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Retail Anthropologist Paco Underhill

Underhill studies and tracks the habits of shoppers in order to learn the best way to lead them to make purchases. His retail consulting firm, Envirosell, has helped big-name companies such as McDonald's, Levi Strauss and Blockbuster to study their customers' browsing and buying habits. He's the author of the book Why We Buy, and the new book Call of the Mall.




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Other segments from the episode on May 6, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 6, 2004: Interview with Paul Roberts; Interview with Paco Underhill; Commentary on Peter Pan as a cultural symbol.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Paul Roberts discusses his new book, "The End of Oil"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

You can tell by the title of his new book "The End of Oil" that journalist
Paul Roberts is confident big change is on the horizon like it or not. He
writes, `Each year, it is more and more evident that the extraordinary machine
we have built to supply the demand for oil cannot sustain itself in its
present form. Not a day goes by without some new disclosure, some new bit of
headline evidence that our brilliant energy success comes at great costs. Air
pollution and toxic waste sites, blackouts and price spikes, fraud and
corruption and even war.' In his new book, he tells the story of how we got
into this predicament and what some of the options are for our energy future.
At the beginning of his book, Roberts confesses he's lost his faith in the
modern energy economy. I asked him how he lost it.

Mr. PAUL ROBERTS ("The End of Oil"): The moment that I had in the desert in
Saudi Arabia where I heard, you know, Saudi oil engineers admit that the
biggest oil field in the world Ghawar was in decline, was filling with water,
which is a sign that its years are kind of coming to a close. Yeah, that was
kind of a hair-raising moment. For anyone who's looked at energy and oil,
this is the mother of all fields. It's the one that's, you know, supplied a
huge portion of the world's oil supply, and to have it, you know, showing its
age, showing gray hairs was kind of frightening, but I think that more
generally we all have a sense, most of us have a sense that we can continue to
go to the gas station and fill up, and if prices rise in the summer, you know,
the price for gasoline, it'll come back down in the fall. Everything's
cyclical and seasonal, and we really don't have to spend a lot of time
thinking about it because, you know, the market will solve problems. It will
see the challenges and it will come up with new technologies, you know, new
ways to get more oil or new ways to burn fuel more cleanly, and, you know,
that's fine. And I think that what becomes clear after you spend some time
looking at the evolution of the energy industry and some of the challenges
that it faces is you realize that the market isn't going to be able to do this
by itself, you know, and that the system's sort of in a slow-motion collapse.

GROSS: Your book is called "The End of Oil." Different experts have
different thoughts about this, but what are some of the answers you've heard
to the question: How close are we till we have really depleted the oil
resources of the world?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, it's kind of a complex question, but the simple answer is
that in about 10 years--I think within 10 years--we're going to see definite
signs that, you know, the cheap oil, the easy oil, the oil that flows out of
the ground and that we've been, you know, using for the last hundred years is
going to start becoming scarcer.

GROSS: But I thought that there were new places being tapped in parts of
Africa and Central Asia, in former Soviet republics. Aren't those adding new
options for us for oil?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, they are. They are. If you just looked at the headlines,
you'd get this incredible sense of optimism that, you know, we don't need to
rely on the Middle East anymore because we are finding oil in Angola and
Nigeria and Russia. You know, there's Venezuela. There's Canada and Mexico
and, you know, Kazakhstan. There's all these alternatives to the Middle East,
but although there's a great deal of oil in these places, you know, there are
kind of two constraints there. One is that--you probably have noticed that
these places happen to have politically unstable, really nasty regimes in many
cases, and it makes it tough for the US to have some sort of a relationship
with these countries that isn't somehow compromised by our need to get their
oil. That's the first constraint.

The second constraint is that even though the oil is flowing out of these
countries right now, these guys don't have the oil reserves that the Middle
Eastern countries do; they just don't. I mean, no matter how people talk
about Russia as the new oil frontier or the bonanza in West Africa, I mean,
it's small potatoes compared with the Saudis. And so sooner or later, you
know, we're going to be back in the Middle East.

GROSS: Paul, since you've been so immersed in the geopolitics of oil, how
much do you think oil figures into the real reasons for the war in Iraq?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, I think, you know, we're going to be debating that for
decades. But I think it's fair to say that although no nation goes to war for
one single reason, that it's complex in any case, no less so in Iraq, that
despite that whatever the administration actually thought about weapons of
mass destruction or the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, oil was certainly on
their radar screen. And the fact of the matter is that America uses a great
deal of oil. One of every four barrels produced on the planet is used here.
Our trading partners like Europe and Japan, rely on the Middle East.

So what happens in the Middle East, anything that threatens the stability of
the Middle East and its capacity to keep supplying oil reliably and smoothly,
is deeply important to us. And the fact that Saddam Hussein was increasingly
threatening the stability of the region in the view of the White House was,
you know, reason enough to be very concerned that, you know, anything
else--all we needed to find was one other reason, I think, and it was time to
go in.

GROSS: So you're saying the reason wasn't literally--that oil figures into
the war not necessarily literally to get the oil in Iraq but to keep the
region stable, so that we could get oil from the larger region. Is that what
you're suggesting?

Mr. ROBERTS: Yeah. Iraq was seen as the key by a lot of people as a way to
do a couple things. If we could liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein and build
Iraq's oil industry back up to not only its former glory but its
potential--it's got a huge amount of oil, I mean, the second-largest reserves
in the world right behind Saudi Arabia. And it's being underutilized, to use
the term of art. So if we could build that industry back up and, further, if
we could convince the Iraqis to leave OPEC, to no longer side with their
neighboring countries in setting oil policy, then we could flood the market
with cheap oil, we could drive the price down. And that would do two things:
It would deprive OPEC of their pricing power. I mean, you know, they've had
30 years of essentially strangling our economy by being able to blackmail us
with whatever price they wanted. So that would be off the table. We'd be
able to deprive Arab countries of a huge source of revenue, some of which have
been used to fund terrorism. And so for a lot of members of the Bush
administration, certainly going back before the Bush administration, you know,
that was a win-win. I mean, that penciled out beautifully on paper.

GROSS: My guest is Paul Roberts, and he's the author of the new book "The End
of Oil."

The United States has had a special relationship with Saudi Arabia. And the
Bush family, you know, seems to particularly have close ties with Saudi Arabia
and with the Saudi leadership. I don't know if you read Bob Woodward's book
or not, but one of the most quoted passages of the book, as I'm sure you know,
has to do with Saudi Arabia having made promises to President Bush to keep the
price of oil low before the coming presidential election. When you read that
or heard that, what was your interpretation of it?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, I think it's entirely possible that the Saudi ambassador
to the US made the promise. The Saudis have a history of doing just
that--well, two things: of saying what they think the US wants to hear, but
there's also a history of helping us out in the oil world. And so, you know,
it may be that the Saudis actually believed at that time, when the promise was
made, that it would be in their interest to keep prices down. But the
evidence today--you know, what's going on today paints a picture that's
completely opposite that. You know, the Saudis have done pretty much
everything they can to keep the price of oil high. And, you know, right now
we're at--oil's selling at about $39 a barrel, and the future prices are also
high. And the Saudis are making no effort to raise production; that is,
they're not trying to add to the oil supply and, thereby, bring the price
down. You know, they're saying, `The price is fine. It'll fall of its own
accord,' you know?

And, you know, the Bush administration promised that if oil prices were high,
they would jawbone OPEC, they would lean on the Saudis. And there's no
evidence that they're doing that. And, you know, it may be that the Bush
administration is so pleased with the Saudi cooperation in the war on terror
and so pleased with the Saudi efforts to, you know, control the money
laundering that was such a problem in the 1990s that they're going to leave
the Saudis alone on oil. But my sense is that, you know, the administration
feels completely unable to control the situation; you know, that they just
don't have the kind of leverage that they thought they did with the Saudis.

And from the Saudi side, they're in a really tough spot. You know, they don't
like angering the Americans--or most of the leadership in the House of Saud
doesn't like angering the Americans. And the Americans have not only
protected them from, you know, Saddam Hussein, but they've been a huge
customer. The US market is the oil market that you want to be in. It's not
only the biggest in the world, but it's one of the fastest growing. So you
can't afford to miss out on it. And, further, you know, we've sold them
weapons. We've helped them out in any number of ways, and so it's not in
their interest in the long term to make us angry.

That said, the Saudis are now dealing with an internal situation. It's much
different than it was, say, 10 years ago. You know, 10 years ago right after
the first Gulf War, you could walk down the street in Riyadh, and you could
see posters of American soldiers. I mean, we were heroes. Now, you know, you
don't see that at all. You know, no Saudi official wants to make any show of
being pro-American because that's just really unpopular right now. And so the
Saudis don't want to appear to be sucking up to us, you know? They don't want
to appear to be helping out the administration of George Bush. So it may be
that the Saudis, you know, come the fall, right before the election, they are
going to start pumping oil like mad and bring the price down and, thus, help,
you know, George Bush float to victory on an ocean of cheap oil. But I can't
think of anything that would look more suspect than something like that

GROSS: My guest is Paul Roberts, author of the new book "The End of Oil."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is journalist Paul Roberts. His new book is called "The End
of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World."

In April 2001, Vice President Cheney, who headed the president's energy task
force, said that environmentalists wanted the government to, quote, "step in
and force Americans to consume less energy, as if we could simply conserve
or ration our way out of the situation we're" in. He also said conservation
might, quote, "be a sign of personal virtue but is not a sufficient basis for
a sound, comprehensive energy policy," unquote. Do you think the Bush
administration's interest in conservation, that their emphasis in conservation
has changed at all since September 11th?

Mr. ROBERTS: I'm sure it probably has. I mean, you know, they came in
swinging. They were going to fix all the problems that had been allowed to
fester by a certain unnamed, you know, Democratic administration, who had
essentially allowed the country's ability to supply itself of energy to fail.
You know, we were going to drill more oil wells. We were going to build more
refineries, more power plants, more natural gas pipelines. And we were going
to make America, again, a nation that produces the energy that it needs. I
think since then, you know, they have to have come to the conclusion that
there's going to have to be some focus on reducing demand or at least
controlling demand. There was some talk about making SUVs more fuel
efficient, maybe getting them to be a mile and a half--you know, you get a
mile and a half more per gallon. But, I mean, that's ridiculous.
Statistically, that's irrelevant, and the administration knows it. They're
still not focusing on conservation, although they're probably much less
willing to come out and say so.

GROSS: President Bush advocates funding for research into hydrogen fuel
cells, which could possibly power automobiles as an alternative to gas. What
is the outlook for hydrogen fuel cells as an energy alternative?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, hydrogen has attracted a lot of attention 'cause it has
such great potential, and the administration certainly played the hydrogen
card really effectively. They've said, `Look, let's not go overboard trying
to save oil right now because the future is hydrogen. We're going to invest
in hydrogen. We're going to build these cars that are clean. They burn
hydrogen. You know, there's no emissions other than steam, and they're really
the future. And so that's what we're going to do.'

And there's a couple of things people need to realize. The first is that the
administration has really dedicated a relatively small amount of money to
developing hydrogen. You know, it's nothing compared to how much that the US
government grants in terms of subsidies and tax breaks to the oil and gas
industry. You know, it's a drop in the bucket. So if we are truly interested
in building a hydrogen future, we'd be spending, you know, like, $10 billion a
year, and we're not. We're not even coming close.

The second thing is even if we were able to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell car
that was cost effective--and you have to keep in mind that right now, although
they're really wonderful machines, they're superexpensive. The fuel cell has
still got a number of engineering hurdles that need to be crossed before
people like you and me can go out and buy them. Now let's say, however, that
those hurdles had been passed and that we had fuel-cell cars that were cost
competitive with cars that we have right now, where you going to get the fuel?
You still have to build this massive hydrogen fueling infrastructure. You
know, you have to have refineries, you have to have pipelines, you have to
have special trucks.

You know, hydrogen is this extremely tricky, you know, fuel to handle. You
have to basically compress it or freeze it to turn it into a liquid. And
essentially, you know, you're going to have to come up with some way to
dispense it at a service station that someone like you or I could do without
killing ourselves, you know? So there's that whole process that hasn't--I
mean, people are looking at it. There are a lot of smart people that are
looking at exactly how to do that, but it's going to be challenging
technically. It's going to be superexpensive to go ahead and refit enough
service stations to have hydrogen.

You know, they figure you need at least one in three. That was the lesson we
learned from, you know, having diesel cars on the road--was that you needed to
have at least one in three or a minimum of one and four service stations
selling diesel before consumers felt comfortable enough, you know, buying a
diesel vehicle. So you're going to need something like that for hydrogen as

GROSS: Well, what about automobile makers? Do you think that the automakers
would like to invest in hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, they are. They are. They went crazy in the '90s. I
mean, for decades they just pooh-poohed hydrogen. They thought it would never
happened. Then you had a company in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ballard
Power, make some incredible advances in shrinking the fuel cell, which has
been these gigantic, bulky, heavy things--making it small enough to put into a
car and then really working to bring the cost down. When that happened, you
know, Detroit said, `Whoa, you know, we're falling behind here. We're going
to get blown away once again,' and they started investing substantially.
Toyota, General Motors, Ford, all of them began investing in various ways.
But although the fuel-cell research is moving ahead and although advances are
being made, there are still these obstacles that are really frightening to a
car industry that's already having enough trouble making a buck even with
gasoline-powered cars. You know, as far as they're concerned, the future is

GROSS: Have you driven one?

Mr. ROBERTS: Not yet. I'm still waiting. There's still quite a waiting list
to get the Toyota Prius, which is a problem. I mean, you know, just as people
are starting to get excited about these hybrids, it's hard to get them. And I
think people are looking at that, they're saying, `Well, it's going to be hard
to buy them. What about the repair? I mean, you know, like, if my Prius
breaks down and I take it to my local shop and the guy's never seen anything
like it before, what am I supposed to do?' But that said, these are fairly
small engineering challenges, and in the long term, you can apply this hybrid
technology to just about anything. You know, you can apply it to not only
just these small cars but SUVs. I mean, Ford just licensed Toyota's hybrid
technology, and that's huge. I mean, you know, we're beginning to see the
possibility that Americans can have their cake and eat it, too, at least in
terms of cars.

GROSS: Do you think that most experts have given up on solar power and wind
power as being good alternative sources of energy?

Mr. ROBERTS: No. A lot of--the US has given up on those, but in Europe, I
mean, wind is huge. It's just if you go to Europe in the past five years and
anywhere take one of the high-speed trains and go out the countryside, it's
just wind farms everywhere. And, you know, they are serious about it. They
have a strong government support, and they subsidize their wind farmers. And
they made it a law that utilities have to buy power from wind farmers. So
they've really created this network that's very supportive of the wind farm.
In Japan, they are going crazy with solar, you know? They're making huge
advances in efficiency of these solar panels. They're subsidizing homeowners
to put them on their roofs. You know, they're building up this market. They
know that it's not cost effective now, but if you begin, you know, scaling up
your solar base, costs will come down and people will begin--it will be cost

So those are two examples of, you know, where alternative energies are
working. But what's important to keep in mind is these were both areas that
the US had dominance in at some point in its own history and has essentially
surrendered it. You know, the Japanese now dominate solar, Europe dominates
the wind, and the US is kind of sitting back and going, `Well, you know, we'll
buy that if it makes sense. We'll buy that if the market tells us we should
buy it.'

And although wind is really picking up here in the US, it's slow and it's not
moving in a comprehensive way. It's not moving as part of a national
strategy. It's simply moving into markets where it makes sense, you know, in
small areas. And although that's a good start and it's important for people
to begin to see that wind can work, it really should be part of a national
strategy that asks, `Where do we want to be in 20 years from now or 30 years
from now, and what kind of energy do we want to be using? And how is that
going to fit into any sort of a climate policy?'--and taking all that into
account and saying, `OK, now what part of that strategy can wind take care of?
What part can solar? And then what other kinds of technologies do we need to
start developing? You know, how do we target our investment dollars, our
research dollars?'

GROSS: If countries succeed in moving away from an oil economy, either
because they want to or because they have no choice, what changes--I mean, do
you see the whole world order changing when that happens, since so much of the
world revolves around oil right now?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, it depends how quickly that happens. I mean, there are
essentially two scenarios to move into a post-oil order. The first is the
real nasty one. That's where a country like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela falls
into civil war, and all of a sudden you have, in the case of Saudi Arabia, you
know, eight million barrels of oil of daily production taken off the market.
And it's chaos, it's oil price spikes, it's recession, and we're forced to cut
back our oil use and to rapidly develop alternatives, you know, which means
you'd get the quickest energy source you could, which in this country would be
coal. And that would be disastrous for our efforts to keep climate from
changing. So that's the bad scenario.

The good scenario is that you gradually move from an oil-dominated economy to
something else. And maybe today's high prices are the kind of a thing that
helps you move gradually. I mean, when prices get high like this, economies
are magnificent at adapting. We begin looking for--we use less oil. We begin
looking at alternatives. And if oil prices stayed high, like in the 35- to
$40-a-barrel range, which I think they're going to--I think that we should
just say right now--you know, my forecast is that we're going to be looking at
expensive oil for at least the next six years. And if prices stay that high,
the economy responds in ways that could be really positive.

You know, we could see a lot of move away from--you know, toward more
fuel-efficient cars, like hybrids. You know, consumers could finally say,
`Hey, you know, $3 gasoline is real.' We could see more investment in things
like wind and solar. We could see more investment in alternative
fuels--ethanol, for example, although that's got a whole set of complications
that are going to slow its emergence. But that's the kind of a slow scenario
that lets people adjust gradually, smoothly, without a huge amount of
disruption or economic pain. And, you know, it might be that 20 years from
now we find ourselves in this new energy economy that we kind of arrived at

Again, the alternative to that is the overnight disruption where we're forced
to move. And if that happens, if we are forced to move quickly, you know, our
choices are so limited that we're going to choose badly.

GROSS: Paul Roberts is the author of "The End of Oil."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, our critic at large, John Powers, considers the hundredth
birthday of "Peter Pan" and America's obsession with youth. Also, whether
they give you a headache or fulfill your shopping fantasies, you may wonder
why malls are designed the way they are. Coming up, we talk with Paco
Underhill, author of "Call of the Mall."

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Paco Underhill discusses his new book, "Call of the

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When you go to the shopping mall, you may wonder `Why? Why is it this big and
confusing? Why can't I find the store I'm trying to get to? Why can't I find
where I parked my car?' And, `Why does this mall look so much like every
other mall?' As Paco Underhill writes, `Somehow the glorious history of
commerce has culminated in a sanitized, architectural cliche in which you
typically find not exquisite treasures and exotic wares but, rather, 80
different styles of sneaker or 16 varieties of chocolate chip cookie.'
Actually, Underhill knows many of the reasons why malls look the way they do,
and he reveals some of them in his new book, "Call of the Mall." Underhill
studies consumer behavior and runs a company which has consulted with large
retailers around the world. His previous book was called "Why We Buy."

Let's begin as you begin your book, which is in the car pulling up to the mall
and looking for a parking spot. What are the typical strategies for deciding
where to park?

Mr. PACO UNDERHILL (Author, "Call of the Mall"): I think that varies whether
the mall is a familiar place to you or it's not. Most malls have what we call
a stranger entrance, which is if you're not a regular patron of the mall,
that's the one entrance that you gravitate towards. Often it's the visually
closest to wherever you've gotten off the highway. For somebody who knows the
mall, there's generally some strategy as to where they're going, though
certainly there is nothing at all about a mall parking lot that helps you out
with the process.

GROSS: Oh, I'll tell you, and you're almost guaranteed to lose your car when
you come out the other end at the end of the day. Do they want you to get
lost? I mean, why is it--there are times you can't even find an indicator of
where you're parked.

Mr. UNDERHILL: I think one of the ironies about our shopping culture in North
America is that merchants and marketers ignore the fact that our shopping
experience generally starts and ends in the parking lot. And no matter how
great the price or how wonderful the experience is, if the act of getting in
the door and getting out the door isn't more pleasant, we may make the choice
to take our money and our time somewhere else.

GROSS: Now you write in the book, you know, consider before going into the
mall just strolling around the outside. It will be one of the more joyless
promenades you have ever made. That is true. Why is that so true?

Mr. UNDERHILL: I think there are a couple of reasons. First is that malls
start with a leasing agent, a spreadsheet and a real estate lawyer and that
the aesthetics of the mall generally come somewhere down the line. Somebody
very accurately described most malls in North America to me as boxes with
mouse holes in them.

GROSS: So you think the people who create the mall and who are renting to the
stores don't really think about the people coming in?

Mr. UNDERHILL: I think most malls here in the US are more than 20 years old,
and most of them were thrown up in a frenzy of activity with no real thought
as to how long they were supposed to last. I can't imagine more than a
handful of malls across the US ever winning landmark status. Can you?

GROSS: No, absolutely not. And are you saying that because they're not built
to last or because you wouldn't want them to last?

Mr. UNDERHILL: I think it's a combination of the two. I think as we go into
the 21st century, there are malls now that are constructed and integrated into
a community in a much more thoughtful way and that they are used as part of a
larger, greater plan. And in that sense they have both architectural as well
as socially redeeming values.

GROSS: Why don't we pause here and let me ask you to describe your very
favorite mall to us, if you have one.

Mr. UNDERHILL: I wish I could say that I have a favorite mall. There are a
few that I tend to gravitate to. Short Hills in New Jersey is a very short
drive from my home in Lower Manhattan. I tend to go out once a year and do my
obligatory personal shopping. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a
mall in Barcelona I like a lot called Diagonal. It has a real spark to it and
is part of a larger redevelopment complex along the south side of the city
that's quite impressive. On the other hand, as a 52-year-old man, I love
going to malls in Brazil because they are a fashion parade. They're
incredibly loud because everyone's wearing fashionable shoes. The clatter of
mules and stilettos on the tile floor is absolutely deafening.

GROSS: It always seems to me that shopping malls have the same stores. Now
the high-end malls and the low-end malls and the medium malls might have a
variation. But, you know, all the high-end stores seem to have the low mall
same stores and all the low-end malls seem to have the same stores. Is it
ever possible for independent businesses to set up shop in a mall? It doesn't
seem to happen very much.

Mr. UNDERHILL: You know, this is a very interesting question because we
exist in a curious dichotomy in our merchant/financial culture. Wall Street
has increasingly asked the merchant community to grow as fast as they can, not
in terms of necessarily just sales but doors, the number of locations. Part
of the problem is once you design a huge fleet, it's tough to fill all of the
shelves and make those shelves particularly diverse. If I'm, you know,
Wal-Mart or I'm Kmart, the buying engine that I have to fill my shelves can't
afford to buy differently for a store in Spokane than they do a store in
Birmingham, Alabama. I think at no point in our history now is the
opportunity more open for an independent merchant to bring product to the
public's face that they're just not finding in other places because they, as
independent merchants, can afford to buy from the smaller suppliers than the
larger stores can.

GROSS: But you don't see them in malls, do you?

Mr. UNDERHILL: I think what you're seeing now is the landlords recognizing
that they have a dilemma, which is the independent merchant often makes them
interesting. But the independent merchant is often unwilling to pay the rent
that a major chain is because an independent merchant often has higher costs.

GROSS: Right. When it comes to malls, how big is too big? You know, one of
the great things about a mall, if you like malls, is that there's a lot of
choice, there's a lot of stores. At some point it gets so big that it's just
such a headache. You know, the parking lot's a headache. Getting from one
place to another that you might want to go to is a headache. It's just kind
of exhausting. It's...

Mr. UNDERHILL: One of the scale issues here I think deals with the center of
gravity, and there is a reason why Mall of America is outside of Minneapolis;
that it is a shopping gravity that exists somewhere between Chicago and San
Francisco and, therefore, is able to generate traffic that comes often from a
significant distance, whereas where you sit in Philadelphia or I sit here in
New York, our choice of shopping venues is almost infinite. One of the issues
we face in the year 2004 is that no one is building a shopping mall today to
service a brand-new market. We are building a shopping mall today to steal
somebody else's market. We also recognize that the primary driver of shopping
malls, which is adult women, have gone through a profound change in 25 years.
Seventy percent of adult women work outside the home. That means that they
have the multiple tasks of being often mother, spouse, bread earner as well as
purchasing agent. And that's a very different state than they existed in 30
years ago when most shopping malls were built.

GROSS: There's so many malls that are dead now. They've expired. What
happens to the dead malls?

Mr. UNDERHILL: The lucky ones get reinvented in some way. Some of them get
reinvented in some parts of the country as ethnic malls. They become an Asian
mall, or they become a Latino mall. Some of them get lucky when they're
bought by a church or some other organization that makes the transformation.
The rest of them, Terry, I think are, you know, destined for a bulldozer and a

GROSS: Yeah, and not landmark status.

Mr. UNDERHILL: And not landmark status.

GROSS: My guest is Paco Underhill, author of the book "Call of the Mall."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Paco Underhill is my guest, and he's an expert on how people shop and
why they buy what they buy, where they buy it and so on. He consults to many
shopping malls and stores and banks. And he's the author of the new book
"Call of the Mall."

There's something you say in the book that I thought was really
interesting--is that, you know, a lot of men really think of themselves as
hating the malls and--but for younger men, this is like the generation that
grew up thinking of the mall as the place where you get away from the parents.
It's the first place they drop you off where you're on your own, where you
meet your friends and just hang out with them. And so a mall is a much more
hospitable place for younger men than for older men. That's interesting. I
never thought of it that way.

Mr. UNDERHILL: Most of us who are over age 40 recognize that the mall is
bogus. We have some childhood connection to Main Street. At age 52 I would
not call up one of my buddies and say, `Meet me at the mall. Let's spend the
afternoon.' But if I'm 19 or 25, much less 13, that's very acceptable way
for two men to spend some time together.

GROSS: Now you're--what do you call yourself? A retail anthropologist?

Mr. UNDERHILL: No, Terry, that's what the press calls me.

GROSS: I see. OK.

Mr. UNDERHILL: I call myself a bald, stuttering, middle-aged, research wonk.

GROSS: That's right. You do call yourself that in the book. You spent so
many years studying how shoppers move through stores, how the placement of
things helps determine what's purchased. How did you get so interested in
that? Because you also confess in your book that you're not a shopper. So
why are you even interested in it?

Mr. UNDERHILL: I was originally a poor, part-time adjunct instructor in a
doctoral program in environmental psychology here in New York City. And on
one of the research projects I was working on, I was on the roof of a building
in Seattle. It was 60 floors up. There was a stiff wind blowing. The
building was sort of rocking in the breeze, particularly up at the top. And I
really dislike heights. And as I, you know, lashed my cameras at the edge of
that building looking down at the streets below, I realized I had to reinvent

And about a week later I was standing in a bank in New York City getting
madder by the moment, and it occurred to me there that the same tools that I'd
been using to look at what makes a good street or the dynamics of a public
sitting area or how a bus stop works or to compare the design of different
types of trash cans in an urban setting--that I probably could take inside a
store or a bank and look at what makes a good store or a bank. I'm very proud
of the fact that it's now 25 years later and the firm that I founded--I think
last year we executed projects in 27 countries across the globe looking at
prototype stores and prototype banks.

GROSS: You mention in your book that you grew up in Third World countries
because your father was a diplomat. So you were actually out of touch with
American popular culture because you weren't growing up with it. Does that
connect your interest in malls and to retail?

Mr. UNDERHILL: I think so here. I think of malls as being the dipstick of
our culture; that much of human civilization is wrapped up in the exchange of
goods and money. It's what drove us across the Atlantic to the New World.
It's what constructed the silk routes. It's what invented the clipper ship.
It is one of the places where we can see the evolving nature of the human
condition. And, you know, for better or for worse, I think it's evidence of
who we are and what we are and where we're going and also where we've been.

GROSS: Do you believe that there's such a thing as mall exhaustion and that
at some point your average shopper will say, `I can't take it anymore. I'm
getting out of here'?

Mr. UNDERHILL: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And if so, what do you advise your clients about how to prevent that
from happening? Because it's their job to keep the consumer there as long as

Mr. UNDERHILL: Well, I think all of us have had mall exhaustion here. And
I've had it as much as anyone, perhaps more than anyone, because I've had to
spend so much time there. Couple of things: First is having a place to sit.
If you're a family having a quiet place to actually go regroup, there are many
new malls being built now as neovillages where they actually take off the
roots. And when you step out of the store, you get a hit of whatever the
weather is and a bit of oxygen and have to look at where the curb is. All of
those things are positive.

One of the factors that we advise our clients of is recognizing that time
comes in three forms--real time, perceived time and a combination of the
two--and that one of the most important things that any merchant or any
placemaker can do is have an impact on people's perceived time; that somehow I
get the sense that my time is being used well. I know where I am. I'm not
getting lost, or if I'm getting lost, it's because I've let myself get lost
deliciously. That honesty with the 21st century consumer I think is what
governs a successful shopping experience.

GROSS: Do you think malls are here to stay?

Mr. UNDERHILL: Terry, for you and I malls will be part of our future. They
may not be the same powerhouse that they were in 1985, but, yes, malls are
part of our future. Let's recognize something, though--is that retail follows
housing. There are many of us in the baby boomer generation that are deciding
now how we spend the last third of our lives. For some of us it may mean
moving back to a city. For some of us it's leaving the nest and moving
farther out. For some of us it may be having multiple houses. Whatever those
housing choices are, merchants and marketers are going to have to follow us
because between 60 and 70 percent of all discretionary income in North America
is in the hands of people who are 50 and over.

GROSS: Then how come so much of women's apparel is designed for anorexic

Mr. UNDERHILL: I asked that question as well as my significant only who is a
very proud and beautiful size 12.

GROSS: And your answer to the question?

Mr. UNDERHILL: When a merchant complains that somehow they aren't generating
the income, I tell them that they aren't following the money.

GROSS: Hm. OK. Well, one last question. When you go to a parking lot, can
you find your car when you're through? Do you write down, like, the name of
the store next to the entrance that you came into? Do you...

Mr. UNDERHILL: Well, it's even harder when you have a rental car, and all of
a sudden it occurs to you...

GROSS: You don't even know what your car is.

Mr. UNDERHILL: can't remember what it is or what color it was. I've
had that problem.

GROSS: Paco Underhill is the author of the new book "Call of the Mall."

Coming up, "Peter Pan" is turning 100, and critic at large John Powers is
thinking about our youth-obsessed culture.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Peter Pan becomes an enduring cultural symbol

"Peter Pan" turns 100 this year. J.M. Barrie's play was first performed in
London in 1904. Last year's movie adaptation by P.J. Hogan is now out on
DVD. Our critic at large John Powers takes a look at Peter Pan as an enduring
cultural symbol and says that Peter is an icon that fits our times.


Every era has mythic figures who express society's idea of itself. The Greeks
admired the noble Achilles and Hercules, who reflected their notions of the
heroic. The post-Renaissance world had Faust, Don Juan and Robinson Crusoe,
who expressed the birth of modern individualism. And us? Our world has Peter
Pan. This eternal boy turns 100 this year, looking every bit as fresh-faced
as he did back in 1904 and even more culturally relevant.

Like so many legends, Peter was created in a time of social uncertainty.
Queen Victoria had just died after decades on the throne. The English had
just fought a nasty war in South Africa. And the stable world that people
knew was falling apart. J.M. Barrie's play "Peter Pan" reflected that
period's anxieties. And in his hero, he invented a figure who embodied the
seductive joy and brio of childhood.

Peter's the symbol of freedom from worry about all those adult things, like
history, social change or just making a living. But Peter Pan wasn't the only
model of youth being created in that period of cultural anxiety. Four years
later, in 1908, a war hero named Sir Robert Baden-Powell wrote "Scouting for
Boys," the book that created the Boy Scout movement. Baden-Powell was all
about turning young boys into serious mini adults. They were taught to be
sober, responsible, civic-minded. They were taught to always be prepared.

You might say that the next hundred years was one long duel between these two
different visions of youth: the irresponsible Peter Pan and the
hyperresponsible Boy Scout. And at first Baden-Powell's vision seemed to be
the winner. The first half of the 20th century was filled with events, two
World Wars, a Great Depression and the beginnings of the Cold War. It
demanded the maturity of everyone, old and young. The brave boys who fought
in the trenches or stormed Normandy Beach were in the best sense `Boy Scouts,'
although nobody could have been prepared for what befelled them.

But things began to change in the 1950s when the West, especially America,
entered the most prosperous period in human history. For the first time ever,
ordinary people had the freedom, money and leisure time to pursue their own
pleasure. And increasingly those pleasures were youthful. It's hardly an
accident that it was precisely then that Americans should watch Mary Martin
play Peter Pan on nationwide TV singing the famous anthem.

(Soundbite of "Peter Pan" anthem)

Ms. MARY MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) Are you ready for today's lesson?

Group of Children: (In unison) Yes, Peter.

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) Now listen to your teacher. Repeat after me.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I won't grow up.

Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) I won't grow up.

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I don't want to go to school...

Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) I don't want to go to school...

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) ...just to learn to be a parrot...

Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) ...just to learn to be a parrot...

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) ...and recite a silly rule.

Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) ...and recite a silly rule.

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) If growing up means it would be beneath
my dignity to climb a tree...

Ms. MARTIN & Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) I'll never grow up,
never grow up, never grow up.

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) Not me.

Unidentified Boy #1: (Singing) Not I.

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) Not me.

Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) Not me.

Ms. MARTIN: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I won't grow up.

Group of Children: (In unison) (Singing) I won't grow up.

POWERS: By now, of course, the obsession with youth has grown almost
pathological. Physically more and more people have become devoted to keeping
their bodies young, or at least young-looking, through hours at the gym, fanny
tucks, injections of Botox to fight wrinkles. They even have surgery to have
their voices made more youthful-sounding. This is the era of the extreme
makeover on and off TV.

This same fixation has colonized our psyches. Where people were once
considered adults at 18 or 21, countless Americans now hold on to their
childhoods until they're at least 30, and increasingly this is thought normal.
We almost mistrust those who grow up too quickly. You can see this in our
politics, where ever since boyish John Kennedy beat the never-young Richard
Nixon, we've preferred our presidents to seem youthful, even when, like Ronald
Reagan, they were actually quite old.

Never was this clearer than in the 2000 election where Al Gore was almost the
perfect Boy Scout. One imagined him being prepared and dutiful his entire
life. George W. Bush had an almost perfect Peter Pan resume. By his own
admission, this longtime party boy didn't get serious about life until he was
40. But far from holding that against him, America preferred that easygoing
background to Gore's wonkishness. It made Bush a regular guy, not a grind, in
days when the term `Boy Scout' is often used as a put-down.

Of course, in creating "Peter Pan," Barrie wasn't just celebrating youth.
He's also suggesting its limitations. After all, Wendy eventually goes home
from Neverland to get on with the serious business of living. But like so
many mythical figures, Peter has escaped his creator's original intention.
Even after 9/11 supposedly sobered us all up and unleashed our inner `Boy
Scout,' we're still living in the age of Peter Panism. These days Barrie's
eternal youth isn't somebody to be outgrown. He's someone to be emulated.

GROSS: John Powers is deputy editor and media columnist for LA Weekly.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "I'm Flying")

Unidentified Boy #2: (As John) Peter, can you really fly?

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Giggles) I'll teach you.

Unidentified Girl: (As Wendy) Oh, how lovely to fly.

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) I'll teach you how to jump on the wind's
back and away we'll go.

Unidentified Girl: (As Wendy) Oh!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) Wendy, when you're sleeping in your silly
bed, you might be flying about with me saying funny things to the stars.

Unidentified Girl: (As Wendy) How do you do it?

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts,
and up you'll go!

Unidentified Girl: (As Wendy) Oh, how sweet!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) I'm sweet. I'm sweet.

Children: (In unison) Flying!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I'm flying.

Children: (In unison) Flying! Flying! Flying!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) Look at me, way up high,
suddenly here am I. I'm flying.

Children: (In unison) Oh, look!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I'm flying.

Children: (In unison) Flying! Flying! Flying!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I can soar, I can weave. And
what's more, I'm not even trying.

Unidentified Boy #3: Oh, wonderful!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) High up and as light as I can
be, I must be a sight lovely to see.

Children: (In unison) Oh, yes, you are!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) I'm flying.

Children: (In unison) Flying! Flying! Flying!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) Nothing will stop me now, higher
still, look at how I can zoom around way up off the ground. I'm flying. I
fly and I'm all over the place. You try, and you'll fall flat on your face.
I'm flying...

Children: (In unison) Flying! Flying! Flying!

Unidentified Woman: (As Peter Pan) (Singing) ...over bed, over chair, duck
your head, clear the air. Oh, what lovely fun. Watch me, everyone. Take a
look at me and see how easily it's done. I'm flying.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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