Tight Budget? Ways to Save on Gas and Transportation

April 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Felicia Logan
flogan@smu.edu

The economic downturn has hit just about everybody in the pocket, and college students already have plenty of things to be concerned with as far as their studies go. As gas prices continue to balloon, students are looking for ways to save money. Riding the DART, walking, carpooling, bicycling and using websites that provide information about where to find the cheapest gas are a few options that may help students pinch their pennies.

DART is the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system, which operates buses, light rail commuter rails and on-call shuttle services, throughout Dallas and 12 of the city’s suburbs. An annual pass costs between $650 and $1,200, depending on what type of pass is required for commutes. However, SMU gives students a helpful and hefty discount.

“The contract between SMU and DART states that if you are an enrolled student, you are entitled to purchase a DART pass for a one time fee of $5,” says SMU’s Park ‘N Pony office supervisor Rita Zech. Although she could not provide specific numbers, “The number of students riding DART this year is definitely up,” she says. Shana Ray, a sophomore majoring in communications, says riding the DART is cheaper and more convenient than having her parents chauffer her. Living off campus makes it necessary for her to commute.

Many students live on campus, though. Sean Casa, a senior majoring in advertising and English, has a car, but prefers to walk. “I live on campus, and generally, I avoid driving unless I have to, just to save a little green.” Casa enjoys the walk from campus to Snyder Plaza and back. Eve Hay also lives on campus and has a car, but the junior advertising and psychology major shares rides with her friends. When she and her
friends want to go somewhere, they “pile up together” and carpool, says Hay. She says it’s an easy way to save on gas. Of course, riding a bicycle everywhere is also an efficient gas saver. SMU junior Emmanuel Van Hulst rides just about everywhere. It’s not only cost efficient, but a fun leisure activity, as well.

The average price of gas in Dallas is $3.83 per gallon today. Utilizing Websites like www.gasbuddy.com, www.dallasgasprices.com, and www.fuelmeup.com can help students find the cheapest gas available in their immediate area, follow trends, changes in price, and compare prices to the national average. Searches can be refined by mileage, zip code, and gas grades, too.

With the current economic downturn, its pays to find ways to save. Look for alternatives, instead of breaking the bank. As it’s often said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Most students already know that every penny counts.

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

April 5, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Caroline Arbaugh
carbaugh@smu.edu

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.”