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Friday, September 19, 2014
by Kevin Coupe
Okay, I know that convenience and speed are a high priority in our modern culture.
But this is ridiculous.
USA Today reports that a Saginaw, Michigan, funeral home has installed a drive-up viewing window "that displays a body set up in a special area inside the building with a raised and tilted platform for the casket.
"Curtains over the window automatically open when a car pulls up, and mourners get three minutes to view a body as music plays overhead.
"There also a deposit opening for leaving donations, cars or memory items. And behind a door is a retractable guest book that drive thru mourners can sign."
According to the story, "the drive-up window is only used when indoor visitation is not taking place, he said, and the viewing area can not be seen from the inside of the funeral home."
While the owner of the Paradise Funeral Home says that the idea was hatched to allow people who ordinarily might find it hard to pay their respects to do so., he also said that the home also goes to other extreme, offering "a silver, horse-drawn carriage to bring the dead to nearby cemeteries."
It amazes me about this is that it is in Saginaw and not Las Vegas.
But regardless … it's an Eye-Opener.
The New York Times reports this morning that Home Depot is saying that "the account information of 56 million cardholders was compromised in what is the largest known breach of a retail company’s computer network."
The story goes on: "Home Depot said hackers breached the company’s cash register systems in its United States and Canadian stores in April. The hackers, the company said, used custom malware that was designed to evade traditional security tools and had not been previously used in other cyberattacks. The company said that it had since removed infected registers and closed off the hackers’ mode of entry and that it had been using new encryption systems in its American and Canadian stores for the last nine months."
The Times reports that "hackers found an entry into the company’s network, gained access to its in-store payment systems and installed malware to take payment data off the memory of the company’s registers during processing. The hackers then sent that data back to their servers abroad."
It is unclear, the Times writes, why it took so long for Home Depot to recognize the problem after a similar hacking took place at Target late last year, which generated considerable media attention and warnings from both the Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service.
"The company said its encryption project began in January but was not completed in its American stores until Saturday. It said encryption in its Canadian stores would not be completed until 2015."
I went to Home Depot the other day for some light bulbs. (That's about all I buy at Home Depot, since I'm incapable of doing any sort of DIY project.) I was about to use my debit card to pay for the bulbs, but then I paused … and used cash instead. Probably too late to be making that decision at Home Depot, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.
I wonder how many other people are having similar moments.
Fairway Group Holdings announced yesterday that it has hired Jack Murphy, a co-founder of the Fresh Fields chain that eventually was sold to Whole Foods, and more recently the CEO of retailer Earth Fare, to be its new CEO.
Emphasizing in the announcement that Murphy is "a seasoned retail executive with strong experience in specialty food retailing," Fairway said that he is expected to bring "very strong leadership to Fairway" as well as "highly relevant marketing and merchandising skills that are complementary to our organization."
Murphy succeeds Bill Sanford, who was appointed Interim CEO in February while the Company undertook a search for a new CEO, and who joined the Company in 2008 as Chief Administrative Officer and then served as Chief Financial Officer. Sanford is said to be leaving the company "to pursue other interests."
Fairway has been having problems almost from the minute it was sold by the founding Glickberg family to a private equity group, Sterling Investment Partners, which always has seemed far more focused on growing the number of stores and boosting its share price than serving its existing customer base. Serving Wall Street, in essence, instead of Main Street. Which can be a dicey proposition if your whole business model is built on selling stuff to Main Street.
At one point, Fairway was talking about having 300+ stores all over the country, but that talk, thankfully, has subsided. Maybe Murphy can bring some marketing and merchandising sanity to the company, and get people's focus back where it should be.
I note that in the "About Fairway Market" that accompanied the announcement of Murphy's hiring, this is what it said: "Fairway Market is a growth-oriented food retailer offering customers a differentiated one-stop shopping experience…" A good first step would be getting rid of the "growth-oriented" line and talk about being "customer-oriented" and "food-oriented." The growth then will come, if they do things right.
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The Bergen Record reports that the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) says that it "has completed the refinancing of its existing senior debt, and received terms that reduce its interest costs and improve its cash flow.
"The Montvale-based supermarket company, which has 300 stores in six states, said it has arranged with Wells Fargo Capital Finance for a new $300 million senior asset-based credit facility and a $270 million senior secured term loan through an amendment and restatement of its existing credit agreements. An asset-based credit facility is a revolving line of credit that allows retailers to draw funds and cover such costs as inventory purchases and accounts receivable."
The company says that the refinancing will allow it to "lower interest costs and improve cash flow."
That's a good thing, because they certainly can't count on actual customer to help it improve cash flow.
Paul Hertz, the company's president/CEO, is quoted as saying that the new terms put A&P "in a much stronger financial position and allow us to focus on investing in our business by supporting and accelerating our growth strategies."
Growth strategies? Really? I figured that A&P was barely treading water trying to survive and figure who to sell the company to … it never occurred to me that they might actually be trying to grow.
Ad Week reports that Subway is expanding its mobile payment program to all 26,000 of its US locations after a Salt Lake City test that apparently went swimmingly.
According to the story, the program - called Softcard - "uses near field communication (NFC) technology to allow users to pay for items, redeem loyalty points and more with a simple app. As part of the deal, the restaurant chain will be rolling out offers via the platform, including one that will give $1 cash back on every purchase over $1 to customers who use their American Express Serve card through the Softcard platform. The restaurant chain also plans to include its Subway Rewards program into Softcard in the coming months as well."
Softcard is a mobile payment platform created by AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA Inc. and Verizon Wireless.
First of all, I think we're going to see a lot more of these announcements, as mobile payment systems get enormous traction.
One of the interesting things about yesterday's announcement was the secondary piece of information - that Softcard is the new name for what used to be called "Isis Wallet." I think we all know why that name had to go… probably one of the worst naming coincidences since that old diet candy back in the seventies and eighties that was called "Ayds."
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Shipping companies seem to be looking forward to a big 2014 holiday season, as "UPS is hiring as many as 95,000 seasonal workers and FedEx Corp. (FDX) is taking on at least 50,000 more to ensure people get their iPhones and foot massagers on time even as consumers tempt fate by waiting later and later to buy online," according to a Bloomberg story.
The story goes on to say that the moves seem to be an effort to compensate for glitches in the system last year that led to packages being delivered after Christmas. "The stakes are especially high for Atlanta-based United Parcel Service, which was blamed by Amazon for the post-Christmas deliveries. UPS’s contract with the Amazon Prime service guarantees delivery in two days, and orders were larger and came later than anticipated."
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• The Associated Press reports that Walmart is saying that it "plans to hire 60,000 temporary holiday workers for the crucial holiday season, an increase of nearly 10 percent from last year." Walmart "emphasized that current workers who want more hours during the holidays will get priority. The retailer has been criticized by labor groups for low pay and intentionally keeping employees' hours low."
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...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• The Washington Post reports this morning that Alibaba Group, the Chinese internet company, will begin selling shares on the stock market today as a company valued at $168 billion, more than Amazon.
"Though little known in the United States," the Post writes, "the tech powerhouse has in 15 years transformed life in China, where 80 percent of online sales pass through an Alibaba site. Its colorful, chaotic marketplaces, where consumers can buy nearly anything, saw $248 billion in sales last year, more than Amazon.com and eBay combined … Alibaba’s new billions could also help fund its future expansion into the United States, where in the past year it has invested in tech start-ups working on ride sharing, messaging, delivery services, sports apparel, antique furniture and video games."
In other words, your world potentially just got immensely more complicated.
• The Chicago Sun Times reports that Sears Holdings has announced that it will close a unspecified number of stores in states that include Illinois; Milwaukee; Oakland, California; Wichita, Kansas; Owensboro, Kentucky; Marion, Ohio; Great Falls, Montana; and Bluefield, West Virginia. The new closings are in addition to the 130 closings announced earlier this year, and will all take place by early December.
Man, how bad must things be that Sears doesn't even want to try to squeeze one more holiday season out of these stores?
• Bloomberg Businessweek reports that McDonald's build-your-own burger test "could be coming to many more locations as the chain seeks to pull out of the worst sales slump in a decade.
"The test, which lets customers pick out burger toppings such as jalapenos and tortilla strips on a touch screen, will be taken to additional markets depending on how the trial goes, said Lisa McComb, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s. The program started late last year at an Orange County restaurant and then expanded to three more McDonald’s in August."
Give me an In-N-Out any day.
• The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) yesterday said that more than 40 retailers representing more than 19,000 stores across the U.S. and Canada have enlisted in the "eat brighter" program that, among other things, uses characters from "Sesame Street" - royalty free - to market fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We're delighted by the response from both the supply- and buy-side of the industry,” says Cathy Burns, president of PMA. “We’ve spoken with each and every one of these companies, and they believe in the movement to help kids eat more fruits and vegetables. They are all industry leaders, and recognize that success is defined through the collaboration and support they lend to one another.”
• The Detroit Free Press reports that "Whole Foods is seeking a location for a second store in Detroit, co-CEO Walter Robb said this morning."
Whole Foods opened its first Detroit store in 2013, and Robb said it has been a "tremendous success." Detroit has been going through something of an economic resurgence even as the city wrestles with bankruptcy-related problems.
No location for the new store has been named.
In Thursday Night Football, the Atlanta Falcons shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14, in a game that wasn't even as close as the lopsided score suggested.
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One of the best movies I've seen this year is Calvary, the latest effort by filmmaker John Michael McDonagh (The Guard). It also happens to be one of the bleakest movies I've seen this year, but it is absolutely riveting.
Here's the setup. Brendan Gleeson, the wonderful Irish actor, plays Father James, who in the first scene of the film is hearing confessions. A man enters the confessional and tells him about he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest … and then informs Father James that he plans to kill him in one week's time. Father James is a good priest, he says, but nobody will notice if he kills a bad priest. Attention must be paid, retribution must be achieved, and emotional demons must be exorcised.
Father James, as it happens, is a both a good priest and a good man. He, in fact, has a grown daughter - he is a widower, and discovered his vocation after the death of his wife. But he feels increasingly frustrated as he tries to both tend to his flock and discover who plans to kill him, since he is up against an unfeeling Catholic bureaucracy and parishioners who feel little but cynicism about a Church hierarchy that has been exposed in the media for sanctioning - or at least turning a blind eye to - decades of child abuse by its priests.
Filmed on the spectacular west coast of Ireland, Calvary features an equally spectacular performance by Gleeson, who brings enormous depth of feeling to Father James. He knows that he is being targeted for the sins of others, but at some level he knows that there is a religious tradition of people being crucified to atone for others' sins; one can practically feel his heartache growing stronger as the clock ticks.
Calvary is a great movie. It is deeply rooted in a culture that has been deeply wounded by the actions and inactions of a Church that dominated the nation for centuries; 30 years ago, 90 percent of Irish Catholics went to church on a weekly basis, but recently, that number is reported to be closer to 10 percent. This disaffection and bitterness can be felt in almost every frame of Calvary, which nevertheless is able to draw a distinction between a good man who believes in God and a bad Church that is more interested in power and influence than in tending to the spiritual needs of its members.
You won't walk out of Calvary feeling good, but I cannot imagine you walking out being unaffected by its actors, its story, and the impeccable storytelling.
Here's a new wine for you to try - the 2013 La Val Albarino, a great Spanish white that is terrific with spicy seafood and pasta.
That's it for this week.
Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.