Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Meddling in Financial Planning

Practitioner vs. Academic within financial planning: who is the interloper?

Recently, I had a very interesting email exchange with a new acquaintance from Colorado. My new friend, a very talented, well pedigreed, financial planning practitioner submitted a paper to the same conference as myself, and our paths crossed as we were lumped into the same session, with him serving as the discussant of my study. Within his email, there was an interesting statement, and to summarize, he felt as though he was an interloper to the conference event in that he was a 'practitioner' as opposed to an 'academic.' I found this most interesting and worthy of deep thought. Possibly even a major future study. So then, who really is the interloper?

One of the main objectives I have employed with regard to my academic studies has been to try to apply areas of study in such a way that (I hope) helps the financial planning practitioner. One recent study I generated was a compilation of work conducted in conjunction with Rebecca King and the Financial Planning Association, as they were so generous to allow us to survey FPA members. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to have worked with Deena Katz (she was a committee member on my dissertation as well), a true financial planning pioneer and legend, Mrs. Katz reviewed this study and provided so much wonderful feedback. In this sense, I value the 'working world' practitioner as their feedback provides timely information and viewpoints to current and future studies, that many times might just go overlooked by the academic.

I believe there to be a sense of desire to develop strong relationships between academics and practitioners. From past experience, there are definite gaps in what academics know and what they have the ability to apply to the sphere of practice. By this, I mean that the academic community can learn a great deal from the practitioner as well, sometimes, simply by just listening and then responding in language the practitioner can synthesize. As for me, I think in terms of a ‘blank canvas,’ and one just keeps working to narrow the gaps a little bit at a time. In the end, if I generate an article that helps even one person to think or understand the practice of financial planning from a different perspective or in a new way, then I know that my investment in the time to learn new things at higher levels was for the greater good.

Thus, in a sense aren’t we really all interlopers? Possibly our collective trespass is a positive thing? Just think, maybe, looking from a different perspective, it could be that possibly financial planning is, in and of itself, an interloper. Think of it from a truly academic point of view, where does financial planning belong? Is it business, is it human sciences, is it law, is it social science? From the practitioner point of view, is it a field, is it a profession, is it industry? The more we all meddle in the dynamic, cross functional nature of financial planning, the more we will understand.

Your fellow interloper,

Dr. D

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Orange County Chopper

Recently, I toured Orange County Chopper (OCC) in Newburgh, NY. Granted, I am nothing close to a biker, in fact, I have never ridden a chopper, or even sat on one for that matter. What I am though, is an individual with an appreciation for art, life, culture, and machines that embody all those things in one package; oh, not to mention the combination of all these things interfacing nicely with the business world of which I understand pretty darn good.

It was raining as we drove down the hill past the USAF reserve on the winding, narrow road. Suddenly, you could see the OCC building, a mammoth of a site resembling a cross between a warehouse and a flight hanger. The driveway is nicely done and off to the right as you pass down the drive is a storage lot where trucks, OCC trailers, etc., can park. Parking is spacious and there is plenty of it. The entire fascia of the building is done in glass with an etched OCC logo. This place is a true mecca of chopper lovers dreams. I was quite impressed.

Upon entering the revolving glass door, you are now inside the OCC retail facility and museum. Thousands of different product items line the shelves. There is enough product depth in T-Shirts alone from which to write a separate book. Huge LCD's line the store, and a soundsystem plays music while you shop. There are specialty items that can only be purchased at the OCC store, clocks, bobble heads, dolls, miniature bikes, hats, knives, accessories, oh, and you can also purchase a bike if you wish.

OCC is primarily a custom bike dealer pushing custom shop designed bikes bearing their name and logo. OCC is also a Ducati dealer and carries a nice inventory of both bikes (product categories) to suit the needs of the motorcycle rider. The base price for an OCC chopper, non theme bike, is around $40,000. That's to start off with, if you want a pretty plain chopper. The OCC team also develops and produces custom theme bikes that are truly art (and line the wall of the OCC facility) that easily command hundreds of thousands in some cases.

OCC rocketed to consumer awareness with the hit TV Show "American Chopper," filmed on location at the shop and aired on TLC. The main characters are the founders, Paul Teutul, his sons, Mikey and Paulie, and the individuals working in the shop. This is not a history lesson in the founding of OCC, but, you can read more about them here .

Filming was going on in the shop on the day we visited. OCC has a super viewing room available for one to watch what is going on in the shop, and watch the taping of the show if you wish. Pretty cool.

After taking in the sites, and venturing around looking at what retail merchandise I wanted to depart from Newburgh with, I suddenly had an 'Academic -Working World gut-check.' What I mean by this is, even though I was fascinated with the OCC, I quickly realized, they are just another business going through the ebbs and flows of daily existence. Granted they have extended reach due to a media platform in TLC and the production of American Chopper, but, at days' end, they are a business. They have a direct customer interface with the employees working the desk of the retail store, and of the products they sell be it a T-shirt or a bike. And, from my experience, they are a business that, not like many others out there, need help in customer fulfillment at the retail level. Here are a couple of examples.....possibly missed opportunities.

First, the retail sales employees were rude at best. Given, there is a cultural difference between "Texas" and "New York," but, rude is rude. When you ask a question and are treated like you are really messing up the employees day by requiring a somewhat intelligent question, well, a red flag should go up...and up it did in my mind.

Secondly, many of the retail offerings, such as "have your picture taken with the Teutuls" whereby you are PhotoShopped into an existing picture, were broken and not working. If you asked about the nice big sign saying "have your photo made..." you were quickly told yeah, that's broken....hmmm. Ok, so, how much for the cool OCC limited edition pocket knife for my father-in-law? You get the point....again, red flags!

Lastly, I drove 1740 miles, yes count them for yourself, , one thousand seventeen hundred and forty miles to experience OCC. (Ok, so, um, this wasn't the only reason I was in New York, but, hey, it sure adds drama to this story). Not one time did anyone in the retail store ask where I was from. Not one time did anyone in the store even make an attempt to capture my information, address, email, cell phone, text, twitter, facebook, NADDA! Uh huh, red, red, red flags! Oh, and to add insult to injury...not one product was suggested to me, as I was never approached...hmm, maybe a hands off style? NO! Missed product sales!

One could possibly argue that OCC is big, and doesn't need people because it sells so many bikes. Really? Then why do the theme bikes (many of them) reside at the OCC HQ? Further, in today's economy, there is a lag that will be (if it hasn't already) hitting OCC and businesses like OCC in the face due to corporate (theme bike target market) cutbacks. And, even further, does the general bike consumer have an extra $40,000 laying around to purchase a bike...and ok, even further, does the bike consumer have access to financing for the bike given the liquidity constrained market? Oh, and back to the opening comment....people.....or "fans" as we might call them, actually may carry the big stick in their soft walk. Consumer behavior teaches us that fans are fickle...yikes....make enough of them mad, and well, you could cause erosion of the fan base, or even more terrible, viewer wearout of the media platform of the show in general. much to think about.

Again, this post is NOT to bash OCC. In fact, I love OCC, and am a huge fan. The American Chopper show on TLC does not do any of the bikes justice. The craftsmanship of the metal workings that come together to create the intricate attention to detail are so amazing that one must, just must, see in person to experience. A true metal art form on a steel chassis canvas may best summarize what the men and women of OCC do on a daily basis. I appreciate the culture of OCC, how it started, what it stands for, and the value it commands in the marketplace, ceteris paribus.

However, I am also an Academic with a keen business sense when it comes to sales and marketing. Too many red flags, and, your own internal dashboard indicators tell you something is amiss. The point here should be that no matter what the business is, what its access to media outlet platforms is, how big, or how small, all can benefit from the "stuff" you as students and me as a professor work through in our classes. I spent a few hours at OCC, and I walked away, still impressed, but, knowing that deep down within my knowledge base, I could so help these guys.

As your knowledge grows, you develop as a student of business, and your experience broadens, you will eventually be able to have the same "gut check" with any business you interface. You will see the red flags and think of 10 quick ways you could remedy the problem with marketing research, selling sequence, product life cycle, 4 P's + Perception, etc. These things we discuss in class, this "stuff" really does matter as it provides a tool box for you to work from as an Academic Craftsman in the future.

Dr. D

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The secret to "sales..." Don't take the first NO for an answer!

Recently, while sitting in a comfy chair on my front lawn, a door to door salesman approached my neighborhood. I watched as the man meandered down my cul-de-sac from house to house. As he made his way to me, he approached and this is how the interaction went down:

"Nice green lawn," the man said. "Do you take care of it yourself?"
"Yes," I replied.

"Well, let me tell you about my company," he proceeded to explain for several minutes that his company (a national lawn treatment firm" could "treat" my lawn for a mere $59 bucks a week.

I replied, "what is the 'benefit' of the service your company provides?"

He paused and told me that the service of his company would "give me a nice green lawn."

I tried to be nice. Really....I tried. My mind was quantitatively taking apart and rearranging everything the salesman said, checking it against theory and the 10 Step Selling Sequence, the features, advantages, and benefits model and reporting discrepancies by the dozens...I "tried" to be nice; but sometimes, well, it's just tough.

So, I said to the man, "basically, you want me to pay you $59 per week for something I already have?" "That doesn't make sense to me, does it to you?"

The man quietly handed me two brochures and left.

Now, I am not dogging or ragging on a door to door, cold-call canvassing salesman, no, not at all. In fact, his job is difficult at best. However, with the proper attitude, and an understanding of the building blocks of the selling process, the salesman could be in a much more lucrative career choice.

The point I am making is that so many sales people get sent out into the marketplace without the proper training. Twenty minutes before the man came by, I was looking at my lawn thinking I should do something about the huge dandelion crop that has infested its lovely way across the Texas Panhandle and into my lawn this Spring. I was even "willing to pay" for a treatment for such a service (as I figured I was going to have to spend money on post emergent granules or spray anyway).

However, I was not qualified by the other words, he did not fish around long enough with me to uncover a 'need' that I have from which I could 'benefit' from his service company....he just took "NO" for an answer.

You see, in the sales business, it is imperative that one shows the true "benefit" of a service or a product for that matter...again, it's the "what's in it for me, the customer" that makes the sale happen. When you build benefit statement after benefit statement, you eventually find that you have developed a unique selling proposition (USP) that actually makes YOUR business (product or service) different than all the others. If you build the USP well enough, you show the potential customer or client that "switching" to, or "choosing" the competitor is not economically viable.

As for the two brochures left behind, on the cover of each were three benefit statements, one dealing dandelions and unwanted weeds....hmmm, maybe, just maybe you too see the importance of having a trained sales force? Or at the minimum, a sales force that has at least read their own brochures.

Dr. D

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Total Product....

When I am teaching my students about what a product is, I have them visualize the Target logo. There is an outermost ring, an inside ring, and the innermost area of the bulls eye. Then, I explain that the bulls eye area of the target is the core product. The second level is the augmented product. The outermost level is the total product. As an example:

The iPod Touch is a product that at its core level does nothing more than play music. There are many competitors that play music, sandisk, Sony, Zune, etc. However, when you effectively deploy (augment) features such as an application store, touch screen, Apple care service program, warranty, and status wow-factor of "having an iPod touch" you have then created the "Total Product."

I challenge the students to think about product offerings from a different perspective, that of the features, advantages, and true benefit of the augmented product and how these can be leveraged to create a unique product selling proposition.

Think about the features (physical characteristics of a product or service), advantages (a performance characteristic of the product), and the benefit (what's in it for the customer/client) as you go about your daily business. Think of augmentations to that core product and you will see these three components explode and thus give you a stronger uniqueness to what you offer.

Let's face it...people buy the benefits of "the total product..."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Attitude is everything people!

I suppose with the new FELT Cafe24 Deluxe around, my newly minted five year old was feeling a little complacent as she was (key word here) still sporting training wheels on the 14 inch Schwinn girls bike we bought her some time back. Considering the little darling was victim of my recent purchase in that she was forced to stand at attention during the seemingly long time I spent at the specialty store looking over the Cafe24, I mentioned to her that when she could ride her Schwinn without the 3rd and 4th wheels, I would purchase her a Specialized bicycle like her older sisters. Ahhhhh, incentives go a long way with a driven five year old little girl! This was Wednesday.....

On Saturday of that same week, realizing that even a neighbor girl was riding without the extra wheels of balance, the five year old came to me and said that she did not want to be the only girl around with training wheels. Reinforcement of the incentive I presuppose. Again, I told her that when "she" was ready, we would remove the extra wheels and she could ride on the two big wheels only. Again, I mentioned the new bike we would buy her upon successful completion of the defiance of the extra wheels on her current bike.

What happened next will be a memory I will never forget. My beautiful five year old daughter Ryli looked me square in the eyes, and without any hesitation stated to me in a very reaffirming voice "I am going to ride my bike without training wheels tomorrow (Sunday). Will you take my training wheels off my bike?"


Sunday morning came, and I did not make mention of Saturday evening's good tidings of the vocal nature, as I wanted Ryli to approach me with it as "her idea..." In the DeArmond family, it is crucial that all ideas to be acted upon are of the female nomenclature (I have learned this over 10 beautiful years of marriage to their mother, respectively). Mid morning came and, I took them for a bike ride to their Grand Parents. I on the Cafe24, Maci on her 20 inch Specialized, and Miss Ryli on her 14 inch Schwinn with training wheels still attached. No mention from Ryli regarding the extra wheels.

I didn't say a thing. I went for an extended bike ride alone after dropping the kiddos off at their PapPap and MeMe's. Finished my bike ride and went fishing in the afternoon. On my way home from the fishing adventure, I phoned the girls to see how their day went. They had fun and were playing with a science experiment.

As I drove into the garage, I noticed something different about the 14 inch Schwinn. It was, for the first time within its product life cycle, laying on its side. PapPap (the mechanic) had listened to the Ryli request to remove the training wheels. Ryli ran out in the garage and informed me of the request she made of the grand parent, but, told me that she didn't really want to pedal it, she just wanted to scoot around on the Schwinn. I informed her it is more fun to pedal the bike as opposed to scooting around on it......"Let's go for a bike ride!!!"

Ryli moved her legs back and forth to and fro, scooting around; sometimes with both feet off the ground for an extended period of time...but, no pedaling. I knew we were close, but, I am also aware that it must be.....has to be....her idea. So, I walked and followed her, just in case she needed me. She was building speed, but, just shy of the crucial "take off" point where balance and power seem to magically allow one to thrust forward on a bike. I worked with her for what seemed like an hour (in reality, it was probably a matter of minutes). I asked if she needed my help, repeatedly, to which she replied, "nope, I got it."

Finally, when she had decided she wanted to pedal.....she was off......she was gone down the street under her own power, pedaling her first revolutions toward a new found freedom. I stood in amazement watching a turning point in the life of my precious little girl. I stood in amazement to the fact that she "called it" so perfectly the night before that she would ride the following day without the assistance of the two extra three and a half inch wheels bolted to the back of the Schwinn. I stood in amazement, tears running down my face, that she, like her sister Maci who came before her just three short years earlier, made riding a bicycle look so easy.

Life is amazing. It has a way of taking us through many stages as we grow and learn from its experiences. This experience taught me something so precious, so reinforcing, so wonderful, so Godly. Even for a five year old girl of only 50 pounds...a positive attitude is all it takes to accomplish a major stepping-milestone in life. Oh, and I guess I am going back to the specialty bike shop, this time to bring home a new Specialized bike for Ryli ;-)

"Attitude is everything people."


Thursday, April 16, 2009

DrD "Felt" 10 Again...

When I was about 10 years old, my parents bought a Huffy bicycle for me, as all my friends had nice bikes...I remember pestering the parental units long enough until we went to K-Mart and bought the shiny BMX style bike. It was a great day when I got to bring that bike home. Never mind that I was a 10 year old that really didn't know how to ride a bike...

In my life, I have had but 3 bicycles...the aforementioned Huffy, a 10 Speed I picked up somewhere for less than $100 in my teens, and a Mongoose mountain bike I bought at a warehouse store on clearance just a few years ago.

Recently, after the 4 year PhD hiatus, I realized that "Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic" can be hard on ones body...I gained about 45 pounds while completing the terminal degree...hmm, maybe this is why it is "terminal." At any rate, the body has its own geometry functions and calculations, and in your mid to late 30's with little physical activity due to mental activity, the body chooses the path of least resistance. To curtail this weight gain phenomenon, as I must confess, with the doctorate comes a level of freedom in employment that few, if any people are ever lucky enough to achieve; I got the mountain bike out and took the girls for a ride around the neighborhood...thus an epiphany: I am not a mountain bike kind of guy.....I am not a race bike kind of guy....I am somewhere in-between. Confused consumer....maybe.

My darling wife suggested I find a different bike. My post-ride aching knees, elbows, lats, and ham strings agreed. I first looked at brand names I have known over the years, Schwinn, Huffy, Mongoose, that easily came to mind. This evoked set of brands was limited at best, as I really have had little if any "biking" experience over the past 37 years. I quickly learned that my brand recall greatly reduced my evoked set of bicycle possibilities. Limitations of this nature are not a good thing, as this reduces the chance for optimal outcomes!

On a recent family outing, my wife further suggested I stop by a bicycle specialty shop, to which I did several days later (still aching from the ride in the previous paragraph). Upon entry into the bike shop, which I accidentally entered from the wrong door somehow, I was quickly amazed at all the different types of bicycles...gone are the days of the simple 'ass for every seat' 10 speed. I saw race bikes, mountain bikes, and when approached by the friendly and knowledgeable sales staff, quickly learned that bike companies are very aware of my life cycle stage. Companies such as TREK, Specialized, and FELT are aware that there are a big number of GenXers such as myself in the 'what happened to my body' life stage. In fact, the bike company FELT actually segments their business market into 12 different product categories. This is the ultimate "something for everyone" strategy--road, fit woman, fitness, track, mountain, urban, and cafe to name a few. Oh, and, this nice market segmentation effort comes with a sweet little price point of hundreds and even thousands of dollars.....for a bike??? You bet!

I spotted a HUGE black and red FELT Cafe 24 Deluxe. Boasting three sprockets and 24 speeds rocked out by a Shimano Sora 3400GS rear derailleur, this thing has better paint on it than my first three automobiles. With Tecktro V-Type brakes rivaling that of my TRD Toyota FJ Cruiser, the bike is even equipped with a cup-holder, sort of the SUV of the Urban Assault Bicycles, or the Cafe Cruisers as they are also known. With the addition of a large "saddle," (they no longer call them 'seats') rack, fenders, and a handy little saddle bag that attaches under the seat, you are ready to roll in style. Even hardcore bike guys, such as my friend and colleague Nick Gerlich (DrG), like the FELT Cafe. Wow, a bike that a big guy like me can ride and still be admired by the race-bike guys...sweet! A bike that adapts to your lifestyle, not the other way around....even sweeter!

I never thought I would spend so much on a bicycle. I didn't realize that there was "that much" difference in the old Mongoose and the new Cafe 24. Learning is a wonderful thing. I brought the bike home, and zooming down the streets with smiles on our faces, the girls and I again rode around the neighborhood.

DrD "FELT" like he was 10 again.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The 21C and DrD

Different people process things in different ways...

After spending what seemed like an eternity in the consumer information gathering stage regarding smartphones, I soon realized from this process that my students were ever so "connected" in the 21st Century (The 21C). They are engaged in constant communication via their smart phone devices. As a Gen Xer, I didn't understand how or why they would want to be "on" 24/ just seemed like a burden that I didn't want to carry. But, then, it hit me. As a professor, I do my best to engage my students and bring them into the class, when all the time, all around me, the students were trying desperately to engage me, and bring me into their "culture."

Finally, after years of resistance, I opened my eyes to the 21C, sent my first text message, and quickly upgraded my family's cell plans to encompass all the technology the 21C has to offer by way of the Apple iPhone.

You know, the biggest misconception about the iPhone is that it is a toy. Sure, it's cool to stream my music (I got rid of my XM contract by the need for it, as with the 3G network, you can stream Internet radio all day long), and play with entertainment applications and reference, but, it really is an amazing tool. Prior to having the iPhone, I basically had to look at my laptop all the time to see what my schedule was going to be, etc., like from home. This made me pretty anxious all the time and even apprehensive in the mornings when I was getting ready to leave for work...not so anymore. I have all my information (like a PDA) at my has "freed" me...LOL. I no longer feel so stressed, or have to wait for a laptop to load (aren't we such an entitled group?) to check my mail, voicemail, or email.

There are thousands of "applications" one can load into the phone such as, the USA Today for news, The Weather Channel, Bloomberg Information, AdAge and Yahoo Mobile, Facebook, etc. that really help you have tools at hand to make for interesting discussions in class. The apps are mostly free, with some costing .99cents to $10 or more depending on the app. With the Web browser, Safari, you can do fact checking right in class....pretty cool. Hey, you might as well because your students are sitting there running fact checks on everything you say as well!!!

Smart phones are pricey! The iPhone itself is around $200 and it runs about $160 a month to support it (including a mandatory $30 a month data plan fee) at an unlimited plan (more than I paid for my first financed car!!!). But, I must say, I am a couple of months into it, and feel it is money well spent. Oh, and one caveat, if you are with another carrier outside of AT&T, you will pay switching costs of $200 per phone to terminate a contract early.

The iPhone is truly what you make of it! Mine is a balance of fun and function. Haha, a week after I bought mine, well, yes, of course I had to get my wife one! I think it has helped our communication greatly! Prior to this, I had only sent one text message in my, I text all the time, and have learned a lot about my students and their culture. Just this past week, I have used my iPhone to reset an online exam that errored out on a Sunday leaving one of my students hanging...I received the student distress email forwarded from the online learning system directly to my phone...and within 2 minutes had the student's exam, probably the closest an academic can come to being a "hero." Nah, it's just expected of Gen Y! Appreciated, but, expected!

It is my sincere hope that embracing the 21C in such a manner will lead to better communication and engagement with my students. I hope to do even greater things in the future to assist in moving forward with programs, research, and publications in this area. I know one thing for university is on board and willing to support these efforts. Let's face it, my university president was one of the first in the state of Texas to have an iPhone!!!!

I am hooked on the 21C, and no longer think it is "rude" for someone to text in class or in a meeting...merely a way we have to multi-task to find 26 hours in our 24 hour day!

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Dr D

As a general rule, since this is the first piece I have ever written on my own personal blog, I have adopted the wisdom of Dr. E.L. Kersten whereby "never before have so many said so much to so few," with regard to a general attitude toward "blogging."

However, somewhere inside me, as in millions of others out there in the blogosphere, there's something pent up inside...something to be said. Something that lapsed beyond the 80,000 words written in my doctoral dissertation. Although I have blogged before on other sites, this is my first attempt at my very own blog. Yes, friends, along with others, I have something to say.

Thus, this blog will stand as a testament to the methods of my madness...the ramblings, the tangents, the things I think of on a daily basis. Who knows, there might actually be some good mental floss stuck in there never know, it could happen.

Welcome to the Blogosphere,

Dr. D