Adventures in Retailing Part VII:
The Search for Dave
Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
February 13, 2006
Sitting up close to a terminal in a hunched over
position is bad for you. That is why I switched from a 19-inch monitor
to 30-inch model. Not only can I manipulate massive spreadsheets and
juggle PowerPoint slides around like a demon, I can work from a
comfortable chair at a safe distance of five feet from my monitor.
Good-bye headaches and backaches, hello productivity. (By the way,
Microsoft has apparently conducted a study that shows that large
monitors make people more productive.)
There is one problem with being so far from the
monitor. While my keyboard rests comfortably in my lap, there is no
place for a pointing device that is not integrated into the keyboard.
Even a trackball or a wireless gyroscopic mouse needs somewhere solid to
I approached the pointing device problem by
improvising. My current pointing device of choice is Microsoft's elite
wireless optical mouse (it comes with a not-so-elite wireless keyboard
that likes to drop characters at random, I do "serious
writing"—such as this commentary—with a hard-wired Sony OEM
keyboard.) None of my improvised solutions was satisfactory because in
order for the ergonomics to work for me the surface that supports the
mouse must be an exact height (to the angstrom) of somewhere between 21
and 22 inches. What I needed was an adjustable side table. I did not
know it, because I had never heard of him, but I needed Dave (actually,
I had frequented all of the local office supply stores
(Staples, OfficeMax, and even the University at Albany bookstore) and
found nothing that would do the trick. I was, however, going to Boston
in the beginning of January to attend the American Finance Association
Aside from running into the few old colleagues who
still attended such get-togethers, my goal was to find a paper upon
which to base a Financial Engineering News column. (I was successful on
that count and the result will appear both in Financial Engineering News
and on www.millerrisk.com in
early March.) Moreover, I figured that I could get at least two
adventures in retailing out of the trip. After all, I would be spending
three days in what is essentially a giant shopping mall with office
buildings, hotels, and a convention center connected to it.
I can drive about six miles south to I-90 from where I
live and then shoot directly into downtown Boston while catching up on
three hours of podcasts. I emerge within a hundred years of the entrance
to the Copley Place garage where I usually park my car. This time, I
took two detours in the interests of retailing.
My first detour was to Prime Outlets of Lee,
Massachusetts. I had seen signs for it ever since it sprouted up
something like ten years ago, but I had never paid it a visit.
Now that I have been there, the best thing that I can
say about it is that it is real close to the Mass Pike. I was among a
handful of apparent shoppers there (perhaps everyone there was trolling
for website content) and it was easy to see why it was a ghost mall.
Yes, it was a weekday in winter, but I have been to Woodbury Common at
similar times and, short of a blizzard, by eleven in the morning all the
good parking spaces there are gone.
The problem with Prime Outlets of Lee is that it has
everything that is bad about outlet malls and nothing that is good. As I
have noted earlier, most of what is in any outlet mall is overpriced
junk poorly disguised as bargains. A good outlet mall has the occasional
great deal, but it takes some shopping savvy to unearth it. The Lee mall
was all chaff and no wheat. Back to the car. Next stop, Woburn.
When I lived in Cambridge in what seems like
Pleistocene times, one of my favorite Harvard Square stores was Charette.
Nominally an art supply store, it was a warehouse of goodies for the
emerging yuppie class. I got several of the obligatory industrial-grade
architect's lamps there. They are built to last—I still have two Luxo
models in service and they are going strong after more than twenty
years. (I suspect the rest of my collection is somewhere in the
basement, though I am certain that one of the cheaper models I had died
of spring failure.) I thought that Charrette would be a good bet for an
adjustable height side table because they were into things that adjust.
I should have suspected that something was amiss when
I went to the Charrette website and could not find any evidence of a
Harvard Square store. Their main store (and corporate headquarters) was
still in Woburn. I had never been there, but there is a first time for
It had been at least fifteen years since I last drove
on Route 128 north of Lexington. It was unrecognizable. Starting with
the Burlington Mall, which used to be a retail oasis, it is wall-to-wall
retail all the way to Woburn (and probably beyond). Instantly upon
entering the Charrette store I knew that my 40-minute side trip had been
a total waste of time. I will not waste any more time by describing what
was there other than to say that it included nothing that I needed.
After I finally surfaced in Boston, parked my car, and
checked into my hotel, I wandered into mall. It is technically two
interconnected malls (Copley Place and the Shops at Prudential Center),
but it has the feeling of being a single mall for people who are really
into walking. It also has the feeling of being largely underground even
though it is completely aboveground. I took some notes on the mall, but
it was, in its own way, almost as disappointing as the Lee outlet mall.
I did notice that any store with a European capital in its name was sure
to be a rip-off, but it was more an adventure in boredom than in
retailing. Considering that Boston began as a city of merchants who had
escaped from an entire country of merchants, it has always provided a
great retailing experience, but one had to go outside and over to
Newbury Street to experience that. I did, but it is not webworthy.
The indoor mall experience, however, was not a total
waste of time. At the entrance to the Levenger store in Prudential
Center I saw something that lay beyond my once-fertile imagination. It
was the Scooter
Desk, an adjustable height laptop computer desk that is designed to
"scoot" over one's chair. There were just two problems with
it: Even at its lowest height it was too high for my original intended
use and it cost $348 for something that any sane person would think
should cost $98 tops (and only that much because of the wood surface
that was probably just a thin veneer.) To add that old cliché insult to
injury, one had to construct Scooter oneself. For $348, they could at
least send someone over to build it for me.
Scooter did give me an idea. Having never bothered to
enable the web-surfing features of my cell phone, I had to wait until I
got to my hotel room to Google for similar products that were better
suited to my purposes and would not make me feel like a real sucker for
buying them. I do not remember what search I ran to find it, but up
and he cost a mere $29.95. (Actually, $34.95, but I'm too lazy to report
Ikea to the appropriate federal or state authority.)
But there was a catch. No mail order. I would have to
pay a personal visit to Ikea to procure him (or get real lucky on eBay).
Adventures in retailing, indeed. Stay tuned next time for my visits—it
took two—to the Ikea in Stoughton, Massachusetts to get DAVE (and his
Copyright 2006 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission
granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250
words or less provided a citation is made to www.millerrisk.com.