Why are there so many drugstores?

Posted in Ridiculum on July 13th, 2012 by Nathan – 1 Comment

I tried to find whatever "chemist" I went to in Ireland, but I couldn't figure out what it was called. Enjoy Super-Pharm instead.Off the top of my head, I can name four national drugstore chains: Walgreens, CVS, Duane Reade, and RiteAid. On top of that, there's Soap.com and Alice, two online drugstores. And some very quick research (wikipedia) shows me that Walmart, Kroger, and Target, among others, are also major players in this area of business. Also, apparently, there's Drugstore.com, though this (and apparently DR as well now) is owned by Walgreens.

Essentially, the pharmacy market seems to an outsider (me) to be an extremely over-saturated market. We live a block away from a Walgreens, and only two blocks away from that is a CVS. This is ridiculous. There seems to be no reason why the drugstore market needs to be this large.

And then there's all the pharmacies that no longer exist but were once big chains. Eckerd. Phar-Mor. So even if we agree that the market is over-saturated now, imagine how much worse it used to be!

One could suggest that there's serious room for disruption in this market, that whomever enters and provides a vastly better service should be able to seriously winnow the market down, removing some of the lesser competitors (read: RiteAid). This is probably the goal behind the online drugstore competitors, but these stores fail to address the pharmacy aspect of drugstores. In other words, they provide the soap and toilet paper and toothpaste, but can't easily fill prescriptions in a way that works for customers.

I'm not actually convinced that a serious competitor could come in, however, to disrupt this market. I think that the barriers of entry are too high. Not the traditional barriers of entry, such as overhead or cost, or other issues caused by a market controlled by too few entities (such as a monopoly or oligopoly), but a different kind of barriers to entry, caused by the opposite. I think the drugstore market is so over-competitive, there's no room for another competitor, no matter what edge they have.

The market needs to first shrink itself, through more acquisitions or other ways of eliminating some of the participants, before a true disruptor can come in and change the drugstore world for the better. I don't know how accurate this is, but it seems reasonable: there are so many competitors, customers wouldn't even notice a new one.

Or it could be that we truly do need that much shampoo and bug spray. So large is our appetite for these things that the drugstore market is not in fact over-saturated, but properly large. I don't buy this argument though. There's just too many of them.

Talking about "myself"

Posted in Ridiculum on July 11th, 2012 by Nathan – 1 Comment

This has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but all the people I've asked recently didn't remember Sprinkle Spangles, possibly the greatest '90s cereal no longer with us. Sprinkle Spangles: Never Forget.I'm confused as to why other people are confused about the usage of the word "myself." Or, if I were to rephrase that sentence as I've heard others speak: Myself is confused as to why others…

I can understand why some people mess up "I" and "me". The rules governing these are not extremely cumbersome, but they are not generally taught properly and so I frequently hear people misusing these. But interestingly, because this misuse is so widespread, it means that to some extent, it has become correct. Not correct in the prescriptive grammar sense, but correct in terms of its wide acceptance and easy understanding.

That is, both "she is taller than me" and "she is taller than I" are acceptable today. The latter is grammatically correct, but the former sometimes sounds better. Phrases such as "between you and I" and "at Jane and I" are semi-reasonable. Sure, they aren't correct according to the rules of grammar, but they frequently make sense, and outside of an academic setting, I fail to see any major reason why they shouldn't both be acceptable.

Of course, there's a limit on that as well. Were I to instead say "Me fail to see any reason…" no one would invest any interest in what I have to say. One could argue that "taller than me" is just as bad as "me fail" but I am not going to be that one.

But when it comes to "myself," I'm a little harsher. I've heard a frequent use of this, in all kinds of situations, and it seems to me that people are using "myself" when they don't know which of the above ("I" or "me") to use. This is just ridiculous. I've heard a lot of people say things like "if you have an issue, speak to Janet or myself." It seems like they are trying to decide whether to say "me" or "I" but rather than possibly make a mistake, settle on "myself" instead. This has spread so much that I've even heard it used in situations where the "I" or "me" alternative is clear, such as "if you have an issue, speak to myself."

That's just ridiculous. Myself is reflexive. In other words, only I can do anything with myself. Only you can do anything with yourself. I wouldn't say "Let me talk to yourself," but I might say "You should stop talking to yourself."

I don't really understand why people are misusing this so frequently, recently, and I have to think that my theory is the most plausible explanation: in order to avoid looking stupid (for mistaking "I" and "me"), they choose to look stupid by using "myself."

Or maybe I should say, "themselves choose to look stupid."

Incredible Universe was an omen

Posted in Ridiculum on July 6th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I think the five exclamation points might also have been a fatal blow. Come on. FIVE? That's ridiculous.Best Buy has just announced an overhaul to their stores, in an attempt to make them more like the Apple Store. Sounds like it makes sense, because the Apple Store works, but on the other hand, the Apple Store sells Apple products that are priced the same in the store as online. Best Buy sells third party products, most of which are cheaper elsewhere. Best Buy, whose sales have dropped for two straight years, is on its way out.

But should we be surprised? Circuit City disappeared in 2009 for roughly the same reasons that Best Buy will eventually collapse, and CompUSA's failure preceded Circuit City in 2008.

But since both of those stores were victims during the global financial crisis, it's possible to blame external forces on their demise, as well as the collective demise of many other chains, such as Tweeter, the Sharper Image, and tons of other companies. In order to say that Best Buy missed the writing on the wall, we'd have to say this was a trend for large, brick-and-mortar electronics chains.

Look no further than Incredible Universe. The store where I recall my family buying a Macintosh Performa when I was in elementary school disappeared only years later. That particular outlet would eventually become a Houston Community College campus outlet. In only five years, the rise and fall of Incredible Universe shows exactly why these other businesses fail and why Best Buy cannot be far away from the same end.

Incredible Universe first opened shop in Arlington, TX, in 1992. They closed, with seventeen stores, in 1996. Overnight, they had built massive stores, stocked them with the latest in technology, trained employees, built the foundation for an empire, and collapsed. What destroyed them varies from store to store, but only a few stores were ever profitable. Poor location hurt some stores, but the biggest problem was an inability to compete in a growing marketplace. Best Buy and other such stores were rapidly expanding, with lower overhead and larger selections of products.

Incredible Universe was designed as a theatrical experience, with a giant stage under a massive rotunda, and side stages and areas holding different departments. Because of this, their buildings were more expensive than their competitors, and overhead was therefore higher. Also, this contributed to open spaces that decreased the possible number of products available. They simply could not compete with stores that had it better in both of these areas.

But since Best Buy was part of the competition that killed Incredible Universe, it should come as no shock that Best Buy will ultimately die for the same reasons. "Because you drowned others, you too were drowned," teaches Hillel, and in this case, it makes sense. Best Buy still occupies a physical presence with limited inventory. Their overhead is higher, and their product selection lower than their main competitor: the internet.

So while they can try to survive by emulating a major competitor, this is just a delay of the inevitable. It is not a renaissance or a rebirth. It's just a stay of execution, probably brief, until the axe eventually does fall. We should learn from this, but I'm not sure how. Perhaps online retail will also die to some even lower-overhead higher-inventory system that doesn't yet exist. "And those who drowned you will themselves be drowned." Maybe not, as eventually the cycle must end. But if it doesn't end here, we shouldn't be surprised. Incredible Universe was an omen (and not the first of its cycle either) and we would be wise not to ignore it.

Why don't we know geography?

Posted in Ridiculum on June 27th, 2012 by Nathan – 1 Comment

As you can see from this map, the southernmost part of South America belongs to Chile. Yet, some idiot pubquiz in New Jersey insisted on Argentina. If only geography was important...Last night, I was talking with some friends when we realized that three of us had won spelling bees at some point in our lives. The topic quickly moved to the geography bee, and it was as quickly revealed that not only had none of us won the event, but none performed all that well.

I vividly remember the geography bees of my middle school years, in which I would almost certainly be eliminated within the first round. But the competitions didn't last very long for anyone else either. The spelling bee I won lasted two days before I was declared winner. Geography bees, on the other hand, rarely lasted more than two hours. People were eliminated quickly, and with the exception of the guy who won every year, it seemed that none of us knew much geography.

It seems like geography is probably an important thing to know. We are taught from a young age the fifty states, even though fewer than ten or so are actually important. We also learn postal codes for those states, and if we're really lucky we learn the capitals. But we don't learn much more than that.

If you don't know where you are, how can you truly understand who you are? It seems to me that geography is important, and yet, we don't know much about it. If we were to ask people throughout the world to name states, I bet many could name at least the important ones. And yet if asked to name parts of their countries, we would be at a loss.

We take geography as a class in ninth grade in Texas, formally, but we learn much in the years of history and social studies before that. We don't retain the information, though, because it's not considered important. When it's time to get into college, you need to know how to read and how to do simple math. If you take the ACT instead of the SAT, you also need to know how to read a chart. But you don't need to label a blank map. You don't need to name foreign capitals. You don't need to know about large rivers or deserts. You don't need to know how many oceans there are. So after ninth grade is over, any geography you've learned is quickly forgotten.

That's odd. Math is important, and reading comprehension is as well, but why isn't geography in the same boat? Why do we put so little emphasis on this subject?

Okay I'm sick of 'manly' commercials

Posted in Ridiculum on June 13th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

The Old Spice Guy. What havoc he has wrought.When they debuted, the Old Spice commercials were hilarious. A "manly" man screaming about body wash, punching through walls, riding horses, and wooing the ladies, all in an ADD-fueled frenzy. And I have to imagine they were successful. There were parodies, remakes, follow-ups, and most recently, knockoffs.

And that last one has gone overboard. At some point, advertising decided that in order to sell a product, especially one that isn't inherently "manly," you need to emphasize that it is in fact for men, and only for real men, and women, children, and non-manly men need not patronize these businesses.

So lately, it seems like every Super Bowl commercial is trying to duplicate the success of Old Spice. Not necessarily by simply ripping off the commercial (though I've seen a few products that do that), but more by explaining that men must retake their masculinity, they must strive to be more male, and in order to become true men again, they must use [insert product here].

I think this culminated with Dr Pepper Ten, which straight up says "it's not for women." It's amusing, and it seems to me like it's probably a parody of the concept altogether because of how over the top it is, but I think that most probably don't view it that way: it's just another in an increasingly long line of manly commercials.

There's nothing particularly manly about body wash, diet soda or light beer. If these are gendered an any direction, it's probably toward femininity. Which is why Tecate Light, the most recent example of this that I've heard, explains that it is beer only for "men with character," the last word of which is pronounced in a poor representation of a hispanic-American, as though if to also piggyback on the success of Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World."

But it's not just for men with character, which one would think means interesting men. No, it's only for the manly man. You cannot wear pink. If you do, you're not a man with character. And you're not the target audience of Tecate Light.

This is somewhat related to the trend of products telling consumers not to use them, and it's ridiculous. But it's also borderline offensive. While Old Spice was just funny, and Dr Pepper Ten took it a step further, seemingly making fun of the trend, Tecate Light is neither of these things. It's not funny, it's not self-deprecating, it's just "manly."

Almost certainly, the next iteration of these commercials will cross the line. They aren't just annoying, they're going to be offensive. I've already had enough. I think it would be wise for the trend to stop here.

Cite your sources!

Posted in Ridiculum on May 14th, 2012 by Nathan – 2 Comments

Source: XKCD. Also I wanted to somehow work this quote in from Pirke Avot but failed, so here's as good a place as any: "He who cites his source shall bring redemption to the world, as it is written (Esther: 2:22), 'And Esther spoke in the name of Mordechai'" (Avot 6:6)There's an epidemic afoot. It's striking books, newspapers, blogs, television, and conversations. It's striking any medium in which information is conveyed. It's proliferating, spreading faster than any nefarious disease. And it's noxious, horrible, and disgusting.

I'm referring, of course, to people who fail to cite their sources. People who quote someone, or who claim some statement or opinion as factual, without saying who that someone is, or where that statement or opinion comes from.

Of course, it's worst when numbers are involved, because numbers are inherently misleading. Without citing whatever source the numbers are from, I have to assume they are made up.

But it's not just people making up things. Sometimes there's a great story and I want to repeat it, but I want more facts. I was reading a blog recently that claimed that a politician once, in response to being called a "stupid c**t," stated that there are plenty of stupid c**ts, and they deserve representation too.

Great story, hilarious, probably didn't happen precisely like that. But because the author of this post failed to cite the name of the politician, I have no idea what was actually said, and therefore can only relate the story as above. It's alleged and supposed, it's not necessarily factual.

Contrary to the story above, however, I actually think that in blogs, this can be acceptable. Generally, sources can be Googled, blogs tend to be mostly opinion and should be taken as such, and very few blogs are of a caliber high enough to be considered a source of their own. But in books or television, this is inexcusable.

Recently, I looked into a book called "Historic Houston Streets" by Marks Hinton that provided insight into a post I did a few months back, on the names of streets in Downtown Houston. As you can see in the comments to that post, I was disappointed in the book. Though it did offer some suggestions to fill in the gaps of my own research, it failed to adequately cite sources of how information was found. It had sources, but generally they provided more information on the subject, not an explanation of the connection between the street and the subject. For instance, the source on Pierce was an encyclopedia entry on President Pierce, not Hinton's understanding of why the street is named after Pierce.

True, I failed to cite sources on that page as well (the source for my connection to Abel Head "Shanghai" Pierce, and not Franklin Pierce is a combination of early Houston Chronicle articles from the '20s and earlier, and the Texas State Historical Society's explanation of the naming of Pierce, TX.) but you get what you pay for here. I'm not selling a book, I'm not even selling ads.

I'm guilty, but perhaps less so. And now that I've written this diatribe, there will unquestionably be an increase in citations herein.

In-line though, because seriously, endnotes? Come on, MLA. Gimme a break. (Note: I'm aware the MLA actually advises against minimal notations, but I felt like picking on them anyway. Source: Mla Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.)

Whatever happened to Eckerd?

Posted in Ridiculum on May 11th, 2012 by Nathan – 1 Comment

I still remember not understanding the X attached to Eckerd. But it's actually brilliant.Man, even typing that word looks strange. That's how far out of our lives Eckerd Drugstores have fallen. But it wasn't that long ago that they were everywhere! What happened?

Not too long ago, there were two players in the drugstore industry as far as I knew: Walgreens & Eckerd. Then suddenly, as if overnight, Eckerd disappeared, leaving Walgreens, and soon, CVS, as it joined the scene.

Of course, in other parts of the country, a different story was told. When I lived in New York, there was RiteAid and Duane Reade, and Walgreens had a minor presence. But at one time, Eckerd was there as well. Yet today, no Eckerd.

And when I recall Eckerd, people say "oh yeah," because in their minds Eckerd has vanished as well. This isn't Montgomery Ward, a company that was once large, and eventually fell due to their inability to adapt, but still has a presence in business textbooks, and in the minds of those who once shopped there. This is no Washington Mutual, a victim of the financial crisis, whose former customers still remember it fondly. Eckerd? It seems like people have almost completely forgotten the brand, not saddened enough by the loss to bother remembering it unprompted.

And I suspect that's what happened to Eckerd. I suspect Eckerd was the AstroWorld of the drugstore world. Everyone was surprised when they closed, but who went there?

But it hasn't been long enough to justify a collective removal of Eckerd from our public conscious! The company was first split up in 2004, with many stores acquired by CVS, and their mail-order business becoming CVS Caremark. But at this point, Eckerd still existed. It wasn't until 2007 that the remaining thousands of stores were acquired by RiteAid.

2007! A company that was 109 years old disappeared only five years ago, and for most people, it's like they never existed! This is crazy, and yet as above, it makes sense. There was no great vacuum, no overwhelming void when Eckerd disappeared because who cared? It's self-fulfilling: Eckerd isn't important enough to hold a place in our minds, so when it disappears, we don't even notice it's gone.

Today, drugstores of all kinds fill the streets of America, but one fewer than there once was. Though Eckerd is gone, its name will not live in our hearts, its legacy will not hold a place in our memories. It is dead. And its eulogy, housed on the RiteAid website, is fitting for a company so unloved and so easily forgotten:

All that's left of the brand.