The Retail Relevance Report

Another week, another Friday. Take a load off and read the rebranded Retail Relevance Report.

Walmart associates set to go the extra mile for you

Walmart facade in Mountain View

And you thought airborne drones were the latest in e-commerce delivery. Turns out, that’s not it at all. In fact it’s the guy or woman who just got called for a clean up on aisle 12 at the local Walmart.

The behemoth of Bentonville is testing out a plan that calls for Walmart employees to drop stuff off at customers’ homes on their way home from work, the Associated Press reports. (“Be a dear, would you, and drive that Instapot over to Mrs. Bertalucci’s. It’s practically on your way.”

The idea is not as loopy as it sounds. Apparently, employees will have to opt in to the delivery duty and presumably by doing so they would make more money than they otherwise would.

There are some concerns, though, by those who look out for workers and their rights. The head of Making Change at Walmart (not a fan, by the way) told the AP that given the low wages Walmart workers make, employees will feel as though they have to join the program to make some extra money.

Walmart, of course, looks at things differently. Marc Lore, the guy who is now the CEO of Walmart’s e-commerce operation talked about the logic of it all on the company website.

He explained that Walmart has 4,700 stores and more than a million associates. The company already has trucks tooling around shipping products from warehouses to stores, where customers come to pick them up. Why not haul some stuff slated for delivery, too, and let a store associate move it the so-called last mile (or 10)?

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Filed under " mobile, Relevance Report, Search

Hewlett Packard buys its own Garage, October 2000

This column appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on October 19, 2000. I’m posting it as part of my coverage of a Los Altos man’s elaborate plan to turn Steve Jobs’ boyhood home into a museum complex.

So, the kids at Hewlett-Packard finally made the ranks of Silicon Valley homeowners.

I’m happy for them, really.

They got themselves a deal. A garage in Palo Alto for $1.7 million. And it came with a house. A house in Palo Alto for under $2 million. Not bad.

I’m happy, but worried, too. Worried because I’m not sure the kids have thought this out.

William Hewlett and David Packard at work in the HP Garage on Addison in Palo Alto, 1939

William Hewlett and David Packard at work in the HP Garage on Addison in Palo Alto, 1939

“We don’t have any finalized plans for it, ” said Greg Winter, HP’s manager for the project.

Me? I’ve got my own idea, but more on that later.

First, I’m wondering if HP isn’t acting a bit like one of those overnight dot-com millionaires? (You remember overnight dot-com millionaires, don’t you?) I could see it happening. After all, the company made $3.5 billion in profits last year.

“Only $1.7 million? Cool. We’ll figure out what to do with it later.”

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Silicon Valley History, Silicon Valley Life

The Google Doodler: His art for search engine is among the most widely viewed in the world

This is a column I wrote in 2004 when I met the Google doodler at the time. I was reminded of the proflic doodlers today with Google’s toast to Yosemite Park’s 123d birthday on the very day it was closed because of the government shutdown.

You want pressure?

Try sitting in Dennis Hwang’s chair the day before Earth Day, knowing that tens of millions are waiting to see what you’re going to do about it.




“The number of people that see my images is mind-boggling, ” says Hwang, 26. Hwang, yo
u see, is the Google Doodler, a man in one of the hottest seats at one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. It’s Hwang’s job to create the whimsical holiday logos that regularly show up on Google’s main page — a page visited by many tens of millions of Web searchers every day.

He’s not bragging. More marveling.

Who would have thought Hwang’s art would become among the most widely viewed in the world?

You bet users expect something special when a special occasion rolls around. And Hwang, who works primarily as a Web master, feels an obligation to deliver.

Think about it. Anybody who visits Google regularly (OK, everybody) has seen Hwang’s modifications of the multicolored Googlelogo. Not since the Yahoo Yodeler has a search engine icon reached such heights.

“I don’t walk around going, ‘Oh, I’m the Google designer, ‘ ” Hwang says.

Of course, he doesn’t. He’s an artist — an artist who creates art for art’s sake. Well, and for Google’s sake.

It started simply enough, back in 2000, when Hwang was hired as an intern at the Mountain View company. The doodles, which were created by a contractor at the time, were already appearing on the company’s site. Hwang occasionally would clean up the designs.

“I started dabbling in it, ” he says. “They later found out I was an art major.”

And it was all over.

Hwang became the go-to guy. New Year’s Day? Hwang. Martin Luther King Day? Hwang. Valentine’s Day? Hwang.

Fan e-mails poured in with praise and suggestions. A small committee was formed (hey, it is a corporation) to decide which days to commemorate.

The committee wanted to mark the traditional holidays, but it wanted to throw in a few curves, too. So, the anniversary of flight was doodled, and Einstein’s birthday. And of course, Gaston Julia.

Gaston Julia?

“Sometimes I have to do extensive research, ” Hwang says.

(Of course, we all know Gaston Julia was the French mathematician known for his work on the iteration of rational functions.)

Hwang’s work has become a happening. His images, which usually play off at least one letter in Google, are preserved at


logos.html. Doodle fans have sent in their own versions, some of which are also displayed on the sites.

Hwang plays it close to his vest. He won’t say what’s coming next. And no, he won’t say whether he has anything in mind for Google’s expected initial public stock offering.

His doodles still bring in oodles of laudatory e-mail. Well, mostly laudatory. There was the DNA incident. After Hwang sketched a double helix among G-O-O-G-L-E to mark the 50th Anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s structure, he heard from renowned scientists.

Great job, they said, except two of the threads were intertwined in reverse order.

“They were just joyfully pointing it out, ” Hwang says.

It’s all part of being in the hot seat — a seat from which Hwang anxiously counts down to his next doodle-worthy day.

(Photo of Dennis Hwang by Mercury News photographer Nhat V. Meyer)



Filed under Silicon Valley Business

Maria Elena’s in Alviso gets a side order of regulation

This is a column I wrote about Maria Elena’s having regulatory trouble and becoming a hot spot in Alviso in September of 2011.

Maria Elena’s is another Silicon Valley business at a crossroads.

No, not a Yahoo, should-we-sell-the-company, crossroads. Or a Hewlett-Packard, should-we-hire-a-new-CEO, crossroads (which seems like a weekly crossroads for HP).

See, Maria Elena’s is a bustling Mexican restaurant in sleepy Alviso — a restaurant that holds a special place in the high-tech ecosystem. It is one of those joints, like the old Wagon Wheel or the old Peppermill or the old Old Pro, where valley worker bees congregate to plot out everything from the next killer app to their weekend plans.

“It’s a serious tech watering hole for lunch, ” says Rudy Mueller, a regular who works for Juniper Networks, and whose beverage of choice is the bottomless Coke. “It’s like an icon.”

And now it faces the low-tech version of the “adapt or die” challenge so common to its customers.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Silicon Valley Business, Silicon Valley History, Silicon Valley Life

Replay it: Alviso Getting Some Respect

Here’s a column I wrote about Alviso’s transformation on April 18, 2003:

Call it the TiVo effect.

Little Alviso, San Jose’s most picked-on neighborhood, is Silicon Valley’s new hot address.

OK, warm address. OK, at least companies will admit to having it as an address.

Three of the valley’s top 150 companies in terms of sales (Genesis Microchip, Foundry Networks and TiVo) now claim Alviso as corporate headquarters.

Yes, three. But for the buzz, I credit TiVo.

You know TiVo. It’s a machine. It’s a company. It’s a verb.

“SouthPark marathon? Dude, I like so TiVo’d that.”

TiVo — the digital recorder for people with 500 channels and no time to watch them — is approaching pop icon status. In fact, you might know TiVo better than you know Alviso.

Alviso has always been a contradiction. Sitting just north of Highway 237, Alviso holds the beauty of the bay and the odor of San Jose’s sewage plant. It has the refuge of the Don Edwards wildlife preserve and the refuse of San Jose’s dump.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Silicon Valley Business, Silicon Valley History, Silicon Valley Life

BJ Heinley and his shrink wrapped Yahoo machine

I wrote the following colum in June 1998, a time before Yahoo needed to buy its cool.



by Mike Cassidy

Mercury News Columnist

BJ Heinley knew when he heard about the contest that he wanted his truck wrapped bumper to bumper in purple plastic and Yahoo logos.

Yahoo is where he worked. It was like family. His community. A group that brought him in when he had few other places to go.

“It’s kind of like being passionate about the Dallas Cowboys, ” he says, “or the Bulls.”

Kind of. But it’s a company. A workplace. Which in Silicon Valley can be like the Dallas Cowboys or the Bulls. Logos sprout on clothes, caps, even derrieres. (It’s a tattoo thing.)

So, he entered the company-wide contest, writing an e-mail explaining why his truck should be a Yahoomobile. His argument?

“Surface area, ” says Heinley, who commutes from Belmont to Santa Clara. “I have the biggest car I know of in the parking lot, and I drive up 101 every day.”

He had a point and a 1975 International Harvester Travelall — a behemoth that could go tire to tire with a Chevy Suburban. A vehicle that seats how many?

“If you seat people in the back, ” says Carrie Heinley, BJ’s wife, “there is almost no limit.”

BJ won. The Travelall was shrink-wrapped like a county bus — Yahoo! on its sides, on its hood. People loved it. They honked. They waved. They left resumes on the windshield.

“You get attached to a car, ” BJ, 27, says. “The way it moves, especially an older car.”

He bought the Travelall for $1,000 after moving from Texas. Coming to California was a dream. The Travelall was part of it.

“It fit into this idea, ” BJ says, “of the ultimate beach car.”

When his first job didn’t work out, he called the only local person he knew, a Yahoo manager. Yahoo hired him to do graphics. Then the company shrink-wrapped his truck.

But people grow. Times change. The honks and waves and cheers, well, they can get old.

“Eventually, it kind of stops being fun, as much fun, ” says Carrie, 27, a gardener, whose work truck is sprayed with sand to look like, well, a sand pile. “I guess it’s kind of like we outgrew it.”

It was time to sell. But who would buy a Barney on wheels? BJ pondered that very question aloud one day when he ran into Yahoo! co-founder David Filo in the company lunch line.

“You can’t let go of that car, ” BJ says Filo told him.

Heinley politely suggested — the way you might politely suggest to your gazillionare boss — that Filo put his money where his mouth is. And, in a way, Filo did. The company agreed to buy Heinley’s truck for $2,000.

Now, Heinley is hunting for his next wheels. He thinks maybe a classic convertible.

“I probably won’t make it a Yahoomobile.”

How could he? For Heinley there will never be another.


1 Comment

Filed under Silicon Valley History, Silicon Valley Life

Tilted Kilt “Silicone” Press Release

Sometimes one letter can make all the difference — as in Silicon or Silicone. This slip-up by the Tilted Kilt sports bar folks was particularly unfortunate.

Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery Coming to Northern California

Famed Sports Bar Chain to Introduce 10 New Locations

TEMPE, Ariz., April 9, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Californians will soon enjoy the rousing tradition of Scottish, Irish and English pubs in their own backyard as the one-of-a-kind eatery with the sexy kilted servers unveils ambitious expansion plans.

Tilted Kilt Franchise Operating, LLC (TKFO, LLC) has partnered with NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC to establish the Celtic style “Best Looking Sports Pubs you’ve ever seen” in Northern California. NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC signed a 10 store deal to develop Kilt sites in Fresno, Sacramento and the Silicone Valley/East Bay areas over the next five years. NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC is currently scouting sites for its first location scheduled to open by early 2014.

“We are very excited to grow our current franchise partners and continue to expand the popular Tilted Kilt brand,” said Mark Hanby, Vice President of Franchise Development, TKFO, LLC. “We’re extremely confident that an experienced and business savvy partner like NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC will succeed in expanding our footprint in a tremendously appealing market like Northern California.”

NoCal Tilt Holdings, LLC is a hospitality group that combines a team of skilled executives, entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, including CEO David Kaufman and Area Developer Justin Lemos. Lemos will be responsible for overseeing Pub operations and management, having spent the last five years working for TKFO, LLC as a Director of Field Operations, opening more than 50 Pubs while developing its operations, management and training programs.

“Northern California has been longing for a Celtic-style pub like the Tilted Kilt,” said CEO David Kaufman. “Its expansion plans will be in very capable hands under Justin who knows the brand from top to bottom and appreciates what Northern Californians look for in a new sports bar eatery experience.”

With more than 80 locations open across the US and Canada, the Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery features an appetizing menu serving up savory choices like its “Big Arse BurgersTM,” “Danny Boy’s Shepherd’s Pie” and its “Maggie Mae Fish & Chips.” There’s also plenty of beer and perhaps its signature asset — the beautiful and alluring servers in sexy plaid kilts and matching bras.

For more information about franchising and Tilted Kilt, contact Justin Lemos at or David Kaufman at

About Tilted Kilt

Currently with 80 open units in the US and Canada and 20 in development, the Tilted Kilt is known as “The Best Looking Sports Pub You’ve Ever Seen.” It is uniquely different than other sports bars because of its theme that combines Celtic decor, humorous and slightly bawdy limericks and sexy cast members with great food, drinks and a fun entertaining atmosphere. The original restaurant concept was developed in the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas in 2003. For more information, go to


1 Comment

Filed under Silicon Valley Business