Footaction: going the distance

Footaction USA is counting on a marketing plan that appeals to the 12-to-24-year-old market segment to boost its market share. The 533-store athletic shoe retailer is competing with rivals Footlocker, The Finish Line and Woolworth. Its sales growth has been outstanding, with an average increase of 25.3% from 1993 through 1996. Estimated sales for 1997 are $655 million. The marketing plan includes about 74 new stores in 1997, designed to appeal to the target market, creating custom shoe styles, and publishing a magazine.

The race to compete for fashion-conscious athletic footwear consumers is a marathon, not a sprint. For Footaction USA, the specialty show retailer currently in second place in terms of store count, the key to long-term success lies in winning the loyalty of 12- to 24-year-olds.

So the retailer is building “cooler” stores for them, customizing shoes for high instep and high arch for them and even publishing a magazine for them. It’s not a bad market to bet on, considering 13- to 19-year-olds represent about 10% of the total population, and are expected to grow to about 30 million until the year 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Footaction’s president and CEO Ralph Parks, 51, is working to manage costs and inventory through the current cyclical downturn of the athletic shoe business.

Parks, whose footwear industry roots run 29 years deep, loosely refers to his personal management mantra as the four Ps: people, product, presentation and pride.

Notice that price is not among his alliterative list. Not surprising, considering that in a market where price is fairly consistent from store to store, fashion reigns.

It’s up to footwear retailers to give shoppers what they want, when they want it, in an environment exciting enough to lure them from the competition — which for regional mall-based Footaction includes department stores, freestanding superstore Just For Feet, Birmingham, Ala., and other mall stores such as industry leader Foot Locker and Indianapolis-based the Finish Line. Currently, Footaction goes head-to-head with The Finish Line in about 110 malls, says Parks. Footaction and The Finish Line compete with Woolworth in about 600 malls, and they both compete against Woolworth in more than 100 malls, according to Genesis Merchant Group Securities, New York City.

Indeed, Footaction is giving Foot Locker reason to worry. As a former regional vp of Foot Locker, Parks knows his ex-employer’s turf. “Both Footaction and Finish Line are attacking Woolworth in malls where its most profitable stores are located … avoiding mediocre malls where Woolworth is saddled with 1,000 athletic stores,” according to a report from Genesis Merchant Group Securities. Footaction in particular is targeting ethnic as well as upscale malls, says Genesis’ John Shanley, managing director.

Since 1993, Footaction’s sales have increased an average of 25.3% annually. Sales for 1996 were $515.7 million. Same-store sales rose 16.9% in 1996, impressive considering fewer than 100 of Footaction’s larger stores were old enough to be included in last year’s same-store calculations. Sales for FY1997 are estimated to increase about 21.3% to $655 million with the help of a net of about 74 new stores and 50 remodels.

This year, however, business has been tougher than trying to prevent the Chicago Bulls from repeating as champions. In the second quarter ended June 28, 1997, while total sales were up 12.7%, same-store sales decreased 5.2%. In July, same-store sales fell 1%; total sales for the month rose 23.3%.

What’s more, comp-store sales are expected to decrease for the full fiscal 1997, according to one analyst’s estimate, based in part on the overall sagging sales of athletic shoes.

“For whatever reason, [Footaction] had a miss on the merchandise in the near-term basis … with too much basketball and not enough brown,” says research analyst Marcia Aaron, who follows the industry for Alex. Brown. Baltimore.

Parks disagrees that Footactions’ product mix was off. “We’ll go as far as the consumer tells us to go.”

While Parks says Footaction is increasing its nonathletic shoe brands from 5% to about 10% of product offerings, Footaction will not stray far from its niche. “Consumers have so many other choices as far as good sneakers for plantar fasciitis. The driving force behind our business is the 12- to 24-year-old consumer buying our exclusive products.”

Market: The athletic footwear industry has nearly doubled since 1987 as fitness turned from sport to lifestyle. Sales soared from $6.4 billion in that 1996, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, Mt. Prospect, Ill. However, that increase has not been evenly spread.

Since 1992, sales have been relatively stagnant as the industry came off an Olympic year. What’s more, says Shanley, the growth of chains like Footaction and Finish Line is derived from stealing market share away from big guy Foot Locker, not from a growing market. Overall industry sales for fiscal 1997 are expected to decrease about 5% to 7% from last year, due in no small part to comparatively flat Nike sales.

Today, retailers face a host of challenges, including unpredictable consumer tastes, preferences for “brown” over “white” athletic shoes to wear with bunions, changing lifestyles of baby boomers and their children, and what some industry watchers say is a saturated market. “There has been a fair amount of square-footage growth in the last 36 months,” says Smith Barney’s Maureen McGrath, vp and senior equity analyst.

Retailers also remain quite dependent on manufacturers to deliver new product lines that move consumers into a “gotta-have-it” frenzy. When they don’t, as is the current case, retailers feel it in their cash registers.

“Over a five- to six-year time span there will be some years that are better than others.” says Parks about the business cycle for athletic footwear. “But it has always been a gradual, consistent growth, and I don’t see that changing.”

Smith Barney’s McGrath agrees: “I think most retailers are viewing this [slowdown] as reasonably temporary and they are optimistic about 1998.”

“Overall, product launches haven’t been exciting,” says Steve Richter, vp-research with investment and brokerage firm Tucker Anthony in Boston, which gave Footaction’s parent company, Footstar Inc., a buy rating earlier this year. One reason Richter likes Footstar, which also owns leased shoe department operator Meldisco, is for its long-term potential.

“Footaction has done well to manage in today’s slower growth environment,” says Richter, whose report cites Footaction’s strong expense management and solid overhead controls.

“The key element in managing costs is people,” says Parks. He says employees — Footactions has 5,500 — always consider how they can bring more, and save more, toward the bottom line.

“We also try to keep the number of stores under a district manager to a manageable level,” which is about 15 or 16 stores, says Parks.

Footaction was founded in 1976 in Wichita Falls, Texas, and acquired by Melville Corp. (now CVS) in October 1991. In 1996, Melville spun off Footaction and Meldisco into stand-alone footwear company Footstar. At presstime, Footaction had 533 stores in 44 states, concentrated in the Southwest, Southeast, mid-Atlantic and upper Northeast regions. “We are a bit underrepresented on the West Coast and in the Midwest,” says Parks.

While competitors such as Athlete’s Foot primarily target moms, Footaction is dedicated to the younger, “fashion-forward” market. Teens and young adults represent 64% of all Footaction shoppers. Everything Footaction does — from exclusive products to mall stores big in teen appeal — reflects this group’s lifestyle. It’s a segment worth tapping, considering that teenagers spent an estimated $103 billion in 1996, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, Northbrook, Ill.

To understand this often elusive market, Footaction’s buyers meet with at least 300 teens each year through advisory boards. It take cues from what it learns in these focus groups. For example, Footaction recently cut its skus by 30% to about 650 as buyers zeroed in on the styles its core shoppers wanted, according to Parks.

“It’s not how many dollars of inventory you have in your store,” says Parks, “but how much you have that the customer really wants.”

Footaction skus run narrow and deep. It also pushes one-of-a-kind products in what seems to be an industry standard, at least for retailers with enough buying power. Perhaps more than its competition, Footaction develops exclusive merchandise with manufacturers such as Adidas, Reebok, Fila and others. More than 52% of its merchandise are styles and colors found only at Footaction. Exclusives account for about 55% of all sales.

Presentation: As the footwear industry has shifted to fashion over performance, so has emphasis on display. “Store design has become just as important as the workers and the product,” says Keith Daly, senior vp and general merchandising manager. “Today, everything we do in our stores must connect with 12- to 24-year-olds.”

Footaction is betting on its latest prototype, a 4,000-plus-sq.-ft. store that combines athletic themes. Television monitors span the length of the show wall, and the drive aisle — Footaction’s Walk of Fame — is embedded with stars featuring athletes’ signatures. The color scheme is subtle and clean: Most of the fixtures are black; a rich wood grain gives the floor a sports-stadium feel.

Footaction also is pursuing aggressive expansion and conversion plans. All of Footstar’s Thom McAn stores should be converted to Footactions by this fall. By yearend, 276 Footaction stores will be 4,000 sq. ft. or more, according to Parks. The remainder, about 50%, will be 2,000 sq. ft. From 1997 through 2000, the chain will add a total of 2.1 million sq. ft. in new stores and expansions, according to Genesis Merchant Group Securities.

Footaction also intends to increase apparel offering in its larger prototype. Its current shoe-to-apparel ratio is 3:1.

Technology: Teen-agers typically buy fashion over price, and are highly likely to shop multiple stores until they find exactly what they want. So having the right shoe or shirt at the right time is critical.

To that end, Footaction has updated its information-technology infrastructure, which includes its new, “highly automated” distribution center in Dallas. The center can ship to any store nationwide in one day, if necessary, and three times a week in busy seasons. That means stores with larger sales floors and smaller stockrooms. By early next year, says Parks, some purchases will bypass the distribution center completely and go directly to stores.

To help build customer loyalty, Footaction also is building a customer database through its preferred customer Star Card program. It has logged names addresses and even birthdays of more than 1 million card holders since the program’s launch in May 1996. It hopes to have 2 million by year’s end.

“Footaction is probably ahead of the sector as far as database marketing goes,” says Tucker Anthony’s Richter. “It will give them an advantage longer term.”

Star Card holders get discounts on sale items as well as a glossy as well as a glossy quarterly publication, Footaction Star. Part magazine and part catalog, Footaction Star features products next to original articles.

“The magazine is a great way to lock kids in and keep Footaction on top of their minds,” says Alex. Brown’s Aaron. “But at the end of the day, it will be who has the right product.”

Unfortunately, Park’s first P, product, is still somewhat out of the footwear retailers’ hands, and the company has publicly called for manufacturers like Nike to re-energize their brands. As it waits for manufacturers to once again wow the teen-age world, Footaction will focus on developing one-of-a-kind items, honing its product mix, and beefing up apparel offerings and presentation in its larger stores.

“We can’t be everything to everybody,” says Parks. “We’re just real focused and we’ve chosen to be the best source of athletic footwear in malls for the 12-to 24-year old.” With that, a fifth P — profit — may continue to flow.

 

Getting some new pedals

  • BOSS TE-2 Tera Echo – $179 street

BOSS kicked off its stompbox line in 1977 with the OD-1 Overdrive, and this baby–the TE-2–has the distinction of being the company’s 100th pedal, That’s righteously coo[, but the Tera Echo adds dynamic sensitivity and a Freeze function that makes it not only a record holder, but also a truly wicked delay, bossus.com

  • BOSS DA-2 Adaptive Distortion – $129 street

Boss demo wizard Rob Marcello did an awesome run-through of the DA-2’s features at NAMM. In addition to good distortion tones, the pedal delivers unreal string-to-string articulation–even when the buzz is cranked. As with the TE-2, dynamic response was excellent. You can vary overdrive and distortion sounds simply by picking softer or harder, bossus.com

  • Crazy tube Circuits Splash MkII – $TBA

This compact pedal combines analog and digital circuits to produce everything from bathroom to cathedral reverb effects, and it has an interesting Space mode that creates incredible psychedelic sounds-some I’ve never heard from a pedal before, crazytubecircuits.com

  • Decibel Eleven Pedal Palette – $TBA

Providing a fresh take on loop switchers, the Pedal Palette not only gives you four loops with relay bypass switches, it lets you assign loops to a parallel mix bus (with individual level controls), instantly swap the order of pedals (e.g., wah before/after fuzz), store and recall up to 128 presets (including via MIDI), and allow reverb and delay to decay naturally using the Trails function. decibe111.com

  • DigiTech JamMan Solo XT – $199 street

Although this latest version of the Solo features some attractive upgrades, including twice as many internal memory slots as the previous model, DigiTech‘s new JamSync function is its claim to fame. Multiple Solo XTs may be synchronized for multi-track looping by an individual or for synchronized ensemble looping by two or more players–a milestone that opens up lots of fresh possibilities, digitech.com

  • DigiTech Adrian Belew Impossible Pedal $20 direct

That Big Electric Cat Belew put his Impossible Pedal through its paces at an early morning press conference, blowing more than one mind. The first in DigiTech’s new series of iStomp Signature Artist e-pedals; it puts two interval-shifters underfoot, allowing you to rapidly leap between pitches Belew-style. digitech.com

  • Dunlop Fuzz Face Minis – $99 each street

I love, love, love fuzz, looking for the best fuzz pedal and now, thanks to the miracle of miniaturization, I can fit three different Fuzz Faces on my pedalboard. The FFM1 Silicon delivers that ’70s aggro buzz, the FFM2 Germanium goes for some late ’60s beef, and the FFM3 Jimi Hendrix provides the master’s thick and ballsy fuzz. They’re also really cute little things if you’re into pedalboard aesthetics, jimdunlop.com

  • Dwarfcraft Pitchgrinder – $350 direct

I loved this new pedal, which, besides being Dwarfcraft’s first foray into the digital realm, is an 8-bit, 8-step pitch-shifter/sequencer/bit smasher with a tap-tempo footswitch that also functions as a momentary “single-stepper/freeze” switch. The range is -1/+2 octaves, and a Glide switch lets you move between the pitches in even wackier ways. dwarfcraft.com

  • EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport SR – $345 direct

Lots of manufacturers have sought to capture old-school echo magic in a digital delay pedal, but few efforts have been as successful as this. The Disaster Transport SR’s two delays–one coupled with modulation and the other with reverb–produce a thick, vibe-y, vintage sound that can be manipulated in very cool ways via the Bleed function, three footswitches, and an optional expression pedal, earthquakerdevices.com

  • Electro-Harmonix Epitome – $369 street

Combining the Micro Pog octave generator, Stereo Electric Mistress chorus/flanger, and the Holy Grail Plus reverb, this mini multi-effector offers an incredible range of sounds in a pedal that can easily fit on almost any pedalboard. Love it! ehx.com

  • Eventide H9 Harmonizer – $499 retail

One of my favorite pedals at the show, this one-knob unit serves as a sort of “best of” for Eventide’s other four stompboxes (15 algorithms from those pedals are included, along with the new Ultra Tap Delay, and others may be purchased). The Bluetooth-equipped H9 may also be programmed and controlled via a GUI that runs on IOS devices. Stereo I/O, expression pedal/ aux switch jacks, and MIDI ports complete the package. eventide.com

  • Ibanez Echo Shifter $149 street

To be honest, they had me with the awesome slider that controls the delay time, but this cool-looking box has a Lot more going for it. Bucket-brigade technology, tap tempo, modulation, and an oscillation switch make it easy to get nice, warm-sounding normal delays as well as crazy, runaway, warbly echoes from hell Count me in. ibanez.co.jp

  • MXR M222 talk box $169 street

Gotta love a pedalboard friendly talk box that Lets you get all Frampton and Bon Jovi without any hassles. The compact M222 includes its own amp and speaker, and also offers Volume, Tone, and Gain knobs for some wild sound sculpting. Dunlop’s Bryan Kehoe did a hilarious and instructive demo at NAMM that immediately had me thinking of ways to use the M222 for tonal annihilation of the ordinary, jimdunlop.com

  • Pigtronix Quantum Time Modulator – $TBA

Billed as “a musical analogy to the essential nature of reality itself,” this three-knob/one-switch wonder warps temporal reality with an array of independently clocked bucket-brigade delay Lines modulated by a confluence of envelope and LFO sources, resulting in a stunning sonic phenomena evoking DynaFlangers, Spatial Expanders, Dimension Ds, and beyond, pigtronix.com

  • Radial PZ-DI – $219 street

Using input-impedance matching voodoo, the PZ-DI optimizes frequency response and dynamics when an acoustic instrument is plugged into its input. During Peter Janis’ demo at NAMM, the box certainly tamed piezo quack, making an acoustic-electric guitar sound simultaneously warm, smooth, and sparkly–as if miked with a darn good microphone. A simple and elegant solution for producing great acoustic sounds for stage and studio, radialeng.com

  • Radial Voco-Loco – $300

This is totally whack, but weird enough to be a secret weapon. The Voco-Loco lets you run dynamic and condenser microphones through guitar effects to produce some uniquely bizarre vocal effects for live performance and studio recordings. It’s a marriage of the sacred and the profane! Let your imagination run wild. radialeng.com

  • Source Audio Orbital Modulator – $169 street

This is an insanely flexible, killer sounding mod box that not only gives you chorus, phase, flange, rotary, and trem flavors, but it also Lets you use tremolo in addition to the other effects. The results run the gamut from classic to otherworldly, with a ton of parameters to tweak along the way. And, speaking of tweaking, you can use this pedalwith Source’s awesome Hot Hand ring controller and seriously blow minds, seurceaudio.net

  • TC Electronic TonePrint Editor – Free

Why should artists like Joe Perry, John 5, Bumble-foot, and Guthrie Govan have all the fun? This free software (available for both Mac and PC) now allows guitarists to create their own custom versions of effects for TC’s TonePrint pedals, including programming the ranges and behavior of all of a given pedal’s virtual controls, and auditioning the results in real time. tcelectronic.com

  • Wampler Faux Tape Echo – $219 street

What is the best delay pedal? You’ll find the answer. This delay definitely had people talking at the show. It’s Wampler’s take on the age-old question of how to get analog-style warmth and vibe in a delay with modern, digital-approved features. They seem like they nailed it, with sweet tones that you can keep in time with tap tempo plus the super-cool Movement and Sway knobs. Bitchin’! wamplerpedals.com

  • Zoom A3 – $199 street

To say the A3 is an acoustic preamp is like saying a NASCAR racer is a Fiat 500. Sure, it offers 40 effects and anti-feedback control, but, even hipper, it also lets you “re-imagine” the sound of your acoustic with ]6 different body models. Make your dreadnought sound awesome, or transform your jumbo into a parlor guitar. Dig the tonal massive power! zoom.co.jp

  • Zoom MS 100-BT MultiStomp – $149 street

Okay, you want your space-age, futuristic, Dick Tracy-style gadget? This pedal comes with 92 effects and eight amp models, lets you buy new effects for $0.99, Lets you try them out for 15 minutes for free to see if you like them, and then loads them into the pedal from your freaking phone wirelessly via Bluetooth. Uhh … I’m kind of impressed. zoom.co.jp

The art of the perfect business gift

Gift-giving is an art. Faced with choosing a personal gift for a friend who is also a business contact, how, when and what’s appropriate are gray areas. The questions are complicated by corporate gift guidelines at some companies.

On the upside, what could be bad about recognizing a promotion, celebrating a new baby or observing a birthday?

“It’s always great relative to an event, a wedding, (or) to celebrate a promotion,” said Michael Sarafa, president of the Associated Food Dealers of Michigan in Farmington Hills.

Not surprisingly, he like to give baskets of nuts, chocolates, figs, dates or wine, but only if he knows the giftee enjoys it. Fresh lobster or seafood is good as long as you tip off the recipient in advance of the delivery, he says.

“You can never, ever, go wrong with food – for babies, for parents, even for funerals. … You won’t offend anyone and it will be used up,” Sarafa said.

Knowing a gift will be welcome is part of the decision to send a personal gift, as well as a sign that the relationship is really personal, not just business.

We only present personal gifts to special long-term clients who have supported us through good times and bad,” said Anna Giammarco, chief administrator of Cubellis Marco, a Northville retail architecture studio. “We’re not extravagant. We’re down-to-earth here. Still, we like to acknowledge store openings, or a first grandchild.”

Most clients of Cubellis Marco own food markets, so food baskets are out. Instead, Giammarco gives a basket of baby food to mark a birth or frames the original color rendering of a store design for a grand opening.

In financial services, even personal gift-giving is regulated.

“The boundaries of gift-giving etiquette are gray,” said Michael Cole, vice president, technology industry group at the Bank of Ann Arbor. Personal gift-giving “depends on the level of the relationship, and on regulatory standards for financial services. We need to be aware of those. Large gifts aren’t allowed.”

That goes for gifts he receives from clients who are friends, as well as gifts he gives, Cole said.

The same limits apply to public companies, said Christine Morrisroe, a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Co. She’s observed huge changes in personal gift-giving over her public-relations career.

“In the old days, we would just deliver things to people’s homes, or go to a ball game or concert, then out to dinner with husbands and wives. Now everybody pays for their own ticket and splits the bill,” Morrisroe said.

“It’s not easy to do at all today because of rules, especially in public companies. It ends up being a nice lunch and a card. Smaller companies can do more. Owners can decide what’s right for themselves.”

A personal gift for new parents may be as simple as a baby bib or as elaborate as a blue box from Tiffany’s, depending on how the giver values the relationship, said Gayla Houser, director of business development at the Detroit law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone plc.

“Something casual can still be personal, thoughtful, an acknowledgement of a life-changing event without being decadent,” she said.

R. Sue Dodea, director of development and communications for Novi-based Paralyzed Veterans of Michigan, agrees that casual gifts are good, especially something the recipient can use that doesn’t create an obligation.

Gift-giving is rare in the nonprofit sector, she notes.

“What to give depends on the occasion. I may enjoy meeting (someone), and know she collects cow-themed objects. Later, on an out-of-town trip, I see a cow sculpture. I’ll spend the $8.98, as long as I stumbled across it somewhere where she would never see it. Let’s build a bridge,” Dodea said. “I wouldn’t buy her a nightgown in a cow print.”

Fixed Income FX

The cute designs, whimsical ’50s-diner names, and absurdly low prices promise cheap stompbox thrills, but do Danelectro‘s new Mini Effects manage to deliver big sounds for little money? Absolutely. Are some of them cool enough to convert lo-fi fiends who can afford costlier alternatives? Yes again. All ten of these Chinese-made pedals list for less than $50. They have an irrepressibly fun vibe, even though the plastic housings (which measure approximately 4″x 3″x 1″) and tiny, pot-metal knobs, and switches don’t exactly instill long-term confidence. All models run on 9-volt batteries or AC adapters (not included). The battery compartment is secured with a recessed, non-detachable screw that’s a cinch to open with a coin or screwdriver, but difficult to grasp with bare fingers.

I tested the Mini Effects using a ’63 Fender Strat, a G&L ASAT, and a Hamer 25th Anniversary. Amps included an old Fender Deluxe and a Yamaha DG100, and direct-recording tones were auditioned with a SansAmp PSA-1.

BLT Slap Echo

The BLT ($39) shines at short, rockabilly-style delay. The effect has the funky ambiance of an older solid-state echo–a bit metallic and tanky, though not in a bad way. The only controls are Mix and Repeat, and the maximum delay time is a mere fraction of a second. Cranking the Repeat knob generates a deliciously spooky quasi-reverb ambience–think early-’70s Italian horror movie. If you delight in cheap, edgy attitude, this pedal is a one-of-a-kind bargain.

Corned Beef Reverb

The Corned Beef ($49) bears no sonic resemblance to other digital reverb pedals. With its loud, early reflections and bouncing-marbles regenerations, it sounds more like a cross between a best spring reverb and a short delay with the repeats turned up. The only controls are Mix and Hi-Cut, so you can’t adjust the predelay or reverb decay time. The Corned Beef is a great choice for players seeking surf-approved splash without draining their wallets.

Grilled Cheese Distortion

Think of the smoothest, creamiest, most tube-like distortion you’ve ever heard. Now imagine the exact opposite–that’s the sizzle of the Grilled Cheese ($49), a potent squawk-box that hearkens back to some of the nastier fuzz pedals of the ’60s. Actually, it’s a combination distortion/filter effect with no gain control–just Level and Resonance. The latter adjusts the pitch of the pedal’s jagged filter peak. Lower settings elicit hollow, boxy-in-a-cool-way fuzz, and higher numbers can unleash white-noise squalls of eardrum-lacerating violence. Cool. The closest equivalents to this bold effect might be a notched wah pedal feeding an aggressive fuzz, or certain extinct filter-fuzzes such as the Systech Harmonic Energizer. Few players are likely to use this noise bomb as their principal overdrive, but it’s a great weapon to have in your armory.

Hash Browns Flanger

Though its tones veer more toward lo-fi funkiness than analog-tape warmth or digital precision, the Hash Browns Flanger ($39) gets high marks for personality. There’s lots of texture here, and it’s easy to get lost in the deep, shifting modulation. The high-regeneration settings are strong and colorful, even if they don’t match the swoop of, say, an old ADA unit. High-speed settings have a drunken wobble that reminds me of an old Morley “oil can” Rotating Wah. You could get a contact high from the Hash Browns’ woozy, circa-’71 sweeps.

Milkshake Chorus

To my ear, the Milkshake ($49) is the runt of the litter. All the Dano modulation pedals incline toward clangy and metallic sounds. But while the others manage to create coolness within their lo-fi specs, the Milkshake nails neither the richness of a quality chorus, nor the funkiness of a primitive one. The effect sounds clumpy, and the detuning strikes me as sour–regardless of the Rate and Depth settings.

Pastrami Overdrive

The Pastrami ($29) is noisy, trashy, and limited –but, man, what an attitude! It’s the epitome of cheap, solid-state distortion. Anyone who has discovered, say, the joys of recording through a battery-operated micro-amp will be in heaven here. These snotty, aggressive sounds have a strong, ’60s-punk flavor (think early Kinks). The tones don’t have much low-end muscle, but they’re, superb for old-school trash and raging psycho-blues. The Pastrami is also surprisingly responsive to performance dynamics. When I backed off the volume knob on my Strat, the pedal picked up tons of detail–not to mention an exceptionally clear AM radio broadcast of Billy Joel singing “Just the Way You Are.” Excellent!

Pepperoni Phaser

There’s nothing subtle about the Pepperoni ($49), which sounds like a low-rent, solid-state unit from the early ’70s. You can’t set the effect depth, mix, or regeneration–a Speed knob is the only control. The phasing effect is chewy and tactile, with a little pitch-bend seasickness thrown in at no extra charge. I love the Pepperoni’s crunchy bite (it actually distorts slightly when you play aggressively), and faster settings have a deliciously sleazy home-organ vibe. High marks for texture and personality.

Surf & Turf Compressor

The Surf & Turf ($49) is a lo-fi limiter in the down-and-dirty tradition of the MXR Dyna Comp and Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. The beauty of such units lies in the less-than-subtle way they squash your signal. For example, the tubby attack of a cheap compressor can increase the cluck factor of chicken-pickin’, or smooth out slide-guitar dynamics without total loss of transient attack. That’s why many guitarists who can afford quality compressors pledge their allegiance to cheapies, and the Surf & Turf is sure to win its share of such adherents. The controls are minimal–just Output and Sensitivity. It retains its punch even when maxed out, and it excels at the “gulping” attack players usually seek from low-cost squeeze boxes.

T-Bone Distortion

The T-Bone ($49) matches the aggression and slice of the Pastrami Overdrive, but with more low-end mass. Still, its flavor is closer to ’60s fuzz than modern metal. Like the Pastrami, it boasts ridiculous amounts of gain, yet it’s surprisingly adept at lightly toasted sounds. Maxed-out, the T-Bone delivers a fat distortion with a pleasing, square-wave-type hollowness. With my guitar’s tone control rolled back, I could get lard-assed fuzz evocative of early Cream tracks or the super-saturated solo from the Doors’ “When the Music’s Over.” Yet for all the smooth compression, the tones retain their transient edge. Nice.

Tuna Melt Tremolo

The Tuna Melt ($49) is one of the prides of the Mini pack. This retro-flavored trem holds its own against rivals costing two or three times as much. Besides the obligatory Speed and Depth controls, a toggle lets you switch between smooth triangle-wave modulation and a choppier square-wave effect. The results aren’t quite as creamy and 3-dimensional as on, say, an old Fender amp, but they’re more than serviceable for stage and studio. The effect is pretty, bordering on the mild–don’t expect violent, helicopter-style chop. Unlike most of the other Mini Effects, there’s nothing cheesy about the Tuna Melt. It’s a classy, classic effect

Snapshot

Cute, compact, and incredibly inexpensive, Danelectro’s ten Mini Effects (priced from $29 to $49) will appeal to noisemakers of all ages. Editors’ Pick Awards go to the BLT Slap Echo, Grilled Cheese Distortion, Pastrami Overdrive, T-Bone Distortion, and Tuna Melt Tremolo.

Best Softball Bats – How to Buy Them Cheap?

You might probably assume that all softball bats have a high price tag. This is exactly the reason why people often borrow bats from their friends instead of paying for their own bat. You will easily be able to get softball bats for as low a price tag as 40 USD. Softball bats are quite varied from baseball bats, which are constructed of wood and have a faster depreciation. On the other hand, a softball bat is constructed in a process which is technically engineered and made of special types of materials. But the technicality of the procedure does not indicate that the bats have to be costly. There are many inexpensive bats to be found in the market and you can get the best softball bats for yourself without spending a lot, as you make use of the following tips.

Price comparison can be effective

Many people use baseball bats instead of softball bats due to the simple reason that the former is cheaper and resemble the latter a lot. If you truly wish to enjoy softball, you need to make use of softball bats instead of baseball bats. First, you have to look for more cost-effective bats before you decide about the ones that you have to buy. With some careful price comparison, you will be able to get a bat worth 100 USD for a price of 40 USD. This means that you will get to save a lot of money. Before deciding about the bat that you should purchase, you need to look around. Today, you can buy cheap and high quality bats which are as good as costlier versions.

Check out the web stores

For people who know which bats can be ideal for them, checking out the web stores can be ideal for buying the best fastpitch softball bat. While buying these bats, you will need to find the best deals online. It is essential for you to ensure that the web store that you wish to buy your bats from has a solid return policy. In this way, you will be able to return any bat that is unsuitable for you while batting.

Look for used bats

If you want to save money, you should look for slightly used bats although from reputed brands. These come at half the cost of new ones. You will possibly be able to get these from your friends who are ready to give their old bats to you. Before settling on a specific bat, you should consider the weight and height of your bat. Look for a bat that suits you in the most appropriate manner so that you are able to enjoy softball playing to the hilt.

Wait for season sales

If you are not desperate to get a bat for a match that is a few days away, it is better to wait until the season has come to an end. This way, you can get cheap bats at clearance sales which are held in order to make way for newer models and other gears for the next season.

Invicta watches review: Perfect for both work and play

Many people today use cell phones to keep track of time. But you can’t possibly dig out your mobile phone from your pockets or a purse each time. The situation may not provide for it. But, can be done with just a flick of your wrist. It’s easy and convenient. In today’s world, a wrist watch is no longer used to just check the time with various other means to do so. They are a popular fashion accessory which is used to describe an individual’s personality.

For this purpose, the Invicta watch company is proud to present its wide range of collections of great quality and style, but made available both to the average and the rich people. If you are looking to buy a watch that will suit well for work and also play, this Invicta watches review will leave you with great choices in the end.

Invicta Men’s Sea Hunter collection

This timepiece will take to another world. The classy appearance includes meteorite dial in silver and a coin edged bezel that displays a diver’s scale. This is very suitable to use on land, in water and even in the skies.

Invicta Women’s Sub Aqua Noma III

Now, this is one gorgeous watch. Its dial is distinctive pink like the mother of pearl. It goes well with a woman who skips happily with the thought of her next adventure. It is complete with a genuine white leather strap making it appear divine and elegant.

Invicta Vintage classic Swiss for Men

Going classic is the best style option any day and any time. It never gets old. This Vintage collection from Invicta looks like something precious passed down in your family generation. It has a silver stainless steel case that is surrounded by a blue sunray dial. Arabic numerals are used at the hour positions instead of the commonly used English numerals. It looks complete with multiple clasps and links of a silver toned bracelet.

Invicta Angel Jellyfish for women

This collection is available in various colors of great style. It is perfect for any woman who wants a tint of color in her accessories. The colors include grape, cherry, pink daiquiri, kiwi, tangerine and many others. It is apt for an office meeting and also for sports.

Invicta Quinotour Russian diver for Men

Now, this has a state of the art craftsmanship. They are automatic and require no battery. They are powered from the kinetic energy of your arm movement. This collection was launched as a tribute to the very first timepieces whose making started off the Invicta brand about two centuries ago.

You can go through their official website for Invicta watches review before making any decision. Its collections have been praised since 1837 when it was founded by a Swiss watch maker named Piccard. The company was built with the motto to make Swiss watches affordable to all classes of people. His descendants through the century have kept up to his vision by manufacturing high quality and stylish timepieces

What Is the Best Waist Cincher – 3 Useful Tips for Choosing the Best One for You

Having a perfect body, with an hourglass silhouette, is one of the biggest dreams for most women. It can not only help you look feminine, but also highly sensual and more confident. Very few women are blessed with good genes to have a narrow waist even when they lose a lot of weight. With weight loss, the body actually tends to lose its shape after some time with the bosom and the hips losing their mass and the waist getting flabbier. With the best waist cinchers, your waist area can be more well-defined and more sensual in appearance. However, choosing waist cinchers of the best variety is not as easy as you may imagine. The following 3 tips will help you to decide for yourself “What is the best waist trainer in stores for me”.

Right fit

It is important for you to go for a cincher which can perfectly fit the shape of your figure. In simple terms, it has to match your body size similar to any ordinary clothing item. You need to take a few measurements. First of all, you should measure your waist area. Make sure at first that you do not wrap your tape too tightly. At the same time, however, you should avoid allowing it to hang too loose. It needs to follow the natural contours of your body. You should also measure your hips, the region below your bust line and lastly, the fullest section of your bust.

Perfect material

Before you order any waist cincher for yourself, it is recommended that you check the type of material that it has been constructed from. As per the choice of fabric, you should choose a size that it 2 – 6 inches smaller. It is important for you to know that the waist cinchers that come with a higher amount of Lycra are those that stretch the most around the body. This indicates that the cincher should not be smaller than 2 inches, otherwise you will be unable to wear it. The size of the outfit can be smaller by as much as 6 inches, as the amount of Lycra gets decreased to 0.

Right style

It is essential for you to know that there are waist cinchers of varied styles. Naturally, you should not buy an outfit of this type in a random manner. In order to choose the right one for yourself, you have to analyze your body shape. The two primary types of waist cinchers are Modern waist cinchers and Classic waist cinchers. The former come with a more modern design and look more stylish. These are designed to properly fit your body shape and they are naturally quite comfortable. Classic waist cinchers can be used as a substitute for medical back braces as these tend to offer a proper support to the back. These are highly comfortable and are designed to be a more proper fit for your body. However, if you want to appear at your best in any kind of apparel, the modern waist cinchers can be your best choice.

Best homemade holiday gift wrapping ideas

A  Facebook question of the week inspired our thrifty and frugal fans to tell us about their most unique ways to wrap gifts, often using repurposed materials. Here is a sample of their creative ideas.

  • Montana Rasmussen-Baird–My dad used to make me wrap presents in comics.
  • Nicole Kevo–This year I may crochet some gift bags so the bag itself is also a gift.
  • Patti Wigington–I gift people with presents in reusable shopping totes. That way they get a tote bag to carry into stores later.

  • Ros Bell–I use inexpensive cotton or linen dish towels to wrap gifts, usually in red and white. Then the person has something to reuse, regift or wrap my next present in! You also could use scarves in the same way, as the Japanese often do.
  • Hektor Bee–I once wrapped my sweetheart’s Christmas gifts in cardboard packaging from food items–granola bars, cereal, pasta, rice–she loved it. And it was uber colorful and 100 percent recyclable!
  • Laura Abbott–My grandmother always saved the Christmas cards from the previous year to cut and use for gift tags for the following year.
  • Molly Cooper Steere–We like to use old trail maps!
  • Hugh and Erin Hayes.Wheat–I like to wrap gifts in butcher paper that my son draws on. It’s what we use for his drawing anyway, so I just put it aside and save for later use as gift wrapping paper!
  • Megan Hirt–My morn makes decorative bows for packages using recycled ribbon and raffia, and dried pine cones from our backyard. It gives the wrapping an earthy, handmade look, and the pine cones look elegant under the tree.

  • Carrie Kann Mclntyre–Our gifts are primarily exchanged between family and extended family, so we have a regular supply of gift bags that are regifted between us. The same bag may be reused a dozen times, and because it’s family, we don’t care if the bag gets a little banged up in its many years of use.
  • Missy Wallace–We’ve used comic pages, aluminum foil, new or Goodwill T-shirts, fabric, sweatshirts, craft paper, paper grocery sacks (I use these for media mail, too) and store shopping bags.
  • Lindsay Frentrop–My husband is a woodworker and we use the wooden “ribbons” from his planer to make bows on packages that we’ve wrapped in comic book pages.
  • Yildiz Ardil Lamphers–I wrap gifts in silk scarves. It makes beautiful wrapping and provides something extra for the little ones to get creative with as they play.
  • Amy Barker–We use old car and flight maps (hubby is a pilot). Our little boys especially love that!

  • Marcy–I got a roll of blank newsprint from the local newspaper years ago. I use that paper for everything: giftwrapping, packing material, tracing the kids’ entire bodies for them to decorate, you name it!
  • Marci Reale Beikrnann–I baste two kitchen towels together, leaving the top open, then tie it closed with a ribbon. The recipient can remove the basting stitches and have two hand towels. Small gifts are wrapped, Furoshiki style, in new handkerchiefs. I’ve also made gift bags from Christmas prints on sale after the holidays. Some have drawstrings in the top, but most I just tie with ribbon.

Ready to wrap: Eight easy ways to make all your gifts gorgeous

The quickest way to add “pow!” to your presents big or small: new materials and trims. Wrap a large box in different (but compatible) patterns; cover the seams with ribbon.

A wide band of red ribbon adds unexpected texture to the tree. Color also comes from the wrapping supplies, all stored in plain sight until the big day–a fun option, as long as your kids are safely past the Santa stage.

1 Tulle-wrapped box

Wrap gift with wrapping paper. Cut a piece of patterned tulle large enough to cover box and wrap in standard fashion, using strong double-sided tape to secure. Add ribbon and a gift tag. If desired, lightly coat a die-cut tag with craft glue and clear glitter before securing to the package.

2 Monogrammed box

Use computer and printer to design and print out an initial. Enlarge as desired, trace onto patterned paper, and cut out. (If paper is too thin, glue to a piece of cardstock for support.) Punch a hole in top of letter, loop ribbon through hole in letter, and tie to wrapped box.

3 Hole-punched box

Wrap gift. Cut an additional strip of paper to layer over basic gift wrap. Punch holes along one edge of paper using circle paper punch; repeat on the opposite edge. Wrap around gift and tape in back. Add a ribbon to middle of package, between the rows of dots.

4 Buttoned box

Wrap gift with tissue or crepe paper using double-sided tape. Fold a length of tissue paper to form a band and wrap around package; secure with tape. Cut colored twine into a piece long enough to wrap around package three times; tape one end to back. Thread three or four buttons onto string (enough to cover front of package), then wrap string around package. Repeat twice with more buttons and tape end of string to back of package. Tip: If it is difficult to thread string through buttonholes, rub a drop of glue onto its tip.

5 Double-wrapped box

Piece together complementary pieces of wrapping paper to form a sheet long enough to cover package; tape along seam. Wrap package in standard fashion. Add ribbon where seams of wrapping paper meet. Layer another ribbon over the first, if desired.

6 Gift tin

Cut strips of both solid and sheer patterned paper wide enough and long enough to encircle tin. Layer papers onto tin (sheer over solid), securing ends of paper to tin with double-sided tape. Tie ribbon around tin, making a double bow at the top.

7 Cummerbund wrap

Wrap gift. Pleat a sheet of tissue paper, making each fold just below the last one. Wrap pleated band around package with folds facing down. Layer bands of ribbon on top of tissue; secure with tape.

8 “Make a wish” box

Make the star from a 3-D paper star kit and insert a small wooden skewer into bottom of star to create a wand. Lightly coat surface of star with craft glue and sprinkle with glitter; let dry thoroughly before attaching to box. Wrap gift. Cut sheer patterned paper into a band to cover package; layer ribbons over patterned paper and secure at back with tape. Use a precut gift tag or make your own; attach to skewer with ribbon.

Ideas for the cyclist on your gift list

You’re scratching your head, wondering what to get for the cyclist on your list. Relax, it’s easier than you think! Big or small, simple or extravagant, the ideas are nearly inexhaustible. Besides the products showcased here from our advertisers, there are staples such as bike shorts and jerseys, sunglasses, energy bars, tools, lubes, tubes and tires, just to mention a few. But there’s also the more unique: from special blends of coffee (Phil Liggett’s Morning Brew or Jittery Joe’s) to Colnago’s Carbon Fiber Gift Set (including a signature watch, pen) to a GP or two-way radios, or a deluxe tour or trip to a training camp; there are also vintage cycling posters, or DVDs of classic cycling movies, such as Breaking Away, or even a membership in an advocacy group such as IMBA or the League of American Bicyclists; or, from Bicycling, there’s always the option of a gift subscription to the magazine. So, enjoy the holidays–everything about them, including the shopping!

NIKON N75 SLR

If sharp SLR pictures matter, everything inside The Nikon N75SLR matters. It empowers photographers–beginners to experienced alike–with innovative technology to create great pictures with stunning color and exceptional sharpness, while providing them with a choice of simplicity and ease-of-use or full personal control. The N75 is a great choice for portraits, sports action, nature photography, and all shots that matter.

ELITE “TDF CENTENAIRE” TRAINER

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Tour De France with the limited edition numbered ELITE “TDF Centenaire” trainer. The chromed folding trainer stand resists flexing while the “Elasto-Gel” resistance roller and hydrodynamic oil resistance unit provides adjustable resistance. A 16 function monitor for best training results is included.

PROMAX i-pad ILLUMINATING BRAKE PADS

 

Introducing i-pads, from Promax. i-pads fit virtually every road, mountain and BMX bike with rim brakes, and feature two LED lights which illuminate whenever the brakes are applied. Promax i-pads make a great gift for any cyclist.

RAV X PERFORMER X

Emergency bicycle tool. The Performer X combines a compact, lightweight tool design with versatile features and functionality for on-the-trail tweaking and reapir. It has 20 functions including hex wrenches, screw drivers, spoke keys, torx wrench and an independent chain cutter.

SIDI DRAGON SRS MESH MOUNTAIN BIKE SHOE

Our most advanced mountain shoe yet! Even if you manage to wear out the lugs, you can replace them with our unique Sole Replacement System (SRS) and still keep riding. Sidi’s NEW High Traction SRS Mountain Sole is the perfect platform for this Lorica upper with our 3-buckle closure system. Available in sizes 39-48 and half sizes in 39.5-46.5.

EASTON EC90 OVERSIZED ROAD BAR

 

The choice of Tyler Hamilton! Easton designed this bar with its cutting-edge Intelligent Flexibility & Taperwall Construction Technologies. At 290 grams and with a Reach/Drop of 158mm, this Oversized Ergo Bend road bar is the perfect stocking stuffer for the Roadie in your house and better yet, it’s stamped with Easton’s Limited Lifetime Warranty!

 

VREDESTEIN FORTEZZA TRI COMP RACE TYRE

The Fortezza TriComp incorporates an additional PRS (Puncture Resistance System Technology) layer to give this race tyre clincher technology with the ride of a tubular. At 240 grams, this tyre performs best when pumped to 150 PSI. For speed without compromise, and unmatched handling and ride quality, try the Vredestein tyre and tube system.

CICLOSPORT USPS HAC 4

The choice of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team! This limited edition 57 function HAC 4 delivers more accuracy obsessed features per dollar than any of its competitors. From speed to altitude to power, it’s a heart rate monitor, altimeter and cyclometer all-in-one! The perfect stocking stuffer for your roadie or mountain biker!

ENERVIT ENERVITENE SPORT GEL

You’ve fine-tuned your bike for optimum performance, have you done the same for your body? The Enervit Enervitene Sport Gel is the only energy replacement gel with 15.6 grams of fructose for long lasting energy and B group vitamins for quicker carbohydrate assimilation. Available in Lemon or Cola Flavors.

LOOK CARBON STEM

Look never stops pushing the envelope when it comes to carbon fiber technology. From frames to pedals to accessories, Look brings you the Carbon Stem–the perfect lightweight component that doesn’t sacrifice strength. This stem weighs in at just 155 grams and is compatible with clamp diameters of 26.0 or 31.8mm. In a natural carbon fiber finish, it’s the perfect way to finish off your road bike!

NIKON COOLPIX 5700

If digital detail matters, everything inside the Nikon[R] Coolpix[R] 5700 matters. It’s the overachiever of digital cameras. Its advanced features include a powerful 8x Optical Zoom-Nikkor[R] ED lens, 5.0 effective Megapixels, and an electronic viewfinder for easier focusing. The Coolpix 5700’s tele-converter and wide-angle converter lens options help you get the reach and flexibility of the pros. If taking digital to the next dimension matters, get there with the Nikon Coolpix 5700.

THE PERFECT CYCLING GIFT!

  • The FIXX ID back

Don’t let the cyclist an your gift list go another mile without Road ID[R]! This necessary part of cycling gear is invaluable in the event of an unforeseen accident while on the roads. Road ID[R] is available in 4 models: the FIXX ID, WRIST ID, ANKLE ID, & SHOE ID.

WORLD’S BEST TRAINER … THE EXPERTS AGREE

Want a Kinetic Trainer, cut out this page for your gift buyer!

The Kinetic is the World’s Best because it has the most road like ride. The fluid resistance is smooth and quiet. The Cycling Press says the Kinetic as their “favorite” Ask for a Kinetic at your local bike shop or buy one online.