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On Home Shopping, Rodman shows he has a head for sales

Dennis Rodman is thinking about changing his uniform number, writing a second book and getting ready to host a weekly show on MTV this fall.

Such esoterica wasn't culled from the sports pages. It came from the National Basketball Association rebounding champ's two-hour appearance hawking Chicago Bulls paraphernalia on Home Shopping Network last week.

Except for his silver nail polish, Rodman was far more subdued than his flamboyant reputation. He kept his dyed-golden hair tucked under a baseball cap, his eyes hidden behind wraparound sunglasses and his tattoos under the wraps of an urban chic mechanic's shirt. HSN bleeped his language only once.

Charming to the two dozen fans who called in, Rodman nonetheless talked about money more than basketball. At one point, he went on about how he expects as a free agent to make millions more than the $2.5-million the Bulls paid him this year. This while 330 fans at home were forking out $130 apiece to HSN for his autographed picture on a Sports Illustrated cover.

"If they're going to pay younger players $16-million a year, what the hell am I doing?" he said. "I've been in the league 10 years. I've paid my dues. The money they're paying (NBA players today) is ridiculous, but there's nobody to blame but the owners. This league is going to be in trouble in two years" because of skyrocketing player salaries.

HSN was pleased with Rodman's performance and his ability to draw new viewers. Twenty-three percent of the sales during the show came from first-time HSN customers.


And 14 percent just want to dress like Regis Philbin

Amid all the finger-pointing over who should police the exploitation of apparel workers in Third World countries, retailers are doing as much handwringing as Kathie Lee Gifford.

One trade group weighed in last week with the sort of research _ a poll _ that might move Washington politicians to lay off.

It asked 1,000 consumers how much more they are willing to add to their monthly clothing bill to ensure they are not buying apparel or shoes made in sweatshops or by child labor.

"Nearly half (43 percent) would spend less than $10 a month or nothing at all," declared the International Mass Retail Association in a press release, noting that the average consumer spends $1,676 a year on clothing and footwear.

Sounds like nobody cares about sweatshops. But unmentioned were the rest of the results: 22 percent were willing to pay more than $100 extra a month, 16 percent were willing to spend $50 to $100 more a month, 5 percent were willing to spend $30 to $49 more a month and 14 percent were willing to spend $11 to $29 more a month.

In other words, 57 percent of the respondents were willing to pay a hefty premium to ensure their clothes and shoes are not made in sweatshops. And the percentage unwilling to pay anything was exceeded by those willing to double their annual apparel bill.

"We think people either did not understand the question or that we got a very emotional response," said Robin Lanier, IMRA vice president for international trade. "Obviously we need to ask more questions next time."

IMRA is the voice of the discount chains. It's biggest member is Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which created Kathie Lee Gifford's apparel line.


They'd celebrate, but they can't afford a cake

Sometimes, bigger isn't better.

An analysis by Property Insurance Report, a respected industry newsletter, says the state-run Joint Underwriting Association has become the 14th-largest provider of homeowner's insurance in the nation. In 1995, its premiums reached nearly $340-million.

Granted, the JUA is still dwarfed by the country's two biggest home insurers _ State Farm, with $6.1-billion in premiums, and Allstate, with $3-billion.

But the ranking is yet another reminder of how critical the JUA's problems have become.

The JUA, the state's insurer of last resort for homeowners, wouldn't be able to pay all of its claims if a big hurricane struck a major urban area. It has grown too big, too fast, and doesn't have access to enough cash.

That means everybody with homeowner's insurance in Florida might have to help pay the JUA's claims should a storm strike.

So the JUA isn't just big, it's gargantuan _ as a source of worry for Floridians.


Face it: There is no good time to deal with the IRS

It's been tougher to get through to a live person on the Internal Revenue Service's toll-free number this summer than it was during tax season.

"This is a peak season for calls, and we have less than half the number of people answering phones than we have during tax season," said Holger Euringer, IRS spokesman for the north Florida district that includes the Tampa Bay area.

During tax season, the IRS adds temporary workers to beef up the phone staff in Jacksonville, where Tampa Bay calls are answered, to about 450. During the past two weeks, there have been only 150 to 200 people on duty. Euringer said year-round employees are more likely to be out for vacation or training during the summer.

This is a busy time for the IRS because many taxpayers call during the summer in response to IRS notices asking questions about taxes they have or haven't paid.

Euringer recommends calling early in the morning _ the lines open at 7:30 a.m. _ and later in the week. Mondays and Tuesdays are the worst days to call the number, (800) 829-1040.


Drink enough, and anyone's economy looks promising

A lesson from economist Lynn Reaser: To understand why trade with Latin America hasn't lived up to early predictions, you have to understand the "tequila effect."

It's the spillover from Mexico's serious economic problems in 1994, when the value of the peso plunged, says Reaser, who works for Barnett Banks Inc. in Jacksonville.

Before the country ran into trouble, U.S. companies and investors were crowing about the promise of trade with Latin America, as the countries there, especially tequila-maker Mexico, appeared to be gearing up for major economic growth.

But that enthusiasm cooled with Mexico's ills. And as a result, trade with Latin America didn't grow as fast as many folks expected.

Yet Reaser sees signs that the hangover from Mexico's problems is passing and predicts trade will accelerate. And Florida, thanks to its geography and cultural ties to Latin America, stands to benefit more than most states.

So raise a glass to the future. And make it a shot of tequila.