Pros, coaches pitch for Louisville slugger

Hillerich & Bradsby Co. has long maintained low-key advertising strategies to market its Louisville Slugger brand of baseball bats. Its current marketing efforts center on in-store promotions and its World Wide Web site while its rare ads in trade publications feature testimonials from the latest baseball stars. The company also believes that word-of-mouth marketing among players and coaches is more effective than media.

Marketer continues to move bats using people – not ads

It says a couple things about Hillerich & Bradsby Co., Louisville, that its director of advertising is also the curator of its Louisville Slugger Museum. For one, it suggests – quite correctly – that the company’s heritage plays a major role in its marketing efforts.

And two, it suggests that overseeing the company’s advertising activities leaves time to tackle another job. In other words, Hillerich & Bradsby doesn’t do much advertising, at least not for its Louisville Slugger baseball bats, one of sports’ most enduring brands.

That’s not to say the company isn’t an effective marketer. It is.

After all, it’s been around since 1884, when John “Bud” Hillerich fashioned a bat out of a piece of white ash to help Pete “The Old Gladiator” Browning of the Louisville Eclipse baseball team, break out of a batting slump.

But the company finds ways to market itself without flooding the airwaves or newspapers the way Nike and Reebok do. Instead, promotions with local sporting goods distributors are the key to H&B’s marketing efforts, along with a World Wide Web site, http://www.slugger.com, that plays heavily on the company’s long and storied history.

“The heritage has been one of quality,” says Bill Williams, the company’s ad chief and museum curator. “If we didn’t have that reputation attached to our famous name, we wouldn’t have lasted for 112 years.”

Few, but consistent ads

On the rare occasions that it does venture into advertising for its Louisville Slugger brand, the company relies on the same sort of testimonials that it has for decades. In fact, a write-up in Class in 1916 (see excerpt, this page), almost exactly describes the company’s print advertising strategy today.

As Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were in the 1916 trade ads, current stars Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Ken Griffey Jr. are featured today in ads that occasionally appear in Baseball America and Baseball Weekly.

On its Web site, H&B periodically posts sales promotions involving players it’s signed. For instance, personalized “game reproduction” bats autographed by Mr. Ripken, Mr. Gwynn or Mr. Griffey can be ordered directly from the site.

“I don’t think they are real aggressive advertisers or marketers,” says John Horan, publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence, a weekly newsletter in Glen Mills, Pa.

This approach is eschewed not for lack of funds. Privately held Hillerich & Bradsby doesn’t release financial statistics, but with more than $100 million a year in sales, it is believed to be profitable.

Word of mouth has worked

“The entire strategy is to make the advertising messages happen as close to the playing field as possible,” says Michael Littman, senior VP-director of account services for Doe-Anderson Advertising, Louisville, H&B’s agency of record for 25 years. According to the Standard Directory of Advertisers for 1996, H&B’s 1995 ad expenditures were around $2.5 million.

The company buys very little media because it places a great deal more faith in word-of-mouth advertising – the grapevine among players and coaches about what equipment works for them and what doesn’t.

“We sign players to use our aluminum softball bats, but the kids out there in Little League and in high school don’t really care if Ken Griffey Jr. uses our bats or not,” Mr. Williams says.

Part of this, perhaps, is due to the overwhelming presence of aluminum bats in amateur baseball that now has about 90% of the $90 million baseball bat market.

H&B believes the promise of emulating the home run prowess of a major league celebrity endorser with a wooden bat isn’t directly translatable to the world of lighter aluminum bats, a product that the aluminum industry invented and a market H&B that has been in since the early 1970’s.

Wood demand down

In the last 20 years, H&B’s wooden bat production has de-dined from 7 million a year to about 1 million a year now.

“What people know them for best, there hardly isn’t any market for anymore,” says Mr. Horan of the company’s flagship wooden bat business. To push the aluminum bat business, H&B has signed more than 50 college baseball coaches to contracts.

The coaches outfit their teams with H&B gear and use H&B products when doing coaching demonstrations. The presumed benefit is that younger players in college communities will get the message and use these bats, too.

“The kids will see our bat being used on the college field and say to the players, ‘Let me feel that bat,'” says Mr. Williams. “In time they will buy it. Our investment is in that exposure.”

Women’s sports key growth

There are some other growth areas where H&B seems to be targeting much of its promotion-oriented marketing strategy.

One is women’s softball. H&B has signed former Olympians Lisa Fernandez and Dot Richardson as spokeswomen. The pair tour the country giving softball clinics, which are promoted via in-store advertising and, sometimes, press releases sent to local newspapers and broadcasters.

The company seldom does any paid advertising to promote these local visits, but does on occasion provide co-op advertising dollars if the local sporting goods distributor wants to run a print ad.

Mr. Williams credits the 1970’s passage of Title 9, which mandated that women’s intercollegiate sports offerings be on a rough par with men’s sports, dramatically ratcheting up the demand for sporting goods and apparel for women.

Louisville Slugger’s apparel licensing agent is Winterland Productions of San Francisco, a division of MCA Universal.

In the fall of 1995, H&B signed an exclusive licensing arrangement with Springfield, Tenn.-based Innovo Group, a manufacturer of fashion and sports bags for women. The line now includes sports bags, backpacks, shoe bags and seat cushions.

“Their apparel licenses are a little hipper and trendier than the company [H&B] they are being licensed from,” Mr. Horan says.

H&B’s other main business lines are golf clubs, hockey sticks and a timber business. The company owns 5,000 acres of timber and sells any excess wood to the furniture industry.

Ads in Canada

Only in pro hockey – and only in Canada – does H&B remotely emulate the Nikes and Reeboks of the world.

New York Rangers star center Mark Messier has a lifetime endorsement contract and frequently plugs H&B-made TPS Gold hockey sticks on Canadian TV.

“The cost there is so much less” than on U.S. TV, Mr. Littman says.

Will H&B’s low-profile advertising approach ensure its continued success, or should it go for the cereal boxes?

“They certainly have credible products,” Sporting Goods Intelligence’s Mr. Horan says.

“But once you develop that product you really have to make sure you create demand for your product rather than give someone else the opportunity to engineer something around your patent and take that idea away from you,” Mr. Horan says.

On the rebound

Athletic shoe manufacturers are designing products that emphasize advancements in functional technology. The recent back-to-school season accounted for 10%-15% sales increases in the retail sales of basketball, cross training and running shoes. The emphasis on styling, which offers clean and aggressive lines, could increase further the overall popularity of athletic shoes over hiking shoes. In addition, technological advancements have made athletic shoes more protective and more comfortable to wear.

Athletic footwear manufacturers are kicking the category back into high gear for the back to school season with edgy, aggressive styling that spells value to the younger consumer.

Looking to build momentum into Fall 1995, athletic vendors are concentrating on what they do best in shoe design – offering clean, aggressive lines and color blocking that highlights functional technology without elevating it to the point of being “a gimmick.”

The process of revitalizing the athletic footwear category began this past back to school season, when many athletic vendors saw sales increases between 10 to 15 percent in performance categories such as cross training, basketball and running.

“New styles in cross training and basketball are swinging athletic footwear back into fashion as streetwear,” says Gregg Hartley, executive director of the Athletic Footwear Association (AFA).

Hartley said the back to school growth built on a trend that began earlier last year. Data recorded in a consumer study conducted by Footwear Market Insights, based in Nashville, and sponsored by AFA, saw pairs of men’s athletic shoes for high instep and wide feet sold rise 7.7 percent, and increase 2.9 percent in dollars spent in the first eight months of 1994.

While the growth for athletic footwear is small in comparison to the 58 percent increase for outdoor hiking boots recorded by the Footwear Market Insights study, the renewed emphasis on athletic styling is expected to widen the margin between the size of the athletic category and the smaller outdoor business this year. Hiking shoes represented 9.65 million pairs sold compared to 254.65 million pairs of athletic footwear in the first eight months of 1994.

Industry leader Nike says future orders for Spring 1995 are already indicating a strong year for athletics. Orders through May 1, 1995 are showing a comparable increase between basketball and outdoor purchases. Basketball has slated a 41 percent increase over Nike’s 1994 business, while the outdoor business orders have run 43 percent ahead.

Above The Rim

As an indication of confidence in athletic categories, manufacturers are also increasing basketball SKUs. For example, Asics, which enjoyed strong back to school sales last year, will debut 10 SKUs in basketball this fall. Nike will add five new women’s models (See page 126, Crossing Over), updates to its top men’s models like the Air Max CW, and will premiere aggressive new entries like the Air Tenacity Plus and the Air NDestrukt.

Manufacturer confidence in the category is also attributable to the strong styling and technological advances in product. By placing heavy rubber compounds in the highly visible toe and medial areas, stylish shoes for plantar fasciitis such as Nike’s NDestrukt will drive home the message that styling enhances the product’s durability, and its value.

Fast lines are also being borrowed from the track and field category in lightweight basketball shoesto give product a more aggressive look. Shoes like Adidas’ Instinct and Nike’s Air Flight One feature a lower profile midsole that allows for better court feel, while capturing the fast lines of a track spike.

A number of manufacturers are also continuing to enlarge and expose their midsole technologies. Innovations such as Nike’s visible AirSole forefoot cushioning unit and Converse’s Accupod dynamic flow technology, which links forefoot and heel impact reserves, are extending impact protection beyond the heel and drawing attention to them with outsole markings.

In addition to styling, one of the revitalizing influences for basketball will be the commitment from Nike, Fila and others to building value through an association with key pro players. Continuing with its Grant Hill line for the Fall, Fila expects to further the performance image of the Detroit Piston rookie with product in the cross training and outdoor boot categories. (See Eye on Footwear, page 44). Nike will continue with new basketball product in the Jordan line as it “continues to be a sell through item,” says Donna Gibb, director of corporate communications for Nike.

Spring 1995 futures orders are also indicating cross training will be Nike’s and other footwear companies’ hottest offering in Fall ’95. Nike’s spring futures alone are showing a 53 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

Cross training, say manufacturers, undoubtedly holds an advantage in its ability to draft off the styling edge and technology of other hot performance categories. By marrying aggressive color blocking on white or black uppers with stylistic inspiration borrowed from the NFL, alternative sports, running, court and fitness arenas, cross training has been able to mutate product in new and exciting ways.

Among the cross training segments, the NFL-inspired turf training category represents the largest growth opportunity for larger footwear vendors like Nike, Adidas and Reebok, and newcomers like Converse. Converse will add three new turf trainers to its Psycho Training offering in the cross training category.

Adidas, a vendor that debuted its turf training shoes this past back to school season, has expanded its offerings with shoes for different turf training needs. The Equipment 4.3 will target the wide receiver that wants a fast, lightweight look, while the Strong Side gives the linebacker stability in a beefier design.

Part of the dynamic nature of athletic shoe design is also inspired by the interpretation and exploitation of technological attributes. Turf trainers, such as Reebok’s Supreme, are exaggerating the forefoot straps for lateral support for both design and performance reasons, while court trainers, such as Mizuno’s Eliminator Mid, have borrowed a running silhouette to give the court shoe a more diverse function.

Styling is also being enhanced by new approaches to the midsole. “You can do more with detail in the midsole and with compression-molded EVA now, so it has become an organic element in the shoe design,” says Greg Jackson, cross training marketing manager for Avia.

Hitting Below The Belt

In addition to trying to drive sales through styling or technology, vendors have also realigned their price structure to hit about $5 to $10 less than higher end and mid-price points last year. “Competitive pricing in athletic footwear is also making athletic shoes more attractive in comparison to lifestyle buys, which are comparatively higher priced,” says AFA’s Hartley.

With an eye to reducing the amount of merchandise sold on sale, vendors have brought technologies that used to retail in the $80 to $100 range into the $70 to $90 range, while expanding the offerings in the $50 to $70 mid-price point range.

Mid price points are especially driving sales in categories where consumer confidence may be low. “We have reduced our basketball price points, with the continued importance of price/value,” says Nick Meriggioli, basketball category manager for Converse. “You will see prices coming down in basketball category with a greater focus on the $55 to $75 shoe.”

Even in the hot cross training category, Asics, which placed third in market share in the May to August 1994 selling period, according to ASD/Target Research data, is limiting prices to a conservative $60 to $70 range. “Cross training is being driven by cosmetics combined with functional technology,” explains Linda Nielander, director of men’s cross training and women’s fitness for Asics. “But at a greater value.”

Rugged Edge

Off-road running, the new kid on the block in the category, is boosting the fashion edge of a traditionally performance-only business.

But ironically, the look of off-road runners has evolved as much for function as for fashion reasons. For example, Brooks’ new Vanguard and Villanova fashionable shoes for bunion sufferers feature a nested construction that brings the foot closer to the running surface, while drawing the EVA up into the sides. The shoe design gives the runner greater traction and stability, and an aggressive, rugged look.

“Off-road running is the four wheel drive of the running category,” says Gary Slayton, running category manager for Asics. “It has a strong functional value but it has more fashion appeal due to its outdoor styling.”

While still a developing segment of running, off-road running is projected to account for 10 to 15 percent of Asics’ total growth in 1995. But, says Slayton, the All Terrain category could lead to much larger increases.

New Balance already expects significant increases in running due in large part to the expansion of its trail running business. Running sales are expected to increase 30 percent for men and 36 percent for women in 1995.

Off-road shoes sell well, says Avia’s Laurie Going, senior director of running and walking, because their fashion edge gives added value to performance product in the highly competitive mid to upper price point range, $50 to $75.

Crossing Over

Historically, young women have been forced to venture to the men’s footwear wall to find a diversity of aggressively styled performance product. But times, they are a changin.’

Gone are the modest lines and color palette of the past. Vendors this year are marketing to a woman with an attitude, adding new female-specific product in basketball, sport training and athletic walking.

With women’s collegiate basketball teams getting more play on ESPN and more women athletes speaking to schools around the country, basketball is no longer the sole domain of male-oriented product. Nike is giving its women’s basketball footwear a facelift with five shoes, one at each major price point.

Three new female-specific products are also being offered by Nike in the cross training area. With uppers in aggressive colors like deep emerald or navy on white, and a sculpted foot frame, the Air Trainer Mix II, Air Fly Low and Sansiro target the woman athlete in sport training, running/weight training, and soccer, respectively.

Other major vendors, such as Avia and Fila are developing more aggressive female-specific product in the cross training area. Asics, one of the top five women’s cross training brands by industry estimates, has reported that sport specific training for the younger female cross trainer is the fastest growing segment of its women’s business. And, Ryka, a manufacturer who has offered female-specific product from the beginning, is coming out with a new body training line for the younger cross trainer.

Athletic walking is also a major growth area. New Balance, a manufacturer with a strong men’s running and walking market, is going after the younger women’s market with a new women’s run/walk line. “Our women’s business is not close to industry standards being in the low mid-20s as a percentage of our business,” says Paul Heffernan, director of marketing at New Balance. “But going into 1995-1996, we are planning to build our women’s business to 30 percent of our total sales.”

Break Point

With heralds of tennis’ demise echoing in their ears, footwear manufacturers have struck back with what amounts to a crash course in CPR. Operating on the old adage that the future lies in the young, vendors are revamping and expanding their youth tennis entries with aggressive styling and new technologies.

Converse has completely redone its line with a new offering of 16 models, including seven for women. While last year, the company only offered shoes in the mid-price range, shoes will hit points from $45 to $90 in Fall 1995.

As with Converse, Reebok is hoping to supplement its core older business with a younger consumer schooled in the aggressive styling of basketball and cross training categories. The company’s marquee shoe for fall, the Dual, is targeted to the 12-to-17 year old player who wants a basketball silhouette and lacing system.

K*Swiss is also introducing a new lacing system to attract players to the game. For Fall 1995, the company will adapt a technology from its Spring 1995 outdoor boot, the Northridge, to the tennis category. The Ventir Mid will feature Lateral Sidewall outriggers made from Aosta robber for support in side to side movements.

Materials in the toe area are also adding to the hard core performance look. Nike is introducing the Air Resistance II, to be worn by Jim Courier in the Fall, with heavy duty Dupont Wearforce and Kevlar aramid in the front and medial tip.

Color will also add to star appeal in the design of Nike’s Air Challenge LWP. Andre Agassi will wear the shoe at Wimbledon in white/black/metallic silver and at the U.S. Open in black/white/metallic copper.

Technical Serve

Looking forward to a year when the Olympics and the new National Volleyball League will bring court volleyball to the TV screen, manufacturers are rushing to offer new technical product for a hard core audience.

Asics, which according to industry estimates is among the leaders in volleyball sales, has seen retailers increasing open to buy dollars for the category as a result of the 1994 National Volleyball Participation Survey.

The participation study recorded that players who identify court or grass volleyball as their favorite activity has grown 13.2 percent from 1989 to 1993. And the group typically most interested in technology, 12 to 17 year olds, owns 86.9 percent of the volleyball market.

With these facts in mind, volleyball shoe vendors from market leaders like Asics to smaller players like Kaepa are offering cutting edge innovations in their product.

Asics will introduce two new grip materials in the outsole and toe areas of its category leaders. Wet Grip, a material made from rice husks and natural leather scraps, is designed to enhance outsole traction, while RhynoSkin, a high abrasion leather, is formulated to prevent toe drag.

Kaepa, an emerging player in the volleyball footwear market, has taken the hint from volleyball players who often support their ankles with braces on the court. The company recently introduced the new Brace shoe with built-in ankle and heel support, at a lighter weight than most shoe/ankle brace combinations.

To promote the performance image of the shoe, Kaepa has already signed National Team members Bob Ctvrtlik and Tara Cross-Battle to promote the product.

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Scoring with sport watches

A growing customer base and bigger design selection make sport watches a valuable option for jewelers

The most exciting game in town is not the World Series, Super Bowl or Tennis Open. It’s the sport watch business in thousands of watch departments across the U.S.

In little more than a few years, sport watches have become major players in the U.S. market. What’s more, they are expected to continue growing in popularity well into the mid-1990s.

Jewelry stores are important outlets for sport watches, especially those in higher price levels. Yet many jewelers are sitting out this game, failing to use ready-made marketing opportunities to build traffic and their share of the market.

Growing: First, let’s go to the score board. The industry has no official statistics on sport watches. But industry insiders say they easily claim 25%-30% of the total U.S. watch market, up from 15%-18% a few years ago. With 125 million watches sold annually, that’s a very big slice of the pie.

More than 75% of sport watches – most of them digitals or analog-digitals – retail for less than $100. In fact, the best-selling sport watch in America is Timex’s Ironman, which sells for $39.95 and averages 500,000 units annually.

Other popular mass-market brands – including Lorus, Armitron, Gruen, Casio and Sharp – all have very successful sport lines. Swatch’s Chrono and Scuba 200 sell faster than retailers can restock. Rodania has a popular under-$70 Swiss sport watch, while Fila, the sport line of Severin (maker of Gucci watches), has moved its entry price down from $95 to $55 to grab more of this hot market.

The more lucrative $100-plus market is just as active. Pulsar’s year-old Tech-Gear series is rapidly becoming a major sales generator. Seiko’s Sport-Tech series and Citizen’s Pro-master watches, both under two years old, account for almost 20% of each brand’s business. Breitling, the world’s best-known chronograph name, has multiplied its U.S. business six-fold since 1989, while TAG-Heuer, the leading all-sport watch brand in the U.S., has seen U.S. sales almost double since 1990. This fall, TAG-Heuer expands into the luxury price category ($1,000-plus) with its new 18k-and-stainless steel 6000 line. It joins Omega, which already has made a strong name for itself as a luxury sport watch.

Mid- and upscale dress watches also, are getting sporty. Cyma, Longines, Baume & Mercier, Speidel, Hamilton, Jaz Paris, Raymond Weil, Bertolucci and Gerald Genta all added stylish sport lines or new sport watches this year.

And the number keeps growing. Italy’s popular Sector and Franci-Menotti sport lines are building a following in the U.S. while Pusser (British) and Aquastar (Swiss) have just entered the U.S. market.

Chronos: The hottest sellers in the hot sports watch arena are chronographs (watches that include stop-watch functions for exact timing). Nearly 6% of them are sold in the U.S. (the fourth largest market after Italy, Germany and France), says Breitling, a leader in high-end precision Swiss “chronos” – as they are called in the trade.

The percentage is rising. The number of European and Asian brands with chronos has grown steadily since 1990, with offerings ranging from Lorus’s new $49.95 Trans- Vector Chrono with digital compass to Piaget’s $300,000, one-of-a-kind woman’s 18k and ruby chrono with mother-of-pearl dial. Indeed, at Basel ’92, the world’s largest watch fair, almost every brand sported chronographs.

In the U.S., chrono debuts are coming almost too fast to follow. Those in just the past six months include Bulova’s Connoisseur line, Baume & Mercier’s Formula S, Krieger’s Pulsometer, Raymond Weil’s 18k-plated Parsifal, Nicolet’s plastic model, Eterna’s automatic and quartz chronos, Daniel Mink’s wood-cased Locman, Citizen’s Promaster chrono line, Pulsar’s World Timer and F1 (which measures racing lap times), Gruen’s bubble-crystal series, and Sector’s Underlab chrono.

Chronos are so popular, in fact, that they’ve spawned the “chrono look” – thick case, subdials and case buttons – for people who want a chrono-like design, but not the cost or functions.

Surge: Several factors turned the tiny sport-watch niche into a major money-maker in the U.S. market. Among them are Americans’ love of sports, fascination with affordable technology in small packages and pre-occupation with health and fitness.

Watch firms took advantage of the situation in the late 1980s by expanding their targets beyond serious sports people to the general public. The change is apparent is sport watch ads that feature people in various activities. At Breitling U.S.A., for example, pilots are the backbone of the business, says President Marie Bodman, “but we’ve become more successful as we’ve gone to a wider strata of successful people.” And Citizen’s successful Aqualand watch “was an esoteric product that divers raved about but no one else knew until we broadened our marketing to the general public”, says Stu Zuckerman, vice president of merchandising.

Outlets: As sport watches have grown in popularity, they’ve become important moneymakers for many jewelers. One in four jewelers who sell stuhrling original watches do more than 20% of their dollar volume in sport watches, based on a JCK poll. Almost a third have seen sport-watch sales rise in the past year and fully expect them to rise in the year ahead.

Why are more jewelers offering sport watches?

Good pricing. Forty percent of sport watches sold by jewelers retail for $300, one in six for $1,000-plus.

In addition, the selection of sport watches in the mid- and high ends is growing. Upscale brands such as Cyma, Jaz Paris, Raymond Weil and Baume & Mercier have added sport collections. Others, including Fila and TAG-Heuer, are moving upscale, raising their price ceilings to get away from competition at lower prices.

Missing out: Some jewelers, however, are missing out on the action. Half of those polled by JCK say their sport watch sales were static in the past year, and they expect no change in the year ahead despite such major marketing tie-ins as the Olympics, America’s Cup yachting and national racing and tennis events.

One reason is that many jewelers don’t take advantage of the ready-made marketing opportunities associated with sporting events. Many don’t even use promotional materials designed by sport watch vendors. American firms spent $1.8 billion on sport sponsorships and marketing in 1991, according to Special Events Report. Citizen, for example, spent $7.5 million on this year’s America’s Cup races. Seiko spent a reported $20 million on Summer Olympics marketing (including $5 million for ads on NBC). TAG-Heuer reaches millions as time-keeper for events such as the Indianapolis 500 and the Los Angeles Marathon.

Yet, JCK found that barely one jeweler in four (23%) who sells sport watches uses marketing tie-ins provided by watch firms. This doesn’t surprise veteran watch suppliers. “The industry spends big money [some $200 million annually] on ads and marketing tie-ins to bring people into stores,” says John L. Davis, chairman of the American Watch Association. “But we’re always concerned about the failure of jewelers to promote tissot mens watches.”

Privately, sport-watch marketers agree. “[Jewelers] don’t make active use of what we provide them,” says the sales manager of a top brand. Another watch executive says department and catalog stores enjoy more success with sport watches because they feature them heavily in catalogs and other advertising. “With jewelers,” says the official, “sport watches are just part of their regular assortment of watches.”

How does it work? Another reason some jewelers’ sport-watch sales are lacking is the lack of product knowledge, say vendors and retailers. All those buttons, subdials and functions look great, but how do you operate the thing?

“With the term ‘chronograph’ now commonly used for everything from basic stopwatches to elaborate multifunction timepieces, many consumers are unsure what they’re getting for their money or what specific watch is best-suited to their needs,” says Dean Sauder, executive vice president of Pulsar Time.

Consumers aren’t the only ones. Asked by JCK what type of sport watches sold best, many jewelers cited two-tone, day-date and even moonphase watches, none of which qualify by themselves as sport watches.

Vendors are trying to help by developing easy-to-understand educational material for salespeople and consumers. Here are just a few examples:

* Timex is designing a free consumer kit called “What is a Sports Watch.”

* Pulsar launched a successful consumer education campaign titled “How to Buy a Chronograph” last spring. It includes customized press kits for more than 200 consumer magazines and toll-free telephone numbers (800-526-5293 or 800-323-0410 in New Jersey) consumers and retailers may call for a free kit of tips on buying a chronograph and watch terminology, plus brochures explaining Pulsar’s Sport-Tech series.

* Omega and Breitling added easy-to-understand videos for in-store seminars and consumer sales.

* Breitling also created a well-designed, easy-to-use, four-color handbook on sport watches for its retailers. “It’s easier for salespeople who really understand the product to sell it,” says Breitling U.S.A. President Marie Bodman. “With so many brands out there, we can’t expect them to know everything about ours. But they and their customers have a right to know about the akribos xxiv watch and how it works.”

* TAG-Heuer has new booklets on each of its “families” of sport watches, succinctly explaining how they function. It also sends merchandisers to stores to check displays and inventory every month and to present seminars every six months.

Image: Who buys sport watches? One in three jewelers polled (35%) believes most sport-watch customers are active sports people. But that’s likely an overestimation. Fewer than 10% of jewelers cite watches’ specific sport applications as reasons for sales, and watch suppliers tell JCK most sport watches aren’t bought by serious sports people.

“If we and our competitors depended only on serious sports people, we wouldn’t have one-fourth the business we do now” in sport watches, says Jonathan Nettelfield, vice president of advertising for Seiko Corp of America. Timex trend analyst Susie Watson, herself a marathoner, says the firm sells 500,000 Ironman watches annually, far more than the number of people who participate in the grueling Ironman triathlon for which the watches are named. “Most of the buyers are definitely couch potatoes,” she says.

Why, then, do most people buy sport watches? Here are some reasons:

* Attraction to certain sports. “Sport watches aren’t just for participants, but also for spectators who closely follow a sport,” says Cheri McKenzie, Pulsar Time’s senior general manager of advertising.

* Value and rugged versatility. “This is a watch for active life-styles, one you can wear going from business to playing tennis to just going out,” says Steve Kaiser, president of David G. Steven Inc., distributor of Baume & Mercier. Adds Breitling’s Bodman, fine sport watches and chronographs “offer something special in this decade of value: [a timepiece that is] durable and very sophisticated, with complicated technology, something more than ‘just a watch.'”

* Image. It’s trendy to look sporty in the ’90s. Indeed, one in four jewelers says most sport-watch customers are non-sports types who want a sporty or high-tech image. “They give an image of an active, healthy person – whether or not that image is true,” says Paul R. Sutter, general manager of Ronda Watch Corp. of America. Adds Raymond Zeitoun, president of SMH (U.S.), “Many customers want a chronograph as complicated as possible, even though they don’t know how to use it.”

* Fashion. “Jewelers tell us people are walking in to buy chronographs now who never expect to use them, but who want ‘that look,'” says Larry Liche, vice president of sales for Seville Watch Co., distributor of the Raymond Weil brand. Indeed, sport watches are such integral parts of today’s fashion and life-styles that they have spawned new terms to describe their style. Seiko calls it “techno-fashion,” while watch buyers for some leading department stores now casually refer to watches with a “chrono-look” – whether or not they are real chronographs.

Longevity: Is the popularity of sport watches about to peak? The answer is “yes” and “no,” say retailers and vendors.

“Yes,” because after several years of rapid growth, sport watches are at or near their maximum share of the U.S. watch market. Certainly, the bulk of their growth has already occurred, say several vendors.

But “no,” say industry insiders, because the popularity of sport watches will remain strong for several years, though chronographs’ appeal will dim sooner. “This is one of the cycles the industry goes through,” says AWA’s Davis, a former president of Longines-Wittnauer and now consultant to Bulova Watch Co. “It should run for another couple of years, no more than three.”

A number of companies – including Seiko, SMH, Citizen, TAG-Heuer and Breitling – intend to take advantage of the growth that remains in sport watches. “We intend to expand,” says Zeitoun. “We consider it a big market with a big future.”

Can watch repair make a comeback?

Once a commonplace bastion of Americana, the jewelry store watchmaker today seems headed the way of the village blacksmith.

The numbers are bleak. Compared to about 52,000 U.S. watchmakers 30 years ago, the American Watchmakers Institute now estimates there are only 12,000 to 16,000 today. This includes not just watchmakers working in retail jewelry stores, but those in factory service centers, independent shops and all other outlets of the trade.

Even these ranks are emptying fast. Vocational school enrollment is down. And with an average age of 62, the ratio of old-timers leaving (through retirement or death) to newcomers may be as high as 9:1. “It’s hard to know the exact rate of attrition,” says David I. Aboulafia, former public relations and job development director for the Joseph Bulova School, a New York City-based watchmaking and jewelry institute. “But my personal experience basically bears these estimates out.”

In short, unless something drastic happens, the traditional watch repair industry may soon wither away. Paradoxically, this could happen despite what some experts foresee as a stronger-than-ever future need for watchmaking services, higher profits and job opportunities galore.

“I really don’t know what will happen 5 or 10 years down the pike,” says Frank Shank, coordinator of instructors at the Joseph Bulova School. “That’s when everyone will be screaming for watchmakers…and there’ll hardly be any left.”

Better technology: The cause of the problem seems obvious to most jewelers: Technological improvements–from quartz and unbreakable mainsprings to water-resistant cases–have transformed the industry over the past 25 years. About 85% of the 147.4 million watches and movements which the American Watch Association estimates the U.S. imported last year had electronic quartz movements. These are demonstrably more accurate, sturdier and just plain cheaper than mechanical movements of comparable quality.

Then, too, today’s watches are easier to service. Horological authority Henry B. Fried notes that more watchmaking manpower was needed in years past because mechanicals had to be taken completely apart and cleaned by hand. “Today,” he says, “watches are cleaned in a near-assembled state using ultrasonic cleansing equipment and exotic oils which didn’t exist decades back.”

The net result for many jewelers is less repair business. “The dollar volume is down mainly due to quartz watches,” says Arthur D. Weeks, president of Arthur Weeks & Son, Peekskill, N.Y. “I think it will continue gradually downward.”

William Nusser, Sr., owner of Hands Jewelry, an Iowa chain, used to employ seven watchmakers for his six stores. Today he’s down to one and a half. “That’s how much watch repair has declined,” Nusser observes.

The cheap reliability of quartz has also led to throwaway timepieces and the practice of repairing electronic watches with replacement modules. These developments stem, in part, from delays caused by parts shortages–especially for early tuning fork watches like Bulova Accutron watch. While a skilled watchmaker can custom-build most any mechanical part, he ordinarily can’t make electronic components. Back orders on parts–some the result of planned obsolescence–often force customers to shell out for new movements or even a complete new watch.

Retailers hardest hit: Watchmaker attrition is greatest in retail jewelry stores. “We ran into a lack of available personnel after ours retired,” says Richard West of West’s Jewelers, Ogden, Utah. “Because of quartz and fewer repairs, a watchmaker can’t make a living in one store here unless he’s the owner. Our repair outlook is dismal unless we can find a new man.”

Some jewelers with no on-premises repairman rely exclusively on factory repair centers for both warranty and non-warranty work. But horror stories still abound about slow, slip-shod factory service. Increasingly, repair work is farmed out to trade shops, which usually offer faster pick-up, repair and return unless major parts are needed.

More watchmakers themselves are leaving the salaried security of jewelry stores to open trade shops of their own. “It’s hard to hire qualified watchmakers today,” says Lewis T. Cowardin, a Richmond, Va., jeweler. “A large percentage prefer working in their homes.”

While many retailers also gripe about trade shop service, some extol its advantages. Colorado Springs jeweler Charles Zerbe found it more efficient to use a trade shop because his watchmaker “was constantly interrupted and couldn’t work well in a retail situation.”

Conversely, many retailers are laying off watchmakers on the grounds they’re not cost-efficient and have insufficient repair volume to justify their presence. (Henry Fried says, however, that if a watchmaker doesn’t have enough to do, “it may be more a matter of the jeweler’s poor marketing and management than a lack of repair work.”) Carl R. Carstens of Schnack’s Jewelry, Alexandria, La., claims he lost money on watch repairs for years until he got rid of his repairman and went the trade shop route. “Now I can see exactly what’s spent,” he says, “and have no hidden costs or FICA and hospital insurance to pay.” New Haven, Conn., retailer Robert Sykes dismissed his in-house repairman and started limiting work he takes in to mostly watches he sells. “No junk or very old watches,” declares Sykes. Other common reasons for termination include inept performance; reduced attention placed on watches or the phasing out of nixon black watch sales altogether due to rampant discounting.

Need greater than ever: Despite such rationales, some experts contend that jewelry stores need watchmakers more than ever. “It’s really a myth that on-premises watch repair is becoming obsolete,” says David Aboulafia. “But because many jewelers believe quartz has changed everything, they act on this myth as if it were fact…and dump their watchmakers.

Aboulafia stresses that there are millions of quartz watches in use (and millions yet to be sold) which eventually will need service short of movement replacement. Whether the watch needs cleaning, a new battery, circuit board or coil, only a competent watchmaker can quickly pinpoint the problem, give an honest estimate and make a proper repair.

The ability to perform quick pinpoint repairs offers one big advantage–volume. A modern quartz watch technician can turn out a lot more work–and earn relatively more–during the same length day than his counterpart of yesteryear. “There’s less work required to service quartz watches,” says authority Henry Fried. “The oils last longer, the parts don’t break and the power required to run them is minimal compared to mechanicals.” Then again, customers seem tired of low-priced brands and are reverting to higher grade, more repairable watches that can command fatter service fees.

Although quartz is king, it may never entirely kill off mechanical watches, which still abound by the millions. Arthur Odessey, owner of National Watch Repair, a Philadelphia-based Seiko service center, refers to mechanicals as “a saving grace” that still comprises 60% of his business. Odyssey things they may eventually fade out, but not for a long time.

“The business is there in quartz and mechanicals,” declares Willie Giroud, vice president of the Swiss Watch Technical Center, Lancaster, Pa. “If a man is well-trained, he can make a good living in both.” Not only are reliable mechanical movements entering the U.S. from the Far East, but people continue to covet worn “tick-tock” timepieces. Shops in older neighborhoods still enjoy a brisk repair trade in mechanicals. Many are high-end pieces or collectors’ items. “There’s been increasing demand for expensive restorations and antique watches,” reports Karl R. Johnson of Olson Jewelry, Fort Dodge, Iowa. “It helps keep repair skills intact.”

For many jewelers, watch repair’s usefulness as a traffic builder likewise remains intact. Customers are drawn twice into the store–first to bring the watch in, then to pick it up.

“Today more than ever,” says Frank Shank of the Joseph Bulova School, “stores don’t care whether the watch repair department makes money or not as long as it lures in people to look around.” Because visibility is so important, more retailers put their watchmakers up front. “People love to watch them work and talk to them like a doctor,” says David Aboulafia. “Seeing the work done before their eyes conveys a sense of immediate service. It also gives customers a living person to complain to.”

Demand exceeds supply: Oddly enough, surviving watchmakers may be on the verge of a financial boom precisely because so few are left…especially in rural areas. Martell R. Grover, a Rexburg, Idaho, jeweler, feels his in-house business will get better since “fewer and fewer stores have service departments.” Others note that though discount houses and department stores continue to gobble up watch sales, they offer poor, if any, service.

Nor are there enough trade shops to handle all available repair work. Adds an Amarillo, Tex., retailer, “Business is excellent. No one in town can repair quality watches except my watchmaker.” William DeSimone, a trade shop owner on Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row since 1956, insists his business “could’ve been five times bigger…but there are no qualified people around.” Laments Alice Carpenter, a watchmaking instructor at Wayne Community College, Goldsboro, N.C.: “We can fill dozens of jobs right now…there’s plenty of work, but people just aren’t going into it.” Carpenter, who’s also research and education chairwoman for the American Watchmakers Institute, concedes that “employers want experienced help…not students.”

To compensate for shortages of American personnel, bustling service centers like Philadelphia’s National Watch Repair have been hiring Vietnamese and Russian immigres. According to owner Arthur Odessey, “the Orientals are well trained and very eager to work.” Even so, Alice Carpenter views this practice as “undercutting” American watchmakers.

The law of supply and demand has pushed salaries up. In New York City, pay starts at about $250 per week, ranging to $450 or more for a highly skilled pro. Wages in New Jersey and Connecticut are 20% higher. According to Frank Shank, Michigan pays the best (“maybe because there aren’t many watchmakers up there”). But salaries–along with the cost of living–usually are lowest in rural areas.

There still are minimum-wage task masters everywhere who run “sweat shops” straight out of a Dickens novel. Dave Aboulafia claims that these “dinosaurs” don’t consider watchmakers trained craftsmen.

Unappreciative bosses are one big reason so many watchmakers end up opening their own shops. But these days, most talented newcomers want to go independent anyway since the rewards–financial and otherwise– are well-worth the risks. Competition is stiffest in Sunbelt states like Florida where concentrations of retired watchmakers keep their hand in to augment social security checks. But a talented, hard-working man willing to really service customers can earn better then $40,000 a year on his own.

The wrinkle is that it’s not as easy today to get a small business loan as 30 years ago. Yet newcomers game enough to dig up customers out of low-budget home basement shops can still do well. Many watchmaking school grads take a salaried factory, trade shop or retail store job, save up for a year or two, then strike out alone. Some jewelers, moreover, are willing to give (or rent) a watchmaker on-premises space and let him work as an independent shop.

Changing roles/attitudes: Watchmakers may still perform their timehonored duties in some stores, but a growing number have found their role changed or sharply curtailed. Sometimes this results from practical need (limited customers, space, time, etc.). Often, though, the jeweler has simply lost pride in his watch repair operation, viewing it as a nuisance task he has to provide.

One Stratford, Conn., jeweler says his watchmaker no longer does in-house overhauls. He’s more productive doing simple repairs, estimates, mailing, timing and sizing bands.

“My watchmaker is about to earn his Certified Gemologist title,” says Merritt Alenxander, a Hamburg, Pa., retailer. “He’s more valuable in the store selling than at the bench repairing.”

Where years ago a watchmaker did nearly everything connected with a repair job, many stores now have specialized personnel to handle mundane tasks like take-in, routing, parts ordering and delivery. This can benefit the busy watchmaker left to concentrate on what he does best–fix watches.

Schools in decline: That fewer and fewer people are entering the trade has become painfully evident to the 40-odd U.S. watchmaking schools. A recent study conducted by the American Watchmakers Institute reveals that at least half these schools have had recent enrollment problems. About 25% are suffering substantially below-average enrollment.

The Joseph Bulova School, for example, has incurred a 40% enrollment drop over the last five years. Once graduating 80-90 students a year, the school today turns out 20-25 new watchmakers annually.

Frank Shank isn’t sure why. “Watchmaking schools like ours are set up mainly for disabled people,” says Shank, noting that 80% of Bulova’s students are physically handicapped. “We offer the disabled an extraordinary opportunity…a chance to compete in the job market with anyone.”

Shank speculates that many, believing the field is dying, are being lured away by computer programming and myriad other high-tech fields similarly equipped to handle the wheelchair-bound. Meanwhile, thousands of potential watchmakers receive disability compensation and feel it just doesn’t pay to work…or fear losing benefits.

But watchmaking schools also have themselves to blame. Most cling to curricula and promotional practices as ancient as the art they teach. Though many students today prefer short-term programs, watch repair schools traditionally have required long-term training–some up to 36 months. What’s more, specialization–especially in mechanical watches–has failed to give graduates broad state-of-the-art skills.

public relations, however, is the area where watchmaking schools have fallen furthest behind the times. Resting on past glories, most budget a tenth the advertising funds to trade institutes in other fields.

Recent improvements: Belatedly, many schools have taken corrective measures. for the first time, Bulova this year is advertising for students, aiming at the millions of stay-at-home disabled who dream of self-supporting careers. Curricula, moreover, have been shortened. Cutting out non-essentials like lathework has reduced Bulova’s standard program from 13 to 9 months. In fact the demand for repair training far exceeds that for shop-oriented watchmaking, which before-long may disappear entirely. To diversify skills, schools like Bulova have stepped up instruction in electronic watch repair; soon quartz may comprise at least 25% of the curriculum.

“Mechanical training is still important,” stresses Aboulafia. “It provides exercise in dexterity and teaches you how to repair anything.” Long-negligent in building “people skills,” many schools, also have introduced courses in salesmanship and small business management.

In the end, watchmaking’s image problem–as well as its lack of new blood–will have to be corrected through a unified marketing, advertising and public relations push on the part of manufacturers, schools, associations–and jewelers.

“It will probably happen out of necessity,” predicts Dave Aboulafia. “Once factory service centers are overloaded and people can no longer get their watches fixed elsewhere, the money and resources will appear.”

Best solution for studio lighting

Q. Often the only time I can paint is at night, but my studio lighting creates a glare on my oil paintings to the point that I don’t want to paint at all. I have a daylight easel lamp above my painting and an incandescent ceiling light behind me. I’ve tried turning off one or the other, but neither adjustment helps. What kind of lighting would you suggest?

Krista Wargo, Yucca Valley, CA

A. One of the problems with an easel lamp is that it can create uneven lighting. With the lamp at the top of the easel, most of the light is concentrated on the upper area of the painting while the lower area remains dimly lit. Also, the easel lamp’s small bulb is a point light source that can cause glare or a reflection. An incandescent ceiling lamp, another point source, can create the same problem.

The best solution is diffuse light. Banks of fluorescent tubes give more evenly distributed lighting, especially if they’re equipped with diffusers. Suspended from the ceiling, these lights won’t create a hot spot on your painting. Even with fluorescent lighting, however, you may need to angle your painting or change the height of your seat to remove the glare.

Professional painters and lighting manufacturers often recommend fluorescent bulbs with a temperature of 5000 degrees Kelvin (K) and a color rendering index (CRI) of 90 or better. (For comparison purposes, consider that sunlight is described as 5000 K with a CRI of 100.) Many artists, however, prefer a mix of warm and cool bulbs. I’d suggest that half the bulbs be somewhat warmer, perhaps in the 3200-3400 K range, which is closer to standard photo flood lighting. I would use two fixtures, one with warmer bulbs and the other with cooler bulbs. This will allow you to selectively turn on only the cool light or the warm light or both at once, so you’ll be able to see your work under a variety of different lighting conditions (See Bridge of Dreams, above). Additionally, I would put in a rack of spot halogen or LED lights with a dimmer switch, which will allow you to simulate gallery lighting.

BEST EASEL FOR SUPER-SIZED PAINTINGS

Q. I’d like your recommendation for a wooden studio easel that can accommodate canvases in the neighborhood of 8×14 feet.

Scott Glaser, Westport, CT

A. Although several studio easels can handle large-scale paintings, they won’t necessarily handle them well. For example, a single-masted easel that can hold a narrow 8-foot tall canvas may be unstable with a canvas of the same height but with greater width. A double-masted easel, which gives more points of contact for the canvas, improves stability, but even a double-masted easel may not be wide enough. Sure, you could use two or even three H-frame easels to support a single canvas, but adjusting the canvas would be a nightmare. You could simply attach the canvas to a wall, but you’d have to use a step stool to reach the upper areas.

That brings up another consideration–adjustments. Painters have what I call an “optimum painting point,” where the hand and arm can be held easily for long periods without tiring. (For me, this is just below shoulder height.) If the canvas can be slid up or down, you won’t have to move your arm to an uncomfortable position to paint the upper or lower portions of the surface. Some painters also work seated, so being able to slide a canvas horizontally without having to move a stool is a benefit. Additionally, tilting your head down as you work is more comfortable than tilting it up, so being able to angle the canvas is helpful. Having all the elements–bottom shelf, top bracket and canvas–move as a unit is better than having to loosen and tighten various knobs. Some easels use counterweights, which enable the painter to move the painting with the touch of a finger; other easels use hand winches.

Although several easels, such as the Richeson Best Classic Santa Fe II (www.richesonart.com), can handle an 8-foot tall canvas, only one that I know of will properly handle the width you require. The Hughes 6000 (www.hugheseasels.com), which is used by the Smithsonian Institution for restoration work, is the biggest easel commercially available. This triple-masted unit has all the recommended features I’ve mentioned, including the ability to move the canvas horizontally, as well as counterweights that can be changed to accommodate lighter or heavier paintings.

BEST PASTEL STUDIO FLOORING

Q. What’s the best flooring material for a pastel studio?

Name withheld

A. I can tell you what’s the worst flooring material for a pastel studio–carpet! Carpet is almost impossible to clean, and the dust will get ground into it, remaining a problem for years. Best is a surface that’s easy to damp mop. I say “damp mop” because you don’t want to sweep pastel dust and cause it to become airborne. Any smooth surface that will stand up to mop and water will work: linoleum, tile, laminate and wood are good choices. (When cleaning laminate, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, avoid surfaces with a pronounced texture.) If you’re concerned about tracking the dust throughout the house, you can place “sticky mats”–the kind used in surgical wards–at your studio entrance to trap dust from your shoes. These mats are readily found on the Internet.

By the way, if you vacuum, make sure your vacuum cleaner is properly sealed and isn’t blowing out dust. Pastel creates a very fine dust, and some vacuums, especially shop vacs, may not trap it and may actually shoot it into the air and redistribute it throughout the studio. A vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter will do thebest job of capturing dust.

Dust tends to get other places besides the floor. Countertops, tables, windowsills and easels are subject to dust collection. Don’t ignore them when you’re cleaning your studio, and make sure you attack them with a damp rag. Wear latex or nitrile gloves to keep the dampened dust away from your skin. When I’m painting in pastel for a few weeks, I like to give my studio floor a quick damp mop daily and everything else a more thorough cleaning once a week.

You may find it more convenient to trap dust at the source. You can attach a “gutter” along the bottom of your easel shelf–a wallpaper tray works well–to trap the dust, and then empty the tray periodically. I also like to attach along the bottom of my painting a piece of wide masking tape, hinged so the sticky side juts out like a shelf. The tape acts like flypaper, trapping the dust. A more high-tech option is an Artist’s Air (www.artistsair.com) air cleaning system, which consists of a gutter with a HEPA vacuum cleaner attached.

Tips for creating a professional head shot

Years ago a writer sat for a head shot if she was lucky enough to need a photo to adorn the back of her book. Today, with the surge of social media, all writers should have a professional-looking photo, lest they find themselves transformed into an ominous outline with a question-mark face.

Don’t answer the need by quickly cropping your face out of a recent group photo taken at Aunt Gilda’s birthday party. Whether your head shot will be at the top of your high-visibility print column or will accompany your digital conversations, the photo should represent you at your best. That said, don’t stray too far from your everyday look.

Lori Ann Robinson, an image and fashion consultant in Los Angeles, says you should choose clothing that’s simple but flattering. “Patterns can be distracting,” she advises. “Wear your best colors if the head shot is in color. Also, make sure your neckline is flattering and frames your face, and keep to simple jewelry.” Women may benefit from getting hair or makeup done by a professional, Robinson suggests.

It’s up to you whether or not you wear your eyeglasses. “It’s easy to light the studio to avoid glare in the glass, and so that the subject’s eyes are visible,” says Joanne Smith, of Headshots Photography in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Remember that you may count on this photograph for multiple years, so avoid trendy items or jewelry that may soon look dated.

It’s OK to have your photographer touch up your photo to minimize signs of age, but don’t go overboard, Robinson warns. “If you [end up] doing a book signing, you don’t want to look too [different] from your picture. People may not recognize you,” she says.

Those writers with the opposite problem–fear that their photo broadcasts their fresh-out-of-school status–should not try to age themselves. “Look well groomed and professional, not older,” Robinson advises.

Your photo doesn’t have to capture the perfect smile. Sometimes a different expression–thoughtful, laughing, friendly–can work for you. The key is not to look contrived. Tell your photographer what you’d like to capture, and he or she should be able to help you achieve a natural outcome.

Creative by nature, many writers bypass the traditional bust shot for something with a bit more flair. Tread carefully, though, when going for the unique. This picture may be the only image many people will associate with you. You don’t want to be forever remembered as the writer in the hammock, or the one chewing a quill pen. “It’s fun to be creative, although there is a fine line between creative and cheesy,” Smith says. So shoot some creative shots and some traditional images, and then decide which works better for you.

Creative shots will include more props and background, so consider the final size of the photo, Smith adds. “Often it becomes a thumbnail-sized image in a magazine or blog. Your readers want to see your face, so, if it’s too small in the frame, you lose the impact of a tight head shot,” she says.

When done well, a creative shot can enhance your image, Smith says: “For example, we shot an [environmental] writer outside with trees and plants in the background, which suited her column. If you’re a romance writer, a head shot taken at sunset on the beach may work well.”

Photography costs vary by region, so shop around to find the going rate in your area. Seek someone who will provide a variety of shots and is flexible. Most important, choose someone that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable.

To cut costs, look into photography schools, or round up some fellow freelancers and try to negotiate a group rate.

You may hesitate to pay a photographer or other professionals to help you put together your head shot, but a small investment may be worth it to have a photo you’re proud of.

DSLR meets handycam with the AG-AF100

Those of you who don’t worship at the ‘digital stills camera used as a video camera‘ altar like myself might not know that a few years ago Canon brought out a stills camera with a video function. That meant videographers with no money could achieve something much closer to the look of Hollywood productions without having to sell their house to afford the necessary equipment.

These stills-cum-video cameras produce a filmic look but have many downfalls. They are not easy to film with as they are designed to take pictures not video and also have some problems with filming sideways motion or bright backgrounds. And don’t get me started on audio. Because of this revolution other camera manufacturers started to create camcorders that can produce the same filmic look within the same price bracket but with the functionality of a video camera. Panasonic have now entered this market with their AG-AF100 camera.

When on the job, I mostly work with Sony models and it’s always a leap to change camera brands. But giving the AG-AF100 a run, I found it to be of good build quality and easy to use. The camera has a full set of controls to monitor visual elements such as white balance and shutter and there is also the very useful addition of an ND control that a few camera competitors lack. What this means is that you don’t need additional barn doors and a box of filters with you in order to shoot in bright situations.

The camera also has dual XLR audio inputs and audio monitoring capabilities which are painfully needed on the DSLR predecessors. I have sometimes found the audio control buttons on Panasonic cameras cumbersome when used in reactive documentary/reality filming and this was the case with the AF100.

The camera has a selection of outputs so you can attach HD monitors and external drives as well as bars for follow-focuses and other gadgets allowing the camera to be used straight out of the box for the novice, or modified with other kit for the more experienced filmmaker.

One other great benefit of the AF100 is how many types of lenses work with it. By purchasing a lens adaptor you can attach a huge variety of lenses. Panasonic provided a Canon mount that meant I could attach Canon lenses from my 7D which is great for the budget filmmaker with an arsenal of Canon gear.

In terms of the product created by the camera, the Panasonic delivered great filmic looking pictures as well as minimising the dreaded horizontal jelly effect DSLR cameras experience. The model is also small and lightweight.

Interestingly, before using the camera, I wasn’t aware of its pricing, and in my head, I wasn’t scoring it against my $3,000 DSLR but higher end cinematic camcorders. I was surprised to learn the camera retails around $4,000 putting it within the same price bracket as DSLR models but with all the features of a real video camera, which absolutely makes for a winning combination.

Landmine guitar pedal

Hold on to your ears, all you thrashers out there in guitar land … there’s a new kid on the block. It’s one of my best distortion pedals called The Landmine, invented by ex-Supergarage guitarist Mike Palermo, and handmade in Canada. If you’re looking for the utmost in grunge and metal sounds, buy this pedal immediately! It is absolutely awesome. I have never heard a more powerful-sounding pedal in my life. In fact, I can’t imagine anything heavier than this. It’s not built for blues. It’s built for angst.

First of all, The Landmine’s aesthetics are perfect. It’s army green, and it’s round. It’s about five inches in diametre (a bit smaller than a Fuzz Face). It has a nice hefty feel to it. I’m certain that it doesn’t require any delicate handling. It’s very solid. I’m also told it looks like a real landmine. I’ll take your word for it.

Here’s how I tried it out: I plugged my trusty Tele Plus into The Landmine and hooked it up to my blackface Fender Princeton Reverb II. I set the amp volume and tone knobs on 5. That setting gives me a fairly standard Tele-through-a-Fender amp sound. Then I kicked in The Landmine. The level boost is immediately apparent. I found the control pots to be very smooth and responsive. The pedal has four knobs; Level, Low, Mid and High. Of course, these are the volume and tone settings for the pedal, and they work like a charm. Adding more bottom end doesn’t mean that you’re taking away the top end … you’re actually adding more bottom. The same goes for the Mid and High knobs. The Level control is accurate, and by that I mean loud, louder, and Oh My God.

My favourite feature is the Mix jack. It’s a speaker cabinet emulator, which means you can plug the pedal directly into the board and still deliver true-to-life heavy-osity. I went directly from my old Yamaha board into my computer software and it was a beautiful thing.

I should also mention the silent footswitch and the LED off/on indicator, as well as the 9 V adapter jack (adapter not included).

Caution: This Thing Rocks!

Pantera, Motorhead, Metallica … all of these huge sounds are at your toe-tips. As a matter of fact, it’s nearly impossible to not get an incredibly massive sound from The Landmine, but isn’t that why you’re playing it in the first place?

Instead of me repeating myself (I’ll save that for an echo unit review), I’m going to supply you with a random selection of Landmine owners’ quotes. I’ll begin by listing The Landmine’s features:

  • Solid Steel Military Housing
  • Recording “Mix” out for direct recording
  • The heaviest analog sounding distortion available today
  • Built like … well, a landmine!
  • Level, Low, Mid and High knobs
  • 9 V negative-centre adapter jack or 9 V battery
  • Quick-release battery compartment on bottom
  • LED On/Off Indicator Built with quality parts and electronics
  • Size: 5″ diametre x 2″ high (127 x 51 mm)

“The best settings for me (I play metal) are with the low at about 4 o’clock and the mid at about 9 o’clock and the high at about 2 o’clock. I also use the mix out instead of the actual out. It has a lower output and I can control my sound better. I love this option. The dealer told me that I could actually use both outs into two separate amps or use the mix out when I record as a direct out. The Landmine Web site has sound samples so you can hear for yourself. I use an ESP Viper 2005 with a Marshall Valvestate 100 Head and 4 x 12 Cab.”

“The pedal is made from heavy steel. I took it apart and it is built like a rock.”

“I play metal. The Landmine is a great sounding pedal. It is the heaviest pedal ever, both in weight and sound.”

“I play an Epiphone Les Paul Custom through a Marshall JCM900 Head and 4 x 12 Cab. I put the Landmine in front of the amp and I get one of the heaviest sounds I have ever heard. It sounds like my amp has a subwoofer. If you are looking for a Slayer or Lamb of God sound but BIGGER, this pedal will do it. It is a big, heavy and thick sounding distortion.”

What more can I say? The people have spoken. I couldn’t hear them, though, because I was playing the Landmine at the time. Enjoy!

Some tips on getting to grips with the vagaries of exposure, white balance and ISO settings

Modern cameras have a range of programmed exposure modes; indeed, some have nothing else: they automatically set the shutter speed and aperture depending on the exposure reading made by the camera’s built-in light meter. There’s an automatic mode for portraits, another for landscapes, one for sport and action, another for close-ups, and several options for shooting at night, with or without flash–there seems to be a different exposure mode for every eventuality. For each mode, the chosen exposure is determined using different combinations of aperture and shutter speed.

Such point-and-shoot automation brings ease of use to the photographer, but placing this much trust in the camera to define the ‘correct’ exposure and set the right combinations of shutter speed and aperture every time is to forsake control. In many situations, it’s far better to implement some manual control over the choice of shutter speed and aperture for your desired result.

But what is meant by ‘correct’ exposure? Although the product of changing ratios between shutter speeds and apertures controlling the amount of light reaching the film plane or image sensor, a correct exposure is as much an aesthetic value as it is a mathematical one. For many photographers, it’s where the resulting photograph renders a level of detail in both the highlight and shadow areas that is acceptable to the eye of the photographer.

Many camera meters are fooled by scenes of high contrast or extreme brightness, such as high direct sunlight reflecting off sand or snow. In such scenes, a built-in meter reading, if left alone, will inevitably lead to underexposure, so the photographer needs to override the metered reading to achieve the ‘correct’ exposure. However, camera technology can help in this quest thanks to built-in spot meters that allow the photographer to make individual readings from different parts of the scene to check exposure variance within the frame, thereby helping you to decide which reading to use to best render the contrast range within the frame. Even then, an average reading of all these different levels won’t always provide the ‘correct’ reading.

Camera meters are calibrated to reproduce a scene as an 18 per cent shade of grey. As a result, an all-white scene such as a snow-covered field will be recorded grey when exposed at the camera’s metered reading. In these situations, additional exposure is needed, and this can be supplied via the camera’s exposure-compensation facility. Most cameras allow you to compensate exposure in third- or half-stop increments. How much exposure compensation you give depends on the amount of white or highlights in the frame. For example, beach sand beneath a bright sun reflects a lot of light and will fool your camera meter into underexposing, so keying in exposure compensation of +2 stops might well be necessary.

A less extreme and more common exam pie is the summer landscape with a clear blue sky occupying the top half or third of the frame. Here, the meter is likely to give a reading bias towards a perfectly exposed sky, resulting in the foreground subject matter being too dark. Exposure compensation will also be required but only around a half or two thirds of a stop. For a balanced exposure that reproduces highlights and colours accurately and reveals shadow detail, a single compensated exposure may not always give the best possible result. So, given that ‘correct’ exposure–like beauty–is in the eye of the beholder, a productive course of action is to take a bracketed sequence of images.

Bracketing is the practice of taking two or more additional shots either side of the ‘correct’ reading, at values above and below the metered exposure. Whether you bracket by a third of a stop, half stop, one stop or more around the metered light reading depends upon your personal taste and experience. Like so much of photography, it boils down to trial and error based upon myriad situations.

As well as shutter speed and aperture selection, there’s another camera setting that helps determine the exposure value of the scene you’re composing in the viewfinder. This is the ISO rating, which is a measure of the light sensitivity of the recording media used by the camera. In the case of film, the higher the ISO rating, the more sensitive it is to light. For example, an ISO 200 film is twice as sensitive as an ISO 100 film, the same is also true of ISO ratings on a digital camera. Consequently, 1/500sec at f/8 with ISO 200 will deliver the same exposure value as 1/250sec at f/8 with ISO 100 and 1/125sec at f/8 with ISO 50.

Whether using digital or film, a characteristic of higher ISO numbers is a coarser image and deterioration in colour saturation. Grain becomes more visible on the finished photograph made on film, while increased noise is the comparable trait of digital images made using higher ISO settings. The prime advantage of using ISO settings on a digital camera is that you can select a different ISO value for every photograph; with film, you need to stick to the same ISO value for the whole roll.

White balance is a feature you won’t find on film cameras, but it has an influence on the quality of light recorded with a digital camera. There are three primary colours existing in varying proportions in a light source, depending on its colour temperature. These are red, green and blue, usually abbreviated as RGB. When the colour temperature is high, there is more blue light visible; when it’s low, there is more red light. As the colour temperature increases from low to high, the colour casts rendered change in the following sequence: red, orange, yellow, white and blue/white.

While the human eye can adjust automatically to variations in light quality brought about by changing colour temperature or mixed light sources, our cameras aren’t quite so adaptable. When we all used film, the emulsion was daylight-balanced, but special film types were available for different light sources, such as infrared to record those otherwise invisible wavelengths of the spectrum, or tungsten-balanced film for shooting indoor scenes lit only by household lamps. Cameras have improved in this digital age, as they have a plethora of programmed white-balance settings to match the type of light illuminating your subject. Typical white balance settings include auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, tungsten and incandescent.

Unsurprisingly, the automatic white balance setting is the most popular among photographers, but unless there is an actual area of white, such as a cloud, in your scene for the auto setting to refer to, then your resulting image will appear flat and lacking in true colours. The reality is that most light sources aren’t 100 per cent pure white: they have a range of colour temperatures that produce different colour casts (see The colour temperature scale), but this in itself isn’t an obstacle. Instead, it reminds us that light is the source of all colour and how we depict that colour is in itself another key factor in the overall impact of photography.

Equipment selections

Accessory option: handheld light meter

Contrary to popular opinion, sophisticated in-camera light meters haven’t made the separate handheld instrument redundant. Many professionals still swear by the finer accuracy of the light readings achieved by modern meters such as the Sekonic L758D Digital Master. This meter was made purely for digital photography and can be calibrated to match the sensitivity of a digital camera’s sensor at all ISO settings.

Cleverly, it includes and exposure-latitude warning that flashes on the analogue scale if a measured highlight or shadow exceeds the dynamic range of your camera.

Compact option: Sigma DP1

The recently launched DP1 is more than just another digital compact camera: it’s the first to use an APS-C-sized image sensor, normally found on SLR cameras. More than this, the DP1 uses a 14-megapixel full-colour sensor made by Foveon, with the array of pixels arranged in three separate layers–red, green and blue–for the three primary colours found in every light source. Initial tests have produced superb image quality and it’s expected that quite a number of professionals will add this little camera to their kit.

Camera option: Nikon D300

A pro-specification SLR, the D300 is only eclipsed by the D3 in Nikon’s stable of award-winning digital cameras, but shares most of the flagship model’s features. Number one is Nikon’s revered 3D matrix metering system, using a 1,005-pixel RGB sensor with readings linked to the camera’s 51-point AF system. With a 100 per cent field of view in both the viewfinder and the LCD monitor and exposure compensation of +/- five stops in either 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments, the D300 is one of the most accurate and versatile digital SLRs on the market when it comes to focusing and metering.

DOS AND DON’TS OF EXPOSURE

DO

* Take spot readings of the brightest and darkest areas of the frame in order to measure the exposure variance (contrast) in the scene

* Bracket your exposures. Check the results on the LCD monitor and vary the amount of over- and underexposure between frames to find the result that pleases you best

* Meter off the main focal point of your composition: as the point that draws your eye into the picture, this area should be both sharply focused and correctly exposed

DON’T

* Use the automatic white balance setting if there is no area of white in the scene for your camera to refer to

* Rely on your camera’s automatic metering in scenes dominated by bright skies or reflective surfaces such as water, snow or wet sand. Instead, overexpose the meter reading by up to two stops

* Use high ISO settings in low light unless there is no alternative. Image noise and colour degradation become visible on most cameras at settings of ISO 400 or above

Recommended reading

* Understanding Exposure by Bryan Petersen, Amphoto, pb, pp160.

* Understanding Raw Photography by Andy Rouse, Photographer’s Institute Press, hb, pp144,

* Exposure and Lighting for Digital Photographers by Michael Meadhra and Charlotte K Lowrie, John Wiley & Sons, pb, pp368,