business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of comments this week on the subject of Wal-Mart's not carrying three men's magazines that it deems inappropriate, and the sanitizing of DVDs and CDs so they are more "acceptable" to consumers. While we support any retailer's decision to sell or not to sell a product, we equated sanitizing art with censoring art…though not everyone agreed.

MNB user Neil Reay wrote:

"I have to disagree with you on the issues of "art" being censored when Wal-Mart or Albertsons gets "sanitized" versions of music and movies. The fact is that the producers don't have to make the changes or sell in those outlets. If they want to protect their "art", they will stand fast. If they cave in, it is just commerce, and it never was art. Movies rated "G" outsell "R" consistently, but producers want to have some nudity, gore or language to give them a preview clip to draw 20-somethings. It most often doesn't advance the story or meaning, it is just commerce from the get-go. Movies produce sanitized versions for the airlines for money, then claim they can't offer the same version in stores without compromising the "art." We are always saying that the stores should reflect their consumer's wishes, and they wouldn't offer the changed materials if they didn't sell. Maybe consumers need the clout of major chains to get producers to offer what the consumer wants in the first place."

Actually, we think that PG and PG-13 movies tend to do better than either G or R movies…but that's beside the point.

We actually are as harsh in our judgment of producers and studios that cave in to such demands as we are of the companies that make the demands. We also think that art and commerce aren't mutually exclusive; by the way, one of the reasons that movies are so lousy today is that they are viewed as merchandising vehicles, not ways of telling interesting and compelling stories.

A sanitized culture that focuses on commerce appeals only to the lowest common denominator. It's like the difference between Disney's view of the world and the real world -- we'll take the real thing, warts and all, any day.

Another MNB user wrote:

"I think Wal-Mart is only reflecting what their stockholders want
on what they sell and don't sell. Let the market decide...if a kid can't
get an Eminem CD at Wal-Mart will he stop shopping at Wal-Mart? I don't think so...I think you are giving Wal-Mart too much credit on how they might shape the end of the is still up to the individual or
consumer to decide the marketplace results."

On the contrary, we don’t think that the potential impact of a sanitized society can be underestimated. And we think Wal-Mart, as it grows and expands its field of vision and power, is inevitably going to impact what kinds of cultural or artistic experiences are created because of what it is willing to buy or sell. It won’t necessarily engage in the cultural argument, but the residual effects could be powerful. (It isn’t just Wal-Mart, by the way. Consolidation and conglomeration in any industry can have a dulling effect on creativity and innovation…and, yes, artistic expression.)

There was some agreement with our position, as one MNB user wrote:

"I wouldn't want to live in a…world where Wal-mart determines the cultural environment.

Sounds like a definition for a new circle of hell."

Regarding a story this week about Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Co. possibly bidding to re-acquire Dominick's in Chicago, one MNB user wrote:

"It won't be easy. It will take a lot of hard work from management and the employees to repair the damage. Concessions, concessions, concessions.
Burkle does have the knowledge and grocery background to help with the rebuilding. All the employees that were terminated or FLED during Safeway's reign might come?"

We received the following email about our Kmart coverage:

"I've been in the retail business for over 40 years most of that in operations management, part of the time as a Kmart manager in the 60's and early 70's. It was a good place to work, if you had a good store manager and district manager. If not it was terrible, but that's a different story.

"My wife started working for a local Kmart part time late last year. She's not trying to save the world or become president. She enjoys bringing order to her department, the camaraderie with other employees, the manager, and most of all her customers. From her evening conversations and from the physical change in her store it was obvious the store is headed up. The manager holds daily meetings, praises the staff and store achievements, and generally behaves like an extraordinary retail manager. The store is often 1st or 2nd in the monthly and weekly sales numbers for its division, etc. An incredible change from where it has been for years.

"So, I was getting tired of all your trash talk about Kmart, because I'm hearing nothing but good things from my wife. Reality sets in! A few weeks ago they transfer in people from a closed Kmart, including a store manager. She says the new people are standoffish and nasty to customer and employee alike.

"The store manager (I'll call him "ah" for distinction purposes) is only there temporarily and already many of the regulars are getting hours cut, chewing outs in view of all, etc, you get the picture. "ah" is the prototypical Kmart manager of the good old days, lips moving but nothing coming out, wads of gum in the ears, rude, crude, and arrogant. New money, new executives, new merchandise ... none of it makes a hill of beans, if you can't run a clean, well organized, FRIENDLY store. This situation makes me very sad and tells me Kmart, without major changes, has not long to live."

Trash talk? Us?

We're just doing hard-nosed (some would say "hard-headed") commentary here…

Regarding yesterday's report from FMI, one MNB user wrote:

"Your quote from Edie Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc.,: "Information is not power. Implementation is power," reminds me of a quote an old boss/mentor has mounted in our conference room in 12" high letters for all of us young bucks that thought we knew everything at the time:

"Knowledge not acted upon is useless."

"I have know idea where he got that from, but it's stuck with me since my early 20's (and a couple of decades have since passed...obviously the memory chip is strong here!)"

We received some email regarding our consistent criticism of the argument that only middle management at Ahold's US Foodservice knew about the accounting procedures now under investigation. One MNB user wrote:

"You hit the nail on the head! As someone who spent six years as a middle management accountant at a large regional grocery chain, the boss knows and orchestrates the practice. Where is the accountability here!! You are also correct that it likely stems from a warped corporate culture, so don’t even try to question those accounting entries because Mr. Merchandiser will not hit his profit goals. Then the accounting boss and Mr. Merchandiser will internally “blacklist” you from any future promotion opportunities. This lack of upper management backbone and protectionism is pervasive in corporations and effective change will never take place if there is no accountability."

And MNB user Andy Casey chimed in:

"You don't grow a problem of this size strictly within the ranks of middle management. Just isn't possible without someone at the top asking at least a few questions. More likely, middle management was caught in the "middle" between lagging sales to customers and rising pressure on quotas from on high.

"Just can't help thinking of Harry Truman and his famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign. Sounds like the powers that be at Ahold are trying to make sure the buck never gets quite that far up the ladder."

We got some interesting email about the decision by Supervalu's top executives not to take a bonus for last year's performance. One member of the MNB community wrote:

"No bonus's at Supervalu.....Kmart to pay out Millions. (just a comparison thought) Supervalu shows year to year progress, so does reverse. (Jeff) Noddle seems to be steering the business appropriately. He not only kept his company away from investigations. He kept them out of being a supply source for Kmart. He probably didn't look to smart when Fleming won the bid....He sure looks brilliant today."


Another MNB user wrote:

"What a refreshing "Corporate America" story for a change. Reads a lot better than if they would have let 200 people go to make up for the difference in the profit target rather than not give bonus to top people. Good for you, Supervalu! Makes me want to go visit Cub again next week."

We had a piece last week about women feeling they are being given short-shrift by many retailers, which prompted the following email:

"Honestly, I am growing weary of how poorly certain agenda driven women perceive that they are being treated. One only has to go to ANY department store, ANY shoe store or ANY mall in America to see that retailers bend over backwards in catering to women. Women are 50% of the population yet they have fully 2/3 or more of all retail space dedicated to "women's" products. Again, shoes, clothes etc... Also most, not all, but most, small boutique shops in any mall in America are dedicated to women.

"The statement made by Ms Quinlan is nothing more than reverse sexism, and is a complete affront to those of us who are , you know, the "evil white men of America". Needless to say, the reason that any company is in business, is for profit. To suggest that most companies are foregoing those profits so they can maintain their status quo of sexism is preposterous. Any company worth its salt will do anything it can to sell more and generate additional profits. Look at the most successful company in the world (and still growing
at record rates) Wal-Mart. Currently being sued by a group of women, yet their sales are greater than any company in the history of business. Ms. Quinlan's diatribe has zero merit.

"To further suggest that because a marketer is not a woman, that they are incapable of marketing to women just highlights Ms Quinlan's apparent lack
of intelligence. I suppose that because a doctor has never had cancer, he or she is incapable of working with cancer patients. The argument is a slippery slope at best, and purely agenda driven in reality.

"As for why sales trends are what they are, the economy, the weather, and many other factors DO drive those trends. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that when people get laid off, they spend less money, or when there is little or no snow, ski equipment and apparel sales will decline.

"Please don't tell me that you think there is a network of angry women out there communicating amongst each other regarding their frustration about the lack of marketing to their gender. Please don't bring yourself down to the level of the angry feminists."

We're not going to use this MNB user's name because we don’t want to be responsible for his lynching…

All we know is that we have a wife, daughter and four sisters…and would never pretend that we understand any of them.
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