Episode 0011 · January 12, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Retail Futures: The Circus Comes to Town

Paul and Rich talk about modern shopping experiences—and how big box retail is increasingly like a warehouse for online orders, while more and more commerce becomes focused around community and live events.

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Rich, I went to Walgreens the other day.

Rich Ziade: Oh…

Paul Ford: And you have to page someone now to get the shampoo. I don’t think it’s just because of shoplifting, like it’s just, everything’s sort of-

Rich Ziade: Locked down.

Paul Ford: Weird. And then you know– or you go to Best Buy and you’re like, I’ll get a USB cable, and they’re like, no, you will get accessories for your Pixel 25.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, you know what it feels like big box stores and Bo- and, and like, you know, franchise retail, it feels like you’re walking into a warehouse.

Paul Ford: It does, it’s the back-

Rich Ziade: It’s weird.

Paul Ford: It’s the back, like you’re walking into the back where they keep all the stuff.

Rich Ziade: Where they keep all the stuff.

Paul Ford: And there’s no actual stuff, like browsing isn’t fun anymore. There’s no, there’s no laptops to look at, right? There’s like three giant ecosystems and platforms,

Rich Ziade: Right.

Paul Ford: And they’re selling you peripherals.

Rich Ziade: A lot of it is sort of waypoint to pick up the stuff that you bought online, like, “Hey, it’s near you. You can go get it in three hours or something like that”.

Paul Ford: And there’s clothes, et cetera, et cetera. But you know what I’m noticing at just big [00:01:00] box retail, which we have in New York City. People don’t think of New York City that way, but like a lot of the stores are here.

Rich Ziade: Best Buy.

Paul Ford: We’re here, we’re here buying it.

Rich Ziade: Lowe’s.

Paul Ford: It makes less and less sense.

Rich Ziade: For sure. 

Paul Ford: I have two thoughts on this. I wanna talk ’em through with you and just get your thoughts.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: So one is, do we just have enough stuff? Like there’s no DVD player to buy. I have a phone and then I have a watch that talks to my phone and I have a computer, that’s a super computer and I don’t seem to need a lot more.

Rich Ziade: Obviously you don’t. Obviously you don’t to be in absolute distress cause you forgot your phone at home. Whereas we are old enough to remember when there was no distress for walking out without a communication device is crazy, right? So no, we don’t need all this stuff. We [00:02:00] don’t need iterations of the stuff or, or, um, you know, the, we don’t need cases and special things to attach to our stuff. But that’s, I think you’re asking the wrong question.

Paul Ford: Well, first of all, the youth of today will never know the experience of seeing a major upgrade to something like it [chuckles] I mean, the difference between like Windows three and Windows 95 was miraculous. 

Rich Ziade: It was like, it was like a, it was like a holiday. It was insane.

Paul Ford: It was. They had the Rolling Stones play. There was a party.

Rich Ziade: Go search on YouTube, there’s people like just rampaging computer stores to get boxes of Windows 95.

Paul Ford: So exciting right?

Rich Ziade: It’s wild.

Paul Ford: So those, everything is incremental now in those giant ecosystems. I think I was looking for an experience I used to have a long time ago, where I’d go to a store and kind of check out the store and then maybe pick up something that I was looking for while also getting my bearings around, like what’s going on at Best Buy these days? 

Rich Ziade: The shopping experience [00:03:00] was something that you also looked forward to, not just the actual thing you bought. Sometimes you just say, I’m gonna go peruse. When I was a kid, I didn’t have money for the mall. I had money for like a juice at the mall.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: But I didn’t have money for like the record store or the bookstore or, uh, the games store, GameStop.

Rich Ziade: Uh, but I’d go…

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: Because it was, it was, I could go look at stuff and just check ’em out, right? And that was fun. Um, that is, kind of gone… I mean, it’s not entirely gone. Uh, I think it’s shown up in other ways, in affluent pockets of America.

Paul Ford: You’re into headphones.

Rich Ziade: I am. 

Paul Ford: You love headphones?

Rich Ziade: I do.

Paul Ford: Tell me just a little bit about headphones. Let’s get it out of your system. What, what makes headphones special to you? 

Rich Ziade: Um, I, I bought headphones for convenience, mostly like, wow, no wires. Wow, I can talk on the [00:04:00]phone on them.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: And then I’m gonna blame a shop that is actually one of the, one of the cooler commerce institutions in New York City, it’s called Adorama.

Paul Ford: Oh, I love Adorama, 18th Street.

Rich Ziade: 18th Street. And I’m gonna pitch something else, a site called slickdeals.net.

Paul Ford: I wasn’t expecting that [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: It’s– slickdeals.net essentially bumps up like deals, and they had these $600 IEMs, uh, in ear monitors, essentially earbuds.

Paul Ford: Okay, headphones with wires that go in your ears, but not over your ears.

Rich Ziade: Correct, for $200.

Paul Ford: Okay…

Rich Ziade: I was like, okay, I can, I can, I wanna check these out.

Paul Ford: It’s a bargain. You, you couldn’t afford not to buy them.

Rich Ziade: I couldn’t afford not to buy them. I went and bought them and it opened up a whole world for me.

Paul Ford: So you were using like Apple AirPods with your phone or-

Rich Ziade: I was using Bluetooth.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Which deteriorates the quality [00:05:00] of sound I was using, uh, Spotify, which does not have lossless audio. And I was like, this sounds great. I hear music in my ears and it’s pretty good. It’s better than the old headphones I had, and then I put these things in, and I think I threw on like John Coltrane. 

Paul Ford: Sure. 

Rich Ziade: And I could hear the bartender making the cocktail.

Paul Ford: All this subtlety, you were just tuned for it and it was exciting and you were like, this music is much more stimulating than before.

Rich Ziade: Yes. I’m giving you a long-winded answer, but it opened up a whole different relationship with music for me actually.

Paul Ford: Now talk me through, and I, I’m using you with headphones, but I have things like this now too.

Rich Ziade: Like, yeah.

Paul Ford: Okay, now where do you go?

Rich Ziade: I ended up, look, let’s get one thing out of the way– I can afford expensive things.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: I’m not gonna apologize for that.

Paul Ford: No, let’s-

Rich Ziade: I didn’t steal the money.

Paul Ford: At this point, if people are interacting with us and still listening to us talk on the podcast.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. 

Paul Ford: Then they know that we can [00:06:00] afford expensive things.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: So there we are, okay.

Rich Ziade: And then so I did some research and then when you do research online, you end up in these corners.

Paul Ford: Mm-hm.

Rich Ziade: You end up in these sort of subcultures. That are discreet and tangible and real, and there are personalities in them, and these are not personalities you’re gonna, they’re not getting stopped in the street.

Rich Ziade: It’s like, it’s what I call the, you know, the tens of thousands of views, YouTube.

Paul Ford: So they’re not on the Today Show.

Rich Ziade: They’re not on the Today Show, but they’re respected and they’re considered experts, and they don’t, they don’t give everything five stars. In fact, they’re– some of them are just salty and hate everything.

Rich Ziade: So when they tell you something is good, you trust them. And I said, you know what, I’m gonna go get great hardware to listen to music. I care enough about music that I’m gonna go do that, but-

Paul Ford: Right because this is, this is always part of it, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: You bought the thing and now you have to buy things for the thing.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: You can’t just listen on headphones because you know the [00:07:00] really good ones require a little bit more power, so you gotta get headphones amplifiers.

Rich Ziade: It took me like a couple of weeks to just understand that parts that I thought, okay, I gotta get an amplifier. They’re like, yeah, but that’s not enough.

Rich Ziade: You need a DAK or digital to analog converter, and you can get those in one device, but then you’re not separating the ha- electronics enough and you might hear a hiss, and I’m like, whoa, alright everybody calm down. I would always go from you’re insane and ridiculous to, of course I need that.

Paul Ford: Of course.

Rich Ziade: [laughter].

Paul Ford: So so let me, let me, let me keep driving you for a little bit so we don’t just talk about headphones cause here’s the larger point. What are the platform you’re reading on websites, Google?

Rich Ziade: Websites, YouTube channels… Um, uh, there’s a, The forum for high-end audio called Headfive.org, and it’s an old school forum, but it is, where everybody is, like the, the manufacturers and the, and the producers of this hardware know they [00:08:00] have to go there to tell people what’s going on. It’s that big.

Paul Ford: I gotta tell you, and look, we’re talking about, you know, you said earlier, we, we kind of have the time and flexibility here, but everyone I know who gets into anything doesn’t have to be that expensive, has these communities.

Paul Ford: Can be gardening, can be, um, knitting, can be… I had a friend who got really into Japanese, um, wood tools.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm sure.

Paul Ford: And there’s a whole eBay community and there’s-

Rich Ziade: Sure, sim racing rigs. I was gonna say gaming, but gaming is like film now, it’s too big. 

Paul Ford: Exactly.

Rich Ziade: But like specific things like flight simulation or sim racing, which is like these rigs that make you feel like you’re driving a car in your house. Um, many marriages have been ruined with some racing rigs.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, these, these are corners of the internet.

Paul Ford: So there’s another thing too, and I actually wanna point out the money parts in because my, these friends I know might not have had that much money, but once you buy, one of the things, if they’re high value, they hold their value pretty well.[00:09:00]

Rich Ziade: They do, they do. There’s always resale markets for weird stuff.

Paul Ford: That’s right, and so like, so actually what happens is you end up owning three or four of the things, but if you wanna get rid of them, you sell one or two and then you go buy a new one. And that, that’s sort of-

Rich Ziade: You’re touching on something Paul, which is the journey to the purchase. The purchase is oftentimes, sometimes great, cause you’re like, wow, this is as good as I thought it was gonna be.

Rich Ziade: But it’s the journey to the thing, and the truth is, eventually you don’t, the value of the thing is diminished and you want to go on other journeys.

Paul Ford: There are studies that the emotional release, when you get something you really want comes right before you open the box.

Rich Ziade: Of course. 

Paul Ford: It’s here, I got it, I’m gonna open it now.

Rich Ziade: I got it.

Paul Ford: Now, now I will be happy, right? 

Rich Ziade: Yup.

Paul Ford: So now again, let me keep fast forwarding. So you also, there’s another thing you love, you love watches.

Paul Ford: And you actually have the same dynamic. You [00:10:00] own a couple, but you like to learn and read about them.

Rich Ziade: And I don’t own like, Glittery, like status-

Paul Ford: No, no.

Rich Ziade: You won’t recognize the brand, kind of thing. Yeah.

Paul Ford: What you got into were ones that actually are pretty- relatively affordable, but made by very small companies, craftsmen, a couple people.

Rich Ziade: Yes, yes.

Paul Ford: So I’m gonna, I’m gonna share experience and look, I’m, I’m, it’ll sound like I’m putting you on this spot. I have this exact same relationship now with like music equipment.

Paul Ford: I love gear and synthesizers and stuff like that.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So, but pause for a sec. Here we go, you say, “let’s go to this little watch event”. 

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And we go, and we take the train in.

Rich Ziade: In New York City, yeah.

Paul Ford: We we’re, it was actually right near Adorama and it was at, um, this place I’d been at before for some big dinner. Uh, not huge, like the size of like a church basement, like, you know, just a couple-

Rich Ziade: Yeah, 4,000 square feet.

Paul Ford: Four and lots of little tables with people selling their very small limited run.

Rich Ziade: Small batch.

Paul Ford: Exactly.

Rich Ziade: Bespoke brand. [00:11:00] 

Paul Ford: And, and these are people trying to essentially make a middle class life out of their absolute love for watch crafts, right?

Rich Ziade: Obsession, yeah.

Paul Ford: So they’ve become the producers and that, that’s another part of it. That you make your own equipment. Um, I cannot describe how crowded it was. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. You were happy.

Rich Ziade: I was happy, but I actually had two watchmakers I wanted to go see and then I was ready to leave cause it was, it was chaos.

Paul Ford: I lasted about five minutes and then I went out and just watched people make weird deals about watches in the front, because I felt I would have like a post-covid heart attack just being there.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Why, why did you feel like you needed to immediately turn around and leave?

Paul Ford: It wasn’t for me. You couldn’t get towards the tables, and actually what happened.

Rich Ziade: It was mobbed.

Paul Ford: I gotta tell you, you walk in and there is a whole system of knowledge and symbols and information that is getting shot into your brain, and I can’t parse or understand it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, you felt [00:12:00] like an uber novice, like you were just a nobody.

Paul Ford: I was so confused.

Rich Ziade: [laughter].

Paul Ford: Everyone’s just like, and it’s like, it is loud, it is hot. It is a lot of men and everyone is like grabbing at the tables and you can’t get within four feet of them, and it’s just like,

Rich Ziade: It was really intense.

Paul Ford: Check, check out the movement on this, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it’s, nobody’s yelling. It’s, it’s all very like, just-

Rich Ziade: It was very intense. Uh, I, I, I will say, I, I, I think I have a couple of theories as to why it was- I was shocked at how crowded it was. I thought it was gonna be this sort of really niche thing where there wouldn’t be that many people. I was shocked, and I think there were a couple of reasons for it. The first is the pandemic. Like, we’re coming, we came- it was, I think they had postponed the fair, the watch fair for like a couple of years, or like one year.

Paul Ford: Just built up cravings.

Rich Ziade: Built up cravings, right? [laughter]

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: But I think there’s another reason, and the other reason is that I think the mass consumption spaces are such a grind, [00:13:00] and so in some cases toxic, but generally not toxic.

Rich Ziade: Usually the word I like to use is tiring. Everything is so, um, shallow, and I don’t mean shallow negatively. I like a 12 second Tik TikTok video, but there’s not much to it. There’s nothing to build on, right? But oftentimes adversarial, right? Very much like, I’m gonna make a point and then I’m gonna make a counterpoint to your point. And so these spaces where your specialties, your domain knowledge, can be cultivated, rewarded, encouraged, and uh, there is no camp, there is no angry watch camp that is like all about, you know, automatics.

Rich Ziade: Some people like automatics, some people like chronograph, some people like battery,

Paul Ford: They can segment off.

Rich Ziade: They can segment off, but they’re not at each other’s throats.

Paul Ford: How much money do you think, you have a better [00:14:00] business brain than I do. How much money do you think went through that 4,000 square foot watch fair that day? or in the, it was, it was there for a weekend.

Rich Ziade: There were no, like, it wasn’t the fair that had Rolex, right?

Rich Ziade: So that you didn’t have the five, $8,000 watches there. You had, you know, it probably capped out at a couple thousand. You have some outliers and whatnot. Probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, like nothing crazy.

Paul Ford: Mm-hm.

Rich Ziade: Um, but I think, I think more importantly, uh, and I happen to know the, the organizer of this event,

Paul Ford: Mm-hm.

Rich Ziade: We haven’t mentioned what it is. Maybe they don’t want us to, so, but I met the organizer and I was like, what was going on? He’s like, well, it’s a lot of people who’ve talked to each other in forums and have watched YouTube videos and are finally able to get together.

Paul Ford: And there you go. See, that to me is where we’re headed, right? You’ve got all these commerce experiences that we thought were going to be like a little bit, a little bit physical, a little bit online.

Paul Ford: You’ll go get your USB cable, you’ll go get your, your [00:15:00] things for your phone. And I guess that’s real.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm, mm-hm.

Paul Ford: Like Best Buy still exists, but for the most part, I think people order a lot of stuff online.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And then there are these things that people love.

Rich Ziade: Yes. And what they find very often, uh, is communities that are, that validate that love.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: It’s good to find out you’re not the only one who’s crazy enough to be into that thing. 

Paul Ford: Yeah. 

Rich Ziade: It’s very good to hear that you aren’t off– you know, alone on the island, right? Um, but more importantly, they’re not, they’re typically, um, places where you feel like you could always learn a little more, which feels good.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Um and-

Paul Ford: It’s also very validating to see all the other people.

Rich Ziade: It’s validating to see all-

Paul Ford: You’re, you’re not the only one. Is there a big headphone fair?

Rich Ziade: There is, there is [chuckles]. It’s coming in February, I bought you a ticket Paul.

Paul Ford: Alright, we’re going. That’s fine. No, I mean, [00:16:00] I enjoy observing these things.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: I now know to be prepared that if I go to the headphone fair, it will be-

Rich Ziade: Intense.

Paul Ford: Intense, right. And let me-

Rich Ziade: Yeah, part of me loves to observe the culture of it.

Paul Ford: Of course, that’s the fun of it.

Rich Ziade: And there I wear the outsider hat, but then if somebody asks me a question, I’m actually pretty knowledgeable at this point so-

Paul Ford: Well, you’re pr- you’re proud of your knowledge, right? 

Rich Ziade: The internet, people talk about town squares and communities on the internet. That ship has sailed. It is mass media in a classic sense.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: And everyone is trying to get 10 seconds in that could somehow tip to millions of listeners and views.

Paul Ford: Twitter is like a TV network. It’s like NBC in the eighties.

Rich Ziade: It’s like a TV network. And so what’s happened is the real Communities, capital C on the internet are in these places because the scale isn’t such that you win by yelling at someone else, or you win by views. There are experts in these, in these [00:17:00] communities that are happy, that others want to talk to them about it and are not seeking out the dopamine hit of likes and views or whatever else.

Rich Ziade: And I think that’s the scale we can function at as humans. We don’t, we can’t build communities. Don’t tell me about the Town Square on Twitter or the town square on Facebook. It’s not a town square, it’s not what it is, it is mob. There’s this amazing old onion news network video, Paul, of this mock report where the reporter can’t tell if it’s a revolution or a festival.

Paul Ford: Yeah [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: And I think about that video a lot, because I think people want to frame the internet a certain way and it’s, imp- it’s just like waves of humans.

Paul Ford: You’re trying to frame society.

Rich Ziade: You’re trying to frame society [chuckles].

Paul Ford: So, so let’s give Ziade and Ford advisors, okay… Something’s changing out there. It definitely feels like retail and craft and [00:18:00] community are aligning. It feels like instead of going to the store, you might buy a lot of stuff online and then wait till the circus comes to town and then you’ll buy the, you’ll go check out the things you love.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: What should people do? How do you get ready for this world? What do you do?

Rich Ziade: I, I don’t know if you have to get ready for anything.

Rich Ziade: Here’s our advice in this week’s episode of Ziade and Ford Advisors, find your community. It’s healthy, it’s nurturing. It’s not to– look, I’m not saying go find your community in some like wackadoo conspiracy theory forum. Go find something where you feel constructive and useful and can be additive and where people wanna help you learn.

Rich Ziade: It’s healthy, it’s normal. It is, it is the true town square in my mind. And I don’t care what that is, it could be watches, it doesn’t have to be material things, by the way, it could be cross-stitching. It doesn’t have to be money driven. Um, but finding your place in those communities is [00:19:00] incredibly valuable.

Rich Ziade: I think just for like mental health, I really believe that.

Paul Ford: I find it, so I’ve been getting really into synths and studying music theory and all kinds of stuff, and it’s really great to have something utterly aspirational that where there are just people who are so much better at it than me in every way.

Paul Ford: Like, well, you don’t think you could make a better watch? 

Rich Ziade: No. 

Paul Ford: These people are making the better watch, and that’s a joy.

Rich Ziade: It’s a joy. And you know what, um, if you don’t give humans, the job, they use those extra cycles to be at each other’s throats. Now everyone’s got the job, whether it be making a better headphone or how to optimize this or how to make a great watch or how to garden better and get a better like, um, yield or whatever it may be, by doing, giving them that to do, we can park all the other shit that comes out of us.

Paul Ford: So is what we’re actually saying, that the path to happiness through the web [00:20:00] and through the internet is not simply going into a big room with everybody and debating and figuring it all out, but rather giving yourself a job to do, a thing, to learn a task, and then finding a community that is also aligned around that task.

Rich Ziade: That’s a beautiful thing. That sounds really pleasant.

Paul Ford: It actually is a beautiful thing. I feel that I’ve said this a million times, but it’s never been as apparent to me.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I, I, I visited my– I want to close it with a little anecdote. I visited, they do this thing called First Fridays at my, at my kids’ school,

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: And the First Friday the parents can hang with the kids.

Paul Ford: Brooklyn Public School, normal place. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Public School, yeah. Went to the school and all the tables, all the kids’ desks are in circles. Each circle is a wedge, like a pizza slice of a desk, and there’s six kids in circles. And I, I thought back to how I went to school and it was rows of desks and you weren’t next to anyone.

Paul Ford: Oh, your, your last name is Ziade. [00:21:00] You didn’t have a chance.

Rich Ziade: I didn’t have a chance.

Paul Ford: You’re just all the way in the back.

Rich Ziade: I’m in the corner if it’s alphabetical.

Paul Ford: Yeah, yeah.

Rich Ziade: But more importantly, there was space between us.

Paul Ford: Mm-hm.

Rich Ziade: I was in a grid and I wasn’t connecting with anyone else. And meanwhile, I come to my kids’ class and these clusters of kids are together in these little, just architecturally arranged communities in a way, effectively.

Rich Ziade: And they drift from one to the other, but they’re, they’re facing each other. They’re talking to each other. And that’s how I, that’s how I, what I think of when I think of these communities. Um-

Paul Ford: It is so wild cause we both have kids in public school, it is so wild how much better their educational experience is than ours.

Rich Ziade: I mean, they should have just beaten us with a stick, when we went to school, we would’ve been better off.

Paul Ford: You and I went to school like animals in a pen [laughter].

Rich Ziade: Yes. Um, get out there, find the thing you care about. There’s a community that’s ready to welcome you. This has been one of the more positive podcasts we’ve recorded.

Paul Ford: Well, notice I, I drove this one.

Rich Ziade: Hahaha fair enough [laughter]. If [00:22:00] you’ve got topic ideas, questions, or need advice on just about anything except medical, I can just roll one out.

Paul Ford: Yeah, let’s not do that. Don’t do that.

Rich Ziade: Hit us up hello@ZiadeFord.com. Check us out on, in, well, how can people, uh, listen to the podcast Paul? What’s your podcast App of choice?

Paul Ford: The web [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: Fair enough [chuckles].

Paul Ford: I like browsers. Uh-

Rich Ziade: We’re in all the usual places.

Paul Ford: Ziadeford.com we’re, we’re getting all those transcripts done and trued up and, uh, just we’re, we’re gonna keep rolling.

Rich Ziade: Yep. Have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Bye. 

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