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THE HOYOS FILE: Seeing things in a new light

Pat Hoyos

THE HOYOS FILE: Seeing things  in a new light

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I thought I needed new glasses. I did the classic double-take. I uttered the perfectly descriptive word “Whuh?”
It turned out I do need new glasses but that had been established before I read the ad in the NATION (Thursday, Page 12, and no doubt thereafter).
“Be part of a new vision,” it said. Of course, the ad itself is enjoying the double meaning. Why? Well, while at first glance you see quite clearly that it is a standard ad for an optometrist, things become a little blurred as your eye moves downward.
You almost have to squint (okay, enough) to see the logo of the company advertising the position. It’s Unicomer.
In Barbados Unicomer owns and operates the Courts furniture and appliance stores through its subsidiary Courts (Barbados) Ltd.
So, are we going to be able to get our eyes checked when we walk into a Courts store in the not-too-distant future? Sounds good to me.
It is no secret that our big retailers have been having a hard time. One of the top people from Unicomer spoke about it at the BCCI’s post-budget breakfast the other day. In fact, he even went so far as to say that Unicomer had considered closing some of the Courts outlets here but were concerned about the effect this would have on the whole economy and that the exit costs to the company would be significant.
So Unicomer is looking to innovate, to find new good reasons for people to come into its stores. It seems to have identified optometry as a good crowd puller. Perhaps it is a niche that really needs filling.
I wouldn’t know. I thought we had plenty of shoe stores around here until Payless Shoe Source came along and suddenly had probably half a dozen outlets. The only thing stopping Subway from opening at such a fast and furious pace as well is that ridiculous
184 per cent duty on most of its meat products. The jury is still out on that one, but if it doesn’t come in soon with the right (and just) verdict Subway might go underground, and not in a good way.
Good innovation is always a breath of fresh air to consumers and, by extension, the economy. It just feels right. For example, one of my favourite places nowadays is Sky Mall’s Food Court. It seems I am always there. Some unkind people even ask me if I work there now, and in a real sense I do. After all, you can get a great latté there.
When the group headed by Bizzy Williams took over Mall Internationale, not only did they immediately do some obvious things – besides burying the awful name – like improving the parking areas and traffic flow, but they began planning to turn the large retail space on the southern side into a food court.
Today this space attracts a great combination of people from all walks of life, and has a perfect ambience.
Another innovation in Barbados, which isn’t all that new, but maybe there is more of it now, is night-time sporting events (please do not interpret that the wrong way). I mean horse racing, soccer at the stadium, hockey, and especially the Caribbean Premier League.
Now, they really knocked that one out of the park. Talk about seeing things in a whole new light.
Yes, there was night cricket and entertainment before at Kensington Oval (unfortunately not before the finals of CWC 2007, ahem), but the CPL pulled it all together, acknowledging the inspiration of the Indian Premier League in terms of the business model (not sure how much night cricket the IPL has) and the result was a phenomenon whose immediate acceptance by the public all over the region was akin to a lion locked up
in a cage being shown an open door.
   It roared and broke free.
   I don’t claim to understand exactly why the formula hit sixes all over the place like a T20 batsman at the end of a match trying to get 25 runs from five deliveries.
   But it did. If I can guess, I would say it had a lot to do with the innovators actually having roots, even if only over the past decade or two, in these parts. There was a cultural subtlety about the whole thing which, as Jony Ive, the genius behind Apple’s innovations, likes to say, is so revolutionary while at the same time being so familiar that the technology just seems to disappear, and is taken for granted.
   All of the CPL efforts at packaging entertainment mixed with sport, although in themselves not new, seemed to have worked together to create a new whole, a product that just resonated. It was a really big thing at the same time that it seemed to be no big thing. The ultimate Jony Ive approach.
   The CPL’s inaugural innings made the Stanford 20/20 look like amateur night.
   Finally, and maybe I will have time to go into this a bit more later on, when you are used to a company innovating, you really notice when it doesn’t.
   For example, there’s Apple. Having invented three of the top product categories of the century – the iPod, iPhone and iPad – the company sans-Jobs seems to have its head down, perfecting its products into the Rolex of mobile phones and launching a sort-of Swatch line below it, but leaving all the fun out of the package.
The excuse is they are not just going to put in a lot of stuff that doesn’t really work together.
When did you get so boring, Apple? You used to put lots of stuff in your products that never really did much, but were so much fun. All those silly apps made you a fortune.
Now you have left the fun to Samsung, a company not known for innovation. Nokia, itself the butt of so many jokes these days since its mobile division got gobbled up by Microsoft, just put out an ad showing their previously released line of pastel-coloured phones in which the screen graphics are automatically colour-coordinated with the phone case. The headline “The best form of flattery is imitation.”
There’s a moral there somewhere.
Pat Hoyos is a long-standing journalist and publisher of the?Broad Street Journal.