Running for roses

On my annual pilgrimage to the Kentucky Derby this year (no one can remember if this is my 25th or 26th Derby, though we all remember the first was in 1982), I was struck by several things worth sharing.

The buzz of activity outside of Churchill Downs has picked up from the last couple of years. It appears that the recovery from the meltdown of 2008-2009 has begun in earnest. As you approach the track, there are always “shuttle” vehicles for those of us who park far enough away to avoid the post-race traffic, a proliferation of people selling spots in their yards for parking and folks hawking sodas and bar-b-que.

However, instead of just the usual golf-carts offering rides, all manner of cars and trucks were out trying to hustle up passengers. And the prices seemed pretty reasonable – though I walked with John on Oaks Day, the ladies were dressed-up and chose to catch a ride without us.

I had noticed on Friday that an actual parking lot, very near where we park each year (and a long way from the track) was asking $25 for a spot. Seemed kind of odd because that was the cost to park 50-yards from the track. On Saturday, the same young lady was holding a sign offering spots for $15 and I stopped to ask why the change in price. She replied that not a single person had used the lot on Friday, so they lowered the price to be more competitive. On the way back to our beige mini-van I noted that many people had chosen to use the lot on Saturday, undoubtedly because of the more competitive price.

As for people offering parking closer to the track, the creativity in their marketing was very impressive. We saw that a couple of homeowners were offering shuttle rides from their house to the track as part of the deal – and with so many people in big hats and high heels, even a block or two can be a tough walk. The best one though was the house that had a couple of ten-year old boys holding signs that read, “Help me go to summer camp.” Without a price differentiation you need something else to motivate customers and appealing to the philanthropic nature of a bunch of rich folks by tugging at their heartstrings was, in my humble opinion, brilliant. The kids were nowhere in sight as we walked by after the race, but the place was full, the beer was flowing and the grill was cooking.

The point of all this is two-fold: First, the level of economic activity spoke to a healing of the scars inflicted during the recent economic mess and signs of economic recovery. More importantly, and as I commented to Mark at the time, price adjustments based on market forces, using marketing tactics that move beyond price (and the product being sold) and the creative ways people were identifying products and delivering services speaks volumes about the enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit of our country.

As Warren Buffett mentioned just ten days ago, “I’d rather be born today in the U.S. than any other place at any other time.” Not even banksters, fraud, greed or inept government can keep the American people down for long.

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