The Apartment Hunt

April 27, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Caroline Arbaugh

As the realtor pulls up in front of another property, junior SMU student Jennifer Traver and her roommate have a good feeling about this apartment. Located on Rosedale Ave. off of Hillcrest, it is walking distance from campus, in a safe and well-tended area, and hits the right spot in their wallets.

“It was the best option because it came in below budget, had a garage, was within walking distance, and was not a dump,” said Traver. “The landlord was very nice and reliable and the apartment was a great find!”

As summer approaches, many SMU students – like Traver – are securing a place to live when they return to school next fall. But with limited budgets and a wide array of options available throughout this metropolitan area, how are students making their selections?

One popular option is to use a realtor as Traver did. But not everyone wants to take the time to ride around looking at apartments. For some students, spending a couple of hours online exploring options is sufficient. Sites like The Apartment Selector show contact information, amenities, and availability of apartments located in the area surrounding campus in University Park and Highland Park.

However, online searches don’t always give the full story. A personal visit is often a good plan too.

“Physically visiting the apartment was a definite factor for me–I did not like the idea of signing a lease without knowing exactly what I was getting,” said Traver.

Additionally, online prices are misleading by often being listed as higher than what you ultimately end up paying; and online prices are not open to negotiation or special deals. But this won’t be evident without a phone call or visit.

Traver said she wasn’t fooled by the high price listings on apartment websites, and knew further in-person investigation would be beneficial. She set out to find something for less than $1000 per month for her share of the apartment, and she was able to come in under budget with her pick.

Before starting the apartment search, evaluate your budget to figure out what you are willing to spend on your portion of rent and utilities per month, and then take into account other important factors. Apartments a little farther away from the SMU campus are more cost-effective, but at the price of a longer commute to class.

Senior Juan Barrientos said he’s looking for something in the $800-$900 price range, utilities included. Coupling this stipulation with his other main deciding factor, distance from school and friends, has defined his search.

“I have to live somewhere I can afford, but I also don’t want to live in the hood,” said Barrientos. “But proximity is somewhat relative, I have a car so an apartment within walking distance isn’t a necessity.”

In fact, Barrientos said anywhere closer than his current 25-30 minute commute from home would be ideal, especially somewhere in Uptown. But he admits finding an apartment is not as easy as it sounds, and encourages others to look early and keep looking.

In comparing a few popular SMU student apartment buildings, Amesbury Parc comes in at one of the lowest prices still within two miles from campus, but for a smaller floor space. However, many places near campus, like The Shelby, fall into similar price ranges and are more up-to-date.

But one thing is certain; the sooner you start the hunt the better.

“Get on top of the apartment search ASAP,” said Traver. “Many of the buildings are going fast!”

An earlier version of this story contained quotes that were misattributed from Gables Residential. The Daily Mustang apologizes for the error.

Not So Sparkly: Decreasing Revenues Cause Zale Co. to Make Changes

April 5, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Caroline Arbaugh

Floating from glass casing to glass casing, customers gaze at the dazzling merchandise within. To the onlooker, Zales Jewelers appears to be flourishing.

“I’ve been a Zales customer for 20 years,” said Martha Buckner after taking her ring into the store for a cleaning at Northpark Mall in Dallas Sunday afternoon. She praises the customer service at the store, but says, “The past few years have been tough with the economy so I have not made a purchase in a while.”

Buckner is not alone in this sentiment, as the company profits attest. Zale Co. took a hit in 2009 when the economy crashed. Revenues decreased more than $302 million, or 16.8 percent, from 2008 to $1.8 billion in 2009, and the company posted a net loss of $189.5 million.

“When a recession strikes the first purchases most people cut back on are luxury items such as jewelry,” said Buckner.

While the entire retail jewelry industry in North America felt the economic crush, Zale remained at the top of the competition as the leader in diamond jewelry sales over the past two years.
Although the Irving, Texas-based company is still in the hole, with a 9.2 percent decrease in revenues from 2009 to $1.6 billion and a net loss of $93.7 million in 2010, it is making fast strides toward profits in the near future.

“Zale has posted positive earnings for the past four months, whereas before we were in the negative range still,” said Northpark Zales store manager Tristan Brown.

Strategies to raise profits range from marketing initiatives and restructuring of top management, to a heavy focus on customer service and renewed and extended loan agreements with banks and private firms.

Theo Killon, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a Sept. 2010 earnings conference call that the focus of its efforts has been to execute a multi-year turnaround strategy aimed at returning the company to profitability.

“During the second half of fiscal 2010, we’ve worked diligently to improve our business financially, operationally and organizationally,” said Killon.

Seeking to shore up its finances, Zale reached a $150 million loan agreement with Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm, and restructured its bank loans. Additionally, the Company entered into an agreement with Citibank to provide the private label credit card program for the Zales, Zales Outlet and Gordon’s brands in the United States for a term of five years.

“By completing these transactions, we created a much needed financial foundation that gives us the runway to execute our turnaround,” said Killon.

Operationally the focus is on building and strengthening Zale’s core merchandise assortment–consistent sellers at a predictable margin. This is a “back to basics” strategy, using and modifying what the company already knows works for it, while eliminating products which do not sell as well, in order to cut costs.

Brown believes part of the improvement in sales for Zale is the result of the company’s brand differentiation efforts. He said brand-dedicated personnel have been added in 2010 to the merchandising, marketing, planning and allocation departments to return the individual identity and personality to the brands.

The previous five-year plan was to homogenize the merchandise offerings in all the brands, so this new strategy is again reverting Zale to its original practices.

The most significant organizational improvement strategy was to double the number of Zale associates who are Diamond Council of America certified. The main focus of this training is on understanding the technical aspects of selling diamonds, which in turn augments the selling abilities of associates in stores, and potentially increases sales.

Despite these efforts to return Zale to profitability, Killon acknowledged the company still has a significant way to go.

“We are singularly focused on restoring the company to profitability and growth,” said Killon. “Until we do so we will not be content.”