Merchandising Matters by a Marketing Refugee

By Penny M

(layouts for the naïve)

I have come to the conclusion that Merchandising is the unsung hero of retail marketing. clothingNot only does it require creative flare, but intuitive thinking. Behind every tidy, well signposted display lies the logic of customer flow, seasonal grace and the innate ability to get inside a shopper’s head.

The other day, I met someone for a coffee in the restaurant on the top floor of a local department store.  As per usual, I had to ‘spend a penny’.  Intent on my purpose, I hurtled through the baby and children’s wear departments, but on my way back I slowed to browse through the cute array of spring range clothing for tots, some with jaw-dropping prices. Visions of my grandchildren appeared in various outfits and I was momentarily mesmerized.

I resumed my seat at the restaurant like a long distance refugee – the relief was palpable – I hadn’t purchased a thing.  When my companion decided to visit the toilets on our way out, I accepted an advertised invitation and made a bee-line for a sale-priced sofa to wait.  It was strategically placed on the edge of exorbitance.  I took the time to ponder the wonderful ingenuity of merchandising.  Of course, where else would you put the cutest department than on the beat from the restaurant to the restroom, a necessity for mothers and grandparents?  The comfy couch with panoramic views and an invitation to try it out was just another clever ploy to sell tots clothes to NanniPen.  There were no men screeching brakes here.

The menswear section was just inside the doors on the ground floor, another good plant.  I have a vague recollection that perfume and jewellery were close by.  In my opinion, ground floors are for quick buys.

Unlike women, men generally don’t shop around.  They aren’t likely to be found wandering on the second floor looking for a pullover or a tie.  Neither would they go too far for a gift for a friend, wife or girlfriend, though most would like to think they’d gone to ‘hell and back’.  One look at busy browsers is enough to drive the dashing outside and online.  I guess you could say that most men shop with purpose and it’s a rare woman who returns home with only what was on the list.

The toy, furniture and lingerie departments are all on the top floor – need I say more?

I have started my birthday list ahead of September which seems to be our family’s favourite birth month.  I suspect there will be some parcels winging their way to Australia in somebody else’s suitcase by then.  I can still outrun advertising, but when it comes to my precious grandchildren, merchandising matters.

Penny Mitchell – Communications that Matter –


Living Clock Controversy

by Penny M

clock smiling face animated clipart

So what time is bedtime?

I love my sleep, especially when it sinks into that deep rest where dreams happen and active participation requires no effort.

I’ve found in my travels that my system has its own clock which ticks at mealtimes, ablution times etcetera.  That’s why there is more to switching time zones than a bit of jet lag.

I’m having supper when my family in Australia is having breakfast, so lunch for me there is a skippable meal until mid-afternoon and supper is an uncomfortably early breakfast.

Some people stay on their work clock even when they’ve retired.  That would be perfect if I was a morning person.  Days are so much longer when you are up before the sun; I would get up if I had to and make use of those extra hours, but I don’t.

Actually, when it comes to somebody else’s time values, life can be tricky.  I pretty much push the boundaries on this one.  You can go to bed at the same time, but do you have to go to sleep?  If you don’t shut those lids until two hours later because, let’s face it, there are distractions, rising with a foreigner’s alarm pushes the old ticker into overdrive.  Lids defy eyeballs, especially if wine was the drink of choice with dinner the previous evening.

Did I miss out on my beauty sleep?  Well, if the standard requirement is eight hours*, the answer to that is no (by the time I have got my eyes in focus).  However, retinal streaming is interrupted prematurely leaving me with stories chasing endings and issues without solutions.  Breakfast could wait for a couple of hour glasses if we had them.

I know what you’re thinking – if I went to bed earlier more often, my system might adapt to birdsong and a morning cuppa. girl stretching in bed wakeup in the morningBut hey, who can retire this early for so long?  I may as well enjoy it until the rat race shakes me into the real world.


The Root of all Good

by Penny M

Forgive me for this, but due to my hectic schedule, I sought to resurrect a Christmas message from the archives.  Given the world events in play at the moment, I think Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, ‘president’ Zuma, Julius and all the others who might hijack Santa and upstage Rudolf could benefit from a few grounding thoughts. I wouldn’t change a word except to say that there is a reason for the season and the author of my minutes is the giver of all good gifts and the best gift is the root of all good. Happy sowing, everyone.

P.S. For 2011, read 2016 and for 2012, read 2017.

The best gift

english bulldogs dressed up as santa and rudolph

I must have festivitis.

It’s a seasonal virus – let’s be frank, everything these days is viral.  I feel like I went to bed in 2011 and woke to discover that 2012 was a dream and my resolution is still written on rice paper left over from decorating last year’s Christmas cake.  I still haven’t sent the cards, done any shopping or even admitted to myself another year will run out before I get over it.

“Tis the season to be jolly tra la la la la la la la la la!”

I won’t bore you with my light-hearted poem about jingling tills and Santas on every corner.  The subject matter pales against the follies of so-called leaders using pothole repair funds to splurge on new wives or appease old ones.  While sensible people e-file, cough up for the TV licence and plan one-gift parties, others run up credit limits, buy whatever they want and jet away with no intention of returning to pay for their tickets.

Where is the joy in giving to the ‘haves’ when the ‘have-nots’ can’t give at all?  It doesn’t seem fair that I should have to dip into my retirement savings to give to the not-so-greedy needy when a major part of my income fills the traditional stockings that lie at the end of the beds of reason (and Santa didn’t put them there).

Don’t get me wrong, I love giving.  There’s something eternally fulfilling about clothing a needy child or warming a belly with hope.  The epitome of sadness is a pavement full of empty hats.

But there is cheer here somewhere.  I discovered a secret.  Somebody once said, ‘The best things in life are free.’  I’m inclined to agree.  Money, whether given or received, can turn the humblest of hearts.  It can lie, make or break.  Wealth is a matter of opinion.   True treasure grows in the poorest places; without small change, it makes the richest difference.  Pure love is not for sale, yet each of us has the capacity to give it.  It’s on everybody’s wish list.  There is nothing more precious than knowing you are loved; that someone chooses to give you their undivided attention for a second.  If you are fortunate enough to have received this gift, it can never be stolen or taxed.

Festive occasions are laced with hypocrisy for those who suffer hugs for hand-outs.  Genuine goodies are not reserved for special days.  No need for wraps and trimmings.  It’s simple.  Live for the moment and love every minute.  It’s the best gift.

Now where’s that rice paper …?




by Penny Mitchell


As I watch minor puffs of pending precipitation waft across the sky like smoke signals, I marvel at the ability of nature to move between constant horizons. I am reminded of our tendency to fix motion and emotion in a snapshot of life.

We are quick to condemn in the courts of our mind. “A leopard cannot change its spots,” we say, convinced that a person will be frozen for ever in a framework of our judgement.

I was surprised to learn, from an online phrase finder, that the origin of this idiom is the bible, Jeremiah 13:23 (Old Testament).

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also can you do good who are accustomed and taught [even trained] to do evil.”

Zondervan (2010-08-17). Amplified, Bible, eBook (p. 1093). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

In a good story, characters should change. When trapped beneath the ‘paintbrush’ of an accuser some years ago, I wrote the poem you will find at the end of this blog. At the time of writing it and when I later wrote and rewrote a whole work of fiction around the ‘spots’ of my accuser’s character, I ignored the notion that my bad guy could ever be good. After all, he had to be willing. So much for my fiction.

I confess then that I have been both a victim and a perpetrator of the sinful art of framing.

I recently went to a Christian friend’s funeral. This man had changed significantly after his spiritual conversion. Evident from the eulogies of family and friends was a legacy of hope to steady us all in this evil world.

I find it interesting that Jeremiah refers to training. Those of you who have read my blog – Voices that Matter – what I did with my 67 minutes and more on Mandela Day (, might have noticed my focus on the upbringing of our children. “Children should be brought up to love, not hate. What kind of parent brings up a warrior? And yet there are those that do and call it honourable.”


I sit here and consider
The frame you’ve put me in
Accusations of your cruel heart
Over which I cannot win

The frame is not soft wood
But steel, sharp and icy cold
Deceptions in your mind
Untrue, harsh thoughts unfold

For if I were the artist
Every brush stroke would seem right
Not faulty or distorted
Like your picture which I fight

For should I accept the image
You have of me
I surely would be destroyed
And never ever free

Painted with double standards
I swim before your eyes
Too late I think I’m drowning
When will you realize?

So when you’ve finished painting me
And hung me on your wall
Forgive me if I escape for
From your dis-grace I fall

If I become more distant
It’s because I cannot live
Inside the framework of your mind
My very soul to give

I have resolved not to fix a person within the boundaries of my assumptions. Tomorrow is another day, and who knows what God can paint with a willing heart? Nobody’s perfect, least of all me. Let’s hope and pray for a masterpiece to be thankful for

I’m Just Saying

by Penny M

… from Communications that Matter:

Edition V July 2016: Longevity Nutrition Report – Adaptogens: THE STRESS SOLUTION by Kheyrne Danu

‘Dr Leila Sadien … explains: “We are all exposed to stress in modern times, and the capacity of our ability to adapt is a valuable strength in every person’s health. I prescribe adaptogens to every patient who is experiencing … , for example, and patients who are interested in general anti-aging and optimum wellness.”‘

Well, if you don’t mind ‘multiple choice’ grammar and expect to live long enough to finish reading this excellent article, you are as hooked as I am. Thanks for the amplified version of your article, Kheyrne Danu.

IMG00816-20160622-2131 (1).jpg

Flying with Emirates – a lighter way to travel

by Penny M

It is April 2016. I have completed another long haul from the spreads of tourist magnet, Durban city, South Africa, to the peace of a quaint village in Somerset, United Kingdom where my parents live.

I made a pre-travel exploration of the Emirates website and was delighted. I noted down the channel numbers for four movies I wanted to watch, chose my main courses for both flights and determined the maximum weight and dimensions for hand luggage.

I flew via Dubai from King Shaka Airport. Note to author – take Plan A when you can. Notices that facilities are available at the boarding gate don’t include small-print warnings that patrons are desperate and cleaners, if they exist at all, are suspected of taking tea breaks or holidays during queue times. There is nothing like a smelly, wet toilet seat to force restraint until you’re in the air.

My Emirates experience commenced with humour when a young lady at the check in counter asked me to confirm that my name was correctly recorded on my boarding pass. It was reflected as MITCHELL PENNYMS. Being a stickler for this sort of thing and suffering from my usual pre-flight panic, I responded with, “Uh no. It’s Penny without the MS. What’s the MS?” Alerted by a spark in her eyes, I forced myself to concentrate.

“Yes,” she said with control worthy of an Oscar, “MS stands for Mizzz.” We met again at the boarding gate, “Welcome on board, Mizzz Mitchell.”

If Emirates airlines were responsible for the condition of airport rest rooms, I am certain such areas would have been delightful havens for the bare necessities. Their service is customer-centric; staff are charming and efficient from check in to check out.

Emirates 2

Flying with this airline is a pleasure, even for an Economy class passenger like me. There seems to be extra knee and shin space. Overhead lockers are spacious and are easily accessible during transit without the risk of injury to unsuspecting passengers below.

Meals are part of the on board entertainment. Arranging the food covers on my meal tray was not child’s play; far more amusing though. Each piece of foil, plastic or cardboard was a different size or shape and ranged from flat to tunnel-like with domes. Stainless cutlery (oh how I love it) came in a long envelope with a napkin, all encased in a tight paper ring. The packaging designer must have been an engineer or a stand-up comedian (not sit-down) with a wicked sense of humour, or perhaps had never been an Economy class customer. There’s a big difference in size between a lunch table and a kiddy-sized tray. The food was delicious when I finally got to it minus my fork which disappeared beneath my neighbour’s seat.

For the Durban – Dubai stretch, I fixed my hair in a loose, high bun to avoid crooking my neck on the back rest and settled to watch movies. Mitchell’s law, I had carefully recorded my selection on my mobile phone. This was switched off and in my bag above me; so much for preparation. It took a while for me to realise that a screen change was still going to happen. In addition to the usual demonstration on safety, perhaps a lesson on cabin technology would be useful, especially as this often differs with the aircraft.

I was distracted momentarily by a fellow passenger a couple of rows in front who leapt up to one of the personal reading lights above and proceeded to try and screw it off. ‘Whatever is he trying to do?’ I thought with considerable amusement as I watched the pallor of his face change in the beam. I suppose I should have told him that the button for that was on somebody’s control panel, but I didn’t want him to feel silly. On his third jack-in-a-box attempt, a lady in front of me leaned forward gesticulating. At the same time, his partner must have found the solution as he flashed out of sight like a magician’s rabbit.

No free socks or toothpaste on this flight – do some airlines still offer this? There was a page of coloured stickers in the bag with my headphones. Each bore a request – wake me for meals; do not disturb; wake me for duty free. How useful, I thought, and stuck the one for ‘wake me for meals’ where indicated on the top of my head rest. I didn’t realise until after I was by-passed for breakfast that mine had stuck to my bun. It seems I wasn’t the only one. A passenger with longer, thicker hair than mine stationed herself outside one of the toilets. She too was wearing a courtesy adornment. Perhaps not such a good idea after all.

After landing gently at Dubai, a bus collected us for a scenic tour of the vast airport. This caused several passengers some consternation when they thought we were heading for the motorway and the city beyond. It took ten to fifteen minutes to reach our destination. We went through security checks into the main hub for some much needed exercise. Warning – the airport is vast and can cost many blisters in boots.

I had been given a voucher for a free meal and drink from one of several food outlets. Assuming erroneously that my selection would be on a value basis, I was looking forward to a MacDonald’s milkshake. Take a tip from one who knows – if this happens to you at Dubai airport, walk to the nearest ‘You are here’ map under glass at waist level and figure out which is your nearest preference. “Five minutes’ walk, madam,” becomes fifteen minutes in real time. My milkshake became cardboard chicken nuggets, eight out of forty fries, a cup of apple juice and a packaged, unripe banana. Oh well, it was free. Next time I’ll try one of the restaurants closer to the Boarding Gate and take my chances.


I assessed how many episodes of Downton Abbey, series 6, I could get through on the second leg of my journey to Heathrow, finished in good time and nodded off in front of another movie.

By the time I landed, got through Customs and created several more blisters in Baggage Arrivals, London rush hour was imminent and I was extremely grateful to find my board-less Chauffeur (Mom’s treat) amongst the sign touting men at the exit. Twenty eight hours after leaving home, I was woofing down a cheese omelette and looking forward to a soothing bath.

Emirates had made my night and day, but how I wished I hadn’t missed the British Airways special offer in November. Sorry Emirates but, when you travel as far as I do, it’s all in the timing. I could have arrived in Wiveliscombe in time for lunch instead of dinner.

Bee in my Bonnet – Telkom

by Penny Mbumblebee-close-up-1380644-640x480

When I was a fledgling in need of a pocket money boost, I got myself a summer job for Marks and Spencer (UK).  Every day for six weeks, I would catch the train to Newport, on the coast of Wales, and trundle down the road to the store. The fact that such the upmarket chain store had humble beginnings as a Penny Bazaar was both ironic and touching to a young girl so named. Each new staff member underwent strict training prior to being allowed to serve customers.

Amongst other ground rules, I learnt that the customer was always right and that customer complaints were viewed in a positive light as indications of how to improve customer service. Telkom take note, this blog should add value to your bottom line, if only because this customer bothered to kick it.

underwear-1316935-639x852I was assigned to a Supervisor in the lingerie section where my job was to keep the counters and racks tidy. All the bras went together, laid out in their various colours, styles etc. Nighties and pyjamas, underskirts, panties and corsets had their allocated sections. All were easily visible from any spot in the department. This was my introduction to classifications in the retail sector.

Now that I think about it, my flair for the creative was already budding. I aspired to becoming a window dresser, but the shop window was out of bounds and nobody took a sixteen year old seriously.

Fast forward a few years to my second serious job as a private secretary. My boss’s filing system was incomprehensible and I set about restructuring the whole thing so that anybody could find anything with the greatest of ease, using a keyword alphabetical index.

A good few years after that, while employed by a local bank, I found myself the victim of a horrendous filing system. Documents were filed according to a Reference Number which was computer system driven to allocate space in a strong room according to the number of pages. This was all good, provided the system could be accessed for location purposes. However, little thought had been given to related correspondence that couldn’t be filed in the same place due to space restrictions. Instead of clipping this together per client and filing alphabetically, forms were further classified and filed according to the nature of the document, e.g. uplifted due to death, uplifted to return to client etcetera. Instead of one alphabetical system, we ended up with three or four, each sorted alphabetically into bulging lever arch files. When a document was missing, each section had to be checked for clues to its whereabouts.

So why the bee?

A great fan of paperless systems, I opted to have my telephone bill emailed to me several years ago. Until that point, my itemised bill arrived in the post and was easy to comprehend. My call details were all in one place, although admittedly sectioned off into International, Local calls, peak and off peak (if I remember correctly). Not so now on the Telkom website I have been forced to link to. I experience difficulty logging in almost monthly. Once I have accomplished this feat, navigating to a list so that I can determine for example the cost of my off peak, international call is akin to finding a bra in the food section. Account detail doesn’t refer to calls. I tried downloading something called call detail and ended up with a bunch of data strung together in almost unending sentences of Notepad format.

Finally, after approximately ten minutes of precious data time, I found another label for call detail; this was view only. So, imagine my frustration when I find separate tabs for International, Local, Mobile, Other, each of which has to be opened separately!

Come on Telkom, your site might look fancy and give us graphs of usage and all sorts of other stuff, but please can we have a simple itemised bill that can be downloaded in a user friendly format to save to file for future reference.

Your website breakdown fanatics are causing your customers to have other kinds of breakdown on a regular basis. There’s a place for categorisation, but how many sub categories does one customer need? Is this not time for the K.I.S.S. approach?

By the way, you don’t have to change the appearance of your website every five minutes; nobody’s going to be impressed if you keep changing your windows. A less creative approach would be appreciated.


Photo courtesy of