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    Published on: February 3, 2009

    by Michael Sansolo

    After making a career change a few years back, I received an unusual message from a friend. He congratulated me on the move and the work I had done, but said no one could grade my overall performance until they saw how my replacements worked out. In other words, my real success would be if my underlings were capable of making me dispensable.

    When it comes to bosses and building bench strength, there are the great, the good, the bad and the forgettable. And then there is Pat Summitt the coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee. She may be in a category all her own.

    Summitt, the winningest coach ever in basketball, was profiled recently in the New York Times in an article every manager (past, present and future) should read. The key to the article is that Summitt, whose next win will be the 1,000th of her career, has produced a line of replacements like few other managers in sports or elsewhere.

    Forty-five of Summitt’s past players are now themselves coaches. That’s nearly one-third of the players from all her teams.

    Even more stunning than the numbers are the lessons. In the article, players recall how they chafed at some of Summitt’s rules as freshmen until they found themselves parroting her words to younger players in following seasons. And her rules are quite a mix, from the fine points of basketball, to behavior in classrooms and even to the type of courtesies they show each other. Many of the players recounted moments years after leaving Tennessee when Summitt would provide encouragement at seemingly the most important or difficult moments of their lives.

    In short, Summitt’s on-court record is a small piece of what makes her such a success. Two quotes from Summitt make the point beautifully.

    • “People talk about 1,000 wins. I remind them that I’ve never scored a basket for the University of Tennessee.”

    • “This job is all about relationships.”

    You have to think, there is something big to learn from Pat Summitt, something that goes way beyond winning and losing and into the realm of what makes leaders great.

    Let me add a personal note. This story was simply too good to pass, despite one huge conflict of interest. Coach Summitt will be a featured speaker at FMI’s Future Connect leadership conference this May, and I am working with FMI on this event. But conflicts apart: I cannot wait to hear Coach Summitt speak.

    When you look at Summitt and her record, you find almost a perfect example of the coach/mentor/manager/leader we all wish to be.

    1. She’s tough, but her rules are clear, direct and, most importantly, fairly enforced. Summitt has coached regular players and mega-stars and there is no indication that anyone is treated differently.

    2. She teaches constantly and her players learn so well that they start teaching despite themselves.

    3. She plays by the rules. Think about how long she’s been coaching and how successful she’s been. Does any NCAA infraction come to mind for you? Summitt plays fair.

    4. She wins and she wins in numbers like no one else has ever done. In short, you can be a great coach/mentor/manager/leader and still produce success.

    She’s also creative. A few years back, Summitt noticed a prize recruit was waffling in her decision to attend Tennessee. Summitt met with the young woman and asked for a glass of water. In it she dropped a fizzy antacid tablet and when the water went cloudy she asked the young player why her crystal clear decision to attend UT had become cloudy.

    The player not only enjoyed the point, but signed up to play for Summitt and became a star.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    Whole Foods and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may be getting close to a resolution of their ongoing battle over the retailer’s acquisition more than a year ago of Wild Oats, as the court hearings into the case scheduled for later this month have been postponed.

    Both parties requested that the February 17-18 hearings not be held, though they did not give a reason; it was reported late last week that Whole Foods and the FTC are engaged in settlement talks that would result in the end of both court and administrative hearings that have been seeking to unravel the deal.

    While the acquisition closed more than a year ago and Wild Oats has been almost completely consumed by Whole Foods, the FTC continues to maintain that it was anti-competitive and would reduce choice and raise prices for consumers. Whole Foods maintains that there is plenty of competition in the natural/organic segment, and that prices have, in fact, come down.

    KC's View:
    As a personal favor, I wish that if Whole Foods and the FTC are going to come to an agreement, they would do so ASAP…because quite frankly, I’m tired of writing about it and tired of thinking about how my tax dollars are being spent by a government agency that clearly has gone off the rails. (Oops…I did it again.)

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    USA Today this morning reports that the peanut butter-related salmonella outbreak has resulted in more than 800 recalls, with more expected to come. More than 500 people reportedly have been sickened because of the outbreak, and as many as eight people may have died from salmonella-related effects.

    As detailed by the paper, “The recall, one of the largest ever, started with bulk peanut butter, spread to crackers and cookies and has engulfed products as diverse as kettle corn, pad Thai and trail mix. Whole Foods, for one, has removed more than 80 products from its stores, its website says. Anecdotal evidence indicates that sales of all peanut-related products, even unaffected peanut butters, are slipping, says Robert Brackett, senior vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry trade group.”

    Virtually all of the affected products seem to have come from Atlanta-based Peanut Corp. of America, and the government reportedly is investigating the company and could file criminal charges.

    The paper reported last week that the FDA probe into the plant has revealed “poor sanitation, conditions that would allow salmonella to spread, a gap in the roof through which salmonella contaminated water or bird feces could fall, the presence of roaches and failure by the firm to check that its peanut-roasting process killed salmonella.”

    The recall of products made with peanut butter and peanut paste manufactured in the facility has been expanded to items produced for the past two years, which the government says makes it one of the largest recalls ever.

    In related news, Consumers Union yesterday released a statement saying that “President Obama’s call today for a top-to-bottom review of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is good news for consumers,” and it called for regulations that would require that every processing plant in the country be inspected on an annual basis.

    "The FDA is supposed to be a watchdog for consumers, and for too long, this agency has been coming up short,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. “The FDA has been so severely weakened by cutbacks in staffing and funding, and is so poorly equipped to deal with today’s food industry, with its mass production and distribution systems and global sourcing of ingredients, that it can no longer keep food safe.”

    KC's View:
    This is what you call a systemic collapse. There is a manufacturer that apparently dropped the ball when it came to food safety procedures, and may well be found to be criminally negligent. (Though we know the senior executives almost certainly will blame workers and underlings. And then, if the story develops the way I expect it to, the senior executives will request a government bailout, which they will use to buy a private jet, pay themselves bonuses and go off on a corporate retreat to some spa/resort. At this point, my cynicism knows almost no bounds…)

    At any rate, they’re out of business…it is hard to imagine any circumstances under which they continue to operate.

    But the FDA also has to shoulder some culpability here. The Obama administration ought to move quickly to start a top-to-bottom review and restructuring of the nation’s food safety apparatus.

    There may be some hope for this, by the way. In his interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, the Washington Post notes this morning, President Obama talked about food safety…and did so from the perspective of a concerned parent.

    "I think the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch them, so we're going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations," Obama told Lauer. "At a bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter," the president said.
    “That's what Sasha eats for lunch," Obama said, referring to his 7-year-old daughter. "Probably three times a week. I don't want to worry about whether she's going to get sick as a consequence of eating her lunch."
    The Post notes that the FDA “is being run by an acting commissioner; Obama has yet to name a new agency chief, although the White House has said an appointment is likely to come within days.”

    Let’s hope it is someone who can bring some out-of-the-box thinking to the notion of food safety. Because the box we’re in now seems to be contaminated with old, bad ideas.

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    CIES is out with its annual “Top Of Mind” survey, and not surprisingly “the economy and consumer demand” is the number one issue on industry executives’ minds, followed by food safety, which has the number two position for the second year in a row.

    However, as often happens in this survey, retailers seem to have a different set of priorities than retailers…at least once you get past recession-driven economic concerns.

    The survey is based on a sample of nearly 600 retail and manufacturing decision makers across food and consumer goods industries in 54 countries.

    This is how the overall breakings broke out:

    1. The economy and consumer demand
    2. Food safety
    3. Corporate responsibility
    4. The competitive landscape
    5. Retailer-supplier relations
    6. The “retail brand”
    7. Consumer health and nutrition
    8. Consumer marketing
    9. Technology and supply chain issues
    10. Human resources
    11. Internationalization
    12. Operational issues (store openings, pricing, labeling)

    Retailers saw the world this way:

    1. The economy and consumer demand
    2. The “retail brand”
    3. The competitive landscape
    4. Food safety
    5. Corporate responsibility
    6. Retailer-supplier relations
    7. Consumer health and nutrition
    8. Technology and supply chain issues
    9. Consumer marketing
    10. Human resources
    11. Operational issues (store openings, pricing, labeling)
    12. Internationalization

    And, manufacturers had a somewhat different view of the world:

    1. The economy and consumer demand
    2. Corporate responsibility
    3. Retailer-supplier relations
    4. Food safety (tied with Consumer Health & Nutrition)
    5. Consumer Health & Nutrition (tied with Food safety)
    6. The competitive landscape
    7. The “retail brand”
    8. Consumer marketing
    9. Technology and supply chain issues
    10. Internationalization
    11. Human resources
    12. Operational issues (store openings, pricing, labeling)

    KC's View:
    You can debate these priorities all day long, but I will make one point.

    It seems to me at least a little worrisome that “human resources” is a little low on the list. Not surprising, but worrisome. Because if retailing and manufacturing executives alike do not pay attention to the people on the front lines – understanding that they are no better than their employees – then they have little hope of achieving excellence in all these other areas.

    This may just be semantics. But at the very least, businesses need to keep this in mind.

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    The Boston Globe has an interesting story suggesting that as customers look for ways to save money, one way to do so is to use e-grocery shopping services…the theory being that such programs cut down on the impulse purchases that often add dollars to regular shopping trips.

    The Globe puts it this way: While acknowledging that e-grocery services usually carry some sort of fee structure “to get somebody else to pick up your groceries and deliver them to your door. That cost can make it seem like a luxury - why pay extra when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself?

    “But even factoring in the money, Peapod, as well as the delivery service provided by another grocery chain, Roche Bros. Supermarkets, can offer savings to the savvy shopper not just in minutes, but in dollars.

    “These services are the first line against exactly the kind of late-list additions that … jack up the bill on even the simplest shopping trips. A quick run for milk and eggs suddenly becomes milk and eggs and, oh those, English muffins look good, and, whoops, I'm low on cream cheese, and some strawberry jelly would be nice, and those new pretzels look yummy. Suddenly that $8 tab is $18 or $28.

    “But on Peapod, spontaneity is harder. You click through virtual aisles, build a list, and keep an eye on the running total. If minds are changed, there's no awkward attempt to hide the cottage cheese container in the magazine rack. Just click and it's gone. Same goes for impulse buys.”

    KC's View:
    There have been a number of stories here recently about the decline in impulse purchasing, including one about research done by IRI in this area.

    I do think that some of this is inevitable, as people watch their money a lot more carefully than in the recent past. But I think that “impulse” can mean a lot of things…it can mean a product with little nutritional value, bought for a screaming child or a rumbling tummy. Or it can be based on an idea, a little bit of marketing magic, when a retailer works hard to help the consumer find new ways to feed his or her family is a responsible way.

    That’s what retailers ought to be doing, in-store and online. The impulse purchase can be the best purchase of the shopping trip … but retailers ought not think about it as an easy, casual purchase, but one that has far greater meaning.

    BTW…it isn’t in the food category, but I make a lot of impulse purchases when surfing around…because they are always telling me about new things based on past shopping behavior. It is highly targeted, highly suggestive…and it works. And I never resent it. I embrace it.

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    The Washington Post reports that the US Commerce Department has issued a new report saying that “as the economy spiraled downward” last December and contracted at a rate not seen in two decades, “consumers retreated, spending $102.4 billion, or 1 percent, less than the month before … The savings rate rose to 3.6 percent from 2.8 percent.”

    The result? When consumers held onto their money, it “cut off oxygen” to a broad number of retailers, which is leading to some going out of business (Circuit City, Linens ‘n Things) and others slashing their workforces (Macy’s, Starbucks).

    KC's View:
    All this means is that a lot of retailers need to learn to hold their breath. And tread water. All at the same time.

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    • Walmart said yesterday that it plans to test “a new type of heavy-duty commercial hybrid truck and a new type of alternatively fueled truck,” which are part of its “efforts to build on its progress in developing a more sustainable trucking fleet.”

    According to the statement released by the company, “Wal-Mart achieved more than a 25 percent increase in efficiency within its private fleet between 2005 and 2008, surpassing one of the company's stated sustainability goals. By reaching this goal, Wal-Mart has been able to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and its fuel use. This goal was reached by using a combination of new, innovative technologies, better delivery routes and by loading its trailers more efficiently. Now, the company is working toward its goal of doubling its fleet efficiency by 2015, from its 2005 baseline. Part of this pilot program is to determine if alternatively fueled trucks can help move Wal-Mart toward that goal in addition to reducing environmental impacts.”

    The New York Times reports this morning that “Wal-Mart is also using special tracking software to optimize drivers’ routes — a strategy that U.P.S. and other companies are also deploying.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    • Forrester Research has published new projections saying that despite the current recession, it expects that 2009 online sales will increase 11 percent to $156 billion, representing seven percent of total US retail sales.

    This marks a bit of a slowdown in the growth rate for e-commerce, In 2008, online sales grew 13 percent; it represented six percent of total US retail sales.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    • The San Antonio Business Journal reports that Nash Finch has closed on its $80 million acquisition of three wholesale distribution facilities from GSC Enterprises, which it says will extend the company’s ability to serve US military commissaries.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    I’m traveling this week to Barcelona, where I am attending and presenting a new video at the annual CIES Food Safety Conference. There shouldn’t be much interruption to service here at MorningNewsBeat…but Internet access sometimes being not as reliable as one would always like, you never know. So I appreciate your patience if the site gets posted at odd times during the next couple of days.

    BTW…there is an upside to my travels. Michael Sansolo has agreed to contribute an extra Sansolo Speaks column this week, and “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert is writing a guest column that will run on Thursday. So you have something else to look forward to…
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 3, 2009

    At the annual National Grocers Association (NGA) convention in Las Vegas, Kraft Foods announced this morning that it has established the Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, created as a way to highlight and reward retailers that have shown “the most tangible example of persistence, vision, and creative entrepreneurship throughout the past year.”

    The award also is designed to be a lasting memorial for Tom Zaucha, who is entering his final year as President and CEO of NGA.

    The first winner of the Zaucha Award is Michael A. Provenzano Sr., president/CEO of Pro’s Ranch Markets, described as “one of the fastest growing Hispanic Supermarket chains in the country” and “a vital, growing, and evolving business model founded upon the principles of a good old fashioned work ethic and bolstered by a creative vision” and persistence.

    KC's View: