “fishing expedition” requesting price quotes from all the bakeries they can think of. Usually, by the time I decide if we can complete what they’re looking for in their time frame and maintaining our level of quality AND come up with a price quote, the business has gone to someone else.
But this time was different. Having been recommended by the SoHo Grand, we were the only bakery she had reached out to, and, as luck would have it, she was giving me almost a week’s notice! That is definitely a luxury when dealing with celebrity orders. To make things even smoother, when I got on the phone with her the next day, she couldn’t have been nicer. “Just make it pink and princessy and fabulous.” I was not super-thrilled to do a Barbie cake, as I had always thought they were kind of cheesy, but, with my 3 year old daughter as co-designer, I was starting to find the project pretty exciting.
The following are some websites/organizations I recommend:
For articles and information, specifically to women-owned small businesses:
For inspirational, regional workshops and advice:
My culinary school…great for professional and recreational development:
For another example of a different career path: