THE ME AGE (God, mobile phones and reasons to be cheerful)


The future is scary. We have so much to worry about: climate change, terrorism, migration, our diets. It’s a wonder any of us ever sleep at night and now we have the impact of technology to worry about too. Not long ago we dreamt that 2016 would bring us jet packs, hover boards and deep space exploration but now that we’ve arrived it’s far more Orwellian. We have to come to terms with the fact that there’s a giant cloud hanging above our heads that knows everything about us. And If that’s not bad enough we’re regularly being warned we’ll soon be losing our jobs to an army of super-smug robots.


We worry that our children have become addicted to their mobile phones, that their attention spans have plummeted to sub-goldfish levels and their literary skills will not improve beyond the ‘u no wot I meen…obvs!’ school of vernacular. We roll our eyes when we witness a group of teens unable to enjoy just ‘being’ without the grinning selfie-evidence that they were there. We despise our fellow passenger’s loud phone calls home and we worry about the drumming decibels that relentlessly pound our children’s eardrums as the background music to their digital lives. Walking the streets we curse behind clenched teeth at the hoards of phone-zombies that blindly career towards us, heads hunched over the screen that controls them (until we too need to check our location or diary appointment.) We even worry about the time we spend worrying rather than just living and we reminisce about a gentler age before mobile phones and computers arrived to consume us.


I believe history will prove that the birth of the ‘smartphone’ was a defining moment for mankind, no hyperbole. Right now, because we’re busy living, we see the smartphone as the gentle evolution of the mobile phone, but it’s far more significant than that. We know the human brain can apply itself to only one task at a time, so no matter if information is projected onto our spectacles or directly onto the backs of our eyeballs, from now until eternity we are homo-distracted, forever connected elsewhere. This tiny device has revolutionised not just our behaviour but the way we think about our place on the planet. We have entered a new age of enlightenment: the Me Age.

For ten thousand years or so we struggled to come to terms with our place in the Universe. Religions of all flavours attempted to convince us of our importance and promised us the answers in the afterlife. Much use that was. We built structures hundreds of feet high, buildings both religious and secular that stretched to the heavens demanding divine confirmation…but we heard nothing. Then, one morning back in 2007, we awoke to find our mobile phone had metamorphosed into the Universe itself! ‘Smart’ is an understatement, this magical, glowing tablet is all knowing: it knows exactly where we are, our tastes in food, music, film and fashion. It follows our friends, family, finances, our secrets, our hopes and even our dreams. This new god, unlike those that came before, actually answers our questions…and instantly too.


Little wonder then that our children worship him so faithfully, waking in the night to bathe in his glow, checking in at every opportunity with inane selfies that beg for his approval. This is the God that can publish our innermost thought or most trivial snapshot to the entire planet within a few micro-seconds, proving that it wasn’t trivial after all. At last we’ve received the validation we’ve been praying for all these centuries: we ARE at the centre of the Universe! Everything comes directly to us now. No longer do we need to be told what to think at the altar of church or school, what to buy at the altar of television, what to listen to at the altar of the Top 40. The Universe is actually in our hands.

As I’ve said before, the art of prediction often has a natural negative gravity in that we tend to view change as part of an inevitable slide to oblivion. The truth is the future gets the people it needs. If we were able to pluck a few poor, unsuspecting souls from the 18th or 19th Centuries and plonk them in 2016, they would be unemployable. In that respect, any desire to return to old fashioned values is pure folly. Just think, the future president of the United States is currently a spotty teenager, texting friends and posing with a stupid Instagram grin.

My own children were first generation digital natives and like every parent I worried about them endlessly. Once they reached the age of six or so they barely made it into the garden, or joined us for dinner, preferring instead to play violent computer games and surf hardcore pornography. (I’m guessing here, but I’m not a stupid Dad) Thankfully, neither of them have turned into mass murderers, not yet anyway, and both have solid and respectable jobs and social lives.

Surely those born with all knowledge at their fingertips, will, on the whole, be more liberated, empowered and emboldened, no? Is it not exciting that for the first time in history we have a youth that really does have a voice, the influence of which it’s just learning to use?  Will they not have a more rounded, nuanced and informed view of life on this planet than, say, the humble farmer tilling the soil?


Technology can be scary and, sure, there are downsides, but it’s clear to me that we are at the beginning of something very big here. Governments, local authorities, social services, healthcare and, of course, retail brands will very shortly lose the excuse to treat us as ‘the public’, as if we don’t matter, as if they don’t know who we are. They will know, we’ll make sure of that. Imagine an age in which no one can snarl dismissively ‘Join the queue here please.’ or ‘You’re not in the system’; an age that no longer generalises, pigeonholes or makes assumptions about us without the facts.

The technology is already in place to to make this happen. Our magical, glowing tablet already knows who we are and what we get up to and soon it will carry our health and wellbeing status too. It can’t be long before we realise we’re in the middle of the Me Age, where we will be, not just customers, but individuals.

I say bring it on!

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Jan 05, 2016   Brand, Future, image, me, me age, Retail, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   5 Comments   Read More

NEW ORLEANS part 2: A Taste of NOLA

The first thing I did after landing in New Orleans was to dump my bag in the room and head out onto the streets. On the basis I travel at least a couple of times a month this was actually rather unusual. Most of the time I’m feeling tired, a little post-airport-security-sensitive and I’d normally spend some time unpacking, adjusting and trying to fathom out how to switch on the TV without accessing the 90s porn. Not so in NOLA. The streets emit a constant energy that induces a state of FOMO (fear of missing out). In fact, I’d only been here five minutes when I stumbled upon a mini Mardi Gras that had broken out in celebration of…well, no-one seemed quite sure. Any excuse to party must be the city’s motto.


The humidity here puts you immediately into a drinking state of mind, so you actually have a practical task as you explore the cobblestone streets of the famous French Quarter: that is, find a suitable spot for a drink, a snack and maybe a lowdown on places not to be missed. We quickly made ourselves at home at the oyster bar in Royal House. Lauren, the gap-toothed shucker was exactly who you want on your first night. A bit of a local character that could shuck ’em as he shared a few stories and chatted you through the must-haves. This is the place I watched the waitress knock back a dozen chargrilled (topped with melted parmesan butter) as she gossipped on the phone during her break. The shrimp ‘n grits is excellent too but our favourite was the blackened shrimp jambalaya. There is nothing fancy about the place or the food here. It’s just classic, good value creole cooking and I actually preferred it to the guide book’s sweetheart, the Acme Oyster House, probably because the latter is so goddamn crowded.

Avoiding bawdy Bourbon Street becomes an art here, at least if you’re over 25 it does, so next stop we settled for a gentler, cleaner, trendier looking bar called Kingfish (named after the controversial ex Governor who was assassinated in 1935) just around the corner on Chartres Street. Don’t let its somewhat swish interior put you off, the cocktails and food here are both elegant and well considered. And Justin, the mixologist (showing off below) was charming: humble, quietly hilarious but very serious about his liquor. Under ‘libations’ on the cocktail menu you must try the French Pearl, a delicious mix of gin, lemon, mint and, of course the local favourite, herbsaint served in a cute little antique glass.The ‘Lil’ Eats’ menu is particularly creative: crab claw lollipops with a smoked remoulade, Louisiana sportsman’s gumbo with crowley popcorn rice or the BBQ shrimp and waffles served with Hopitoulas cream made with locally brewed IPA. Oh yes, we tried it all.

French Pearl cocktail at Kingfish, New Orleans

One of the coolest new places to eat in N’awlins right now has to be Cochon. Not the posh Cochon but the hipster-friendly Butcher nextdoor. If you or your partner has a beard then this is the place for you. If you both have beards then it’s definitely the place for you. As the name makes pretty clear, Butcher is all about the meat. This is post-apocalypse man’s mecca with a primeval passion for dead pig served in a no-nonsense environment. Everything is made in-house: the pickles are pickled here, the smoked meats smoked, the cured meats cured and the sausages sausaged. We barely spoke as we bore down on the delicious hot Boudin, the charcuterie plate with spicy fennel pastrami and country terrine, the extraordinary Muffaletta and the clever (and very tidy) Le Pig Mac. This was all washed down with a gorgeous local IPA by the name of Lil’ Smack. (Thankfully, when ordering a couple more I was spared the eye-roll)



Cochon and Butcher are part of the Donald Link empire that includes the famous Peche seafood restaurant. He’s won endless awards and if you can only try one thing from one of his posher establishments go to Herbsaint for the Banana Brown Bread Butter Tart with Fleur de Sel Caramel. It’s wonderful.



Next morning was all about finding THE coffee. The two places we picked out were Spitfire and Arrow Cafe. Both were friendly in that laid back hipster kinda way. Arrow gets extra points by being part bike shop. Cool coffee shops are like a litmus test of a city and tell you whether or not there’s a new food culture emerging. No question about that here. We followed coffee with an eggy breakfast at Envie on Decatur Street which felt like a proper locals hang out.

The perfect NOLA hidden gem has to be Killer Poboys. Set right at the the back of a dark and dingy Irish pub, KPB is a tiny hole-in-the-wall standing-room-only space serving gourmet creole sandwiches. Do not miss the seared Gulf Shrimp with an Asian twist, or the Glazed Pork Belly Poboy with a rum and ginger syrup. The Grass-fed Beef Meatloaf is exactly what this place is all about: high quality meat served the way you least expect it. Brilliant stuff.

By contrast, that evening we had a gentle meal at Coquette on Magazine Street. It opened just after the crash in 2008 but still has the feeling of settling in. The big dining rooms are stripped back elegant, successfully finding that delicate balance between posh and trendy. Firstly, the bread here was unforgettable. Important thing, bread, just like coffee. It sets your expectations and we weren’t disappointed. The vibe was a tad stifled but the roast chicken in the silky vadouvan French gravy was sublime, as was the smoked catfish.


The best night we had, for an all-round atmosphere and food combo, was at Paladar 511. Just opened in a cavernous warehouse on the edge of Marigny this place is set for great things. We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen and were instantly at the centre of all the action. Head Chef and owner Jack Murphy was everything you want from a hip young chef: super busy but able to laugh with his team and wear his hat back to front at the same time. He selected a fab bottle of Grenache for us to go with the fried arancini and lamb sausage, followed by blueberry pie and honey lavender ice cream. A very decent night.

Time was limited but we fitted what certainly felt like an awful lot of food and drink into our four day stay. If you want classic, Creole cooking at a place that feels like it’s been there for a thousand years, served on a crisp linen tablecloth, head for the Commander’s Palace, August, Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Mr B’s Bistro, The Court of Two Sisters, Mother’s or K Pauls. For something a little edgier, the list is long and getting longer every day: Toups Meatery, Brown Butter, Ursa Major, Balise, Cellar Door, Boucherie. I couldn’t try them all but I know a man who has.

Finally, and only because I can’t not mention it, pick up a pound of Mississippi Mud from Laura’s Candies. ‘She’s’ been making it on the premises since 1913 so not only is it a local icon, it’s ridiculously wonderful.

Every good city has a thousand restaurants. What makes New Orleans feel special is the mood that lubricates it. I learned that the hip young chefs relish having the established places just up the street and will recommend that you try them. They talk enthusiastically about new competitors opening too, like they feel they’re part of a new momentum. I guess it’s a kind of harmony that can only be achieved in a place that’s more of a non-stop party than a serious city.


  Howard Saunders   Jun 18, 2015   Blog, city, Food, image, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

7 STEPS TO CREATING A SHIT RESTAURANT

1. Get a Brand

Pick a punchy name that sounds like it’s set for success. Something easy and familiar that rolls off the tongue works best. Choose a name that you can imagine being franchised from Totnes to Timbuktu. Hey, Timbuktu, there’s a name! (That one’s for free)

2. Get noticed

Make sure your sign is visible, and by visible I mean big. As big as the local authorities will allow. Bigger if you can get away with it. You need to stand out from the crowd and a fascia-filling, mother of a neon sign gets you on the radar. If they won’t allow that, go for back illuminated plastic. Getting noticed is half the battle.

3. Tell us what you do

Don’t be shy, explain yourself, get a strap-line, think positive. ‘The best & baddest burger in town’ or ‘Pizza-licious!’ Be proud of who you are and what you do…and then shout about it!

4. Design

Designing a restaurant isn’t easy, so make sure you get plenty of input. Start by asking the chef how much space he needs, then halve it. Everyone knows somebody who’s good at design. For instance, my niece is pretty artistic and can draw virtually any Disney character you care to throw at her. Ask someone like that to come up with a few ideas on decor before you get quotes, but keep it colourful. Remember, this isn’t your front room: we’re looking for the wow factor here. Sometimes a theme helps and it doesn’t matter what it is. For example, a ‘jungle’ theme opens up all sorts of exciting design opportunities. Compare that to, say, a ‘moon-landing’ theme. The rule is to let your imagination run riot. And on the subject of shit restaurants, there’s a ‘toilet’ themed restaurant in LA called the Magic Restroom. Apparently the food is very good.

5. Big Menu

Make sure you cover all angles. What if a young couple comes in and he wants a burger whilst she prefers pizza? Is one of them going to have to go next door? No. Have a full range of options to keep everybody happy from OAPs down to the kiddies. (Actually the pizza and burger combo pretty much covers that) And you’ll be amazed at the number of meal permutations you can create with just a few sauces and couple of side dishes.

6. Big Menu

It always looks impressive to have a big menu, in size I mean. We’re talking broadsheet (bed-sheet if possible) so that they’re anti-nickable, and laminated so you can wipe off all the grease. Make sure it looks bright and jolly with plenty of cheeky comments wherever possible. People love puns on food, like ‘Don’t go bacon my heart’ or ‘Penne for your thoughts’ etc. (You can use those)

7. Staff

Staff are critical to your success. After all, who else is going to bring the food to the table? If you have lots of keen, young family members that will work for a free meal then you’re off to a great start. Remember that every dollar you pay your staff, is a dollar straight off the bottom line, so keep it tight. Immigrants are excellent candidates. They’ll work for next to nothing and because they can’t speak the language they won’t argue with the customers. It’s a win, win!

  Howard Saunders   May 15, 2015   Blog, Brand, image, Retail   2 Comments   Read More

PETROLHEDONISM: NEW YORK’S AUTO SHOW & THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

Here’s the thing: Manhattan men don’t like cars. I know because they say so loudly in bars accompanied by an effete salute. ‘I know NOTHING about cars’ they chime, as if just breaking sexual stereotypes instantly elevates you above your peers. Women here say the same about cooking. ‘I wouldn’t know HOW to turn it on!’ they proudly chortle in a display of inverted arrogance. So, to hold an international motor show in a city that largely despises the car may seem somewhat odd until you get a grip on its significance. The New York Auto Show is not just a petrol-head convention for out-of-towners, it is the annual visit when America comes to Manhattan.

This show has become a kind of annual barometer that measures how America feels about itself. Obviously, it was never a market for selling practical modes of transportation. The Auto Show is a brazen display of fuel-injected testosterone: who this year has the fastest, biggest, most daring etc. The romantic view of the driver as adventurer on the open road has never really waned in the US, partly because the country still has an awful lot of open road. In Europe our cars have huddled down and ‘hybridded’ up in an admirable attempt look discreet, unassuming and eminently sensible. Not here. The rocket-ship aesthetics of the 60s and 70s may have been tamed over time but the stars of the show in New York still have plenty of mirrored chrome, provocative bulges and yards of leather piping.

The American Automobile carries a weight and significance in its homeland unlike anywhere else and it has retained an openly glorified status that has yet to be quashed by those that know better. The retro-roadsters are not, as in Europe, a tongue-in-cheek design quirk, rich in urban irony. Here they are steeped in meaning. Just uttering the names Corvette, Mustang, Shelby, Buick, Dodge, Cadillac, Lincoln and Chevrolet has a tangible, reverberating resonance that rumbles the gut of America like a Chrysler 8 litre V10 with 640hp at the back wheel.

And just as hem lines rise when the economy perks up, so the dropheads step into the limelight like forgotten Hollywood starlets, and there are plenty to choose from in 2015 with the Ford GT 50th Anniversary edition (yes, 50!) as Queen Bee.

But I like to watch the crowds, the families failing to control their hyper-active children and the old men reminiscing loudly over distant four-wheeled love affairs. For this show gives us a glimpse into the soul of America where, despite a myriad of failings and broken dreams, there still purrs an engine of optimism, primed and ready to hit the open road.

  Howard Saunders   Apr 09, 2015   Blog, Brand, Gallery, image, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

THE AXEMAN

I’ve just received the coolest gift. A box, one metre long, heavy and wooden: inside a limited edition, numbered, hand-painted, hickory-handled, American felling axe. Yes, an axe. In another box, a cream enamelled ‘axe care kit’ complete with a sharpening stone and some serious looking G clamps that I wouldn’t know where to start with. The whole thing is so exciting. I mean, what else can you get a cynical city dweller of my advanced years other than some professional lumberjacking equipment? What’s more, my girlfriend is just as thrilled. She loves to feel the reassuring heft of the four pound, leather-sheathed axehead as it falls into her palm. No, I’m not being rude…this is serious. There is certainly something immensely powerful about an axe. Let me explain.




I recently took a small group of professional guys from Sydney around New York for a bit of a retail safari. They were a mix of well travelled developers and lawyers, so a clever bunch. They were interested in seeing a few cool brands so at the end of our afternoon walking Manhattan I took them to Tribeca to visit one of the coolest: Best Made. Now, I’ve brought people in here before and the reaction can be somewhat mixed. The entrance is hard to find with an appropriately tiny logo on the glass and inside you are greeted by a wall of logs, on sale for a dollar each. This is a clue.

Best Made is urban man’s last hope:it sells us the dream of those that built this city, chopped down the forests and replaced them with skyscrapers. It reminds us that not far from this little granite island there is countryside, and a lot of it, and if you want to explore then you’d better be prepared. You’d better man up!

Basically, Best Made sells everything you need to survive in the wilderness after the apocalypse: nicely branded and stylishly over priced enamel ware, waxed canvas jackets as thick as doormats,chunky duffel bags, maps and atlases and lots of very cool camping gear…but their signature product is the axe. Hold an axe in your hands and you are transported to a simpler world, one where you had to kill things for dinner and chop things to stay warm.

Hold an axe and you forget your daily commute, all the office politics and gripes about your expense account. This is the real you, the adventurer, the pioneer, the man they will turn to after the apocalypse: the man with the axe. The axe tells us that our crazy urban lives are meaningless. It reminds us that we can leave our stupid jobs and head for the woods to start a new life living in a shelter we built with our own blistered hands. (Until, that is, we get cold and lonely and want to go home)

So, Best Made are selling us a beautiful handmade icon of the primeval masculinity that we thought we had lost forever. The axe is the first and most important tool man ever created. It gave us wood, fire, food, shelter and power. A limited, numbered, hand painted axe can be yours for about $300. How can so much meaning come so cheap?

I love the fact that as our aspirations shift as times change, the retail space responds with tangible products that answer what are, ultimately, emotional needs. Here is a brand that understands we really don’t need any more stuff. It also understands that in a world where we have most of what we need, we still desperately search for things with real meaning. Oh yes, I love my axe.

  Howard Saunders   Jan 11, 2015   Blog, Brand, image, Retail   8 Comments   Read More