Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hair Grooming at the Bar

        It was a Saturday afternoon, I was driving back from the beach and my cell rang. I got an invitation to dinner for that evening, which I accepted. Short notice, to be sure, and a girl has her pride, so I said to pick me up at nine. I wanted to get ready at my leisure, including transforming my beach hair into something kids wouldn't stare at and giggle. It was past four already.
        I got home, took a shower, went straight to Supercuts, and asked to have my hair washed and blow-dried. They looked at me quizzically, "That's all?" they asked. "Yeah, just want it to look nice, I'm going out." Some thirty minutes later I was all set to go. My date -- who had warned me he'd wear jeans and sneakers -- gave me a look-over glance and commented, "I like your hair." (And neither here nor there, but he started seriously grooming for subsequent dates, and the restaurants kept getting nicer.)
        Try as I might, I don't get the same result when I do my own blow-drying. (Exhibit 1: my picture on this blog.) The power of professionally dried hair can go a long way. Somehow, it makes us look more together. Yeah, it's all appearance, only skin deep. But sometimes, that's all we can control. And here I have to quote recently deceased writer Nora Ephron: "Twice a week, I go to a beauty salon and have my hair blown dry. It's cheaper by far than psychoanalysis, and much more uplifting." Ah, the wisdom.
       And not to make psychoanalysts or therapists nervous, but the hair salon industry is catching on, with the creation of so-called "blow-dry bars" or "dry bars" or even "blow bars". With names like Blow&Go and MyBlow, these salons are dedicated to the sole service of washing and blow-drying your hair. Set up assembly-line style, you can walk in without an appointment and in thirty minutes get rid of the demons in your hair, if not in your head. For $35, that's not a bad deal.
         In South Florida, I've just learned of one dry bar opening this fall in Boca Raton, and one recently opened near downtown Miami. Reportedly, women are going before work, at lunch and between work and happy hour. Men have been sighted in them too. The LA Times just reported the trend here: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-high-speed-hairdos-20120807,0,6376602.story. The Wall Street Journal, ever so alert, picked up on it earlier: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204831304576595322366093848.html
         My rush-to-Supercuts date was before any of these articles, so maybe the trend is catching up with me. As soon after a dry bar opens near me, I'll be updating my blog picture. Until then, thank you for reading me with bad hair.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Store-Shelf Medical Care

       Observing the health care industry is about as much fun as getting the bill for a medical procedure. My latest one was some very minor outpatient surgery, the bill for which totalled $28,000. Thank God for health insurance.
        But trends happen where they happen, including health care. ("Mom, that's why you only have like eight followers," my daughter says, when I tell her what I'm writing about.)
        Be that as it may, while doing my job of tracking shopping center vacancies (hey, I get paid), a funny thing began to happen. First, about two years ago, video stores began closing -- Blockbuster, Hollywood Video. First a few of them, eventually all of them, as Netflix conquered the world. Then, some of those former video store spaces began filling up with new takers: Baptist Urgent Care, Kendall Regional Urgent Care. Since then, urgent care centers have become an increasingly common tenant in shopping centers throughout South Florida. 
       And throughout the country, it turns out.
       Urgent care centers have been proliferating nationwide to the tune of some 300 new ones opening every year, according to the Urgent Care Association of American. These facilities  provide less intensive services than a hospital's emergency room, but more intensive services than a physician's office. They're open longer hours, usually seven days a week, and you don't need an appointment. They're suitable for conditions that need immediate attention but which aren't life threatening, such as minor fractures, cuts, infections and dehydration.  Many are equipped with x-ray machines and labs. Most of them take insurance. For self-pay patients, they will cost lest than a visit to an ER.


        By all accounts, urgent care centers are a cost-efficient alternative to the ER for many conditions, not to mention a more convenient one. Pick up your dry cleaning, get a few groceries, and stop in to check that sore throat. There is a growing body of literature from all manner of stakeholders concerning the role of urgent care in the health care conundrum, but what fascinates me is how this very consumer un-friendly industry is now taking a cue from the retail industry, which is all about making the shopping experience easy, convenient, pleasant, practical, one that accomodates itself to the rest of your life.
        This new marriage of health care and retail doesn't stop at the shopping center. An interesting parallel trend is the emergence of in-store clinics at drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens and general merchandisers like Walmart. Talk about one-stop shopping: shampoo, vitamins, mascara, beach chairs and antibiotics, because that ear ache your daughter was complaining about turned out to be an infection, the in-store clinician just confirmed after taking a swab.

       I think payment allocation in the health care industry is a quagmire in which no one has reason to be happy, except maybe health insurance executives. I don't know that urgent care centers and in-store clinics will make any headway in improving the situation. I also think it is more fun to go to the shopping center for a movie rental and a new pair of sandals than for cystitis.
       But I'm beginning to warm up to the idea of medical services getting broken down to the store- shelf level. Some urgent care centers, it is reported, display prices for their procedures on a board, menu style. With any luck, as urgent care centers start popping up in even more shopping centers, there soon will be daily specials and loyalty rewards programs.