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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
by Michael Sansolo
No matter how studiously you’ve read the Bible, there’s a pretty good chance you know the story of Jonah and the whale. In contrast, few of us know the exact dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant, even though the same bible covers that pretty extensively.
People remember stories; we don’t do as well with details.
That’s why Kevin and I wrote “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies." Our idea was to give business people materials and metaphors that they could use in storytelling, to communicate to their employees, business partners and even customers.
Granted there have been great storytellers from the dawn of retail. Today every Whole Foods features near endless signage about products and producers, essentially telling stories aisle by aisle. Individual products in Trader Joe’s do the same and a small operator like Stew Leonard’s shows any size company can do the same.
A panel discussion I moderated last week at the California Grocers Association (CGA) Strategic Conference offered two interesting examples of storytelling, and one fascinating insight into its efficacy. CGA president Ron Fong’s team pulled together a creative program of Ido Leffler and Maxine Bedat, two businesspeople you’ve probably never encountered, but whose stories should catch your attention.
Leffler’s company provides two product lines that rely heavily on both narrative and consumer connection. “Yes To” health and beauty items lean heavily on the inclusion of produce items and “Yoobi” is a line of school supplies that highlight bright colors and donations to needy schools and students.
Bedat’s company, Zady.com, is all about helping connect trendy shoppers to the origins of their clothing by letting them know about the manufacturing and shipping process. Similar in ethos to the local food movement, Bedat says she offers “slow fashion.”
The question is: Do consumers really care? Do they want to take the time to absorb the stories? Can any story possibly create enough interest to outweigh other factors such as convenience and price? Leffler and Bedat argue they do.
Bedat argues that members of her generation are looking for a new kind of message, one that helps them understand the purchases they are making. Knowing that she competes with great sales at Kohl’s and Zara’s, Bedat’s hope she can educate shoppers on the difference between price and value.
Zady’s value, Bedat says, is “price per wear,” by featuring clothes that cost more, yet last and stay fashionable longer.
Likewise Leffler says connecting products to a cause gives shoppers a reason to change their purchase patterns. A sign of his success is the major back-to-school effort Yoobi ran exclusively with Target this year. It resulted in free supplies to hundreds of thousands of needy students.
It was an intriguing dialogue. But it was what happened next that really opened my eyes.
After the conference I received a note from a female attendee who said the women’s bathroom was abuzz following the session. The women felt Bedat and Leffler made a substantial point on the power of narrative and new directions in marketing and that their companies need to understand the change.
When that woman talked with a male colleague, she got a stunning rebuke. The men’s room, he said, was the opposite, with the guys questioning the value of what they just heard. Apparently the Venus and Mars thing goes into the bathroom too.
Bathroom chatter is hardly a scientific sample of anything and there will always be difference of opinion on any speaker or topic. Yet it strikes me that this divergence is reflective of something important - the gap between generations and genders, and why businesses need to think about telling their story more effectively to a customer base that hungers to hear them.
Tell a good story, and you may find yourself experiencing a happy ending.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here.
by Kevin Coupe
Smart management, as we all know, is typified by people who make smart decisions.
But sometimes, I would argue, smart management means not making a decision if you don't have to.
An example of not-so-smart management can be found - go figure - in the New York Mets, the baseball team for which I root and agonize and sometimes bleed.
Last week, a week before the end of the season, the team announced that it was retaining general manager Sandy Alderson, who has been running the team in a time of economic distress. (I won't go into the details here. If you'd don't know the situation and would like to, just Google "Mets," "Wilpon" and "Bernie Madoff.") Alderson then announced, a week before the end of the season, that manager Terry Collins also would return.
Now, Terry Collins, who seems like a good and decent guy, has been managing the Mets since 2010, and never has had a winning record. I think he hasn't always been dealt a good hand, but I'm also not sure that he's the guy to take the Mets to the promised land, or that he's a guy who inspires a team to perform beyond its talents. And let's face it, that's what the Mets need.
Still, Collins has one more year on his contract, and I don't necessarily have a problem with him coming back. What I had a problem with was announcing his return a week before the end of the season, when it was unknown what managers would suddenly become unemployed. The Mets closed off their options, best I can tell, before they had to.
Yesterday, the other shoe dropped. The Minnesota Twins fired their longtime manager, Ron Gardenhire. He'd been manager there for 13 years, and the last four were terrible … but he did get the Twins to the playoffs six times in the first nine years of his tenure.
I have no idea if Gardenhire would've come to New York, or if it would've been a good fit. Sometimes managers just need a change of scenery, and sometimes there's something else going on.
I sure would've liked to see the Mets at least talk to him. But they've committed to Terry Collins. (I suppose they could change their mind, but then they'd even look more dysfunctional than usual.)
And we don't even know what other managers could find themselves out of work over the next few weeks.
Not that it will matter.
Smart management is typified by people who make smart decisions.
But sometimes smart management means not making a decision if you don't have to.
Wait 'till next year.
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Bloomberg is reporting that both Albertsons and Supervalu - which used to own some Albertsons stores until selling them to AB Acquisition LLC - are saying that the computer networks that they have in common may have been hacked yet again, during the period of Aug. 27 through Sept. 21.
It previously had been disclosed by the chains that their systems and customer payment cards had been hacked during the early summer, and that situation remains under investigation.
According to the story, "Supervalu said the latest breach struck the network that processes payment card transactions at some of its Shop ’n Save, Shoppers Food & Pharmacy and Cub Foods owned and franchised stores." And, Albertsons said "stores were affected in nine states including California, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota."
The companies said that "a malicious software program was installed in late August or early September that was different from the intrusions that were previously announced." A new investigation has been launched.
I have to imagine as companies like these - and Home Depot, and Target, and their brethren - deal with hacking problems, they and every other retail company out there has to start adding major dollars to the budget lines that deal with computer and consumer security. That's going to be a line of demarcation - when companies announce that they've been hacked, we're all going to want to know how much money they spent trying to stop it from happening. If they haven't put major dollars against this issue, they'll be deemed untrustworthy.
City Wire reports that Walmart has opened its first Walmart Pickup Grocery service to registered customers in Northwest Arkansas, hoping that it will "bridge the digital and physical retail worlds."
According to the story, the drive-up depot will serve "registered shoppers (who) can order from the online site, which contains roughly 10,000 grocery and consumable items including fresh meat, dairy, produce and common household products. The consumer then schedules a pickup time ranging from two hours to three weeks after the order is placed.
"The shopper then drives to one of the kiosk stations at the pickup grocery site at the scheduled time and notifies the attendant who will bring their order to the car. Orders are paid for online. Wal-Mart said this test extends its everyday low prices with no hidden fee or surcharges."
Companies that test out these kinds of concepts, feeling for the soft spots and the hard opportunities that may be out there, strike me as very smart … because I'm not sure we yet have a concrete sense of what the next generation of shoppers will want. I'm pretty sure they'll demand relevance, but it remains a little unclear how that relevance will end up being realized.
This is a smart idea. Let's see how fast they roll it out.
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USA Today reports that convenience store chain 7-Eleven "today will roll out a test in Southern California with an eye on changing that. Some 104 stores in the Los Angeles market will begin to sell a line of what the chain calls 'nutritionally balanced' fresh sandwiches, wraps and salads — and even cold-pressed juices — under the banner of fitness guru Tony Horton Kitchen." Horton, the story notes, "is the health and fitness executive whose DVD home workout series P90X has sold more than 4 million copies. More recently, he's delved into better-for-you foods."
The story goes on: "For 7-Eleven, it's not about getting rid of other stuff in order to sell better-for-you items. It's about offering both. It still will sell beer and cigarettes and Twinkies and hot dogs, but as Millennials and other core customers demand more better-for-you offerings, the chain is eager to expand its lineup of fresh foods and drinks. Health and wellness, after all, is a $50 billion category in the U.S., and growing."
I've never heard of Tony Horton. When I first saw the name, I thought of Tony Robbins, and I wondered why the self-styled life coach was getting into the food business. And then I thought it was Tim Horton's, and wondered when doughnuts got to be nutritionally balanced…
I guess I was wrong. Though the story raises an interesting point - that just being a fitness guru doesn't necessarily make you a nutritional expert. Horton might just be a guy with a good publicist.
Still, there are some numbers in this story that I found interesting.
For example, that "at 7-Eleven sales of fresh products are up 30% over the past year." That "healthy food options are the second-most requested items from 7-Eleven customers across all social media, the Internet and toll-free phone calls to the company."
And the topper - that "7-Eleven sells seven times more bananas than it sells Snickers."
If this is true, what took 7-Eleven so long to see the writing on the wall?
The Hollywood Reporter writes that Walmart, looking to blunt the impact of a lawsuit against it filed by "30 Rock" and "SNL" comedian Tracy Morgan, who was seriously injured in a six-car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike last summer that appeared to have been caused by a Walmart truck driver who was said to be fatigued.
Responding to the suit, which was filed by Morgan and other people riding in the car, Walmart says that injuries "were caused, in whole or in part, by plaintiffs' failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device."
The story says that "Walmart also looks to defend itself by disputing a basis for the negligence claim; disputing that actions were proximately caused by the company and its agents; disputing that Walmart had any control over third parties who may have caused damages; and disputing that it owed any duty to the plaintiffs."
The crash killed Morgan's friend, comedian James McNair. The Walmart truck driver, Kevin Roper, has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that include vehicular homicide and assault by auto.
Reports at the time said that Roper had been awake for 24 hours and was driving the truck at 20 miles over the posted speed limit.
Ah, the old "blame the victim" defense. An oldie, but a goodie.
Good luck with that one.
While I know that defenses are created by lawyers and not company officials, I would suggest to my friends at Walmart that they are likely to be subjected to a severe and constant roasting by late-night comedians who often can sway public opinion in this country. Morgan is one of theirs, and suggesting that him not wearing seat belts in any way mitigates the actions of the Walmart driver is only going to tick them off.
This may be a smart legal move. But from a PR perspective, I think Walmart could be playing with fire.
(Besides, a guy died. A guy who appears to have been married, with two kids. If Walmart's driver was in any way responsible, they should just swallow hard and write the check.)
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Ahold-owned e-grocer Peapod said yesterday that it, along with sister company Giant Food Stores, is introducing "the Peapod home and business delivery service area to communities in Lehigh and Northampton counties. Grocery delivery is now available in the communities of Allentown, Bethlehem, Catasauqua, Easton, Emmaus, Hellertown, Macungie, Nazareth, Trexlertown, and Zionsville."
The expansion, the company says, make sit available to more than 15 million households in the Northeast.
Just FYI…if you happen to be at the Category Management Association conference in orlando this week, I'll be doing "a conversation with…" session on Wednesday with Tony Stallone, VP-merchandising at Peapod, about the future of retail. It'll be interesting, and I hope you'll join us.
• Business Insider reports that Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom is joining the Walmart board of directors, where he will serve on the technology and e-commerce committee.
• Quartz.com reports that Walmart's new CEO, Doug McMillon has decided to make the company's traditional monthly Saturday morning management meetings optional for the first time in its history.
According to the story, "The iconic meetings have been fundamental to the image that the company wants to project—family friendly, with executives that are intensely loyal to the company and the customer. The company’s founder, Sam Walton, started the meetings in the 1960s because he thought it unfair for his employees to have to work on Saturday mornings if he wasn’t working too."
The story says that McMillon wants the meetings to continue, and is developing plans to make them more relevant.
• The Wall Street Journal reports that "pasta makers are throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks with consumers. Be it bow-shaped farfalle, fusilli spirals, angel hair wisps or straight-up fettuccine, pasta is being infused with trendy ingredients like kamut wheat, corn flour and chia seed. Once vilified, noodles now boast about their extra doses of protein, vegetables and fiber."
The reason? The $1.9 billion pasta business has been limp as overcooked spaghetti, "as consumers have shied away from wheat and carbohydrates in recent years. Sales for the year that ended Aug. 10 were down 1%, according to IRI, a Chicago market-research firm."
• The New York Times this morning reports that the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, whose bagel shops include Einstein Brothers Bagels, Noah’s New York Bagels and Manhattan Bagel, is being sold to JAB Holding Company, a German conglomerate formerly called Joh. A. Benckiser, for about $374 million.
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In Monday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs decimated the New England Patriots - who appear to no longer be the New England Patriots - 41-14.