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Companies dole out fewer gifts this holiday season

Posted by Alexandra Haake on November 20, 2008

The holidays have rolled in much earlier this year, at least for retailers hoping to offset dismal projections by holding unprecedented sales, and for some, setting up their holiday window displays as early as Halloween. Despite these businesses’ best-concerted efforts to lure us in through their doors and toward the checkout line, many on the corporate receiving end may have to settle with a simple “Happy Holidays” and “Thank You” card.

In an article published by the AP in www.crainsnewyork.com, the agency reports that in the midst of the toughest economic times in memory, companies are significantly scaling back their employee gift budgets. Even with record-high layoffs, most companies that still plan on giving their employees gifts (29 percent as of October versus 46 percent as of August, according to a survey by the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor), most are seeking out items at lower price points. In some ways wouldn’t it be more cheerful news to know that the money spent on corporate gifts could instead be applied to saving one more job? Perhaps this could curb the “Happy Holidays, here’s a little gift to you,” given to some, and “Happy Holidays, here’s a little pink slip for you,” to unlucky others.

The article uses 74-year-old Manhattan wine and spirits shop, Sherry-Lehmann, as an example of how frugal some companies are becoming. Many of the shop’s corporate customers—including law firms, real estate companies and Wall Street firms—are no longer opting for the uber-expensive bottles of champagne, but rather are selecting more modestly priced spirits and wines in the $15 to $30 range.

Of course there are always exceptions—and luxury goods fall within the realm. Luxury French chocolatier, La Maison du Chocolat, just opened a new boutique on Wall Street last Friday. According to the chocolate house’s president and CEO, Geoffroy D’Anglejan-Chatillon, sales at their Madison Avenue boutique are going strong and they expect the same for their newest Wall Street store. This opening should not be viewed as anything other than wonderful news, for everyone! Most people undeniably feel a bit stressed and perhaps borderline-depressed from watching the market’s dizzying fluctuations. And what is a better remedy for depression and stress than a mouthwatering ganache?

Corporate clients of Tumi, an upscale luggage company, are buying fewer items, but appear to be ordering more expensive ones, according to the AP article. This exemplifies the practical wisdom of quality over quantity—unfortunately, it also means that for a number of employees at those companies, they may not be receiving a holiday gift. The back-to-basics approach should also serve as a reminder that gifts, and loads of them, should not define the holiday.

Retailers, however, must be praying that the spirit of goodwill and good tidings surrounding the holidays translate into sales. But it appears that the current economic environment is causing even Santa Claus to tighten his belt and buckle down production on the North Pole, at least for this holiday season.


What You'll Get for 65 Aussie Dollars

Posted by Training Magazine on November 13, 2008

By Margery Weinstein

Little did I know when I drew the winning horse in the five-dollar category of a random Melbourne Cup horse race sweeps I would get a glimpse of what a great buy Australia is. Sure, the plane ride (especially if your incentive winners are lucky enough to fly business or first class) will cost you, but once you get Down Under, there are savings to be had on nearly everything else.

During my trip to Australia, from Oct. 29 through Nov. 5, 2008, the American dollar was nearly twice as strong as the Aussie dollar. I’m no international financier, and as a journalist, my personal budget is generally too small (even with a favorable exchange rate) to count on shopping. That’s where my beginner’s luck Melbourne Cup winnings of $65 dollars came in handy. I wouldn’t get as much for my money back home (especially given that I live in New York City), so why not spend it all in Australia? So I fought my frugal impulses and spent all of it in the Brisbane Airport.

Based on my experience back home, I was thinking maybe it would buy me a nice scarf, or perhaps a not-so-precious piece of costume jewelry. Happily, it went a little further than that—to include a large bag and separate pouch featuring an Aborigine design along with a leather wallet the tag said was actually made by an Aborigine designer. The final tally at checkout revealed that I only needed to contribute $10 Aussie dollars beyond my Melbourne Cup winnings—not bad considering how much I would have paid at home---$150, $200…who knows.

Given that you don’t typically see Australian Aborigine designed wears at the local American shopping mall, it’s hard to do a scientific, apples-to-apples (or should I say handbag-to-handbag) comparison, but I believe I rest my case.

Obama rewards and recognition may pay off in the long run

Posted by Alexandra Haake on November 07, 2008

As a token of appreciation to his campaign staff, Barack Obama just announced in an email to his dedicated foot soldiers that any person who joined the campaign before Sept. 6 would be able to keep the laptop and cell phone given to them to use for the duration of the campaign. As if that were not enough, he also offered them healthcare until the end of the year, and as an additional bonus, a month of severance pay. The economist.com reported the news in their Nov. 7 blog.

The blog post points out that some donors (especially those who were asked for donations just the weekend before the election) may take an issue with the decision to donate these gifts to campaign workers. Obama’s campaign donations shattered records by raking in more than $600 million over the course of the primary and general election combined, according to a New York Times article. Under the Federal Election Committee rules, Obama can save the leftover donations for his next campaign, but is prohibited from using the money for personal use. While he would be wise to save the donations for his next campaign, in some ways his decision regarding the phones and laptops is key to reinforcing loyalty. These items have already depreciated in value, and are therefore worth more to those who have been using them over the past several months than to someone who would buy them back.

Anyone in the incentive industry should also understand the potential ROI from Obama’s decision. He used the element of surprise, which always adds to the meaningfulness of a reward. The gratitude he displayed toward his staff was publicly displayed, (naturally anything involving either Obama or McCain’s campaign is under media and public scrutiny). In some ways he also contributed to boosting the economy slightly by giving his employees a little bit of extra cash while they seek new jobs. In addition, Obama cemented his staff’s loyalty by giving them just one more reason to align with him as many of them seek jobs in the new administration, in public offices across the nation, or just as his supporters when the next election season rolls around.

Incentive Safety Tips

Posted by Training Magazine on November 05, 2008

By Terry Epton, CITE, DMCP

Inc_hed_terryeptonPrevent a client fiasco by always keeping the following in mind:

Never present undeliverables. Be careful on a site inspection if you decide whether or not to show an end-user client something that is not available for the time period that their incentive program will be operating. It doesn't matter how cool it is or how new it is. If it isn't available, be careful. Better yet, don't show it at all! They may only remember it and demand that the earth move and time stand still until it becomes available. I learned that one the hard way about 20 years ago, and I've included the example in my sales training sessions ever since. If one thing holds true in this industry, it is that human nature rules. People see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear and remember it the way they want it to be. We are all the same in that respect. And we usually always want what we can’t have.

Never assume a client can’t afford something.  If an option is creative enough and has the “wow factor,” you would be surprised how flexible a client’s budget can become.  I am not saying this as a suggestion on how to get a bigger program billing, but rather as an important safety tip. Once while operating a successful incentive quality event in conjunction with a major national convention, our customer saw a competitor’s program in operation with an extravagant show-stopping finale. They looked at me and asked, “Why didn’t you offer our group that option?”  I answered that it wasn’t in their budget. WRONG ANSWER!!! My client said (and I’ll never forget these words), “If it’s something really great, I’ll find the money.” Meanwhile I was humiliated to see the customer covetous of their competitors program. That’s one mistake I’ll never make again. It is easy enough to say “this is really pricy but it would be a show stopper if we did XYZ.”  It’s always better to be safe than sorry in this business.

Never assume a client speaks English. As it turns out, a lot gets lost in transaltion, even between those who supposedly speak English. For more on this important tip, visit Incentivemag.com to read my latest Incentive Encounters column.

INCENTIVE online columnist and Chief Executive Officer of USA Hosts, Ltd., Terry Epton has been an executive in the incentive industry for 26 years. As past Chairman of the Board for The New Orleans CVB, Terry is deeply involved in marketing and hospitality Industry leadership of New Orleans. Twice President of ADME, the Association of Destination Management Executives and long time member of SITE, Terry served on the Society's International Board for two terms and as an officer for four years. Mr. Epton is a Trustee on the IRF, Incentive Research Foundation. Terry was named "Incentive Travel Personality of the Year" in 1999. With both the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation and the Destination Management Certified Professional (DMCP) designation, Mr. Epton believes strongly in on-going industry education and community involvement.

Where Are We?

Posted by Stacy Straczynski on November 04, 2008

WhereareweDo you recognize this destination? (Click on image to enlarge.) E-mail feedback@incentivemag with your answer, and be entered into a drawing for a $50 American Express gift card.

Debbie Wilson of Fort Worth Community Credit Union correctly identified Sandpear Resort in Clearwater, Florida in our last issue. Congratulations!

Low-Cost Holiday Party Alternative

Posted by Training Magazine on November 04, 2008

By Larry Weaver

Times are tough, and so are corporate budgets. But rather than canceling the company holiday party this year, which can have a detrimental effect on employee morale and motivation, try a fun low-cost and creative alternative. Remember: Recognition is free, and can be more valuable and motivating than money. For example, handing out funny awards to employees is a low-cost way to celebrate co-worker success and bring laughter into the workplace.

Here is a list of the Top 10 Funny Employee Awards Ideas:

1. The Heinz Ketchup Award for always making others wait
2. The Jeff Gordon Award for racing away from work the fastest
3. The Deer in the Headlights Award for most confused
4. The Loch Ness Award for least likely to be found
5. The American Express Award for always taking credit
6. The Bermuda Triangle Award for the desk where things go in but never come out
7. The Human Vulture Award for eating anything found lying around
8. The Baryshnikov Award for most skill in dancing around the issues
9. The Global Warming Award for polluting the atmosphere with hot air
10. The Casual Monday–Friday Award for continually pushing the limits of “business attire”

And visit Incentivemag.com for best practices on how to design and host your own Funny Employee Awards Ceremony at your company this year.

Larry Weaver is a professional comedian and author of "Funny Employee Awards, Your Complete Guide to Organizing a Humorous, Entertaining and Rewarding Recognition Ceremony."

Starbucks removes "life" portion from work-life balance

Posted by Alexandra Haake on November 03, 2008

According to an article by Liza Featherstone on Slate.com, Starbucks is the latest company implementing a slew of new cutbacks, but they’ve found a clever way to do it without directly doling out the pink slips.

The article says that two weeks ago the Seattle-based coffee company introduced a new HR strategy in an attempt to curb profit losses that have been mounting, dragging America’s favorite coffee spot down with the rest

The new directive, according to Featherstone, uses words such as “philosophy” instead of program, and “optimal scheduling” instead of minimum hours—just one of the many ways they are essentially forcing workers to quit their jobs if they can’t meet the new conditions. Understandably, companies across the board have to maximize business with what they have, and often scale back. But Starbucks is asking their “partners” (employees), be available to work for 70 percent of the stores’ open hours if they want to work full-time.

For a store that is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., they are asking their full-time “partners” to be available for 80.5 hours. Considering that most “partners” make about the same amount-per-hour as a Wal-Mart employee, and often have a second and third job, or their educations to complete and families to care for, this is completely eliminating any semblance of work-life balance, and in fact the entire “life” portion of that equation. It would be one thing if they offered all of the remaining partners health benefits or some other form of compensation to offset their scheduling demands, but according to Tara Darrow, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, only 65 percent of “eligible” employees are covered by the company plan.

All in all, the new Starbucks plan is quite the contradiction to the socially and environmentally conscious image the company has been so successful at presenting until recently. While we wish them the best (Who doesn’t like their mocha frappuccinos and caramel macchiatos and those lazy afternoons reading and listening to the lovely Aretha Franklin?), it may be best that they look into the empirical ways of improving performance through employee motivation and incentive programs and offering them a manageable work-life balance.