Published on: February 21, 2008Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and sponsored by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
When Roy Scheider died recently, many of us remembered his most-famous line from “Jaws,” in which, after seeing the great white shark for the first time, he says to Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” That’s a great metaphor for business, especially the business of retailing. Very often, in a world where the competitors seem to always be getting bigger and stronger and seemingly insurmountable, the simple fact is that you need a bigger boat. Or, if you can’t afford a bigger boat, you almost certainly need one that is more nimble, maneuverable, and able to do things the competition cannot.
But there was another piece of dialog from “Jaws,” as several friends reminded me, that was almost as memorable.
At one point, Richard Dreyfuss’s character, Matt Hooper, says to Scheider’s police chief, “It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island.” And Scheider responds: “It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”
In other words, it is all about perspective.
This is a sentiment that strikes me as extremely applicable to many of our business lives. If we act as if only our perspective makes sense – developed over years of experience and held with iron-clad certainty that this is the way business should be done - we all run the risk of missing out on important, transformational trends and even becoming irrelevant to a changing customer base.
Last week, while attending the CIES Global Food Safety Conference in Amsterdam, there were a number of instances when I became aware of how my vision can be too parochial…and how I need to take a broader view and remain open to other perspectives.
For example, I was moderating one workshop and Lisbeth Kohls, senior vice president of consumer and quality affairs at ICA in Sweden, talked in detail about a meat scandal that hit the company late last year. Several stores were exposed on national television as having repackaged out-of-date meat, and while the problems were limited to just a few stores, it threatened the company’s national reputation.
Well, I was working on two assumptions going into the session – that the company’s biggest exposure would be on the legal side as litigation against the company would hit new highs, and that Internet “chatter” would make it extremely difficult for ICA to recover from the scandal.
Well, I was wrong on both counts. Lisbeth Kohls told us that, in fact, not a single lawsuit has been filed against the company, and that bloggers have not been a factor in how the company has been perceived. I guess they’re just nicer over there. In any case, I brought an American perspective to the discussion, and that was a mistake. Not everybody behaves like we do…and in the case of ICA, that will probably help its recovery efforts.
There also was a fascinating discussion by Serban Teodoresco, managing director of JohnsonDiversey’s SafeKey Group, in which he drew a thick, straight line between food safety and brand equity. Now, his basic premise wasn't earth shattering – that a company’s brand equity, whether it happens to be a retailer or manufacturer, establishes its basic value in the marketplace, for both consumers and investors. But he then took it a step further, arguing that food safety is not a cost, but an investment While many companies would tell you that food safety is difficult to market against, Teodoresco suggested that in some ways it is the ultimate marketing tool, because it is at the heart of a food company’s value…not to mention its values. Again, I hadn’t thought of it in quite those financial terms before; I tend to emphasize the values side of the equation, but the notion of financial value clearly is critical to corporate decision-making.
In another session that I moderated, one of the panelists was John Hanlin, the new vice president of food safety at Supervalu. I asked him at one point what was the single most important thing he said in his job interview that got him hired, and he didn’t even hesitate. John said that he firmly believes that retailers such as Supervalu need to be at the forefront of setting standards…setting the bar higher than the government suggests, and really taking the lead when it comes to implementing and communicating food safety standards. In other words, not to react to other people’s expectations, but to be in the business of setting expectations.
Buy, do I think that’s right on. And I applaud John…and Supervalu…for taking such a progressive and aggressive stance. By doing so, they may be able to change consumer perspectives on food safety, and get them to see the retailer as both the best line of defense against food safety issues and the best source of information for an increasingly confused public.
In other words, to paraphrase Roy Scheider’s Chief Martin Brody, change the way people view the island.
One other thing. I’ve mentioned on MorningNewsBeat that I produced a video for the CIES Global Food Safety Conference that consists of a series of interviews with influential senior executives on both the retail and supplier sides, offering unique and provocative views on this critical issue. I’ve gotten a couple of requests for copies of this DVD and the folks at JohnsonDiversey, who underwrote the video, tell me that they have a limited supply of DVDs left over from the conference.
So, if you'd like a copy, here’s what you have to do. Send me an email in which you clearly request the DVD, and make sure you give me your name, title, company, and street address, and I’ll forward the email on to JohnsonDiversey. But do it soon, because as they say on TV, supplies are limited.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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