Sons, daughters fly the coop in different ways


I try to recreate the nest for them when they leave, with differing rates of success

Standing in my empty nest, I was thinking about the different ways I experienced a daughter and a son flying the coop. To get more information click Best WhistlingTea Kettles

The mother-son relationship is so different from the mother-daughter one. In both cases, I fought the concept of the empty nest. I simply can't empty mine without trying to build another. But the two experiences played out so differently.

I had accompanied my eldest daughter to Vancouver to attend the Emily Carr Institute, a facility without a residence. I was scared. She was nervous. I tried to mask my fear and insecurity around letting her go by setting her up in her little apartment with every single necessity I could get my hands on.

It was all so psychological -- the building of this second nest, gathering symbolic twigs and sticks and bits of string. While she was shyly making her way through the first days of classes I was trekking to a new Ikea looking for whatever it was I hadn't thought of all summer in Calgary while I'd been pushing her to pack.

"Get Ready. Be prepared," seemed to be my motto during that time when I could cry at just the thought of her no longer living in our home.


This September, I took my youngest son to the University of Victoria to help set him up in his residence dorm room. The space was impossibly small and my son had been absolutely uninterested in packing for this new lifestyle until the day before his departure.

Beyond the basic necessities of groceries and my car, our boys resist my need to provide for them.

I had tried not to pester him, but once we arrived and I came to grips with the idea that I was going to let another one of my kids go I was in full let-me-replace-myself-with-fuzzy-blankets-and the-right-supplies mode again. Only, there wasn't a blanket fuzzy enough.

This was my baby boy. The one who I felt needed me to explain his eccentricities to his teachers. He was the little guy who always lost his mittens and school books, the boy who couldn't keep track of his glasses, and jean jacket, the teen who was forever losing his wallet, and cellphone. He has a deep voice now and an angular, muscular frame and lately he starts out trying not to involve me in the hunt, but he can't fool me. It is probably what I do for him more than anything. I find his things.

He was patient with my hanging around a day or two longer than the other parents. But arriving on campus with a load of necessities from the mall, the day after the other parents had cleared out, I hesitated to go right up to his dorm. "It's okay, mom," he said. "None of these kids are clones. I realize they all have moms." But he insisted he would remake the bed with the new fleecy blanket himself.


I took him downtown for an Italian dinner and we talked in an easier manner than we had for some time. I took the scenic drive back to the university, prolonging the moment that I had to let go. I was overwhelmed with an urge to review all parental lessons at breakneck speed. Turning away from the ocean toward the campus I covered responsible drinking, meaningful relationships, and even safe sex in a couple of blocks. "They handed out condoms at orientation," he said. With that, I chose to lighten up, though I was searching for a big life motto, something you would tell Oprah was the truism your mother taught you. My mind was blank.

The campus has a circle road around it but there are ways to skirt behind the residence and avoid the long drive. I took the circle -- forcing him to linger with a mom so clearly on the verge of something dangerously emotional. As soon as we entered the ring running through those hallowed halls of education we saw clusters of young people, laughing and calling out to one another. All his attention was, of course, off me. I knew he was aching to reach for the cellphone in his pocket and connect with a new dorm mate, and I appreciated that he was holding back from doing so.

"Don't be surprised if you get a low mark on your first paper. That happened to me," I said. "I was shocked but I talked to the prof. You have to talk to the prof."

"I don't intend to get low marks, but I will if I do."

I pulled up to his building and he hopped out. "I have to get my kettle," he said. He had only recently started drinking tea.

"Oh, and I have a few other things," I told him. "Laundry detergent, computer paper, an extra pillow, mugs and green tea." And all the needy love that was going to explode when he popped opened the trunk.

I stepped out to hang on to him, but three students were passing close by. I moved away from my son, able to hold back my brimming emotion until they passed. He didn't understand my hesitation and hugged me right then. I whispered my love notes against his cheek, surprised again by the bristle of blonde whiskers there.

"I'll see you when I visit, mom."

"I know. I know." I let him step away. But had to grab onto him again. "I'll miss you," I said, "but I'm okay. Really I am."

"I know," he reassured me, walking away. This time I let him go -- with his good copper tea kettle and tea to warm him.


Everyone sold a lot of tea kettles in 1984. But virtually no one made any money.

The explanation to these two facts lies in an unprecedented outbreak of price promotions--reportedly down to 20% margins or even below cost--in a category that has historically been predictable and profitable. What went wrong?

While requesting anonymity, several CSA sources pointed to a single retailer as the prime suspect in setting off this unfortunate nationwide price cutting blitz--Macy's New York. However, despite many attempts to reach company officials, Macy's was unavailable to comment.

Industry insiders describe the following scenario: Macy's apparently overbought the category, receiving several containers of tea kettles directly from the Orient at the same time. Executives panicked and decided to bail out as fast as possible, slashing prices, some say, to below cost levels. Imported kettles that were previously promoted in the $14 to $17 range were marked down to $10. Name brand prices, which traditionally withstand margin erosion, were knocked down next.

Soon, department stores in every major market were taking sharp markdowns. All types of kettle were effected. Bloomingdale's, for instance, promoted a $28 copper tea kettle with porcelain handle for $14.95. Finally, discount store margins were placed under fire.

Macy's, of course, cannot be blamed for the rampant promotional spirit that dominated almost all retail categories in 1984, as consumer demand did not live up to overoptimistic expectations. However, the question for good tea kettle buyers in 1985 remains: How can they undo the damage done to this previously stable category?

"It is always easier to cut prices than to restore margins," remarks Revere president Jack Eikenberg. "And one cannot re-establish margins with the same goods."

Department store retailers are aware of that. They are going to attempt "re-establishing margins" by moving up to more unique styles this year.

According to manufacturers M. Kamenstein Inc., White Plains, N.Y., and SFC Associates Inc., New York City, 1985 kettles are taking on new European-inspired shapes. Decorated kettles are more important this year and feature more contemporary florals.

In many cases this means trading up, leaving the lower-priced goods department store retailers demolished--profitwise--last year to the discounters.

For example, Woodward and Lothrop, based in Washington, D.C., will be upgrading its tea kettles in 1985, reports buyer Roberta Nunemaker. The new mix will range in price from $14.95 to $29.95, compared to last year's $9.95 to $19.95 assortment. These price increases reflect a move toward more decorated vs. solid kettles as well as more contemporary styles instead of traditional, she describes.

"To create more interest and to give spirit back to the tea kettle area," Nunemaker plans to increase sku's and footage by 25%, covering as many different looks as possible.

In contrast, Cincinnati-based Shillito-Rikes home fashion director Michael Kerley reveals plans to cut kettle sku's and real estate by one-third this year. Here, the 1984 tea kettle price blaze turned the category into what he calls "a very price sensitive commodity business." The high-end did not fair well, and he is cutting back the more expensive enamel on steel models.

Discount chain Gold Circle, on the other hand, will be expanding and upgrading its kettle line for 1985, according to Deb Jones, cookware buyer for the Worthington, Ohio-based company. While the expansion reflects a rebuilding of inventory and space levels reduced last year because of personnel changes, the upgrading indicates a new direction. Space will go from 4 ft. back to 1983's 8 ft.

Jones insists consumers are ready to step up to more sophisticated colors, looks and price points. For spring, the top-of-the-line will be a $14.99 squat-shaped contemporary looking pot. But for fall 1985 Jones plans to introduce a $19.99 kettle.



"Drink your tea!" "Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody!" "Tea kettle! Tea kettle! Tea kettle! Band copper tea kettle!" Imagine taking a walk and hearing all that from the birds!

The ears of the early pioneers must have been bombarded with strange songs, whistles, and calls as they explored and settled our country. Because some songs were heard repeatedly, they became familiar. Some people "translated" them, and in this way, some birds named themselves!

The chickadee seems to have a funny name and one might wonder how such a tiny bird came by a name bigger than he is. After hearing one, though, you would know he named himself. "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee!" is his common call all through the day.

Flying overhead, a bird is calling "Kill-deer, kill-deer." Have you ever heard that call? The killdeer is another bird that named himself by having a song that could be "translated."

In a wooded area, one might hear a plaintive call, "Pee-a-wee? Pee-wee." This bird earned the name peewee. Silly name, you might think. But the bird picked it out!


The phoebe (fee-bee) also calls his own name. The same is true for the bob white and whip-poor-will. It was probably very easy to become familiar with the whip-poorwill name. I have heard them say their name over, and over.

Not all birds sing a "name." Some songs are more warbling and whistling. Then people began listening to the rhythm and intonation. They suggested sayings for some of them.

The towhee, perched on the tip of a bush, sings a song that someone decided sounded like, "Drink your tea!" The Carolina wren, hopping in and out of a tangle of brush, tips back his head and sings, " Tea kettle, Tea kettle, Tea kettle!"

The white-throated sparrow has two interpretations to his song. Some think he is singing, "Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody." Others think he's singing, "Oh see Canada, Canada, Canada." Notice the rhythm is the same with either saying.

My favorite bird song saying is for an owl. Whenever I hear one hooting, I mentally say along with him, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" If the hoots match any words, then I know I'm hearing a barred owl.

Many more birds are out there talking to us. The chestnut-sided warbler very politely sings, "Pleased, pleased, pleased to meet'cha." The cardinal calls out loudly, "cheer, cheer, cheer!" (He's one bird that does have several different songs. One I really like is when he tells me I'm "purty, purty, purty!") The ovenbird, starting soft and low, sings his "teacher, teacher, teacher" song to a lickity-split loud conclusion.

Next time you're out for a walk, or just playing in your backyard, listen to the birds singing. They may be trying to tell you something!


At McKeesport, Pa.-based Murphy's Mart, housewares buyer George Gose reports $12.99 is the magic price point. Above that, goods don't sell. In fact, he dropped the one decorated porcelain on steel number, priced at $18, he carried in 1984.

At K mart, senior buyer Donald Bratt reports his prices and plans are directly affected by what happens at the department stores. "They can and do definitely force our margins down. If they have a decorated enamel on steel 2-1/2-qt. kettle on sale for $10, we have to be with them," he states.

Bratt's strategy for dealing with the department store factor for 1985 is to use solid enamel on steel pots for heavy duty promoting--pricing them "well under $10." He will maintain margins, meantime, with his decorated kettles, keeping them at everyday low prices of $12.97 and up. The success key with the decorated goods, he explains, is to rotate them frequently. He expects new imports to arrive every three to four months.

He concurs some of the goods the department stores footballed last year will filter into the discount store in 1985. Nunemaker, from Woodward and Lothrop, has also seen this process happen before.

"The lower-end kettles will move on to the mass merchants," she concludes. "And they can have them."



Hardcover best-seller book programs are being tested at several discounters, but the category isn't for everyone.

K mart, Target, Venture, Bradlees, Murphy's Mart and Prange Way are among those that have instituted or are in the process of implementing the New York Times best-seller programs, discounting titles in some cases up to 35% off the publisher's suggested list price.

Other chains, including Gold Circle, Roses and ALCO, opted to stay away from the hardcovers aftertests pointed out several serious pitfalls: substantial inventory investment, tight margins and just a plain lack of strong customer interest.

Also, with the burgeoning of discount book chains, notably Crown Books and smaller regional operations, it has become increasingly difficult to compete with everyday offers of up to 40% off publishers' list prices, according to several buyers.

K mart, for one, is unperturbed by the influx of discount book chains and other various downsides. Sales of hardcover best-sellers have far exceeded the chain's initial sales projections, according to J. W. Goetz.


K mart's hardcover book section features 25 to 28 titles, primarily The New York Times best-sellers in fiction and non-fiction, and other selected new releases. Currently in over 400 stores, plans call for a "controlled expansion" of the department to approximately 600 units by year's end.

"We do a complete analysis before we drop it into a remodeled unit. We've found the section has done much better in locations with higher-than-average customer income," said Goetz.

Goetz also noted the department is most successful in K mart's larger units where it is given up to 1,000 sq. ft., as in its Rochester, Mich., prototype. The best-sellers are displayed on one, two or four tables, depending on department size, with titles face out, displaying the full cover and stackouts below. The best-sellers are discounted at least 25%, and sometimes more.

"We meet the competition in all of our trading areas. If it's Crown, we'll discount 35%; if it's someone else, we'll price accordingly," noted Goetz. K mart goes head-to-head with Crown, the nation's largest book discounter, in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and in the next few months in Seattle, which Crown has targeted as its newest market entry.

"Wired" by Bob Woodward, currently the No. 1 best-seller in nonfiction, sells for $13.45 in K mart's Rochester store. In Los Angeles, however, where Crown has established its market presence, the book retails at $11.67, equal to the Crown discount.


The cutthroat pricing of the book discounters is among the reasons Gold Circle chose to back off from the hardcover category over two years ago when Dayton Hudson's Pickwick Discount Books began testing its concept in Columbus, Ohio. Pickwick discounts best-sellers up to 40%.

Gold Circle tried The New York Times program, discounting best-sellers at 10%, and buyer Harry Sutmiller said the comparatively small discount substantiated the chain's lack of enthusiasm for the category.

"We're really not positioned as a book headquarters. Books have been more of a convenience item for our shoppers than a major money making category for us. Even purchasing paperbacks would have to be a totally impulsive buy because we offer no discount off list price," he said.

The chain currently runs full-line paperback book departments, of up to 600 sq. ft., in approximately 25% of its stores.

ALCO has also tested the hardcover route, dedicating 8-12 running feet for "odds and ends" including many specialty items like cookbooks and how-to guides at savings of up to 20%.

"It hasn't been worth it. Hardcover sales have been lukewarm at best and we get a better return on investment with our remainder programs. We're also able to offer discounts of up to 70% with remainders," said David Hayes, buyer for the chain.



I think once we narrow the hardware end of the business, then the concentration of both the large companies in the industry and the merchants will be to narrow the soft side as well.

But, part of our selling problem is our customer basically doesn't understand programming, he doesn't really need the keyboard. He needs a program that can be put in the computer and is ready to use. At this time the system is too complicated for our customer to program.

That does lead me to believe sooner or later as we narrow the field down, the Japanese will only enter after we in the United States decide which system is right.

DSN: On the hardware side, are we going to see that become more narrow?

Mullen: It's going to become narrow as long as manufacturers introduce hardware that uses noncompatible software with previuos hardware systems they've introduced.

I think manufactures introduce a new computer and tell us it's going to take a new software setup. The investment is tremendous for the retailer, and at some point we're going to have to say no to a system, whether it's the high end or the low end. But, somewhere along the line we cannot afford to carry the software necessary to support systems if we don't get some compatible software.


Tom Measday, vp, marketing, Broderbund Software: One thing we've seen in our consumer research is that the cusomers don't understand the need for differences in systems.

I also think those of you who aren't worried about the Japanese right away are making a mistake. And, Japan has some incredible computers that don't look like computers, and they retail for $49. And, I assume they'll come over this year very easily.

DSN: It strikes me there's many, many more choices that have to be made, which would seem to make the retailer's job that much more difficult.

Prophater: It is extremely difficult, but I think we as retailers haven't seen the sales that we anticipated; so, we have narrowed what we will carry.

With the Atari decision to keep all systems compatible all the.

When you don't do that, you must price-protect the retailer, which costs you, the manufacturer, or the retailer has to take a second look. We can't afford to be burned too many times.

So, in the next 18 months there will be a gradual trend toward two systems or the production of accessories to adapt systems to make them compatible.

Joe Naughton, gen. mgr., electronics, Gemco: There's another shakeout we're avoiding, and that's a retailer shakeout.


This is going to really be a bear.

I think I heard Don say Atari needs the retailers to support them. I think retailers are finding they need the manufacturers to stand up faster and support them.

I think Mr. Jones from Commodore will catch more heat than anybody at the meeting; that's because he has the No. 1 selling item right now.

He also, though, I think, has proved a point that probably we're all confused about these users, because when you look at peripheral sales, I'm not sure, but I think we were all astounded by the monitors, printers and peripherals they would buy.

We were saddened by our competitiveness for marketing position, because we didn't allow those peripherals to be profitable when they were in demand and make sure we had the upper hand in the southern California market.

And, I think that is really going to make it confusing for us not in '84 but '85 when Apple or IBM make their products available, because we'll all be greedy and want those.

Mary Ann Peters, consumer marketing mgr., Apple Computers: Apple thinks it's going to where the consumer is ready to accept the full-function computer like the Apple IIe.




The conversion of the fabrics and notions departments to decorative housewares goods last year resulted in sales "substantially better than expectations," he reported "and at a higher profit level."

Kilmartin asserted that Mervyn's thrust in Texas las year with the seven stores unveiled on the same day "quite literally overwhelmed us. Forecasted volume for fiscal 1983 is substantially better than our initial projections."

He noted that before entering the two markets, Mervyn's did a credit solicitation program "that generated a response that far exceeded our expectations and created an open-to-buy in advance of our actual store openings."

The retailer opened a regional executive office and distribution center in Plano in December "at a significantly lower than anticipated investment level."

Kilmartin asserted that the Texas results "confirm our belief that the Mervyn's concept is very transportable [on a natiowide basis]."


Lechmere and Pickwick received similar votes of confidence from Boake A. Sells, Dayton Hudson vice chairman responsible for specialty operations and new strategy developments.

Four Lechmeres are to be opened during the next four years, Sells said. "Initially, we are looking at sites in Boston and adjacent markets."

He explained: "Lechmere has undergone a major strategic repositioning over the past few years. We are pleased with results. . . . The performance of the remodeled and repositioned existing stores is honestly exciting. Should our expansion stores continue this level of performance, future [parent company] five-year capital plans will have to make room for Lechmere."

Pickwick, the four-unit discount book chain tested in Columbus, Ohio, for the past two years, will get 20 more stores this year. Ten will go into one market and the balance into two other areas.

Sells said: "We believe we've hit upon a viable profit formula for Pickwick. I think it is reasonable to assume, if the strategy continues to work well, that next year's five-year plan will include additional Pickwicks."


B. Dalton Bookseller, the full-priced book chain, will continue to account for the greater part of the specialty merchandising arm's growth, Sells added. About 220 B. Daltons will be opened during the next five years. "That will be a somewhat slower pace than in recent years--a result, primarily, of a slowdown in mall construction," he explained.

B. Dalton offers 22,000 titles, while Pickwick carried about 7,500.

The apparel and household soft goods specialty store chain will open 19 new stores this year as it shoots to reach the 235-unit market by 1988, a 126-store gain from its current 109 count.

Texas is continuing to get a big Mervyn's play, Kilmartin noted, with at least nine stores already set for the Lone Star State. This includes the chain's debut in Houston next month with six stores and two more to follow there in July, and one in the Plano suburb of Dallas to give the retailer six in that market, which was entered just five months ago (along with two in Austin, Tex.).

On the West Coast, Mervyn's will invade the Seattle/Puget Sound market with three stores in the fall, he said.

The remaining seven units due in 1984 will be "buildbacks" in current Mervyn's markets, he added.