Confessions of a Pricing Nerd

February 5, 2010

Confessions of a Pricing Nerd

After jumping into my first article without much of an introduction, I thought I’d step back and offer a bit more of one at this point, so you know just who is writing this blog.

When people ask me what I do for work, I usually say “I advise restaurants on pricing.” Many are surprised that there is such a job, given this unique niche. I know some people hear this and think, “Wow, what a cool job. I can’t believe she actually gets paid to do that.” Maybe it’s more my fantasy than theirs, come to think of it. They, or I, might envision me sitting next to Todd English, with a nice glass of wine, surrounded by plates and plates of delicious food, ready to taste it and proffer the magical numbers, if we must put a price on these creations. I love letting people sit with this fairytale vision for a bit.

Then I break it to them.

“Doesn’t that sound glamorous?” I ask, before telling them the truth. “It’s actually a lot of competitive research and analysis,” and I explain what the company does and that, in fact, world-renowned chefs do not rely on me to anoint their menus with my golden touch. I go so far as to admit that I have done my fair share of covert research in any number of restaurant chains, and that I am swimming in data most of the time. Sure, there are occasional perks, like having met Emeril Legasse (the NRA MEG conference I attended held a dinner at one of his restaurants – I was in the right place at the right time).

No, my job is not glamorous.

But I love it – and I think it’s perfect for me. Early in my career, I thought my jobs were fine, but not the ultimate place for me. I kept wondering what the perfect job for me was. And through the good fortune of a winding path through several companies and functional areas, I landed in the right place based on my skills and interests. And of course the big leap of faith to leave a secure job and start this company I call Intellaprice. But it’s not just my interests or abilities, it’s my weird mind that lends itself to what I do.

So it’s confession time. I have a head for numbers, among other things. I find prices fascinating and memorable. Yesterday I went to Trader Joe’s and bought my usual block of feta cheese (a much better bargain than the crumbled stuff, if you didn’t know). I was not pleased to note that the price is now $2.99, up from $2.79 just last week. I told myself it’s okay, it’s only $.20. And actually, the grilled balsamic chicken I like is down $.40 from $5.69. So net net, I am ahead of the game. I guess those commodities markets are a changin’. Trader Joe, if you are reading this, I still haven’t forgotten what you did with your pistachio prices and portions in the past year.

Which brings me to another point. It’s not just about price, but also portion. Bumble Bee and peers: do you think I haven’t noticed that what used to be a 7 oz. portion went from 6.5 to 6 to 5 oz.? All without changing the actual can size. Please cease and desist from this sneaky practice before I call a mutiny. And does anyone else notice the weight on what we used to call a one-pound bag of M&Ms these days? It’s a travesty.

If you don’t think all of the above information is odd to store in one’s brain, then I’ll also tell you that I am a Nielsen Homescan member. If you don’t know what that is, it’s like being a Nielsen TV family, only for groceries. They invited me years ago and nerd that I am, I was excited. It’s sometimes a pain to scan in my groceries and other purchases, but I know they collect valuable data this way. Not geeky enough? Well then, do you know any people who, like me, stand in McDonald’s and do the math on the value meal when the cashier tries to upsell them when they order a quarter pounder and fries? I don’t drink soda, so I’m not gonna take it unless it’s a real bargain. Simple as that. The calculations go on and on for me. Restaurant week: not always a bargain, but always fun.

So the facts and figures that are in my mind are a bit bizarre to other people. I can cite prices of some restaurants’ items spontaneously, and have been known to accurately guess what a dinner bill is with a margin of error of just a few dollars (that’s only a few percent on a $100 bill – not bad, eh?). While these aren’t vital skills, they do come in handy and mix well with the more challenging aspects of my job. And since this actually puts bread on my table, I could do a lot worse. Especially since another thing I really enjoy is good food, whether it’s from my kitchen or Todd English’s.

What a perfect job, huh?


2 Responses to “Confessions of a Pricing Nerd”

  1. K-Mo Says:

    Great blog, Bolini! LOVED reading it! K

  2. Leslie M. Says:

    Hi Leslie,

    Enjoyed this dialogue- maybe you can also consider a career in writing 🙂

    Are you going to conference?

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