Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Geek Squad founder has harsh words for Best Buy

Posted: 04/02/2014 12:01:00 AM CDT

Updated: 04/02/2014 12:08:48 AM CDT

Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens has been mostly silent about his 10-year tenure at Best Buy, the final two years as chief technology officer.

And even after he left in 2012, he couldn't say much because of lingering contractual ties with the Richfield-based big-box technology retailer.

Those ties lapsed this week. Now, Stephens has released a candid memo ( https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/9008/pioneerpress/stephensmemo.pdf) he sent to Best Buy management not long before heading out the door.

The retailer was, and still is, struggling to survive in an age of booming Internet commerce. Stephens intended his memo to serve as a call to arms and a blueprint for Best Buy's future.

"I don't have an adversarial relationship with them," Stephens, who now lives in San Francisco, said in an interview. "But everyone I know in Silicon Valley can't believe there is not more excitement going on there."

Best Buy's thriving online nemesis, Coupon Code.com">Amazon.com, "is not going to kill physical retail," Stephens added. "It's going to kill mediocre retail."

Stephens left a company in disarray. "Showrooming," a concept where shoppers browse physical stores and then find lower prices online, was a major challenge.

But for the past 20 months, Best Buy has been under new management. CEO Hubert Joly's team has pushed more employee training, stronger online capabilities, stronger customer service (through Geek Squad) and even embraced the vision of Best Buy as a "showroom."

Through price matching, Best Buy has turned "showrooming" into instant gratification for shoppers who don't want to wait for Amazon's shipment to arrive.

In February, Joly called the Geek Squad "one of Best Buy's biggest competitive advantages, and yet, at the same time, it is an underutilized asset."

The two brands, now inseparable, were married in a 2002 business deal that brought Stephens on board. Stephens founded the mobile tech-help company in Minneapolis in 1994.

The 2012 memo did not mince words about Best Buy's predicament and the need for drastic action.

"Nothing short of radical will accomplish much now," Stephens wrote.

In the memo, Stephens called for:

Better workers, better training. "We will employ the best people in retail at all cost to us," he said. "Hire for curiosity above all else. Curiosity for the customer, curiosity for the tech, passion and persistence."

A generous employee discount on Best Buy products is one essential variable "because it is the greatest training program ever devised."

Humility. "The public is rooting for us," he wrote. "How many turnaround stories have we seen? The public is used to them and even expects them. The only thing people love more than seeing a giant fall, is seeing it humble itself, and resurrect itself."

He added: "Admit our mistakes. Immediately. They will forgive us. We then must work tirelessly to avoid repeating mistakes. If we're going to make a mistake, it should always come from trying to create some amazing new customer benefit. Customers will always cheer those 'failures.' "

Simplicity. At a time when "anything can be Googled," it is essential for Best Buy shopping to be friction-free, Stephens wrote.

He proposed one cardinal rule for workers: "Don't ever say, 'I don't know.' Say, 'I'll find out.' At the end of the day, customers don't expect rocket science from any retail employee, but they expect us to try. The majority of complaints stem not from lack of knowledge, but lack of trying."

Free tech support. "Anything you purchase from us should come with some level of support for free beyond anything the manufacturer provides."

Digital and mobile first. Best Buy's stores should answer to those in charge of the retailers' website, not the other way around, he said.

"Make the stores part of the dot-com universe, (and) every system being changed or built will be built for the mobile interface first, then for tablet, finally for desktop. ... Stop buying PCs inside the company," and let employees bring their "own device, or provide tablet, or mobile at minimum."

Embrace being Amazon's showroom. "Go further: Become the Internet's showroom."

Kill the social media team: "Everyone is on the social-media team. No more press releases or corporate-speak."

Stephens also made some more-predictable recommendations in the memo, such as closing stores that did poorly, slashing spending, cutting the staff and otherwise streamlining and automating. That has been happening at Best Buy.

The memo in early 2012, just before the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, was prompted in part by a just-published, scathing Forbes magazine article: "Why Best Buy is going out of business ... gradually," at bitly.com/bestbuygoingout.

In his memo, Stephens wrote, "We owe (article author) Larry Downes a huge favor. We should call a spade a spade, and give him credit."

Stephens, in an interview last week, said then-CEO Brian Dunn did not take him and his ideas seriously enough, he now believes.

Around the time Stephens was considering a departure, Dunn was involved in a relationship with a female co-worker that later would become public and be deemed "improper." This led to Dunn's departure from the company and a year-long leadership vacuum.

Stephens said his vision for the company while CTO included:

-- Using his bully pulpit to help reform obvious failings in the tech industry, such as getting Sony to make its technology more open and prodding Microsoft to make its more mobile.

-- Going Google big-time by embracing the technology titan's Android operating system and "putting it in every picture frame, washing machine and television."

-- Using Best Buy as a showcase for emerging tech trends like home automation, robotics and wearable tech. The stores would have been terrific places to feature experimental but brimming-with-potential products from Kickstarter and Quirky.com, he said.

-- Making the Geek Squad, which remains the retailer's customer tech-help arm, "the tech department for every company in America with under 100 employees."

Stephens, who is now heading up as-yet-undisclosed startup projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he made Best Buy an offer as he prepared to quit. He proposed using Silicon Valley as the springboard for a new kind of Best Buy: a "retail lab" to experiment with fresh, promising tech-retail approaches.

The company, he said, did not take him up on that.

Tom Webb contributed to this report.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marketing and More: A tale of two Sears letters

Cruises - dinners - hotel accommodations - theater tickets - gift cards - amusement park tickets - merchandise... it's a long list of what I've received over the years from companies apologizing when their product or service failed to match their marketing promise. The list is even longer when you include letters I've written for family and friends.

I also write letters of compliment when I am extremely satisfied with a product or service or when an employee has gone above and beyond expectations. If warranted, I'll post a positive online review.

Washing Machine - RIP

A recent experience with my sears credit card Kenmore washing machine highlights what happens when customer service and marketing promises collide.

Our washing machine finally died on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. After a respectable mourning period - about five minutes - I drove to the Sears store in the Buena Park Mall to purchase a new unit. The saleswoman said the first available delivery day was Sunday, Dec. 29 - four weeks later!

Although I've been a rather loyal Sears Kenmore customer for many years, I should have canceled the order rather than wait four weeks for delivery.

Pay now, receive merchandise later

Finally, the washing machine was delivered and installed. Receiving what I thought was the first statement, I was dumbfounded that Sears had charged me a $25 late charge along with $8.42 in interest charges.

Annoyed about the late fee and finance charge, I wrote two letters:

  • Letter #1 - to the customer service department using the address listed on the credit card statement.
  • Letter #2 - to Edward Lampert, chief executive officer of Sears Roebuck & Co.

Sears responds

A few weeks later, the Sears Cardmember Services department sent me a form letter stating there was nothing they could do about the $25 late charge or $8.42 interest charge.

A few days later, "BR," Sears Blue Ribbon Service Case Manager, wrote to me on behalf of CEO Lampert:

Post office box versus CEO office

Let's review the situation. Unhappy that Sears began its billing cycle the day I placed the order although the item could not be delivered until four weeks later, I wrote to the Sears Customer Service department via their post office box and the Sears CEO.

Results of my letter to the Sears Cardmember customer service department:

      Received a callous form letter stating that they couldn't do anything about the $25 late fee or $8.42 charge.

Results of my letter to CEO Lampert:

  • Received a heartfelt email message with an apology stating I am valued as a Sears customer.
  • Received a Sears $25 gift card.
  • Received removal of the $25 late charge from my credit card statement.
  • Received removal of the $8.42 interest charge from my credit card statement.
  • Received assurance that the late charge was not reported to any credit agencies.

Is my experience unique?

In "A Day at Sears Reveals Pitfalls of Retail Tech Implementation," author Michael Hickins discusses Sears' effort to improve its customer service with technology. His article begins with -

How YOU can get results

Viewers of the popular CBS program "Undercover Boss" know that disguised CEOs are often shocked to discover that their view from the board room isn't the same as the view from the stock room.

If you have an issue with a product or service, here are my suggestions to improving your chances for a positive conclusion:

  • Write to the address listed on the credit card statement so the system notes that that you sent a response. At the same time, write to the chief executive officer.
  • Be respectful to customer service representatives since they are often limited in what they can do. Keep notes as to when you called and who you spoke with.
  • Stick to the facts and include metrics; keep emotions to a bare minimum.
  • Do not say/write that you are going to take your future business elsewhere. Instead reiterate your loyalty. After all, if you are no longer going to be a customer, why should the company care about resolving your issue?
  • Ask for the response in writing (email or letter). This way, you have documentation.

If you ever find yourself disappointed, don't just post, tweet and tell family and friends. Contact the company's CEO and you might be pleasantly surprised to find that they truly want their product or service to parallel their company's marketing promises. At the same time, when satisfied with a product or service, write and post a letter of compliment.

For more information on current conditions in retail, read KPMB's Retail Outlook Survey for 2013 (pdf).

Editor's note: we recently had to replace a dead dryer, and I went to the very same Sears store. According to the sales clerk, washers and dryers labeled Whirlpool, Maytag, or Kenmore are manufactured by the same company! I am happy to report that our new dryer was delivered the very next day - the difference, I suspect, being that we weren't buying during the holiday shopping season.

About the Author

Robin Marlena Itzler has worked in some facet of marketing, communications or training throughout her career. Recognized for her marketing expertise, Robin is theMarketing Maven for the "Orange County Breeze," where her columns intertwine marketing and politics. She also authors the Pet Tails feature in the monthly "Breeze" print edition and Market My Words in Pet Sitters International's "World" magazine. As a training coordinator and public speaker, Robin is involved with a variety of projects - facilitating public speaking, writing and generational differences workshops. She and her husband own Royal Care Pet Sitting, which has been serving pet owners since 1998. Their love for animals began as humane shelter volunteers where for nearly 20 years they walked and bathed rescued dogs. A former NASD licen sed securities representative, Robin once served as president of the Animal Assistance League of Orange County In 2011, she founded Motivate Your Something. Along with her autobiography, Life Is an Open Seating, Robin promotes her belief that everyone has at least one challenge in life that makes getting to the starting line harder. What is Robin's something? She is legally deaf.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This week's best shopping deals: Save £150 on THESE hidden bargains

The savvy shopper would have to visit multiple stores to see exactly what was on offer in their local area - so if nothing else you would save a fortune on gym memberships with all the walking around.

But who REALLY has the time or the energy to trawl the shops to find out where the latest best prices are?

Thankfully, those days are gone for good.

Now, with the simple click of a mouse, you can find the Amazon Deal Online. And comparison site MySupermarket.co.uk even lets you build your weekly shopping basket and compares prices from Tesco, Sainsbury's, Ocado, Waitrose, Asda and Aldi, Boots and Superdrug to tell you where you should shop to save the most.

Using their service, you could save an impressive £850-a-year - that's free money in your bank to spend however you like.


* Download the MySupermarket App Its FREE!
* Boots: Nivea Sun Regenerating After Sun Balm 300ml was £9.00 now £4.50, this is a great time to stock up for the summer, and you get those points too.
* Boots: Oral B Professional Care Triumph 5000 Electric Toothbrush was £199.00 now £79.99, that's a massive saving of £120.00.
* Boots: Wilkinson Sword Hydro Moisturising Shaving Gel 240ml was £3.59 now £1.79
* Asda: Right Guard Xtreme Invisible Antibacterial Anti Perspirant Deodorant £1.00 at Asda compared to £2.29 at Tesco.
* Asda: Gillette Fusion Manual Blades (4) down from £9.89 to just £5.00 shaving of £4.89!
* Sainsbury's: Pantene Pro-V 1 Minute Wonder Ampoule, 3 x 15ml down from £4.00 to just £2.00
* Sainsbury's: Pampers New Baby Sensitive Size 1 Newborn 2-5kg £3.99 compared to £ 5.99 at Morrison's.
* Tesco: Garnier Nutritionist Skin Naturals Nutritionist Caffeine Eye Roll On down from £9.99 to £4.99, and still beating all other stores which have a similar offer.
* Tesco: Johnson's Face Care Makeup Be Gone Extra Sensitive Wipes down from £3.05 to £1.50. * Set your preferred store and make your shopping list
* Then see what you can save by taking your list to the best deal in town, which will be £17.00 on average for each time you use the app
* If you haven't done so already enrol into any and all of the loyalty schemes
* Tell all of your friends how they can save too, they will be glad you did

Here are my best deals of the week all found on MySupermarket.co.uk using just their Health & Beauty section. And I didn't even leave my house!

So, Just by visiting one department on MySupermarket I have found savings which total over £150.00. Imagine what you can do with a whole month's worth of shopping!

If you only do one thing today try it for yourself! And come back again tomorrow for the latest deals and bargains to be found across Britain...

Monday, March 24, 2014

The End Is in Sight for Lands' End at Sears

It's finally happening. After months of speculation on the timing, NASDAQ: sears outlet Holdings ( SHLD ) says it will spin off its clothing retailer Lands' End next month, allowing it to exist on its own as a publicly traded company that will reside on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol LE.

Acquired in 2002 for $1.9 billion, Lands' End has been lost in the rubble of what its holding company parent has become, and its spinoff will mark yet another step in the dismantling of the once-iconic retailer. Also jettisoned from the Sears stable over the past few years were Orchard Supply Hardware (which was bought out of bankruptcy by Lowe's), Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores,and Sears Canada.

The Lands' End business is largely online and catalog-based, featuring a mix of clothing, footwear, and home products, but there are several stand-alone stores and several hundred store-within-a-store shops inside Sears. Although the business is profitable, its image has been tarnished by its association with the retailer, which has seen losses widen exponentially as shoppers abandon it in droves. When Sears Chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert recently tried to shop the retailer, there were apparently no takers.

Lampert is under pressure from investors in his hedge fund who've tired of waiting for a turnaround that's always around the next corner. Recently they pulled money out of his ESL Partners, necessitating he distribute some 7 million shares to them, which dropped his ownership stake in Sears to 48.4% from 55.4%. It's still a sizable position and he says the distribution doesn't reflect his confidence in the retailer's eventual recovery, but it suggests even the staunchest of believers are growing weary.

The dwindling department store chain reported earnings last month that, as Lampert admits, didn't offer much new: mounting losses, dwindling cash, and diminished sales. Yet he continued to defend his decision to not invest in his stores, believing that customers don't want "decor and fixtures," just a means of shopping when they want, how they want. In short, since they're shopping online more anyway, why waste money fixing things up?

Contrast that strategy with fellow troubled retailer J.C. Penney, which is also pursuing an omnichannel approach to sales, but is investing in its stores (it will soon unveil its "store of the future") as well as in new product. It's by no means out of the woods, but there's a noticeable uptick in sales and even market share.

But why do that when you can just spin off assets for a payday while saddling the new company with debt? Lands' End will pay Sears a cash dividend of $500 million before the spinoff that will be financed with a new term loan. It may also borrow up to $175 million for working capital. Investors will receive 0.3 shares of Lands' End stock for every share of Sears Holdings they own. The new shares will begin trading on April 7.

I keep waiting for something to emerge from Sears that shows it's serious about the turnaround it says it wants to happen, but instead we get superficial changes that do nothing to restore the fundamental value it could have. I disagree with those analysts who say Sears Holdings' store of value is in its real estate, since to me that is a defeatist attitude calculated for companies that are otherwise stripped naked. Then again, with another vestige of the old retailer being taken away with the Lands' End spinoff and the possibility the automotive center business will soon follow, perhaps they have a point.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Best March Madness 2014 Deals, Discounts and Coupons

You might think about betting money on some NCAA basketball games during the 2014 March Madness tournament, but above all, you should bet your bottom dollar on saving money during this amped-up sporting event. Many retailers are offering promotions and sales. Let's take a look at some of the best savings out there.

TV Deals

You can't watch the games all home without a TV, and many retailers have offers for lower priced electronics and televisions:

  • Dell coupon code F6QLF1RRZJ$GVJ saves you $460 off the LG 60 Plasma Smart HDTV. Expires: March 25.
  • Save during the Sears sale for up to 30 percent off TVs and electronics. Exclusions apply. Expires: March 22.
  • Use Abe's of Maine coupon code GIFTCARD50 for a free $50 gift card with you select TV order. For a limited time only. Expires: March 24.
  • Take advantage of this special for a free $500 Crutchfield rewards card with your select LG HDTV order. Expires: March 30.
  • Get up to 20 percent off TVs and electronics at Kmart during their sale. Expires: March 22.
Related: First Day of Spring 2014 Freebies and Discounts

Sporty Savings

Witnessing the action might inspire you to play. Shoot hoops for less, and represent the team you are rooting for with fan gear and sporting goods:

  • Save during the Eastbay Basketball Sale. Online only. Restrictions apply. Expires soon.
  • Finish Line is offering up to 50 percent off NCAA apparel, plus free shipping on many items. Expires: March 28.
  • Shop during this Walmart sale to get a Lifetime 44″ Pro Court Basketball Hoop for only $104. Expires: April 10.
  • Sports Kids has special pricing with 30 percent off NCAA items. Expires soon.
  • Use the College Shack coupon code MADNESS5 for $5 off your $25 or more order. Expires: April 30.
  • Save during the Rawlings gear sale for 15 percent off basketballs. Expires: April 1.
  • Lids has a 2 for $25 special with select NCAA hats. Expires soon.

Fan-Friendly Sales

Everyone wants to get in the game. Even stores unrelated to basketball are offering March Madness savings:

  • Save up to 70 percent off with the Heidi Daus Designs March Madness sale. Expires: March 31.
  • There is a Magazines.com extra 20 percent off March Savings Madness sale, where you can save on ESPN, Paula Dean, Girl's Life and many more. Expires: March 20.
  • Save 15 percent off any order plus get free shipping when you apply MagicMurals coupon code MADNESS15. Expires: March 20.
  • Use Nearly Natural coupon code MARCHMADNESS for 10 percent off all orders for silk flowers. Expires: March 31.
  • SmartWool coupon code MARCHMADNESS gets you free shipping on any order. Expires: March 31.
  • Get a Sports Shot Glass for only $5 at Things Remembered with your Sports Mug order. Expires: April 13.
BeFrugal.com features cash back, online and Deal News restaurant coupons, weekly ads, deals and bargains, as well as web-based tools to help consumers save time and money. Photo credit: Erik Charlton Join for free today and get paid to be frugal!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

TODAY'S DEALS: SARES-REGIS Acquires San Jose Apartments

<Promotional Codesp>San Jose, Calif.-SARES-REIGS Multifamily Fund has completed its sixth acquisition with the purchase of Alterra, a 143-unit apartment community in San Jose, Calif. The 5.1-acre gated community at 1640 La Rossa Circle was built in 1988. It is near the Almaden Expressway, Highway 87 and less than one mile from the VTA, Santa Clara's light rail system, and Caltrain.

"Alterra offers a solid value-add opportunity to renovate and reposition the property so it competes with neighboring communities while capitalizing on the region's significant employment and rental growth," says Kenneth Gladstein, Co-Chief Investment Officer of the SARES-REGIS Multifamily Fund. "Alterra is our third acquisition in California since we formed the fund last year."

Although the previous owner completed significant exterior and common-area renovation, the apartment interiors are original, Gladstein says. The value-add program for Alterra includes upgrading of kitchen cabinets, countertops, stainless appliances, flooring, lighting and plumbing fixtures.

"Once completed, the newly renovated apartment homes will offer residents a value alternative to brand-new product coming into the market," Gladstein adds.

The Fund was launched in 2013 by SARES-REGIS Group with more than $100 million in equity commitments, giving it the ability to acquire more than $300 million in assets.

Kiser Group brokers $28.9M Chicago sale

Chicago-Kiser Group represented the seller of an eight-building, 236-unit portfolio of apartment and mixed-use properties on Chicago's North Side. New York-based Pioneer Acquisitions purchased the portfolio for $28.9 million in a sale that closed March 5, 2014.

Family owned for more than 60 years, the portfolio included an apartment building in West Rogers Park; an apartment building and mixed-use retail and apartment property in Lincoln Square; four properties in Ravenswood; and a mixed-use retail and apartment building in Irving Park.

"This rare opportunity attracted several investors," says Lee Kiser, principal of Kiser Group. He and Michael D'Agostino, managing director of Kiser Group, represented the seller in the transaction. "It's an enormous portfolio in a strong location with upside potential.

"Many of the units are rented at below-market levels, so the buyer could immediately reap additional income by increasing rents," Kiser adds. "Also, with some minor renovations, many of the large one-bedroom units could easily be converted into two-bedroom apartments, further adding value and increasing the portfolio's annual income."

The seller regularly made upgrades throughout the past six decades, so the buildings have little to no deferred maintenance. All the buildings include coin-operated washers and dryers, private storage lockers, intercom security and secure bicycle areas.

"These high-quality apartments are located in sought-after neighborhoods on Chicago's North Side," D'Agostino said. "Also, the large rooms, high ceilings, hardwood floors and irreplaceable vintage architectural details made this portfolio enticing to buyers."

The eight-building portfolio included the following properties.

West Rogers Park

    -7434-38 N. Artesian / 2432-34 W. Fargo is a corner 12-unit apartment building located immediately south of the Evanston border. It consists entirely of one-bedroom, one-bath units. The property also has a two-car garage.

Lincoln Square

  • 4621-25 N. Lincoln / 2259-63 W. Eastwood is a mixed-use building that includes four retail spaces fronting busy Lincoln Avenue and 25 apartments. Long-term commercial tenants occupy three of these units. The apartment mix includes seven one-bedroom, one-bath units; and 18 studios.
  • 2243-51 W. Eastwood, a 16-unit apartment building located just off Lincoln Avenue, is a vintage walk-up consisting entirely of one-bedroom, one-bath apartments.


  • 2104-24 W. Foster (40 units) sits across from Winnemac Park and includes two 20-unit buildings consisting entirely of one-bedroom, one-bath apartments. The property also offers 15 parking spaces.
  • 5073-75 N. Wolcott / 1825-31 W. Winona (16 units) is a vintage walk-up consisting of 13 one- and three two-bedroom apartments, each with one bath. It has newer porches and windows.
  • 2100-12 W. Ainslie / 4904-10 N. Hoyne (46 units) is a vintage courtyard building one block south of Winnemac Park and within walking distance of the Ravenswood Metra Station and the Brown Line 'L' stop at Damen Avenue. It includes 12 studios, 28 one- and six two-bedroom units, each with one bath.
  • 4915-19 N. Damen (21 units) is an L-shaped walk-up consisting of 16 one- and three two-bedroom units, each with one bath, and 1,000 square feet of retail currently occupied by two commercial tenants. It is also close to the Metra Station and the Brown Line 'L' stop, as well as a short walk to the new Mariano's.

Irving Park

    4101-13 N. Kedzie / 3148-56 W. Belle Plaine (56 units) is a mixed-use courtyard building consisting of three studios, 47 one-bedroom, one-bath units and approximately 3,600 square feet of retail space currently occupied by six commercial tenants. The property is convenient to the Kennedy Expressway.
NorCal apartment portfolio changes hands

Redwood City, Calif.-A 112-unit portfolio on the San Francisco Peninsula in Redwood City, Calif., has traded hands for $23.2 million, or $207,142 per unit. Marcus & Millichap represented the seller, Interstate Equities Corp., in the five-property transaction. The buyer was a private investor in a 1031 exchange.

"The continued creation of high-paying jobs in Silicon Valley is reshaping the San Mateo County apartment market and creating new opportunities for both large institutional investors and smaller private investors," says Adam Levin, a vice president of investments at Marcus & Millichap. "Favorable market conditions in Redwood City allowed us to assemble this portfolio of 1960s-era apartment complexes and for IEC to successfully implement its renovation, stabilization and repositioning strategy."

Levin worked alongside Robert Johnston, a senior associate, in closing the deal. Both are based in the firm's Palo Alto office.

The properties are:

  • 152 Lincoln Ave., 18 units
  • 180 Buckingham Ave., 48 units
  • 755 9th Ave., 8 units
  • 775 9th Ave., 8 units
  • 1331 Jefferson Ave., 30 units


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sony store closures likely good news for Best Buy

Sony's ( SNE) plan to close 20 of its 31 U.S. retail stores is likely good news for consumer electronics retailer Deal Of The Day ( BBY).

Consumers looking to buy Sony televisions, digital cameras, audio equipment and other gadgets will turn to independent retailers like Best Buy in the affected markets. In addition, Best Buy has been setting aside floor space for manufacturers looking to run product showcases and could do so for Sony.

On Thursday, Best Buy reported that it had opened 1,400 Samsung and 600 Microsoft ( MSFT) Windows stores-within-a-store as of Feb. 1. It also operates Apple ( AAPL) product showcases in its stores.

During the holiday season, Google ( GOOG) set up display tablets and end caps in 750 large-format Best Buy stores to show off Android tablets, Chromebook notebooks and Chromecast streaming video players.

On a conference call with analysts Thursday, Best Buy CEO hinted at more opportunities for product showcases from manufacturers. Among the company's priorities over the next 24 months is "to strengthen our vendor partnerships, including launching new vendor shopping experiences."

Could he be talking about Sony?

Sony announced its store closings on Wednesday, as part of a larger restructuring plan.

Five of the remaining 11 stores are located in California, with three in New York, two in Florida, and one in Texas, Sony announced.

The move will close two-thirds of Sony's U.S. retail stores and result in the lay off of 1,000 workers.

On Feb. 5, Sony said it would reduce its global workforce by about 5,000, or 3% of its staff, in its fiscal year ending March 31. It also announced plans to sell its Vaio PC business to Japan Industrial Partners.

Plus, Sony plans to split off its money-losing TV business as a wholly owned subsidiary and focus that business on high-end televisions, including 4K or Ultra HD TVs. Sony expects the TV business to return to profitability in fiscal year 2014, which ends March 31, 2015.

Sony has taken the actions to "maintain its competitiveness in an evolving consumer electronics market," the company said Wednesday.

While its consumer electronics business struggles, Sony appears to be doing well with its next-generation video game console, the PlayStation 4. The PS4 is the top selling next-gen console, outpacing rival Microsoft's Xbox One.

Best Buy stock was up more than 4% in late afternoon trading on the stock market today. Sony's U.S. shares up a fraction.

RELATED: Best Buy now an 'online first' retailer, CEO says.

Microsoft testing deals to boost Xbox One sales.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sales in fourth quarter up in Virginia, on Peninsula

The end of 2013 saw a slight increase in taxable sales in Virginia, according to the latest data from the state's department of taxation.

Overall, taxable sales in Virginia - which includes categories such as retail, food, hospitals, manufacturing and real estate - increased by about 1.7 percent year-over-year between and Nov. 1, 2013 and Jan. 31, 2014.

The taxable sales report is published by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. The center posts quarterly and annual data dating back to 1996 Super Sale its website, coopercenter.org.

James City County saw a 6 percent increase year-over-year in the final quarter of 2013 and Suffolk posted a 3.3 percent increase.

Other counties and cities on the Peninsula saw increases, as well, but most were only slightly increased over 2012 numbers.

York, Hampton and Williamsburg, saw about a 1 percent increase in taxable sales year-over-year, while Gloucester, Newport News, Poquoson sales increased by about 2 percent. Isle of Wight County sales were largely flat.

No counties or cities on the Peninsula posted a decrease in sales.

Holiday sales increased by about 3.8 percent nationwide, according to the National Retail Federation. Retail sales, however, only account for a portion of the overall taxable sales report generated by the state.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that total sales from October to December increased by 1 percent, nationwide.

Paitsel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4737.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Famous Smoke Shop Publishes New Cigar Discount Promo Codes

Easton, PA (PRWEB) February 17, 2014

Famous Smoke Shop is an online distributor of discount premium cigars specializing in offering the web's widest cigar selection, best prices, and expert customer service. The company has just announced its release of new cigar discount coupons they will offer. Each Promotional Codes is applicable to any order made through the company's website or over the phone at 1-800-564-2486.

Starting now, Famous Smoke Shop will be offering a variety of new promotional codes to all of it's customers to receive bonus products or instant cash back off their cigar orders. Some of the coupons available are $20 off any order over $200, a 6-pack sampler with an order of $125 or more, bonus 5-packs, bonus boxes of cigars, a bonus ash tray with an order, and more. No matter what a customer wants to order, they are able to use a coupon on it to either save money or get free product.

Each order allows customers an opportunity to receive instant cash back or bonus items and every order may be able to include a coupon. This allows customers to customize their orders and get more for the money they spend.

Since the coupons were released, there has been a big splash at Famous Smoke Shop by customers rushing to take advantage of the deals. All of these deals and coupons are available not only on the web but through phone orders as well. People interested in learning more about the Outlet at Famous Smoke Shop can call 1-800-564-2486 or can log on to Famous-smoke.com. Customers should be advised that restrictions may apply on particular items, a full list of restrictions is available on the company's website.

About Famous Smoke Shop

Famous Smoke Shop is the nation's #1 discount retailer of premium cigars online, offering one of the largest selections of handmade cigars, machine-made cigars, cigar humidors and accessories. Famous offers the web's lowest prices on a wide selection of cigar brands including Acid, Davidoff, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta, Ashton, Padron, Oliva and Perdomo cigars, and many more. Famous offers their customers the best prices on all premium cigars as well as friendly and knowledgeable customer service.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sides Trade Insults as Syria Talks End Without Deal

Homs Aid Remains Unresolved Amid Wrangling

by Jason Ditz, January 31, 2014

Though the talks dragged on for over a week, the Geneva II peace conference on Syria ended without any real deals on any issues of important, and both the Syrian government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) traded insults before leaving.

The issue that was closest to being resolved, the siege of central Homs, likewise remained totally unresolved, with UN officials saying both sides were slapping unrealistic preconditions on allowing aid in.

The Syrian government offered to let women and children leave, but said that men leaving would have to give their names at checkpoints, and this would almost certainly mean arrest, as has happened in previous cases where rebel-held areas were lost.

The SNC didn't necessarily have preconditions of its own, but the rebel fighters inside Homs did, threatening to attack UN aid convoys that try to enter the city on sight. They are opposing aid in general, and say they will only accept a Buy Cheap that allows everyone in the Old City area of Homs to leave, and take their weapons with them, to other rebel-held areas. Needless to say, that's also a non-starter.

The preconditions on this and other areas of discussion left both sides plenty of ammunition to declare the other uninterested in making peace, and foreign powers at the talks used this as a pretext to verbally bludgeon whichever side they opposed in the first place.

UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, whose efforts are the only reason the talks didn't end on the first day, says he believes there is still some common ground and room to negotiate, and he is trying to arrange a resumption of the conference on February 10. Whether this happens remains to be seen, but the Assad government is said to be non-commtital about any more talks, and after the trainwreck of this week, it's hard to blame them for being pessimistic.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deals of the Day: Jelly spreads more VC

Venture Capital Deals

Fitmob, a San Francisco-based mobile app for finding local exercise workouts, has raised $9.75 million in venture capital and venture debt funding. Backers include Mayfield Fund, Silicon Valley Bank and individual angels. www.fitmob.com

iProf Learnings Solutions, an India-based digital education library, has raised $9.5 million in Series B funding. Hobsons PLC led the round, and was joined by return backers IDG Ventures India and Norwest Venture Partners. www.iprofindia.com

Cohera Medical Inc., a Pittsburgh-based developer of absorbable surgical adhesives and sealants, has raised $9.3 million in new Series D funding. No new investor information was disclosed. The company previously announced that it had raised $17 million in Series B funding from firms like Kern Whelan Capital. www.coheramedical.com

Jelly, the new social search app from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, has raised an undisclosed amount of Series B funding. Greylock Partners led the round, and was joined by return backer Spark Capital. www.jelly.co

Whiteout Networks GmbH, a Munich-based developer of apps and cloud services for encrypted email communication, has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from High-Tech-Gründerfonds and Bayernkapital. www.whiteout.io

Private Equity Deals

SunGard Data Systems Inc. announced that it will spin off its Availability Services business on a tax-free basis to existing shareholders, including its private equity owners. The Best Buy is expected to close by the end of Q1. SunGard was acquired in 2005 by a private equity consortium that included Bain Capital, Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, KKR, Providence Equity Partners, Silver Lake and TPG Capital. www.sungard.com

Aqua Terra Water Management, a merchant operator of salt water disposal facilities, has acquired certain saltwater disposal assets from Ceiba Energy Services Inc. and Phyllis Disposal Ltd. No financial terms were disclosed for the deal, which helps Aqua Terra enter the Canadian Bakken. Aqua Terra is a portfolio company of Bregal Partners. www.bregalpartners.com

AVX Learning LLC, a portfolio company of Comvest Capital, has acquired Adayana Industry Group, an Indianapolis-based provider of organizational performance solutions. No financial terms were disclosed. www.adayana.com

The Carlyle Group has agreed to acquire a minority stake in Vogue International, a Tampa Bay, Fla.-based maker of brand hair care products. No financial terms were disclosed. www.vogueintl.com

China Huarong Asset Management Co Ltd., a state-owned investment manager, is in talks with several private equity firms about a share sale that could raise more than $2 billion, according to Reuters. Suitors include Bain Capital, The Blackstone Group, BlackRock and KKR. www.chamc.com.cn

Crestview Partners and B-29 Investments have acquired a control stake in Texoma Transportation & Crude Marketing LLC, a provider of crude oil purchasing, gathering and transportation services to the oil and gas industry. The deal was done in conjunction with Texoma's purchase of Edmond, Okla.-based CP Energy. No financial terms were disclosed. www.txtcm.com

Palladin Consumer Retail Partners has acquired KT Health LLC, a maker of kinesiology tape and related sports medicine products for the retail market. No financial terms were disclosed. www.pcrp.com

Pallet USA LLC, a portfolio company of Blackthorne Partners, has acquired most assets of Goeman's Wood Products Inc., a rival Milwaukee-area pallet operator. No financial terms were disclosed. www.palletusa.com

Rosser Capital Partners has acquired Hickory Tavern, a Charlotte, N.C.-based chain of casual dining restaurants. No financial terms were disclosed. Arlington Capital Advisors managed the process. www.thehickorytavern.com

Summit Materials has acquired both Alleyton Resource and its Colorado Gulf affiliate, which operates sand & gravel sites and ready-mix concrete plants. No financial terms were disclosed. Summit Materials was formed in 2009 by The Blackstone Group and Silverhawk Capital Partners. www.summit-materials.com


Care.com, a Waltham, Mass.-based online care marketplace, raised $91 million in its IPO. The company priced 5.35 million shares at $17 per share (above $14-$16 range), for an initial market cap of approximately $554 million. It will trade on the NYSE under ticker symbol CRCM, while Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan and BofA Merrill Lynch served as lead underwriters. Care.com had raised around $111 million in VC funding from Matrix Partners (22.24% pre-IPO stake), Trinity Ventures (14.39%), NEA (10.21%), Institutional Venture Partners (10.21%) and USAA (9.29%). www.care.com

Com Hem AB, a Swedish cable television and broadband operator, has held "preliminary talks" with sponsor BC Partners about an IPO, according to Bloomberg. www.comhem.se

Continental Building Products Inc., a Reston, Va.-based maker of gypsum wallboard and complementary finishing products, has set its IPO terms to 13.24 million shares being offered at between $16 and $18 per share. It would have an initial market cap of approximately $749 million, were it to price in the middle of its range. The company plans to trade on the NYSE under ticker symbol CBPX, with Citigroup and Credit Suisse to serve as co-lead underwriters. It reports $32 million of net income on $252 million in revenue for the first nine months of 2013, and is owned by Lone Star Funds. www.continental-bp.com

Eleven Biotherapeutics Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of protein-based biotherapeutics, has set its IPO terms to 4.3 million shares being offered at between $13 and $15 per share. It would have an initial market cap of approximately $206 million, were it to price in the middle of its range. The company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol EBIO, with Citigroup, Cowen & Co. and Leerink Swann serving as lead underwriters. Shareholders include Third Rock Ventures (41.3% pre-IPO stake), Flagship Ventures (28.8%) and Jafco (18.4%). www.elevenbio.com

Genocea Biosciences, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of T-cell vaccines for infectious diseases, has set its IPO terms to 5.5 million shares being offered at between $12 and $14 per share. It would have an initial market cap of approximately $224 million, were it to price in the middle of its range. The company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol GNCA, with Citigroup and Cowen & Co. serving as co-lead underwriters. It has raised over $88 million in VC funding from Polaris Venture Partners (16.3% pre-IPO stake), Lux Ventures (14.8%), S.R. One Ltd. (13%), Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. (11.7%), CVF LLC (9.3%), Skyline Ventures (8.8%), Cycad Group (6.6%), Auriga Ventures (6.5%), The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (6.2%) and Morningside Ventures. www.genocea.com

Rice Energy, a Canonsburg, Penn.-based E&P company focused on the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, raised $924 million in its IPO. The company priced 44 million shares at $21 per share (high end of $19-$21 range), for an initial market cap of around $2.7 billion. It plans to trade on the NYSE under ticker symbol RICE public offering on Tuesday for as much as $800 million of stock. The company plans to use the proceeds to finance drilling operations in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. www.riceenergy.com

Semler Scientific, a Portland, Ore.-based developer of medical devices that measure arterial blood flow, has set its IPO terms to 1.15 million shares being offered at between $12 and $14 per share. It would have an initial market cap of approximately $62 million, were it to price in the middle of its range. The company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol SMLR, with Aegis Capital serving as sole underwriter. www.flochec.com


Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has agreed to acquire a patent portfolio from Hewlett-Packard(Nasdaq: HPQ), which includes around 1,400 granted U.S. patents and pending U.S. patent applications, plus another 1,000 granted and pending patent applications from other counties. No financial terms were disclosed. Read more at Fortune.com

Sanofi (Paris: SAN) CEO Chris Viehbacher yesterday indicated an interest in repurchasing L'Oreal's (Paris: OR) 9% stake in Sanofi, during an interview with Reuters. He referred to such a deal as "very accretive" for Sanofi, although acknowledged that L'Oreal has not offered to sell the shares. The stake is currently valued at around $9 billion. www.sanofi.com

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

VIDEO: Hands On With the LG G Flex for Sprint

LG's 6-inch phablet is coming to three U.S. carriers. We took a look at the sprint lte las vegas model.

LAS VEGAS–The LG G Flex is coming to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, and I got to spend some time with the Sprint model at CES. I'm very happy to say that it's pretty much the same as the international version, and that all three carrier models will appear the same, as well.

Why can't we take this for granted? When LG and Samsung phones have appeared on multiple carriers, they've often changed form or features. The Verizon version of the LG G2 has different rear buttons than the other three. The Sprint and AT&T LG Optimus G phones has completely different cameras. So it's a small victory for consumers when a phone appears in the same, flagship form on all of its carriers.

I did a full hands on with the Korean version of the G Flex and this one is very similar. It's still quite large, with its 6-inch screen. Its 720p screen looks just as good as many 1080p screens, in part thanks to the gentle curve that reduces reflectivity. It has a very large battery, and yes, you can bend it.

Sprint's version brings one special feature: the G Flex will support Sprint's new Spark LTE network, which offers higher speeds in some metro areas than the earlier Sprint LTE network.

I strongly suspect the G Flex will cost $299 with contract and $699 without, according to various sources. While the Korean version of the phone can cost up to $930, that won't be the case with the U.S. model, my sources said.

Watch the video below to take a look at the LG G Flex for Sprint in action.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Groupon Buys Ideeli At A Discount

<Discountp>In the latest sign that "flash sale" sites are struggling, Groupon bought Ideeli for $43 million in cash. This was a loss for Ideeli shareholders, considering the company received $107 million in venture capital from 2007 through 2013. Groupon, however, is known for finding discounts.

Ideeli sells "designer" goods via timed sales, similar to competitors Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and HauteLook. The site features a different selection of brands each day, available for up to 90% off. Ideeli has yet to turn a profit with this business model, and most recently operated at a $30 million loss.

Groupon, which sells coupons, says that it intends to keep Ideeli running as a separate website. Groupon also sees potential for synergies. "Ideeli extends our fashion presence and brings great relationships with many of the top brands in apparel," says Groupon CEO Eric Lefkofksy.

Sameet Sinha, analyst at B. Riley & Co., sees both opportunity and risk in the deal. On one hand, "fashion is one of the top categories for ecommerce and it should keep growing," says Sinha. Groupon is "potentially hoping to reduce the customer acquisition cost by using its own customers." Yet Sinha points out that the execution will be challenging because "flash sales have lost their momentum" and the unprofitable business "further dilutes Groupon's margins."

Investors appear skeptical of the transaction. Groupon's stock fell 5% on the acquisition news, closing the day at $11. Groupon, which has faced its own profitability challenges, has seen its stock rise 105% in the past year, partly due to optimism about its new CEO. Controversial founder, Andrew Mason, left the top post in 2013. Competitor LivingSocial also recently saw its chief executive step down.

Groupon expects to make more acquisitions, stating that they are "constantly evaluating growth opportunities across all of our business lines." Groupon has made dozens of acquisitions over the past four years. Its largest purchase was Korea's Ticket Monster, which Groupon purchased for $260 million earlier this month.

This is not the first time that daily deals and flash sales sites have combined forces. Gilt Groupe acquired Groupon competitor, BuyWithMe in 2011. It was folded into Gilt City, a similar Gilt property. The industries which were once oversaturated with competition, can only expect to see more consolidation.

HauteLook was purchased by Nordstrom for $270 million, in the flash sales heydey of 2011. Gilt Groupe has talked about an IPO for years, but has been reluctant to pull the trigger. A public offering was once the stated path for Ideeli. Groupon went public in 2011.