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Are you up to this? July 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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3 comments

Our friend Becca sent us the most wonderful quote the other day. It’s from the revered sci-fi author Robert Heinlein, and it says:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. 

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood agree with the general thrust of this comment, though we have no clue how to conn a ship or program a computer, and Silence thinks the part about cooking a tasty meal comes rather late in the list. We feel passionately that what made humanity great was our aptitude for generalization—look at our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, or, say Leonardo da Vinci—and that our downfall as a species has been our increasing pigeonholing into extremely specialized functions.

We might add a facility with writing and communicating and a knowledge of the world, both natural and historical, and world affairs to Mr. Heinlein’s list, for how can you understand alien cultures if you don’t understand the diversity of cultures here on Earth? We would also add the ability to grow a ripe tomato, or any produce, to Mr. Heinlein’s list, and to harvest, preserve, and enjoy it in every season.

What’s your ultimate short list?

Free turkey or money off? November 24, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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16 comments

Silence Dogood here with a little quiz for you, the readers of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Would you rather have a free turkey, a discount on your grocery bill, or none of the above? Let me explain:

There are three supermarket chains where we live in Pennsylvania. The first two, Giant and Weis Markets, give store discounts on various items when you sign up for their free plastic grocery cards, which come in charge card and keychain models. You present your card at checkout, and the register automatically applies the discount as the cashier rings up your order or you ring it up yourself at one of the auto-checkout lines. At both stores, you also earn “points” each time you shop, and the accumulated points are also automatically computed for you at the checkout register. Smart marketing, right?

The two chains appear to be following different marketing advice when it comes to what to do with those accumulated points, however. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, you can use your Giant points—if you’ve accumulated enough—to get a free turkey. At regular intervals throughout the year, including the week leading up to Thanksgiving, you can use your Weis points to receive a discount on one grocery order. Weis has a sliding scale, so those with fewer points get 5% off, going up to, if memory serves, 15% for those with megapoints. And this is, of course, on top of the everyday discounts you’d get with your card.

My question, then, is this: Which store is smarter? Which would you rather have, the discount or the free turkey? What sounds like the better deal?

But wait—haven’t I forgotten something? What about that third chain? The third and smallest chain, Redner’s Warehouse Market, is local to us and employee-owned. (Wow!) It doesn’t offer cards, points, turkeys, or any other marketing gimmick. What it proudly offers is the lowest price it can on as many items as it can.

I shop at all three stores, and though I’m not systematic about comparing prices, usually choosing a store based on where I am when I need something rather than where something is cheapest, I can say with some degree of confidence that Redner’s lives up to its claims: They offer the best butter in the area for considerably less than you’ll find it at the other stores, even on sale, and I was recently able to buy our friend, fellow blog contributor, and Penn State fanatic Richard Saunders a jar of special Penn State mustard as a surprise at Redner’s after repeatedly passing it by elsewhere because it was way too expensive to justify the splurge. I’ve found many other great buys there as well.

But I have to wonder at the wisdom of Redner’s straightforward claims. No card, no gimmick, no fuss, no muss. Are they forgetting human nature? Even I, who know what the clever marketers are up to, confess that I love to hear the cashier at Weis say “You saved $8.47 today” when I check out, and especially love hearing “With your 5% discount, you’ve saved $17.63” (or whatever it comes to). Sometimes I do have the presence of mind to wonder if I’d have saved even more if I’d just gone to Redner’s, but I love that lottery-winner feeling at Weis. Our friends Delilah and Chaz love to save up their points for that free Giant turkey. It makes them feel like they can buy one for their own Thanksgiving celebration and invite friends over to enjoy a second celebration over the holiday season “free.” (And as savvy marketers know, there’s no more powerful word in the English language than “free,” followed closely by “new.”)

So now I want to hear from all of you. What sounds most appealing to you: a free turkey, a percentage off your grocery bill, or everyday low prices? Have Giant’s marketers got the magic formula, ar does Weis know something Giant doesn’t? Is Redner’s missing out with its no-frills approach? Every Thanksgiving, I wonder about this. Please help me out!

         ‘Til next time,

                  Silence