Thursday, March 31, 2011

On The Rise: Joyful Drake

There are many factors that come into play when trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood. You need to have drive, thick skin, and an undeniable quality that makes you shine over the rest. Joyful Drake, star on BET’s new hit series Let’s Stay Together, knew that acting was her calling and has possessed two of these necessary qualities since the age of six. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Drake was a small town girl who always knew that she wanted to be in the spotlight.

“I was very witty as a child, and would always find a way to keep my family and friends entertained. It was something that always came natural for me.” said Drake.

By the age of nine, Drake channeled that desire to entertain, and got involved in several school plays. The first on her resume; playing an orphan in Annie.

“This was such a big deal to me at the time, because it was my chance to show everyone that I was serious about acting. I practiced my lines in front of the mirror many times the night before, and even thought about different facial expressions that I wanted to make. I was ready.” she explained.

The small part boosted Drake’s overall confidence, as she received positive feedback from her family. It was in that moment, she realized that acting was the path that she wanted to follow.
As she continued her schooling, Drake became involved in many other activities. She was a cheerleader for her high school basketball team, and was even voted homecoming princess during her senior year. At the same time, Drake became interested in modeling, and dedicated her free time to local opportunities.

“There weren’t many acting gigs when I was living in Milwaukee. Modeling was the next best thing in which I could express myself in front of the camera. I did a couple of print ads for jcpenney’s and also a few local fashion shows. It was my way of putting myself out there, and getting some type of exposure.”

After graduating from high school, Drake attended college at the University of Wisconsin, which is also around the time she started dancing for the Milwaukee Bucks. She described the experience as:

“A time when I was again, trying to put myself out there, and show the world what I had to offer. Being a dancer for the Milwaukee Bucks boosted my confidence, and gave me even more drive to follow my dreams.”

Drake danced with the team for over two years, and then decided to pack her bags and move to New York to pursue acting full time.

Drake explained, “I was ready to go for it! New York seemed like the best place to get my feet wet, and make some things happen. I got a part time job at Columbia Records, working over artist’s accounts and I was taking acting classes at the same time.”

These acting classes were taken by Drake in Manhattan, with an acting coach by the name of Marion Thompson. Thompson described her first class with Drake,

“She seemed excited to learn and I was ready to prepare her for a future in the industry.”

The two worked together for a few months, before Drake landed her first role on the Showtime drama Soul Food.

“I taught Joyful how to connect with her inner feelings and express herself through her characters. As an actor you have to be completely open and unafraid, and that was something which came easy for her.” said Thompson.

Drake gives much credit to Thompson, and explained that,

“I probably wouldn’t be in this position today without her. She helped guide me, and showed me how to break out of my shell as an actor.”

Following her recurring role as Tamara on Soul Food, Drake landed roles on other hit television shows such as One on One and Cuts. She also appeared in her first major film in 2005, co-staring Queen Latifah and Alicia Silverstone titled Beauty Shop. Drake explained that,

“Working with Queen Latifah and Alicia Silverstone was a great experience. I sat there and watched them go, and thought about how blessed I was to even have a role in such a film.”

Drake’s former roommate, Diana Ashworth, recounts living with Drake during that time, and explained Drake’s mindset through it all.

“Everything kind of happened back to back. First One on One, then Cuts and Beauty Shop. The thing about Joy that I respect is the fact that she’s persistent. When she wants something, she pushes for it and gets it. It’s how she has always been. Her success up to this point makes sense, because she’s worked hard for it.”

Ashworth goes on to state that,

“Joyful has never lost track of who she is, which is why people are drawn to her and want her in their TV shows and films. She’s talented, humble, and always excited to take on a new challenge.”

After her role in Beauty Shop, Drake acted in such films as Phat Girlz co-starring Mo’nique, and also Get Him to the Greek starring Russell Brand and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Today, Drake co-stars in BET’s new scripted television show Let’s Stay Together as Tasha Lawrence-Woodson, a sexy housewife and mother of twins. Drake explained how she feels about playing such a character,

“It’s a lot of fun. As an actor, I love playing characters that take me away from my normal self. So playing a housewife with twins is definitely new for me. I also enjoy the comedic aspect of the show, because I love a good laugh. Tasha is entertaining to watch, because she’s real and proves you can have multiple roles and still be sexy.”

The show is part of BET’s new Tuesday line-up, following the fan favorite The Game.

“I love how both shows come on during the same night. You’re able to get two different perspectives on relationships.”

Drake’s show Let’s Stay Together airs on Tuesdays at 10:30 PM on BET.

*photo courtesy of:*

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Competitive Edge of Walmart

In today’s economy, it’s a fight to stay consistent amongst retailers around the nation. In a time where consumers are constantly looking for the best deals before spending their hard earned money, it is now necessary to have a competitive attitude for any company in this tough market. Big businesses such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy are just a few of the major retailers who have been able to prosper and remain somewhat ahead of the curve compared to others. This in part is due to the simple fact that these three companies have been known for fitting their prices around the consumer. Majority of shoppers aren’t going to spend extra at one store, when they know they are guaranteed a low price at one of these locations. But even though Target and Best Buy have these low prices, neither have been able to truly compete with Wal-Mart, whose current slogan is “Save money. Live better”. This universal idea has led Wal-Mart to billions of dollars made in sales, and has even made it harder for any small business in the market trying to compete. Many of these small businesses have completely folded within the last few years, or have had to adjust their prices drastically to maintain.

Wal-Mart store manager Ryan Wilson explained, “Wal-Mart is a company that has always had the best interest of the customer. At this store in particular, we focus on giving the best customer service possible and also make sure that our rollback prices are up to date and are on clear display.” Over the years, Wal-Mart has advertised these rollback prices in all of their weekly flyers and many of their commercials and national ad campaigns. Most recently, the company created a fictional character by the name of Mr. Rollback for commercials, who highlights all the rollback prices in the store and showcases the customer excitement. Wilson added, “The whole idea of rollback prices is to show the original higher price compared to the much lower mark down price. When customers see this, they are able to get a better understanding of how much money they are actually saving.” Has this well-crafted marketing technique by Wal-Mart been effective? “It has definitely been effective. If we didn’t show rollback prices in the store, customers would be both unaware of how much they are saving and would more than likely question if other stores have lower prices on the same item. Another thing is this, if one of our competitors have a lower price on the same item, we can match that price with a valid ad from that particular store” said Wilson.

This brings up a valid point. Wal-Mart actually has had a competitive edge over many companies because they match prices. Other big retail chains such as Borders, a bookstore that is now going out of business, never matched prices on their books, movies, or music, which ultimately led to their fate today. In this type of economy, you have to match prices to stay in business, because the majority of consumers don’t mind making a trip to the stores with the lower prices. Retail chains like Best Buy have grasped this idea, and are now price matching without a problem. Target on the other hand does not do this, and continues to stick by the policies they made from the start. Wilson added, “If you walk into most Wal-Mart stores today, you will see an area that has every competitor ad from the weekly newspaper displayed. This is something that corporate makes top priority for all stores.”

Wal-Mart market manager Pam Johnson said, “When I visit the stores in my area, one of the main things I stress to all the store managers and assistant managers is to showcase competitor ads. The customers have to know that we match prices, but also need to see that we offer the best prices.” It’s hard to argue against Wal-Mart having the best prices, because typically they do. Johnson then added, “Because of rollback signs throughout the stores, competitor ad’s in front of the stores, and having associates in their areas who are knowledgeable about the great deals we offer, the market is doing fantastic.” When asked about how the company is doing as a whole, “Sales reports for most of the stores nationwide have been right on track. Based on proximity, some stores are doing better than others, but in my market alone sales have doubled within the past year.”

Recent news reports have criticized Wal-Mart for taking away sales from many small businesses around the nation. The fact that the popular retail chain mainly consists of supercenters which sell groceries, apparel, electronics, and much more, has completely eliminated the need for most people to go to smaller stores. Residents in New York City seem to be against the addition of Wal-Mart supercenters, in that it would take away from successful small businesses that have been thriving for years. Johnson explained, “Wal-Mart is a one stop shop, that’s how they’ve been set up. Families visit our stores and purchase everything they need all at once. You can get your groceries, a new TV, and even items for your home without having to travel from store to store.” Wal-Mart has also helped eliminate many of the popular movie rental locations such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, due to the fact that the stores now carry Redbox, in which you can rent movies for only one dollar.

Jon Anderson, store manager of one of the Blockbuster’s currently in the process of closing said, “Wal-Mart has definitely had an effect on Blockbuster, along with Netflix and other things. Why rent a new release for five dollars, when you can rent it for cheap.” Anderson made a valid point. Along with updates in technology, where you can rent movies through Netflix, the Redbox has been crushing competition. “It doesn’t make sense to drive to Blockbuster from Wal-Mart to get a movie anymore. The Redbox is right there as you’re leaving the store” added Johnson.

Ultimately, Wal-Mart is a thriving business that has been able to maintain itself throughout the economic downturn. By grasping the idea “everything goes,” the company continues to have a true competitive edge.