retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    President George Bush announced yesterday the resignation of US Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who has been in the cabinet post for three years. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Connerm, until the White House nominates a permanent replacement to serve the last 14 months of the Bush Administration.

    Johanns is expected to run for the US Senate seat from Nebraska that is being vacated by the retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel, who is stepping down because of a pledge to only serve two terms. Johanns is a former Nebraska governor.

    If he gets the nomination, it is possible that he could face former Sen. Bob Kerry in the general election next year; Kerry retired from the Senate a number of years ago and lately has been running the New School for Social Research in New York City.
    KC's View:
    If there are any more cases of mad cow disease between now and the 2008 election, Johanns – who famously argued that there could only be none cases of BSE in the entire US – may have some explaining to do. And, he also may have to do some fancy talking about food safety issues, which increasingly look like they could become an election issue next year.

    It’ll also be interesting to see how the Senate behaves during confirmation hearings for whomever the White House decides to nominate to replace Johanns. Again, with food safety being a highly charged issue, the hearings could get confrontational.

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    So much for encouraging healthy eating habits in schoolchildren.

    The California Department of Public Health, eager to get the state’s children to eat better, bought and gave away some 300,000 lunchboxes bearing slogans such as "Eat Fruits & Vegetables and Be Active."

    Now, however, the lunchboxes are being recalled, according to the Los Angeles Times, because they were made with unhealthy levels of lead. No injuries have yet been reported, but officials had no choice since no exposure to lead is considered safe.

    And where were the lunchboxes made?

    KC's View:
    I’m actually beginning to feel a little sorry for China, because the hits on its reputation just keep on coming.

    It is going to be interesting to see how many more “Made in America” signs we all see in the coming months, especially as we get close to the holidays,. Many, many more, I’d expect.

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Meijer has opened in-store medical clinics in two Illinois units, but with a difference – these Medical Marts are staffed by actual doctors, and not just nurse practitioners, and therefore have escaped the wrath of the American Medical Association, which argues that the nurse-staffed facilities could compromise patient care.

    One more Meijer store in Illinois is scheduled to get a doctor-staffed in-store clinic before the end of the month, and the Las Vegas-based Medical Mart says that it is working with other retailers to roll out the concept.

    The Tribune< writes, “Founded three years ago, Medical Marts has a goal of 400 clinics in retail outlets across the country by the end of 2009. The company has opened seven in Utah in Shopko stores, with four under construction in St. Louis and Virginia.

    “But Medical Marts has a long way to go to catch up to some of the industry leaders. There are at least 600 retail medical clinics in the U.S., according to a report last week by Merchant Medicine, a Minneapolis-based research and consulting firm that advises medical-care providers and employers on how to work within the retail clinic industry. CVS/Caremark Corp. subsidiary MinuteClinic is by far leading the pack, with more than 250 retail clinics, followed by Walgreens' subsidiary Take Care Health Systems, with 55 clinics. There are at least 16 companies operating retail health clinics.”
    KC's View:
    The best way to compete is to bring something new to the table, which is what Medical Mart and Meijer are doing. I have no idea how the economics of this work, but I would imagine that if given the choice between a doctor-staffed facility and a nurse-staffed facility, I’d probably choose the one with the actual physician. That said, I have no problem getting flu shots and easy diagnoses from nurse practitioners.

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted permission to a major Chinese seafood exporter, Zhangian Guolian Aquatic Products, to begin shipping farmed shrimp to the United States.

    Major restrictions were put on Chinese seafood exporters after it was discovered earlier this year that there was repeated use of unapproved drugs in farmed seafood – shrimp, catfish, eel and several other varieties – that was coming from China.

    The FDA lifted the restrictions on Zhangian Guolian Aquatic Products after doing both its own inspections and getting third-party analyses of five different shipments by the company. This is the first company to be exempted from the restrictions since they were implemented last June.
    KC's View:
    I can't imagine that “farmed shrimp, made in China” will be much of a selling point. But it is precisely the kind of information that consumers deserve to have.

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    • Supervalu announced that Carl Jablonski, president of the company's Shaw's banner in New England, will retire after 38 years with the company.

    Larry Wahlstrom, president of the company's Jewel-Osco banner in Chicago, will replace Jablonski as president of Shaw's.

    Wahlstrom will be succeeded by Keith Nielsen, Jewel-Osco's senior vice president of operations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    • The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) and Pathmark Stores reportedly have agreed to give the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at least two weeks notice before attempting to close A&P’s $679 million acquisition of Pathmark.

    • The Denver Business Journal reports that a company called Hampton Retail Investors LLC has purchased 17 former Albertsons grocery stores in Colorado, and plans to renovate the rent out the properties to non-food retailers. The stores were vacated after the purchase of Albertsons’ assets in the region by Supervalu.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Bernardo Caprotti, chairman of the Italian supermarket chain Esselunga, said at a press conference today that the sale of the company is just one option, and that he is in no hurry to make such a deal.

    Caprotti did not announce what had been much rumored – that Tesco was buying at least 49 percent of the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    We had a story the other day about how what I thought was a surprising number of people are dissatisfied with their online shopping experiences, and I noted that perhaps because I deal with reputable e-commerce sites – Amazon, Apple, LL Bean – I rarely have issues. Then, we ran an email yesterday from an MNB user who found my positive experiences with Amazon a little hard to believe, mostly because his experiences have been less fulfilling. Which prompted another MNB user to write:

    Please believe you are not alone in your love of Amazon, Starbucks, and other online retailers. I have NEVER had a bad experience with Amazon and I've been shopping with them for at least 5 or 6 years. Like you, I'm a Prime customer, and use their "third party sellers" all the time for out-of-print and hard-to-find hardback editions (which I prefer for "posterity" purposes - they look better on the shelf). is almost more valuable to me when they function as a "rare book" seller (well, almost). They ask for feedback, they're responsive, and, quite honestly, I couldn't be a part-time master's history student without them. We've also used them to purchase items other than books, with no issues. I also have an auto-reload Starbucks card that's used daily. Every so often I get a postcard or email from Starbucks letting me know they've loaded $10 or $15 onto my card as a "thank you." Now that's building brand loyalty and being in touch with your customers and an appropriate use of "card data." I've also ordered from and received the same service that you get in their stores - outstanding. Even had to return a pair of shoes with zero hassles.

    Sometimes I think people with online issues just have trouble being online in the first place, and probably have issues in "real" stores too. Ask yourself the same questions as you do in a "brick-and-mortar" building - Is it organized? Can I get knowledgeable help if I need it? Do they have what I need when I want it? Are they in business for you or themselves (you can tell)? Seems like the new retailing to me…

    MNB user Mike Griswold agreed with my reaction:

    I’m with you, this is very surprising. It would be interesting to see the demographics of the respondents. My sense is older, less Internet-experienced users could be driving the higher dissatisfaction rates.

    Good point.

    We also got a lot of email regarding my radio commentary yesterday decrying the Wizmark, described as the first “interactive urinal communicator,” and used to deliver ad and marketing messages to men standing at urinals.

    MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

    This is symptomatic of the traditional "push" model of media buying. Effectively, get your message to as many people who are vaguely in the appropriate audience as possible, in as many channels as can be afforded. This model is not working very well any more and hasn't been for some time. But rather than stepping back and attempting to reach appropriate consumers on their terms, advertisers continue to try to find new ways to push their message.

    And the ironic part is that it is sufficiently successful to ensure it continues. SPAM being the most reviled example. All it takes is a very small fraction of 1% to respond, for the investment to pay off. And no doubt, sufficient men will respond to the urinal ads to ensure that they don't die. I do have a sophomoric solution, but I am sensitive to your audience.

    If I’m in a men’s room, there’s only one kind of push that I’m interested in…and it better not be coming from an “interactive urinal communicator.”

    As for that “sophomoric solution,” gotcha. I got dozens of emails yesterday suggesting the same thing, in varying degrees of graphic language.

    MNB user Cliff Balzer wrote:

    A while back (10+ years) someone had the same idea that people (men and women) were captive audiences in public restrooms so they decided to put ads on the doors inside the stalls.

    It flopped. The reason was that people found it intrusive and the advertisers soon realized that not only were people linking being annoyed/intruded upon with their products and company, but advertisers also realized that potential customers were associating them with what their potential or existing customers were doing while they were in the stalls.

    So, as I'm standing there in a public restroom listening to some ad, what do you think I'm associating with this advertiser? Might as well put your company logo inside the urinal because that is what I'm thinking.

    Not a new idea, simply more expensive (I guess) because the technology is more expensive than putting a cardboard ad inside the stall.

    There ought to be some ad-free zones. And the john ought to be one of them.

    By the way, I also get annoyed on some airlines – US Airways is the one that comes to mind – where they’ve put advertising on the fold down trays. Give me a break!

    And Michael Sansolo tells me that he saw a story somewhere about a guy who has figured out how to put advertising on the lines that separate cars in parking lots. Is there no end to the madness?

    The best email about my urinal communicator rant, however, came from MNB user Henry Stein:

    Your radio commentary about intrusive advertising was interesting, but honestly, that's only urinalysis of the situation and others might disagree.

    Funny. You get points for making the Content Guy laugh out loud.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 21, 2007

    It is a good thing that I don't have to do a radio commentary this morning, because I spent all of last night at a Jimmy Buffett concert at Madison Square Garden, and have absolutely no voice left. But I will soldier on…

    Interesting news this week that the New York Times has decided to abandon its policy of charging for access to much of its online content, and instead will make everything pretty much free. Reports are that when Rupert Murdoch takes control of the Wall Street Journal, he will make the same decision, even though the Journal actually made some money off its web content.

    The lesson for all businesses, I think, is that sometimes it makes sense to look at the long term instead of the short-term, even if the short-term prospects for revenue look pretty good. In this case, both the Timesand the Journal are gambling that a higher number of site visitors is going to be more important to long-term growth and generating ad dollars than a smaller group that pays for access. In a business where there is a steadily diminishing number of readers, traffic will be critical…so I think this decision makes sense.

    The difference between the short term and the long term often is the difference between tactical thinking and strategic thinking … and I think paying attention to the latter is generally the best choice a business can make. Long-term that is.

    I was raving about Apple last week and had no intention of revisiting the subject … but now I have to.

    I walked into the Apple Store the other day and noticed that they’d yanked out all the checkouts and replaced them with training stations. A salesperson told me that the decision had been made, because almost everyone uses credit cards, to simply equip all the store floor personnel with portable card readers and scanners. The Apple Store essentially brings the checkout to the customer … which strikes me as out of the box thinking.

    In my case, I handed the items I was buying to the salesperson, he scanned them, pulled a bag out of his sack, put the products in the bag and asked if it was okay to email me my receipt. I said sure, and it was waiting for me when I got there.

    Fast system, smart system. I like it.

    Thanks to all of you who not only instructed me about rugs made out of bread bags, but actually sent me pictures to prove that it was possible. I still don't quite get it – for example, what exactly would it feel like under your feet? But I’ve now been enlightened on a piece of Americana that I knew nothing about.

    By the way, there was one big advantage to being at the Buffett concert last night was that I didn’t have to watch the Mets game.

    Here’s a question:

    Who is more suicidal these days, Mets fans or Red Sox fans?

    “3:10 To Yuma” is a terrific movie. It has wonderful performances by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, beautiful cinematography, and the best kind of story – it is, essentially, a morality play, a struggle between good and evil as personified by Crowe, the magnetic and educated outlaw, and Bale, the poor, beleaguered rancher who agrees to help escort the captured Crowe to catch the 3:10 train to Yuma Prison because he needs the money to feed his family. Plus, it’s got horses, and is based on a short story by the great Elmore Leonard. Go see it.

    This version of “3:10 To Yuma” is actually a remake of a 1957 movie that starred Glenn Ford as the outlaw (he’s surprisingly good in the part; I don't usually think of him as an actor with that kind of range) and Van Heflin as the rancher. I rented it from Netflix out of curiosity, and found that the early version is good, in the style of a film like “High Noon,” but not nearly as good as the new one; it was shot in black-and-white and is a lot more claustrophobic, which I think works against it. It does have one other notable bit – the theme song is sung by Frankie Laine, who contributed the title songs to a bunch of other classic westerns, such as “Gunfight At The OK Corral,” and, of course, “Blazing Saddles.”

    A final thought on last night’s Jimmy Buffett concert. It might not appeal to people who are not members of Parrothead Nation, but I can’t imagine a better time at a three-hour concert. Tens of thousands of people packed in Madison Square Garden, all singing the words to songs we know by heart. I’ve noticed that the demographic of attendees is getting little older lately, but then again, so am I. But as long as Jimmy is out there singing, I’ll be in the audience, smiling and clapping and swaying to the music and singing along:

    I took off for a weekend last month
    Just to try and recall the whole year.
    All of the faces and all of the places,
    Wonderin' where they all disappeared.
    I didn't ponder the question too long;
    I was hungry and went out for a bite.
    Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum,
    And we wound up drinkin' all night.

    It's those changes in latitudes,
    Changes in attitudes
    Nothing remains quite the same.
    With all of our running and all of our cunning,
    If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane….

    Words to live by.

    Have a great weekend. Have a laugh. I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: