Business

Something’s brewing: Starbucks opens 23,000-sq.-ft. coffee destination in New York City

December 14, 2018

If you’re wild about “joe,” you won’t want to waste a minute before you visit the Starbucks Reserve Roastery New York, which opens its doors to the public today.

The Manhattan location marks Starbucks fourth Roastery and second location nationwide–joining sites in Seattle, Shanghai,and Milan; with future openings coming to Tokyo and Chicago in 2019.

The immersive coffee experience—across nearly 23,000 square feet of lavish retail space—“celebrates the heritage of roasting and the craft of coffee,” according to a Starbucks announcement, which adds, “The sights and sounds of coffee’s journey from bean to cup are reflected at every turn in the thoughtfully designed environment.”

Indeed, Starbucks says, that the Roastery has been envisioned as “the pinnacle experience around all-things-coffee, and there is nothing else like it in the world.”

With premium coffees, teas, mixology—alcoholic beverages infused with coffee and tea—and the iconic Milanese Princi Bakery, the Roastery serves as a “Starbucks brand amplifier and a platform for future innovation,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. “Beverages such as Draft Nitro, Cold Foam, and Juniper Latte all began at the Roastery and have since been introduced to Starbucks locations around the world. It is the ultimate Starbucks Experience and an unforgettable way to connect with our customers.”

The Roastery employs nearly 300 people, including roasters, baristas, commessas (shop assistants), and mixologists. There are two coffee bars at the Roastery, which in total offer seven brewing methods, including pour over, Chemex, coffee press, siphon, espresso, Clover, and cold brewing.

At its core, the coffee chain says, Starbucks Reserve Roastery New York is a working coffee roastery, where Starbucks Master Roasters, who have trained for years in the craft of coffee roasting, will be small-batch roasting Starbucks rarest single-origin coffees and blends called Starbucks Reserve. Those coffees then get served fresh at the Roastery or shipped to Starbucks Reserve stores nationwide.

“New York is a hub to the world,” said Liz Muller, chief design officer of Starbucks. “We’ve designed a space where the excitement and dynamic activity of the neighborhood is mirrored in the Roastery. We want our customers to come in and feel very inspired.”

Research contact: @Starbucks

Cash on delivery: The selling of our mailboxes

December 13, 2018

The government is looking to “sell” Americans’ last bastion of privacy—our mailboxes—posthaste.

Specifically, in seeking ways to boost revenue for the U.S. Postal Service‘s money-losing operations–the Trump Administration is suggesting selling access to mailboxes, according to a December 11 report by CBS News.

“The legal mailbox monopoly remains highly valuable,” said a government report issued last week. “As a means of generating more income, the mailbox monopoly could be monetized.

While the report didn’t detail how much the USPS could earn from franchising mailboxes, it suggests that the USPS could charge third-party delivery services such as UPS or FedEx to gain access to consumer mailboxes, the network news outlet said. It’s currently illegal for other delivery services to drop packages or letters in a mailbox–a restriction that even applies to neighbors stuffing flyers for a local event.

The recommendation—a product of a task force created by President Donald Trump and chaired by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin—is just one of the ideas that the group made to tweak the USPS business model. According to the report, as of the end of FY 2018, the USPS balance sheet “reflects $89 billion in liabilities against $27 billion in assets—a net deficiency of $69 billion between FY 2007 and FY 2018.”

Other proposals from the group included cutting costs and boosting prices for “nonessential services,” including delivery of commercial mail, such as advertising flyers, CBS News reported.

“As [mail service providers] and package delivery companies continue to expand offerings to multiple parts of the value chain, it is reasonable to expect a willingness to pay for access to USPS mailboxes,” the report noted. “By franchising the mailbox, the USPS could expand its revenue and income opportunities without necessitating any change to its current mail products.”

But the economics might not be as rosy as the Trump administration report suggests, Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank that focuses on productivity and innovation issues, told CBS News.

“Nobody knows what the economics of that are,” Atkinson said in an interview with the network news operation. “Right now, say what you want about the Postal Service, but the part that is perhaps the most efficient is the last-mile delivery,” or the delivery from postal offices to consumers’ homes.

Instead, it could actually backfire and end up costing the USPS more money, Atkinson warned: “One of the reasons the USPS is not even more financially troubled is because they have this monopoly for delivery” to your mailbox, he explained.

If the USPS sells access to consumers’ mailboxes, even more businesses may opt for rival services such as FedEx or UPS. It’s not clear whether the franchise fees would offset the loss of that mail revenue, he added.

“I’m dubious that they could charge a price that could be any better than they already make, because then they’d be delivering fewer of those letters or packages,” Atkinson said.

While the report didn’t single out Amazon, the online retailer , President Trump repeatedly has blamed the company for some of the USPS’ financial woes. The president has claimed the USPS loses $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon.

There’s little evidence to back up his claims, however, as the package delivery remains one of the few lines of business that’s growing for the USPS, CBS reports.

Research contact: @aimeepicchi

No extra legroom, just more money: United announces new charges in coach

December 12, 2018

Air travel alert: Even sitting in coach is getting way more expensive. Starting December 14, coach passengers on United Airlines who want to avoid the back of the plane may have to ante up for it, according to a December 10 report by CNBC.

The air carrier will charge a fee for so-called “preferred seats” on flights throughout its network. These seats don’t come with extra legroom or other perks. They’re standard economy seats are located behind the Economy Plus rows, which do come with more space to stretch out.

Ready to switch airlines? It won’t help. United’s rivals American Airlines and Delta Air Lines already have a surcharge in place for such seats, CNBC notes—pointing out that the airlines all seem to be attempting to get customers to pay up for perks that used to be included in airfare.

United did not say how much more travelers would have to pay for seats in these preferred locations. On competitors Delta and American, the prices vary by aircraft, route, and demand, the cable news outlet says.

For example, a preferred seat on a Delta flight from New York to Los Angeles in early January was $80. On an American flight from New York to Paris at that time, the price of a preferred location seat ranged from $62 to $81. Prices are for each leg of the itinerary.

Seating is a key part of the airlines’ bare-bones basic economy product, which United and American rolled out last year, following Delta. In exchange for what is usually the lowest fare, basic economy passengers can’t pick their seats ahead of time or make changes to their tickets. They also board last.

What’s next? Maybe charging for the oxygen masks that deploy when an airplane hits an air pocket and sinks rapidly in rough weather.

Research contact: @lesliejosephs

UK ‘player’ Hamleys may expand into U.S. toy sector

December 11, 2018

Although Toys R Us has returned as a pop-up store at Kroger for the holidays (and maybe longer), the retailer that used to rule the toy realm is just a shadow of its former self. And, without the industry leading Toys R Us megastores, nationwide, an $11 billion toy industry has been left with no dominant retail player in the sector, reported CNBC on December 10.

Companies like TargetWalmartAmazon and Kohl’s are trying this holiday season to sell more toys to kids and their parents, but the verdict is still out on which company will best fill the void that Toys R Us left behind, the news outlet said.

But now—seeing a huge opportunity— one iconic, international toy retailer could soon make its first move into the States with a flagship location in New York, and plans for a wider rollout of stores to follow. British toy retailer Hamleys is close to finalizing a deal for roughly 30,000 square feet at 2 Herald Square in Manhattan, near Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret, a person familiar with those negotiations told CNBC, requesting anonymity because the talks are confidential. The store is expected to open in 2020, should the deal go through, said the source—cautioning talks are still ongoing between the tenant and landlord and nothing has been finalized.

According to CNBC, Hamleys has been around since 1760 when it opened its first location in England. Today, it has a flagship shop on tourist destination Regent Street in London, in addition to locations all across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. And in North America, Hamleys has three stores in Mexico.

In the United Kingdom, Hamleys’ stores are known to draw kids in for exciting experience, including the opportunity to play with life-size Lego figures. Often, employees dress up as fictional characters to entertain shoppers. This excitement in stores is what many people say the toy industry is now missing in the United States, CNBC reports. And shoppers prefer it to the online experience, where it is impossible to pick up a toy and look at it, or try it.

After an opening in New York, Hamleys would likely mote into other  major markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami to open store;  and would consider moving into some of the more profitable malls in the country, said the person familiar with its plans.

Hamleys didn’t immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Research contact: @laurenthomasx3

Sweetening the pot: Altria goes all in on the cannabis market

December 10, 2018

Is the Marlboro Man becoming a stoner? Altria— the parent company of Philip Morris USA and the manufacturer of market-leading Marlboro cigarettes—announced on December 7 that it has taken a 45% equity stake in Cronos Group, a Toronto-based cannabinoid company.

The deal, which will cost Altria about US$1.8 billion (CA$2.4 billion), is making news just two months after Canada became the first G7 country to nationally legalize recreational marijuana. Sales started on October 17—generating excitement and long queues at the shops, which are now reporting a cannabis shortage.

The acquisition of a stake in Cronos gives Altria a foothold in Canada. It also positions Altria to participate in the emerging global cannabis sector and creates a new growth opportunity in an adjacent category that is complementary to Altria’s core tobacco businesses.

Indeed, Altria has been struggling with the steady decline of the U.S. market for tobacco products—and sees potential to tap into a vital new segment as marijuana moves into the mainstream. In a formal statement CEO Howard Willard characterized the investment as “an exciting new growth opportunity.”

Meanwhile Cronos CEO Mike Gorenstein said the deal would “meaningfully accelerate our strategic growth.”

Word on the street is that this may only be a first step for Altria. According to Bloomberg, the company is in talks “to buy a stake in Juul, another fast-growing company threatening the traditional cigarette space. The possible expansions in more than one direction show it’s open to any number of approaches to resume growth.”

Research contact: @Altria News

Walgreens joins with FedEx to offer next-day prescription home delivery

December 7, 2018

When an incapacitating or communicable illness hits home, getting dressed and driving to the drug store suddenly becomes an Olympic-size challenge—and one that could spread your germs to the other customers at the pharmacy. Now, there may no longer be the need to drag yourself out the door.

On December 6, Walgreens and FedEx jointly announced the nationwide launch of next-dayiprescription delivery service—bringing together Walgreens’ extensive network of neighborhood pharmacy locations with FedEx’s air-and-ground delivery fleet in order to enhance convenience for customers.

In doing so, Walgreens claimed it will become “the fastest choice for next-day prescription delivery across the nation.”

Customers enrolled in text alerts will receive text notification when qualifying prescriptions are ready. Following a simple process on their mobile devices, they then can have their qualifying prescriptions delivered right to their homes as early as the next day (for a $4.99 fee nationwide). In addition, same-day delivery now is available in select markets—and will be expanded in 2019.

“Walgreens is driven by a desire to make healthcare accessible to all across the thousands of communities we serve. Next-day prescription home delivery is another convenience-driver, alongside our industry-leading number of extended hours pharmaciesiii and one of the most downloaded digital apps in the category, designed to put care in the hands of our patients,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president of operations. “This expansion of our alliance with FedEx illustrates our commitment to making filling prescriptions as fast and easy as possible.”

Walgreens ExpressT allows patients to preview their cost, prepay for eligible prescriptions, and choose between home delivery or express pickup in store. Patients who prefer collecting prescriptions at their local Walgreens can enter a dedicated Walgreens Express pickup checkout line to receive their prescriptions.

“FedEx and Walgreens are empowering consumers to choose when and where they receive their orders,” said Randy Scarborough, vice president of Retail Marketing, FedEx Services. “Just as FedEx package pick-up and drop-off services at Walgreens locations provide customers with much-needed convenience, the ability to ship prescription medication directly from Walgreens to their homes offers valuable flexibility to best meet individual needs and schedules.”

Research contact: morry.smulevitz@walgreens.com

Way to go: Waymo debuts commercial ride-share service

December 6, 2018

After months of testing and millions of miles developing self-driving vehicle technology, Waymo—a subsidiary of Alphabet that originated as a Google project in 2009—has officially launched the country’s first commercial autonomous ride-share service, CNBC reported on December 5.

Based in Mountain View, California (like Google), Waymo stands for “a new way forward in mobility.” Since testing began, the company’s fleet of self-driving vehicles has included modified Toyota Priuses, Lexus SUVs, a custom-built prototype vehicle (named “Firefly”), and now, fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. In addition, Waymo has partnered with Jaguar to create the world’s first premium electric self-driving car—the Jaguar I-Pace.

The company’s Waymo One program gives riders access to an app that they can use on their smart phones to call its self-driving vehicles, 24/7. Initially, the service will be limited to cities surrounding Phoenix, including Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler, CNBC said. Customers in the Phoenix area include hundreds of people who have been test users of the Waymo self-driving vehicle fleet that has been in development since April 2017.

“Self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik told CNBC. One example of Waymo taking a cautious approach rolling out its ride-share service is the company’s use of safety drivers to supervise the rides, at least initially

“For now,” the company says on its website, “Waymo-trained drivers are in the cars to make sure our riders have a great experience and serve as a backup only.” In addition, the company’s app and consoles in the Waymo One vehicles will allow riders to instantly connect with support agents who can assist riders with questions.

Alphabet‘s Waymo One marks the start of the race by automakers, tech companies and other firms to launch autonomous ride-share services, CNBC notes. General Motors subsidiary Cruise plans to launch a similar service using self-driving vehicles next year.

What’s driving the competition? The pursuit of greater profits. Studies of have shown the biggest cost for ride-share operations is the expense of paying a driver. General Motors estimates it costs ride -share companies more than $3 per mile in San Francisco. However, GM believes that cost could drop to roughly $1 per mile by 2025 with driverless vehicles in ride-share fleets.

According to CNBC, Waymo has said it expects the cost to consumers for using Waymo One to be competitive with Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing services.

Research contact:  @Lebeaucarnews

Scoot over, Bird and Lyme: Superpedestrian to offer ‘self-repairing’ electric scooters

December 5, 2018

Emergency rooms are seeing even more cases involving broken noses, wrists, and shoulders; facial lacerations and fractures; and blunt head trauma than they have in the past—especially on the West Coast, where electric-scooter use is trending.

Although no data on scooter injuries has been compiled to date, The Washington Post reports that the handy, scaled-down urban vehicles—which really are a juiced-up version of what used to be a child’s toy—seem to be exposing users to danger.

Indeed, the news outlet says that, as use of the scooters continues surge—and to spread nationwide—manufacturers and marketers of the vehicles have been criticized for deploying models that break apart in use, catch fire, and lull vulnerable riders into a false sense of safety. Many riders do not even use helmets while they are negotiating bumper-to-bumper city traffic.

But now, the Post reported on December 3, a transportation robotics company claims it may have the solution.

Superpedestrian—a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based micro-mobility company that began producing electric bicycles in 2013—told the D.C.-based news outlet this week that it plans to begin producing an “industrial grade e-scooter” capable of operating on a single charge for several days, self-diagnosing mechanical problems and removing itself from circulation using “vehicle intelligence” in 2019.

The average e-scooter life span is about three months, but Assaf Biderman, the company’s founder and CEO—as well as associate director of the MIT Senseable City Laboratory (where the concept for the company’s bike and its innovative Copenhagen Wheel was born)—says Superpedestrian’s e-scooters will be able to remain in circulation for as long as 18 months.

“Shared scooters must be super-robust, require minimal charging and be smart enough to sustain themselves on city streets for prolonged periods of time, all while costing a few hundreds of dollars to produce,” Biderman told the newspaper.

The company’s scooter tops out at around 17 mph but is slightly larger than models available through major companies such as Bird, Lime, Skip, and Lyft. The scooter can travel up to 60 miles on a single charge, the company informed the Post.

Biderman said the larger wheel size and rider base improves safety and sets the model apart from most e-scooters on the market.

What’s more, Superpedestrian’s scooter is capable of self-diagnosing mechanical problems using “vehicle intelligence”—a tool designed to monitor battery voltage and temperature, as well as the device’s motor.

When the scooter encounters a mechanical problem, Biderman said, its scooter performs automated maintenance. If that fails, he added, the scooter opens a support ticket and takes itself offline, making it impossible for customers to ride. Once that occurs, he said, a human mechanic would be alerted to fix the scooter on the ground.

“Compare this to how things currently work, where you rely on users to report that a vehicle has an issue, but if they fail to do so, people can keep riding and be at risk.”

Research contact: peter.holley@washpost.com

Dog tired: Italian Ikea store opens doors to stray pooches

December 4, 2018

Animal lovers are giving an Ikea store in Catania, Italy, a big social-media smooch after photos appeared on online showing stray pooches sleeping among the furniture displays.

Martine Taccia was shopping at the Ikea when she saw the dogs relaxing near a living room display, The Dodo reports. “My reaction was pure amazement. It’s not a common thing,” Taccia told the animal news site.

Taccia said she had found out that the furniture and appliance store opens its doors to strays in cold weather and even provides food and water. “The dogs receive daily food and pampering from Ikea’s employees and customers,” Taccia says. “Some dogs have even found a family, going home with customers.”

She immediately posted the news to her Facebook page—and the shares and likes continue to multiply.

According to the comments on the photos, dog lovers are giving this one store’s policy a big thumbs up. “Thank God there are still good people in the world who help poor animals,” one friend wrote on Instagram.

Another customer, Beppe Liotta, was likewise smitten with the store’s dog-friendly initiative. “I felt a feeling of deep tenderness and great happiness in seeing dogs crouched in the exhibition space at the entrance of the IKEA,” Liotta told The Dodo.

As a self-proclaimed animal lover, Liotta told the news outlet that he hopes other businesses will follow suit by opening their doors (and their hearts) to animals whose sad circumstances are all too often overlooked.

“If all the stores that had the space would make a place of refuge for strays, I would be really happy,” he said.

Research contact: stephen@thedodo.com

Airbnb’s Samara group to design and construct homes for communal living

December 3, 2018

Airbnb has already changed the way people travel. Now, the eight-year-old company is aiming to bring the peer-to-peer economy to housing, with the introduction of Backyard—described on a new website as “an initiative to protype new ways homes can be built and shared, guided by an ambition to realize more humanistic, future-oriented, and waste-conscious design.”

Airbnb’s design studio, Samara, announced the project on November 28, CNBC reports. The Backyard initiative will “investigate how building could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time.”

The goal: To test prototypes Backyard units as soon as the fall of 2019.

“We began with a simple question: What does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like?” Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia—who alo serves as the leader of the design and innovation studio Samara—said in a statement about Backyard. “The answer is not simple at all.

“Other questions quickly emerged,” said Gebbia. “Can a home respond to the needs of many inhabitants over a long period of time? Can it support and reflect the tremendous diversity of human experience? Can it keep up with the rate at which the world changes? Can we accomplish this without filling landfills with needless waste?

“It’s a tall order.”

While there are no details about what the homes might look like or how much they will cost, Gebbia told Fast Company that Backyard isn’t just about a house, it’s an “initiative to rethink the home.”

“We helped people activate underutilized space—from a spare bedroom or treehouse to your apartment while you’re away—and built a community that connected people around the world,” Gebbia said. “With Backyard, we’re using the same lens through which Airbnb was envisioned—the potential of space—and applying it more broadly to architecture and construction.”

As The Washington Post points out, the project “could augment Airbnb’s home-rental marketplace, adding real estate development to its portfolio, as cities continue to limit the company’s short-term rentals.” Cities from New York to Washington, D.C., and Boston are passing regulations that have the effect of restricting Airbnb offerings.

Airbnb management started the initiative by surveying the construction industry for practical solutions—but quickly found that it would be “necessary to start from a blank slate.”

“If we’re truly going to reimagine the design of homes,” Gebbia remarked, “ we have to be holistic. We can’t approach Backyard solely from the point of view of design, architecture, urbanism, civic ordinance, sustainable materiality, or manufacturing. We have to grapple with the whole of it.”

He said, “For us, this goes beyond a business opportunity. It’s a social responsibility. The way buildings are made is outdated and generates a tremendous amount of waste. In order to meet the demands of the future, whether it be climate displacement or rural-urban migration, the home needs to evolve, to think forward.”

It’s a tall order—and, says CNBC, Airbnb is not the only company expanding into residential real estate and shared living space: In 2016, collaborative workspace startup WeWork launched WeLive— which currently has two apartment locations (one in New York City and the other in D.C.). Both have dorm-like living spaces and communal social spaces.

Research contact: @sarahelizberger