Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Capital Business: Best Buy's next act?

This column was first published in Capital Business on Aug. 13: 

There was a time when shopping at Best Buy was a special treat.

I’d pile the whole family in the car and as soon as we stepped through the front doors everyone would scatter, the boys to the video games, mom to the CD bins, and me, well, I’d do the whole electronics circuit, slowly.

I spent a small fortune at our local big box until one day I ordered a microwave and somehow the staff just could not seem to get it in my hands. I’d get a call telling me it was in the store, and when I arrived the clerks would tell me it was still in the warehouse. Three times this happened. When the manager acted as if he could care less, I canceled the order and never went back.

So when I heard last week that founder Richard Schulze had offered to take private the struggling electronics retailer, I was curious. After all, electronics have all but become commodities these days, and brick-and-mortar stores seem mere showrooms for the discounters online.

Will Fuentes, however, offered a different take. Will was once a general manager at Best Buy. He now runs an Arlington start-up called Lemur Technologies that has developed software to help retailers move slow-moving inventory.

He argues Best Buy should embrace “showrooming,” and hire knowledgeable salespeople who are prepared to offer price-comparing customers a deal on the spot. The chain should focus on the customer’s experience, and bundle products to make shopping easy.

“They also should leverage the fact that they can sell appliances, computers, cell-phones, TV’s and Geek Squad services and installation and become the only retailer that can truly create the connected home,” he told me by e-mail.

Sure, he said, new gizmos can quickly become commodities these days, but there’s always another innovation right around the corner, beckoning customers to have a look.

And a place like that might just be welcoming enough to get a guy like me to shop again.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Downtown rises

The private sector is stirring.

Whole Foods commits to downtown. The mall talks about turning itself into a "lifestyle center." CA moves forward with park plans. More apartments are headed our way.

And people are still complaining about the lack of parking.

What fun it is to witness the reinvention of suburbia.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Editor's Note: Living in the clouds

Here's my editor's note from the May 7 issue of Capital Business, the Washington Post's local business weekly:

By Dan Beyers

I had a moment of panic last week when my Google Docs account suddenly became part of something called Google Drive.

Google Drive, I gather, is supposed to be the new brand name for the online giant’s file cabinet in the cloud, its answer to Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s SkyDrive and independent services such as Dropbox.

I was eager to give it a try. Except when I fired up my account the files I use nearly every day were no longer where I left them. That sent me scurrying through strange menus, praying I had not lost my valuable intellectual property.

I eventually located my errant spreadsheets but the brief helplessness I experienced reminded me of those bad old days when my first hard drive crashed, taking with it many precious bits and bytes.

Will I never learn?!

Few things are more unsettling to me than to have something go missing. In my household, I’m the person everyone calls to find that which is lost. I have a knack for discovery, though truth be told, my secret is that I’m a creature of habit and routine. When something disappears it is inevitably because someone has deviated from the norm.

The thing I’m learning about the online world is that the pattern never stays fixed. One day my files might be in alphabetical order, the next they show up chronologically, or not at all.

And it is not just Google. Facebook and countless other sites can’t seem to stop tinkering with their interfaces, often without much warning to their users.

The stakes are even larger if your business is somehow tied to your interaction with those digital entities. It’s easy to find your enterprise untethered when an update is pushed through, necessitating an urgent call to the IT department: Who broke the Internet?

Some company is going to make a lot of money solving this pain point in the new world of cloud computing.
But until it does, I’m backing up my stuff.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Is it me?

When the preeminent developer of downtown Columbia can't find a tenant for a Frank Gehry building on the lakefront, and the creative ideas for the place include a company headquarters, offices or a "a grocer on the first floor with a fitness center facing the lake below and an event center above" (Columbia Flier: Howard Hughes No Longer in Talks with Whole Foods), that says something about this place.

No one seems to want to be here anymore.

Mrs. Talk and I venture to Clyde's every now and then and it is such a pleasant experience. We never have to worry about finding a parking spot right in the front row by the fountain, and the ambiance around the pond is so .... quiet.

It got me thinking back when I returned to town in the 1990s after going off the college. All my young friends complained about the lack of things to do.

They have all since moved to the city.