Howies and the slow drift down river

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love the Howies brand. A year or so ago, I described them as a star brand. But a little before that I had been very critical of them for missing their target audience (by miles!) with their hand me down range. Well it seems like i’m not the only one that is thinking the same way. I have a watch on ebay to see what comes up from lots of the brands I love and when I saw this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A treasured collection of 29 Howies catalogues dating back to 2002

My first instinct was to want to buy them as they grace the shelves beautifully of any designer. But when you scroll down and see what the seller fuzzywiggins has said, it makes you realise quite how far the brand has drifted down river from where it used to be.

29 Howies Catalogues     From 2002 to Autumn 2010     If you know Howies you know these are so much more than just clothing catalogues, they're loaded with interesting stories and info...  These books contain the story of how a once ethical and environmentally sound clothing company catering for active types morphed into purveyor of £200 chinese jeans for the middle aged bourgeois hobbyist.     Enjoy the tales of the joy of canoeing to work, or building a half pipe in the back garden. Better still the exhilaration of travelling around Ireland in a V8 powered Winebago (Go Wales' Bio diesel fueled van must have failed its MOT?)     Like the sea, Howies...
29 Howies Catalogues From 2002 to Autumn 2010

This description crucifies them for what they have done with the brand. These catalogues are clearly being sold as the owner of all of them has so totally fallen out of love with what Howies do and what Howies now stand for. I have to say, it is now some time since I bought anything from them. I just wouldn’t pay £200 for a pair of jeans – by anyone, let alone £200 plus for a waterproof mac.

My advice. Buy Timberland out. They must realise they made a mistake with a little provincial company like Howies. Let Howies go back to where they were, what they stood for and what we all loved about it. Howies has sadly become a pseudo corporate business, whereas before they just made beautiful clothes that really lasted, for people who were into skate, surf and biking.


An almost complete Howies catalogue collection that sold for £51 on ebay
An almost complete Howies catalogue collection that sold for £51 on ebay

They went for £51, which seems like an awful lot of money, but they do represent some of the best pieces of design for print that i’ve seen for many years.

Shame they sold their soul on the way there.

Loyd Grossman new ‘For One’ Range of Pasta Sauces

Loyd Grossman New For One Range of Pasta Sauces - this years mustn't have product range

I’m going to stick my neck out here and predict that this product will fail, quickly and spectacularly. Expect it to be discounted in a major retailer near you sometime soon.

Research will say that it is very sensible buying a single serve pack. There’s less waste and it is fabulous quality i’m sure.

But research isn’t real life. In real life, we like a bit of extra sauce to find something to do with and most importantly, research doesn’t show up that buying this will show you have no friends.

Like the Strand Cigarettes ads from the late 50’s (which I really can’t find a decent reference to) where they used the classic line ‘you’re never alone with a Strand’ showing a man in a dark coat on a windswept bridge under a single street light. The public saw this as a loner considering suicide, so the product failed and failed spectacularly.

I believe for all the same reasons, Loyd Grossman’s sauces for one will go exactly the same way – however nice they taste – as who wants to imply to a shop keeper that tehy are sad and have no friends?

Some predictions for 2011 (and beyond)

Okay, I know it’s early for 2011 predictions, but after a good holiday, my thoughts were turning to what will happen when I get back to work.

So this is what I predict will change – or start to change – for 2011.

1. We will get bored of electronics
when we were on holiday recently, I was looking at six kids on a sofa with two iPads, six iPods and the TV on in the background with MTV blaring. This was in a house where the garden literally opened up onto the beach. As old men chatting, we asked ‘Are they really having more fun than we did as kids?’

And the answer is no.

Parents have to let children have a bit of slack again, take some risks and make their own mistakes. Electronics are not a substitute for play, they are a substitute for imagination and our children will be far duller because of it.

When they did go onto the beach, they were entertained for hours, with digging, building, wave jumping, skim boarding and even skimming stones. I don’t want to sound like a real old fart, but I honestly believe that it’s changing. We have enough electronic stuff.

2. Time is everything
We have so many different ways to take in our news now, be it iPad, phone, RSS, texts, or heaven forbid, newspapers. How do we choose? Mostly we seem to dip in and out of all of them, so delivery of great content across every platform will become vital.

But deciding when to take this in will also grow. Rather than just grazing and developing such a low boredom threshold that we never actually take any of it in, will stop, so I predict that long copy (if it’s relevant, engaging and well enough written) will make a comeback.

Twitter is fine, but it’s all a bit Chinese meal. You are left wanting more, without ever getting full. I’m a little bored of it myself and am tweeting far less than ever before.

So I’m going to be more defined about what I do and when.

3. Drinking will decline
Our generation of 40 somethings have become very lazy drinkers with a glass of wine or two with every evening meal and then a thrash at the gym to try and work it off.

The Telegraph and others reported this week that there has been the sharpest drop off in drinking since 1948 – and again, I’m not surprised.

The drinks we are now consuming have gone the same way as our food. Full of additives and designed to a price point. If they can’t make it naturally, then they make it un-naturally. Find me a wine without a Sulphite in it these days and you are way above the everyday drinking range. Is that good for us? I doubt it. Are we getting more aware of what we eat? Without doubt.

4. Gyms are a waste of money and we’ll finally see them close (or change hands)
The gym market is busted. People who join gyms, don’t lose weight. They may shift it about a bit, but it very rarely drops off completely. So what’s the point?

It’s much nicer going for a walk or a ride along the river on your bike, than sweating it out with beautiful people anyway, so why pay for the privilege?

There are two gyms near me that are breaking new price points. One at £10 per month, literally across the road from Purple Circle’s studio and the other, that I go to is down at The beautiful National Watersports Centre in Nottingham and is only £15 per month. Great if you want to hammer the rowing machine looking over a lovely lake, but crap if you want to be seen by beautiful people.

5. Lifetime warranties mean better products
Kia started it with Cars, Vauxhall have half-heartedly followed suit with a lifetime warranty that’s chock full of caveats (not if you sell it, 100k miles, only if we service it, etc etc etc.).

But for me, this means that things will be built better again. It’s no use offering a long warranty if you’re going to have to keep repairing it every few months. The only way around it is to build things to last, like they used to do, you know in the old days.

I hired a Kia on holiday to see what it was like. It was actually fine. A bit like a domestic appliance, but as a cheap and cheerful vehicle, it was just that, fine.

6. Make do and mend
there is no doubt that we are not out of recession in the UK yet. The government’s announcement of where their cuts will fall that is due later this month or in October is keeping many on tenterhooks to see if they will be out on their ear and that will continue to curb spending.

In a way this is related to the point above about warranties but I think it is more so.

People are making more considered purchases. Either buying fewer better things that they have thoroughly researched on the Internet to find the best price, or zapped using the RedLaser App. If they can’t afford what they want, they are not buying cheaper alternatives, they are not buying. Full stop.

I can see this continuing right through 2011 and maybe lifting the gloom for Christmas 2011.

7. Happy brands win
If all is doom and gloom around us, then we still want to feel good, so those that offer a dose of happiness will succeed, as long as it’s not too short term in its gratification.

I’m not talking just about sweets and crisps, but about those that warm the soul too. They make you feel good about your purchase and allow you to reflect with a warm glow into the long term.

Innocent still fall into this category as do the likes of Covent Garden and BeWILDerwood, but I think it will be a long, long time before we start buying Bernard Mathews or anything with an England Football logo on it – despite their win last night over Switzerland.

So that’s it.

I’m sure there’s more. Feel free to have a think and add your own thoughts. I’d love this list to grow and grow.

Spain is beautiful – but bust

Spain at it's best - sun, sea, sand, empty beaches and back to it's old laid back self
Spain at it’s best – sun, sea, sand, empty beaches and back to it’s old laid back self

I wrote a piece last year after I came back from a Spanish holiday, saying that Spain had sold it’s soul and gone against its own brand values of sun, sea and fun in favour of profit.

But my experience this year gave me a vague glimmer of hope.

Most of the prices seem to have dropped in the restaurants, the cabs and the beach bars. A meal for a family of four has fallen from €100 to nearer €80. Lunch in a beach bar can be easily taken for less than €40 and the people seem to have got friendlier again. Less in search of profit and far more able to smile. Perhaps they’re resigned to the fact that their business is on the verge of bust. There are hundreds upon hundreds either gone or clearly about to go.

New build apartments are still all empty, although the prices have fallen from €220k Euro last year to a little over €120k this year.

Local figures being quoted are that of the 4.5 million properties on the Costa del Sol, only around 20% are occupied at any time – and you can tell by how deathly quiet it is. The traffic is lighter, the beaches are quieter, even the shops are quieter.

But where they win is in the places that aren’t built up. Those that haven’t been built all over still have real charm and the most fantastic food. Yes, Puerto Banus is vile, showy, ludicrously expensive and not for me – it’s not a coincidence that it has the word anus in the middle of it you know –  but drive ten miles down the coast beyond Estepona and you are back into places where the Brits and Irish haven’t yet built all over and destroyed.

I genuinely think that Spain will do a ‘Greece’ and go bust, for the rest of Europe to bail out. But if you rent somewhere on the beach, buy the local food and wine and enjoy the sun and laid back atmosphere, there are still fewer places in the world I’d rather be.

This year, for the first time in many, many years, I didn’t want to come home – and that’s what Spain should be – and always used to be about.

The X Factor effect and how brands need to recognise the changes in youth behaviour

The X Factor effect and how brands need to recognise the changes in youth behaviour
The X Factor effect and how brands need to recognise the changes in youth behaviour

I’m 44 years old and grew up in a village outside Plymouth in Devon. Having moved there from Oxford, it never felt like to most cosmopolitan place but I don’t think my childhood years were that different to millions of others of my age.

But young people today are totally different in some of the things they think are normal.

When I was on holiday recently I was talking to a good friend of ours Chris Bentley who lives in Kent.

What we noticed was that when we were kids, if you wanted to speak out loud in a language lesson (only French and German in those days) and try to put on the best accent you could, then you were seriously weird.

But now kids seem to love languages. Listening to my 12 year old son taking care of all the ordering for us on holiday and priding himself on the Spanish accent would never have happened when we were kids. Just use English louder was far more normal behaviour.

And then there’s singing and dancing.

I recently went to an School X Factor event where 13 finalists, who had been whittled down from many more entrants, were prepared to stand in front of all their peers and sing their hearts out. The standard was amazing.

Again, if you danced at a school disco as a lad, you would have been lynched.

But any brand needs to address these changes. Staying cool is tricky at the best of times, as tastes and norms change so completely over long periods. Even Google is being pegged back by the US investment market as it is not showing the growth it once was and is being overwhelmed by Twitter and Facebook in many areas.

Apple are now the most valuable brand according to the same Fortune article, but can even they keep it up for another generation?

So whilst looking at how your brand presents itself, sometimes it’s not just a design change that’s needed, it’s a cultural, brand definition change.

And that’s far more scary.

Samsung Galaxy Tab preview

It’s the first real competitor to the iPad (which is brilliant) and called the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Whilst we haven’t got any prices yet, you can be assured it will come in cheaper than Apple’s finest.

It also has the front and rear facing cameras that the iPad most pointedly doesn’t have to make sure we still buy iPhones and MacBook Pro’s.

It looks pretty cool to me and apart from the crappy Android operating system, it could be a serious player.

Birka cruises?

A good frend of mine Nick Farmer sent me this image, jokingly asking whether I could do anything with this name as a brand man?

The Birka Cruises cruise ship - it's a Birka paradise
The Birka Cruises cruise ship - it's a Birka paradise

And in short, I don’t think I could. I have just finished reading the book ‘1,000 splendid suns’ having recently read ‘the Kite Runner’ which gave me a far greater insight into life in Afghanistan before and after it’s various revolutions and living with the Burqua.

I think these cruise operators need a rebrand.

Maybe Ryanair isn’t that bad?

Earlier in the year I (rather smugly) wrote a piece saying I had put my money where my mouth is and paid extra to book with BMI Baby rather than fly with Ryanair.

So was it worth it?

Well, No.

Firstly, the check in, where my 18kg allowance caused a problem as I was 0.6kg over. I had to move a few things into my hand luggage. What is the point of this when I weigh 90kg and far more than 90% of the other people on the same flight anyway?

Secondly, the two flights should have gone out at similar times heading towards Malaga. The Ryanair one sailed off bang on time, whilst I faced a two hour plus delay. Not a good start.

Getting on the plane was a bit easier with a numbered seat, but did have me (traveling alone) sitting next to a guy trying to cope with a screaming toddler. The seat I was allocated would have been tight for Ronnie Corbett, but for me was just ridiculous. I was bent double trying to fit into it. Once we were airborne I moved to an empty seat on the front right row which was slightly better. The stewardess wouldn’t let me move to the empty ones on the front left as they were charged extra!

Coming home on Monday 3oth, I was with my family and back to Ryanair. No queue for check in. A slight disagreement about moving things around to make sure all the bags were exactly 15kg – even though we had one bag less than we had paid for.

The flight went off on time. Landed on time and we had extra legroom seats by the wing exits.

It wasn’t too bad. A bit like National Express coaches used to be in the 80’s, but on balance, better than BMI Baby. I think the new MD of BMI Baby, Julian Carr, has some work to do.

If Michael O’Leary changed Ryanair’s company attitude and kept the same company punctuality, they could be likable as well as cheap.