Lions and Bears, Though No Tigers. CT’s AT

The Appalachian Trail zigs and zags its way from Georgia to Maine (for the north-bounders), or from Maine to Georgia for the rare  SOBOs, and a little piece makes it through Connecticut. Cutting a path through the northwest corner of the state, it includes the two high points – literally, the highest points in the state – just south of the Massachusetts border.

If you want to see both, and it is well worth the trip, try this path. Park on Bunker Hill Road in Salisbury, CT. There is a small parking lot just past a large house on the right side of the road. The trail head is in the parking lot. Take the blue blaze route up the hill until you catch the iconic white-blazed AT. From there it is a short walk to the first overlook: Lion’s Head. It is a wonderful place to take a break and survey the landscape below.

Lions Head
The view from Lion’s Head. Late August 2016. (Samsung Galaxy 6S)

This cell-phone snap does not do the view justice. Still, you might get the hint of what you will experience for yourself.

Lion's Head View - Salisbury CT 11132014
The same spot. Panorama. Mid-November 2014.

After some time enjoying that view, head north to Bear Mountain. It’s a bit more than two miles away, but well worth the effort. I am not going to spoil the moment by sharing too much, but here is another cell phone snap shot.

Bear Mtn
Bear Mountain. Late August 2016.

As you can see, it was a bit more gray as the day got later. That’s why the real camera stayed home and we have to settle for phone pics. The rain came, and in a big way.

Here is something else you should know. Should you decide to cross into Massachusetts as we did, you will be facing a treacherous descent down the north side of Bear Mountain. It requires careful maneuvering on the way down and some hands-and-feet scramble on the way back up. If you see the below sign, you made it down alive. Now you just have to climb back up and walk the 5+ miles back to your car.

BEar Mtn Sign

All told, our walk from the car, about 1/2 mile into Massachusetts, and back was about 10.5 miles. Turn around at the Bear Mountain summit and you will be at about 9.

PS: Happy trails to Music Box and Snorlax, a NOBO couple on their way to Maine. Maybe we will see you at Katahdin in October.

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Plymouth (Plimoth), MA

Plymouth, Massachusetts offers more than enough to keep one busy for a week or more. We visited Plimouth Plantation,  the Mayflower II, and, of course, Plymouth Rock. The highlight of our week was the four-hour Captain John’s Whale Watch. If you even thinking about it, go! We saw so many whales exhibiting every feeding behavior of the humpback species. Everywhere we looked off of Provincetown, there where whales feeding and sleeping and, it appeared, showing off for their visitors. Pictures don’t suffice; you must see it for yourself.

Plimouth Plantation is also worth at least two hours. The Wampanoag Native Americans where so knowledgeable and eager to share their culture. Engage in conversation to learn how they lived in harmony with the land and in sync with the seasons over the past 10,000+ years. The English village actors are equally engaging, though in a different way. I won’t spoil it for you. Explore and discover it for yourself.

Manomet Beach, Plymouth, MA

Manomet Beach is on Cape Cod Bay, located just above Cape Cod in Massachusetts. We started off with a windy night on Saturday (24 July 2016). The storms ripped through to the north, but we got in on the action with intense winds and a near 30 degree drop in temperature. It went from hot and humid to, “Where is the blanket?” Sunday morning was gorgeous.

Burr Pond State Park (CT)

Burr Pond State Park in Connecticut offers an opportunity to spend a full day of swimming, hiking, and firing up the grill. During our walk on July 16, 2016 we took it slow; it was more of a nature walk than a hike.

The loop around the pond is under three miles, but there is plenty to see. Fauna is abundant. Flora (or flowers, at least), in mid-July…not so much.

If you visiting during the summer month, pack a lunch or a cooler (no alcohol) for a BBQ. Hike. Kyack. Swim. Enjoy the respite from the daily grind and find your own frog!

Stone Mountain State Park (NC)

Nearly every day over the past weeks, we have all been inundated with horrible news. Dozens dead in Orlando. A maniac with a truck wipes out scores of lives in Nice. Cops shot. It’s enough to make one want to give up, or at least head to the woods for a while.

Yesterday’s Time magazine arrived on schedule. (Yes, we are still old-school paper in the mailbox for this and a few other mags.) In it was a wonderful article called “The Healing Power of Nature.” If you are like me, you spend a lot of time in the woods. I try to get out there at least once a week; it is restorative and peaceful and makes me feel like I have had time off. Maybe this Time piece explains it. Maybe it’s the majesty of creation. Whatever it is, I like being there, discovering new jaw-dropping vistas, and looking back on my photos.

This brings me to my motivation for this and future blogs. I am simply going to share my pictures and a few comments on the walk. My goal, as humble as it might be, is to inspire you to get out there. If you can’t – maybe you are a city dweller or are physically limited or have some other good reason – the pictures can still help you decompress.

Enjoy. Breathe. Be.

Peace.

= = =

Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina is a place one can spend days enjoying. We had just a few hours, enough to make the ride worthwhile, and also enough to make us want to go back for more. The three most interesting features we saw were Wolf Rock, Cedar Ridge, and the Hutchinson Homestead. If you see nothing else, go to these areas of the park. The climbs are moderate, and the Homestead, which also gives you a great view of Stone Mountain, is accessible to those using wheelchairs. You can (though we didn’t) drive right up.

 

Why Radio Shack (or RadioShack) Will Disappear

The Shack is built on a 20th century business model. The numbers don’t work to make survival possible. I say this with some regret as a former store manager and district manager (’87-’96), but it’s true. Here is a little history about a once-great company that is playing out its final act.

(By the way: I can’t get used to the magnificently uninspired decision to force the Radio and the Shack together into one long string of letters. Call me inflexible, I guess.)

Charles Tandy: It’s All About Margin

Charles was an entrepreneur from the beginning. One of his first childhood forays into business was purchasing leather scraps and reselling them as belts and other accessories. He bought the materials cheap and made a nice markup on each sale. That evolved into the high gross-margin Tandy Leather hobbyist store.

Charles realized that he could make a killing by identifying other high-margin retail businesses. He stumbled upon Pier One Imports in San Francisco, and realized that this was a similar model. Low-cost goods from Asia provided opportunities for huge markups and profit. He bought the company and built it, realizing great success and fat profits along the way (Tandy eventually spun-off Pier One).

When he looked at Radio Shack’s business, which had been a Boston-based small chain catering to amateur radio enthusiasts, he saw yet another opportunity to buy low and sell high. He bought the chain and built it on a high-margin model that catered to electronics enthusiasts. They were at the forefront of the consumer electronics market and the PC revolution, coming to market with the clunky TRS-80 that some loved, many loathed (WD40 to cure keyboard-bounce!), but that deserves a place in history.

How Much Margin?

Watch One Thing and Record Another!
Watch One Thing and Record Another!

Most of the stuff we sold when I was there carried gross margins in the 60% range. This meant that a smaller store doing $500,000 in annual sales generated about $300K to cover payroll, rent, advertising, general administrative expenses and money back to shareholders. With those margins, there was plenty of cash to go around. Tandy and successors also made big manager pay possible at the store level with generous profit-based pay plans. It wasn’t unusual for a small-store manager to make $60 – 70K or more in the 80’s – good money for the time. It kept people motivated to sell.

Here is a typical sale from when I started in 1987: A customer would walk in the door and say, “I want to be able to record one cable channel on my VCR while watching another. What do I need?”

Cha-ching!

Out came the pen and paper to sketch and explain how to do it. Each line on the page meant cash in the drawer. Take a look at the diagram (you can double-click to get the full effect) to see what I mean. A competent sales person could turn this into a $50 transaction. Easy! But that was then.

Big Tickets

It was also easy to create big sales when new technology first hit the scene. Do you remember the $999 camcorder? It was a big deal when the prices dropped to $799.

15 Inches of Bass-Thumping Walnut-Encased Audio Bliss!
15 Inches of Bass-Thumping Walnut-Encased Audio Bliss!

Some customers also loved the separate audio components. A Realistic STA-something matched to a pair of walnut-cased Mach Two speakers with 15-inch woofers and a linear tracking turntable could rattle the windows! If big and wooden wasn’t your thing, there was always the solid metal Minimus-7. Nice!

How about the Radio Shack brick phone?

Handheld Cellphone: $1499 (without charger)
Handheld Cellphone: $1499 (without charger)

This bicep-curl beauty sold for $1,500 when it first came out. And that didn’t include the charging stand and AC power adapter. I sold two on one transaction to the New York City Police Department. $3,300 of the taxpayer’s money went in the drawer that day.

Today

Reach into your pocket and grab your smartphone. How many apps, both standard stuff that came with it, or free or cheap downloads, are now handled by this device? They used to represent a sale to Radio Shack. Here’s a short list: camera, camcorder, voice recorder, calculator (standard and scientific), pedometer/exercise monitor, stopwatch, timer, alarm clock, clock radio (or wake up to Pandora, anyway)…Did I forget anything?

Oh, yeah, landline phones and all of the wires and jacks they used are fading, too. Who wants a phone number tied to a place (and the bill for it) when your cell number connects right to you?

How about that big cable and switch sale? The bad old days of that scenario are over. Now your cable box has a four-channel DVR, blank recording media is a thing of the past, and one cable (HDMI) connects everything. Can I borrow a blank VHS tape?

That day-in-day-out business of the Shack is a thing of the past.

Competition

The obvious ones are Best Buy and Amazon. Don’t forget about Lowe’s and Home Depot for everythingcables and wires. How about Guitar Center for audio cables, mixers and that whole segment?

Cell phones? Visit wireless row in any mall. Between in-line stores and kiosks, many either company-owned by the carriers (e.g., Verizon, Sprint, AT&T), or specialized and highly-competent dealers, there are just too many places to buy and upgrade for Shack executives to claim this as a strength and company-saving strategy.

Is There Hope?

In a word, NO. The gross margins that made low sales-volume stores viable are not there anymore. There is no such thing as an exclusive in a connected world where anyone can buy anything at any time from anyone else. That extreme – we could say perfect – competition just doesn’t make it possible. Unless a business controls the whole channel, from creation (with heavy emphasis on innovation and intellectual property protections) to manufacturing to distribution (think Apple), and has something special that everyone wants and nobody else has, free markets will not allow outsized profits. Even Apple is having to fight off Samsung and Google. It’s accurate to say that Radio Shack does not belong on a list with those organizations.

Radio Shack might hang on for a few more years if it can create an inspiring shopping experience characterized by outstanding customer service and knowledgeable people. That’s a big if, though, as the margin isn’t there to support and retain such talent.

The 80’s wants their store back. I think they are going to get it.

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If you haven’t seen it, David Letterman hit them hard on March 5th. I think the calculator warmer is an idea worth exploring.