Covid Slashed Consumer Choices. This Is Why They Aren’t Coming Back.
Kanebridge News
    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,635,570 (+0.09%)       Melbourne $990,779 (-0.14%)       Brisbane $1,002,534 (+0.89%)       Adelaide $899,189 (+1.63%)       Perth $853,385 (-0.01%)       Hobart $727,599 (-0.08%)       Darwin $665,330 (-2.24%)       Canberra $1,030,329 (+2.00%)       National $1,054,780 (+0.44%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $758,114 (+0.56%)       Melbourne $494,774 (+0.21%)       Brisbane $562,776 (+0.42%)       Adelaide $448,109 (+2.19%)       Perth $451,267 (-0.77%)       Hobart $504,603 (-1.31%)       Darwin $357,621 (+2.79%)       Canberra $496,414 (-0.41%)       National $532,600 (+0.26%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,429 (+70)       Melbourne 14,915 (+41)       Brisbane 7,933 (-18)       Adelaide 2,089 (-116)       Perth 5,787 (-101)       Hobart 1,241 (+4)       Darwin 244 (-2)       Canberra 988 (+18)       National 43,626 (-104)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,586 (+58)       Melbourne 8,221 (+87)       Brisbane 1,635 (+21)       Adelaide 372 (-9)       Perth 1,517 (-36)       Hobart 198 (-10)       Darwin 404 (-2)       Canberra 1,028 (+31)       National 21,961 (+140)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $820 (+$3)       Melbourne $600 (-$5)       Brisbane $650 ($0)       Adelaide $600 ($0)       Perth $680 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $750 ($0)       Canberra $680 (+$10)       National $676 (+$1)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $760 (-$10)       Melbourne $595 (-$5)       Brisbane $640 (-$3)       Adelaide $500 (+$5)       Perth $620 ($0)       Hobart $450 ($0)       Darwin $540 (-$10)       Canberra $550 (-$10)       National $596 (-$5)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,832 (+125)       Melbourne 6,113 (+155)       Brisbane 4,426 (+39)       Adelaide 1,506 (+63)       Perth 2,727 (+138)       Hobart 431 (+13)       Darwin 95 (-3)       Canberra 602 (+6)       National 21,732 (+536)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,046 (+377)       Melbourne 6,071 (+301)       Brisbane 2,272 (+28)       Adelaide 373 (+1)       Perth 740 (-4)       Hobart 143 (+14)       Darwin 136 (+6)       Canberra 746 (+30)       National 20,527 (+753)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 2.61% (↑)        Melbourne 3.15% (↓)       Brisbane 3.37% (↓)       Adelaide 3.47% (↓)     Perth 4.14% (↑)      Hobart 3.93% (↑)      Darwin 5.86% (↑)        Canberra 3.43% (↓)       National 3.33% (↓)            UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 5.21% (↓)       Melbourne 6.25% (↓)       Brisbane 5.91% (↓)       Adelaide 5.80% (↓)     Perth 7.14% (↑)      Hobart 4.64% (↑)        Darwin 7.85% (↓)       Canberra 5.76% (↓)       National 5.81% (↓)            HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.8% (↑)      Melbourne 0.7% (↑)      Brisbane 0.7% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)      Perth 0.4% (↑)      Hobart 0.9% (↑)      Darwin 0.8% (↑)      Canberra 1.0% (↑)      National 0.7% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.9% (↑)      Melbourne 1.1% (↑)      Brisbane 1.0% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 0.5% (↑)      Hobart 1.4% (↑)      Darwin 1.7% (↑)      Canberra 1.4% (↑)      National 1.1% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND         Sydney 28.9 (↓)     Melbourne 30.3 (↑)        Brisbane 30.8 (↓)       Adelaide 25.4 (↓)     Perth 36.1 (↑)      Hobart 37.8 (↑)      Darwin 35.1 (↑)        Canberra 28.5 (↓)     National 31.6 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND         Sydney 29.6 (↓)       Melbourne 30.2 (↓)     Brisbane 29.6 (↑)        Adelaide 25.4 (↓)     Perth 38.3 (↑)      Hobart 30.1 (↑)        Darwin 46.7 (↓)       Canberra 38.0 (↓)     National 33.5 (↑)            
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Covid Slashed Consumer Choices. This Is Why They Aren’t Coming Back.

Retailers and suppliers say it didn’t pay to offer products for everyone, and customers didn’t care that much when they stopped

By PAUL BERGER
Tue, Jan 2, 2024 8:41amGrey Clock 4 min

The furniture retailer Malouf sells beds and bedding in a fraction of the colours it did a few years ago. Newell Brands, the Sharpie maker, has retired 50 types of Yankee Candle. Coca-Cola offers half as many drinks.

Covid slashed consumer choices as companies pared their offerings to ease clogs in the supply chain. The logistical mess is behind them. But many of the choices aren’t coming back.

Retailers and suppliers across industries—from groceries to health, beauty and furniture—have said that it didn’t pay to offer products for everyone, and consumers didn’t care that much when they stopped.

“Today, people would rather lose a portion of consumer demand as opposed to spending extra on too much variety,” said Inna Kuznetsova, chief executive officer of ToolsGroup, a supply-chain planning and optimisation company.

Macy’s president and CEO-elect, Tony Spring, told analysts in November that “the customer today does not want an endless aisle.”

New items made up about 2% of products in stores in 2023 across categories such as beauty, footwear and toys, down from 5% of items in 2019, according to the market-research firm Circana. Shelf Engine, a technology company that automates ordering for grocery retailers, said large grocery stores have reduced fresh-food offerings such as fruit, dairy products and deli meats by 15% to 20%.

Large grocers cutting back on choice is a reversal from pre pandemic days, when they believed they had to carry everything to avoid losing customers to the store across the street, said Stefan Kalb, CEO of Shelf Engine.

Kalb said that grocers are now saving money because they have fewer items to manage and that the slimming of product options is reducing food waste.

Executives at consumer-product companies said the thinning of their product lines has been a relief for those struggling to improve profitability in the midst of higher interest rates and rising costs for raw materials and labor. They said many of the reductions have been in lines that consumers wouldn’t notice, such as items in special packaging and assortments for specific big-box retailers. The cutbacks are also to product lines that drown consumers in options.

“I don’t think any consumer would have noticed we went from 200 to 150” types of Yankee Candle, said Chris Peterson, chief executive of Newell Brands.

Some industry specialists said the new focus on bestselling items has reduced innovation and hurt smaller brands that rely on retailers’ desire to carry something for everyone.

“There has definitely been less innovation since the pandemic,” said Seth Goldman, a founder of the organic-beverage maker Honest Tea, which was bought by Coca-Cola in 2011 and discontinued in 2022.

Coca-Cola over the past few years reduced its brands to 200 from 400, cutting slow-growing as well as declining products, including small regional lines such as Northern Neck Ginger Ale and national brands such as its first diet cola, Tab.

“It was pruning the garden to let the better plants grow,” Coca-Cola Chief Executive James Quincey said in 2022.

Goldman said there was still demand for Honest Tea, even if it wasn’t big enough for Coca-Cola. In September 2022, four months after Coca-Cola’s announcement, he launched Just Ice Tea, a drink that he said is similar to Honest Tea and that is expected to have sales in 2023 of more than $16 million.

Companies began winnowing product lines in the years leading up to the pandemic as a corrective to previous decades when consumer choice ballooned. That was partly because of the internet, where online retailers weren’t constrained by the space limitations of physical stores, giving rise to the term “endless aisle.”

The cuts were turbocharged in 2020 and 2021, when product shortages and a surge in consumer spending led companies to give priority to the most in-demand items. They focused on products that ran fastest on production lines and, because of social distancing in factories, could be made with automated machinery.

Kimberly-Clark cut more than 70% of its toilet paper and facial-tissue products over a single weekend in 2020 as it rushed to satisfy a fourfold increase in demand, said Tamera Fenske, the company’s chief supply chain officer.

Fenske said the company jettisoned slow-selling items as well as many of the special counts and custom sizes it made for individual retailers. Fenske said that, as pandemic restrictions eased, Kimberly-Clark was able to be more thoughtful about the items it brought back. She said the company carries about 30% fewer product lines in North America than it had at the start of 2020.

PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, embarked in 2020 on a plan to cut more than a fifth of its offerings to focus on what it calls “hero” products—those that make up an essential part of someone’s wardrobe.

Kimberly-Clark, maker of Scott paper towels, has brought back some, but not all, of the products it stopped offering during the pandemic. PHOTO: KRISTEN NORMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Some companies said the culling of less-popular products opened up space for new lines.

Georgia-Pacific stopped selling 164-sheet rolls of Quilted Northern toilet paper because its larger rolls were better for consumers who valued longer-lasting rolls, said Kim Burns, senior vice president of supply chain for Georgia-Pacific’s consumer products group. Burns said the company has subsequently invested more time and money in new product lines, such as toilet paper with a scented tube that acts as a bathroom air freshener.

For other companies, the supply-chain shock provided a real-life experiment in how trimming product lines could improve productivity without hurting customer satisfaction. “It was quite shocking as we parsed it out to see we were using a lot of our buying power to really not get much of a return on investment,” said Nick Jensen, vice president of product at Malouf.

The Logan, Utah-based furniture company has reduced its lines to about 3,500 product choices, down from almost 11,000 items before the pandemic. Jensen said the company is adding new items more carefully these days.

“If we have 15 different colours and three shades of grey, it’s a paralysing choice,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of forced us to be much more intentional versus throwing a lot of things at the wall and hoping that they stick.”

—Suzanne Kapner contributed to this article.



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

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