AJ Wright Shopping Challenge: Bring It!

Monday, June 14, 2010

I first learned the term off price shopping when I went to Boston last year for the TJ Maxx/Marshalls event. A few weeks ago, I got an opportunity to learn a little more about it in the form of a shopping challenge. AJ Wright, another store under the TJX Group of stores, emailed and asked if I'd be willing to take a $100 shopping challenge at their new store in Norwalk. Me? Take a shopping challenge? Does the Pope wear Prada?! 

I decided to make a day of it and pulled Tyler out of school early. I dropped him off to spend the afternoon with my dad because we hadn't seen him since the holidays. The store didn't open to the public for another few days so we had it all to ourselves. We learned a bit about how AJ Wright is different from TJ Maxx and Marshalls, their commitment to the communities where they open stores and their model search contests, and then they let us loose.

Armed with $100 and 2 hours to spend it wisely, I went all over the store. AJ Wright has the same departments as TJ Maxx and Marshalls so I was able to look at bedding, bath items and kitchen stuff. I decided to be selfish and stick with clothes and shoes for me.

I did really well. I bought 4 tops, one skirt, one pair of shoes, 2 Star Wars guys for Tyler and a shirt for Phil (Happy Father's Day!) and only went slightly over budget.

I asked if the stores will have better seasonal selections. One thing many of us said at the TJ Maxx/Marshalls event was that those of us in warm climates get frustrated when the sweaters and jackets start showing up in August. AJ Wright has fewer stores to buy for and can tailor the selections a little better for the market the store is in. I should have asked if there will be A and B stores the same as TJ Maxx and Marshalls.

AJ Wright is compared to Old Navy in terms of where it fits in to the TJX group of stores. I can definitely see that as true. The prices at AJ Wright were lower than TJ Maxx/Marshalls (which is hard to do!) but I could tell the quality on some items isn't the same and there weren't as many designer labels as I can find at TJ Maxx or Marshalls (though there were designer names in many of the departments).

At the event with me:
Amanda of Mommy Mandy
Ashley of  Me and My 3 Kids
Caryn of Rockin' Mama

Thank you to AJ Wright and SBC Advertising for such a fun afternoon!

You can see the rest of my photos on Flickr.

*AJ Wright gave me $100 to spend in the store as well as transportation to and from my father's house.

Book Review: Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

Monday, June 7, 2010

Delivering Happiness
Of the many pairs of shoes I own, I know exactly which ones came from Zappos. Before I was laid off, the site was my p0rn. I would sit on my lunch break and page through the sections looking for my next purchase. I don't go to the site nearly as often nowadays. It's too torturous. But, I appreciate their service and I'm sure I'll take advantage of my VIP status at some point.

I signed up to receive an advance copy of CEO Tony Hsieh's book Delivering Happiness mostly because of my obsession interest in shoes but also because of a piece I read in Inc. Magazine* about Zappos and it's company culture and curiosity about one of the greatest ecommerce success stories of all time.

Even though I'm not a business person or entrepreneur I still really enjoyed the book. Hsieh has a really casual writing style, more like story telling. The beginning section had me laughing with his early attempts at building his fortune. At age nine I was still playing with Barbies and he was setting up his first business.

What I like about the book:
*That he wrote it himself, no ghostwriters.
*The emphasis on money and profits being happy byproducts, not the main goals
*The theme of finding one's passion is all throughout the book, not just in the title. It's not marketing, it's what he really believes. 

What I didn't like about the book:
*The section about the development of the Core Values lost me a little. I like that Hsieh uses emails and stories from other employees to illustrate the values but with 10 of them, it got to be a little much (though the transcript on page 166 of a live chat between a customer and  Zappos employee Jonathan is hilarious!).
*I really would have liked a few pictures. With all the emphasis on the importance of the culture, photographic examples would have been fun. 

Inc. Magazine** hosted a live chat with Hsieh this morning. I submitted two questions and both were answered! (I screwed up my screen shot, boo!) I'm paraphrasing Tony's answers:

Q: You found your passion early in life, what advice would you give to late bloomers?
A: "Try a little bit of everything."

I'm enjoying blogging a lot more than I was at the end of last year. It's giving me new perspective. While I can't say I've found my passion, but I definitely feel being part of this community and social media scene has opened so many doors, given an outlet to my creativity and inspired so many ideas that it's just a matter of time.

Q: Do you thin Zappos will be using brand ambassadors as so many companies seem to be doing lately?
A: "I'm not sure what other companies are doing, but at Zappos we'd like to think our loyal customers are our brand ambassadors."

I asked this because it seems that all of the Zappos social media comes from inside the company. The employees are the ones to blog, Tweet, and Facebook. It would be interesting to hear how an "outsider" would report about the company.

As part of my review, I got a second copy to give away. To keep it easy for myself I'm holding the giveaway on Twitter (family in town this week).

1. If you'd like a copy Tweet out something with #ZapposDHBook in it. I need the hashtag to track the responses. If you're not on Twitter but think you'd like to read it, leave a comment below and I'll see what I can do (no promises though). Follow @dhbook to read the other reviews and enter other giveaways.
2. The contest will close this Friday June 11th at midnight CA time. Any Tweets after that won't count.
3. I'll send the winner a Tweet letting them know they've won. If I get no response by Sunday night I'll choose another winner. Good luck!

All in all I really enjoyed Delivering Happiness. I don't often read business books like this but I can see myself looking into some of the titles Hsieh makes available to the staff in the Zappos library. Lessons about doing what you love, looking beyond profit (or a paycheck) and being passionate translate into all areas of life, not just business.

*Not the piece in the current issue, this was some time ago.
**This sounds like I'm pimping Inc. but I'm not. I just really enjoy the magazine.

I received both copies of the book from Zappos as part of their blogger review program. I didn't get anything for it other than a good read. Book cover image from Amazon.
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