business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reader Henry Stein sent me an email about last week's In Conversation piece with Joshua Siegel, COO of the Titan Casket Company:

Amazingly educational and provocative interview with Joshua Siegel at Titan Caskets. Clearly a guy and company that recognized an unfulfilled consumer need, satisfied only by a near monopoly. No doubt, Joshua is well grounded and thinking way outside the box……

And, from another reader:

Just a wonderful interview ! Could not help but recall the “Chuckles the Clown “episode from the Mary Tyler Moore show years ago.

One of the funniest episodes of television ever produced…

On the subject of growing sales of private label, one MNB reader wrote:

Private label is still just okay.  Even though there have been strides made towards improving quality, for most retailers it still does not match the quality of branded.  The consumers know this too.  The other issue I see facing more PL is that most retailers do not drive the PL like the brands do.  Unless you have “branded mentality” that drives PL, it will never meet the branded sales.  Also, add in the cost of goods along the entire supply chain, and you have PL costing that is much closer to branded.  Which hampers the ability for retailers to drive their PL direction.  PL is seen as a tool to separate them from their competition.  This may be true, but it also puts them on an island when it comes to cost of goods, instead of utilizing the brand efficiencies of scale.  It is a tricky path through a hedge of thorns.

And, continuing our conversation from last week about the importance of continued learning, MNB reader Steven Ritchey wrote:

Learning.  I am incessantly learning new things, from your site, from friends, from people I'm not friendly with.

I want to continue learning until the day I pass on from this life.

I have a good friend who is a true "Nerd."  He is the organist at my Methodist Church, yet is an ordained Lutheran Pastor.  I cannot begin to tell you all I have learned from this man, and not all about religion.  He sometimes calls me "Nerd Boy, " which from him is a high compliment.  He says it's because I'm insanely curious and am always asking questions, always wanting to know how something works, why one idea was successful and another one failed.

I'm with you, I want to be learning every day for the rest of my life, and maybe pass some knowledge on to others along the way.

Finally, this email on a number of subjects from MNB reader Brian Blank:

I’m a little of two minds about your report on the SoNo Collection.  We visited it for the first time on Labor Day of this year, coming back from a trip to Queens and LGA (returning our grandson to his parents who’d been in the City for a wedding).  We thought about making a trip into Manhattan, but decided we’d rather get back on the road, especially since the weather was promising rain.  We were very excited when the mall opened, but never made it down there to check it out…living in central CT, it quickly became apparent that by the time we got all the way to South Norwalk, we may as well just go to NYC; this time, it was kind of a spur of the moment decision to pull off the highway and check it out.

There were shoppers, but nothing crazy.  Labor Day would keep things slow, except that the weather *could* have driven people indoors since it wasn’t beach/pool weather.  But people here do tend to go out of town…  Also, the sheer size of the mall would disperse people.  The 3rd floor bar/restaurant at Nordstrom was quite enjoyable, and we encountered so many friendly and helpful staff at the Bloomingdale’s.  But other than Zara, there weren’t many support stores that pertained to us. (In fairness, Apple pertains to us, but we didn’t have any particular Apple needs that day.) Or for that matter, that I’d ever heard of—which could be indicative of our age, our gender, or our socio-eco (Hartford doing OK is different from Shoreline doing OK…).  We poked into a couple of stores but the stores I would automatically go into even if I didn’t *need* any thing (Vineyard Vines, Tommy Bahama, Gap, Banana Republic, to name a few) were notably absent.  I’m guessing at least two of those are probably well-established nearby with no need of joining a new mall.

My local shopping this holiday season bears out that malls are less crowded than before - however the people in them are buying.  I noted in your video that it was clearly daytime, when people are working and children are in school (unless you recorded it over the weekend).  COVID, flu and other concerns I’m sure are keeping children off of strangers’ laps.  My shopping trips have been after work and on weekends.  Yes, I remember not only pre-COVID days, but also pre-Amazon days—malls were jam packed and opened early and stayed open late.  Long gone, sometimes to my frustration, sometimes to my relief.  (Definite relief that I’m no longer a mall worker!)  With that in mind, maybe your daytime assessment of mall traffic was a little unfair, but I can also see the many reasons why it’s on point as well.  Was a giant honking 3 level mall the best decision this far into the new millennium?  Probably not.

Sorry for such a lengthy dissertation on a mall!

Your eye-opener mentioning the changing demographics of Americans identifying as “Christian”, or more to the point, Americans no longer identifying as Christian, was in fact an eye-opener, but not for the reasons one might expect.  I took particular note that the narrative was about people dropping out of the faith to whatever degree, and not the typical narrative of “ethnic replacement”, which was not only a relief, but strikes me as more honest.

Lastly, you have long been an advocate of lifelong learning, which reminds me of my grandfather on my mother’s side.  He passed away in 2011 at the age of 99, and loved learning the entire time.  One significant difference between you and my grandfather:  he retired, which started a whole new (and fortunately long) chapter of his life, full of enjoyment and the ability to continue seeing, doing and learning.  He loved his work (he owned a Super Dollar-later SuperValu store in my little hometown) but he appreciated being freed from it.  Then again, being your own boss is a bit different from being not only your own boss, but the boss of a whole store full of other people, isn’t it?