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  • In preparation for an interview we were doing for our Japanese video documentary, we recently had reason to re-read Art Turock’s terrific book, Invent Business Opportunities No One Else Can Imagine.

    In this book, the Seattle-based Turock identifies the fatal assumptions that can ruin businesses, and seven “big ideas” that can enable companies to gain a sustainable advantage in the marketplace.

    The “fatal assumption” is that “the strategies that brought us success in the past will inevitable continue to work in the future, as long as we just implement then better and/or with greater effort.”

    The seven big ideas:

    1. Today’s strategic priorities must focus on innovating for the future rather than improving on the past.
    2. Be the only one that does what you do.
    3. Give customers what they need buy might never even think to ask for.
    4. Observe the familiar with fresh eyes.
    5. Questions are the seeds of innovation.
    6. An organization’s trendsetting capacity is a reflection of its leader’s beliefs.
    7. Develop a culture that aligns employee behavior with the organization’s innovative strategy.

    We have to say that we found the book’s premise and abundant examples to be thought provoking, both in terms of our own business and the businesses we write about on a daily basis. Strategic innovation seems to us to be that rarity in the retailing world; so many companies are occupied with meeting short-term financial goals that they often feel that they cannot afford to spend too much time on pursuits that strike them as ethereal.

    While the fact is, they can’t afford to ignore such considerations if they have any hope of long-term survival.

    You can get a copy of Truck’s book by writing the author himself at We suggest you do so.

  • While in Seattle, we also had the opportunity to visit one of the great Larry’s Market stores that serve that market. We were looking forward to the visit because Larry’s has the same kind of approach and customer as Superquinn and D&W Food Centers, two chains that we spent some time with last week. We were curious how they compared.

    While we would concede that our visit was brief and our examination cursory, the visit to Larry’s did raise some questions. This isn’t a criticism, because we would be the first to admit that we don’t have all the answers. But we do have questions.

    Larry’s, if you’ve never seen one, has a terrific fresh foods orientation, with a great little restaurant, gorgeous produce, fabulous cheese and deli department, and a wine section that would be hard to match. Set off by green and white awnings, wall murals and corrugated metal wall treatments that give the place a farm stand look, Larry’s always has been distinctive and ha delivered on its promise in these areas.

    What surprised us were the grocery aisles, where it would appear that the store may be giving in to temptation to show a stronger low-price orientation. There are price signs that don’t seem to work; some of the aisles are cluttered with cardboard displays that ruin the overall effect of the store; and there are even bins near the checkouts where candy has been tossed casually, with none of the care that the produce department receives. And maybe that’s what really caught our eye. In a store where precision and care are the hallmarks of the prepared foods section, grocery seemed to be an afterthought.

    Now, Larry’s has a perfect right to fight any battle it wants. But for us, at least, it made us wonder about inconsistency of vision. It made us question whether it could be effective in these areas, with both Fred Meyer and Costco nearby. And it just didn’t seem to gel.

    Consistency is one of the hardest things to achieve, we think. And it may be one of the qualities that has the greatest impact on the shopper.

  • One of the real pleasures of being on the road is the chance to visit local restaurants and enjoy the local cuisines…which is exactly what we did last Friday evening in Seattle. In an instant, the restaurant we visited, Etta’s, entered our pantheon of favorite restaurants.

    (Among the others: Harvest in Cambridge, Mass., Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Delhi Brasserie in London, Hunan Home in San Francisco, Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City…but don’t get us started. It is an eclectic bunch, and highly personal.)

    It wasn’t just the incredible salmon that we got at Etta’s that so enraptured us. It wasn’t just the low-key atmosphere, intimate without being precious. One of the best things about Etta’s was the waiter who took care of us…and it is a perfect illustration of how the customer experience is supposed to work.

    When ordering our salmon, we wanted a glass of red wine, and inquired whether the syrah or the merlot would go better. Michael, the waiter, said that he would prefer the syrah…but brought both bottles over, two glasses, poured some of each and told us to pick. Both were great, but the syrah was perfect for the salmon. We had an enormous glass of that, plus Michael left the remnants of the merlot to sip.

    Then, when we were considering dessert -- we ultimately decided on blackberry ice cream, which was light and delicious -- Michael brought over a couple of other wines to taste: a pinot noir and a cabernet. By the time the evening was done, we had tasted all of the red wines that Etta’s sold by the glass, and were charged for one glass of syrah.

    And then, because we liked all of them, he wrote down the names of each. (We share them with you now: Snoqualmie Syrah, Sagelands Merlot, Argyle Pinot Noir, and Barnard Griffin Cabernet.)

    There was nothing in it for the waiter or Etta’s, except the opportunity to connect with a patron and make the dining experience more than just dinner. It was about being educated and trying new things; it was about feeling at home in a restaurant 3,000 miles away from where we live. (Though there’s something to be said for feeling at home in a restaurant around the corner from your house, too.)

    And don’t say, “That’s a restaurant, not a supermarket or other retail environment.” We don’t believe that. Sure, they are different. But the goal and vision, the connection with the customer should be precisely the same.
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