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    Published on: April 14, 2009

    by Michael Sansolo

    Words convey so much both in how they are used and how they are chosen. This past weekend I witnessed a great example of this while riding a New York City subway train - always a great place to experience language.

    What happened wasn’t about foul or ugly language, but rather something intended to be helpful. In New York, like most cities, the subway system creates a little problem at every stop thanks to the small amount of space left open between the subway car and the platform. In London, the ever-civilized city, riders are reminded constantly to Mind the Gap. It’s even on tourist items.

    New York approaches the problem a little differently. The sign in my subway car urged riders to be aware of the space with a simple phrase: Get Over It! Oh how I love New York.

    The language we use in managing people similarly creates an image as vivid as Get Over It expresses New York’s curt, but effective manner. But ask yourself what language and what style you use and how well it conveys the message you wish to your staff.

    A recent study by the excellent Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) examined personality traits that are signs of problems in a career. It provides something every leader or manager needs to consider as we approach daily interaction with our staff.

    In 25 years of study, CCL found some basic characteristics of managers whose careers fail to reach the heights. Three key personality traits predicting failure are executives who are less trusting of people, who are more conceptual and abstract in the way they think, and those who tend to reveal too much personal information.

    Getting into specific characteristics, CCL found problems come for those who are: authoritarian, cold, aloof, arrogant or insensitive, fail to handle staff effectively, fail to handle conflict, fail to build or lead a team, can’t think strategically and can’t adapt, grow, learn and develop. In addition, those who are overly ambitious, lack follow through, perform poorly or lack preparation to move to the next step are also bound to struggle.

    In many ways, this isn’t a surprise. People who don’t trust others won’t create much trust in themselves. Abstract thinkers may be important, but occasionally we have to come down from the clouds to manage the nuts and bolts.

    But most importantly, CCL explains what managers have to do to succeed. It begins with understanding these key personality traits and honestly assessing ourselves for areas to improve and adjust. There are countless business books these days that remind us how leaders aren’t born, but rather grow into their skills and success.

    The start of baseball season always reminds me of this point because it provides such clear examples of growth and improvement. Joe Torre, now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a classic case. Torre grew from a fairly unsuccessful leader at the Mets, Braves and others into a certain Hall of Fame candidate in his winning years with the Yankees and now the Dodgers. He’s the same person, but he became a completely different manager. (And any baseball fans who attribute his success to the players he was given need only contemplate the performance of the Yankees or Dodgers just before he arrived.)

    For those of us in less objective fields, where winning and losing isn’t so easily measured, the challenge is tougher. But CCL’s guidance offers some food for thought as we think of that next discussion with an associate or a superior.

    Remember, there is only a small space between the train and the platform, but a yawning divide between Mind the Gap and Get Over It. Choose your words - and style - carefully.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    The Hartford Courant has a story about how Ahold-owned Stop & Shop has installed hand-held scanning technology - which allows shoppers to scan products as they place them in their shopping carts, keep a running total and then pay at the end without going through a traditional checkout line – in several of its Connecticut stores.

    According to the story, Stop & Shop is convinced that the “Scan It” devices, which are manufactured by Modiv Media, can cut time off the shopping trip and perhaps even serve as a lure to customers to choose the chain over one of its competitors.

    Not everybody feels that way, however…competitors such as Price Chopper, Shaws, Big Y and Whole Foods tell the Courant that they remain unconvinced the technology is quite the panacea that it is promoted to be.

    KC's View:
    Is it just me, or does it occur to anyone that this so-called “new” technology has been around so long that it doesn’t quite deserve to be called “new” anymore?

    Now, I’ve seen this kind of technology work; at Delhaize-owned Bloom, for example, it is part of the overall package and makes sense in terms of the technology-driven approach being used for that particular format. And, by the way, they’ve been using it at Bloom for years.

    I’m pretty sure that at Bloom, management is smart enough to be looking beyond this sort of self-scanning technology to figure out what the next iteration or innovation will be.

    At Ahold and Stop & Shop, the questions they should be asking themselves include:

    • Are these devices being used as a tactic or as a strategy? (The right answer is “tactic.”)

    • What is the broader strategic vision for Stop & Shop that these devices serve?

    • If it is such a winner, why is the technology not in every Stop & Shop?

    Here’s what I think. These hand-held scanning devices promise speed, and it is debatable whether they really provide it. But I don't think it matters. I think what the consumer really wants, far more than speed, is access to a transparent information flow that gives broader and deeper knowledge about the products that people are thinking about buying.

    And even though an awful lot of stores don't have this technology, it somehow just feels old to me … and not representative of a strategic, long-range approach to food retailing.

    Published on: April 14, 2009 reports on the burgeoning in-store health clinic trend, which experts say has led to the opening of 1,200 units generating sales of about $545 million – and by 2013, the number of such clinics is expected to double and the sales are projected to more than triple. Consumer awareness of the existence of such clinics is up from 38 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2009.

    But the real impact, according to the story, may be elsewhere.

    "In many ways these retail clinics are a response to a broken health care system," Jonathan Weiner, professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells CNN. "Not everyone has good access to primary care. We're also dealing with a shortage of primary care doctors in this country.”

    Here’s the interesting part:

    A survey by WSL Strategic Retail says that “usage of store clinics has increased the most among younger consumers, who are less likely to have ties to a family physician or to have insurance,” CNN writes, while consumers making $100,000 or more per year “are warming up to retail clinics faster than low-income or uninsured consumers who may not be able to afford the average $60 fee.”

    KC's View:
    This seems like yet another instance where there will debate among various members of the establishment – in this case, the medical establishment – about whether or not this fits their ideas about how the business model should work, while young people, who have no such allegiances, are perfectly accepting of it.

    This happens so often, it seems to me – while institutions are preoccupied with the past, young people simply move on. Which leaves institutions in danger of becoming irrelevant.

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Anheuser-Busch InBev may be considering the sale of its Rolling Rock brand, which has seen its sales drop 13 percent since 2004.

    Ironically, Anheuser bought Rolling Rock from InBev for $82 million three years ago, long before InBev bought Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion in 2008.

    According to the story, A-B is looking to sell off non-core brands so that it can pay off debt from the merger of the two companies; while it has been trying to reposition Rolling Rock as a craft beer, it has been unable to reverse the sales decline being suffered by the brand.

    The Journal notes that A-B was fielding offers earlier this year, but wasn't satisfied with any of them.

    KC's View:
    It’s funny…I used to drink Rolling Rock, but over the years have switched to other brands, like Landshark, which is my current favorite among lighter US brews. (Also an A-B brand, by the way.)

    Whether it is owned by A-B or sold to someone else, the owners have to remind people like me why I liked Rolling Rock, and rekindle a kind of emotional connection. Not easy, but it’s a lot easier to make that connection with a beer than with, say, Brussels sprouts.

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    Earlier this month, it was reported that Supervalu-owned Albertsons decided to drop its online shopping and home delivery service in the Boise, Idaho, and Portland, Oregon, markets, saying that the economy made the service problematic.

    Now, Albertsons has announced that it will no longer provide grocery delivery services in the Southern California market, though it will still allow consumers to order online and pick up orders at their stores. The per-order pickup fee will be $5.95, and shoppers will have to place orders by 10 am for same-day pickup.

    KC's View:
    Not surprised when anyone decides to move to a pickup model, since that generally has been proven to be the most profitable model when it comes to online grocery shopping. But the piece of this that surprises me is the 10 am deadline for same-day delivery…which just seems wholly unreasonable from the consumer perspective; shoppers want a lot more flexibility than that kind of deadline offers them.

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    HealthDay News has a piece that revisits an old debate – whether or not pregnant women and nursing mothers should restrict the amount of seafood they eat because of concerns about mercury toxicity and its impact on children’s developing nervous systems. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says they should – that they need to avoid fish that may be higher in mercury levels and eat a total of no more than 12 ounces a week.

    However, the opposite argument – that seafood actually is critical for proper neural development – is gaining currency, with some pretty strong evidence that the more seafood moms eat, the better their children do in tests of their mental functions and moor skills. (Though avoiding fish high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish and albacore tuna seems to be a pretty good idea no matter which side of the argument you are on.)

    Still, in the United States the debate seems entirely academic – since not that many Americans eat 12 ounces of seafood a week, let along expectant and nursing mothers.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    • Walmart announced that to observe Earth Month in April, it is offering 500 Earth-friendly products, including 10 that are less than $10, such as t-shirts made from 100 percent organic cotton, recycled hangars, and reusable shopping bags.

    According to the announcement, “Walmart is supporting Earth Month 2009 with online banner advertisements that demonstrate in a fun, unique way the impact that certain eco-friendly products can have if all 200 million Walmart shoppers in the U.S. purchased them.

    “Walmart is also sponsoring the ‘Earth Day, Every Day School Challenge,’ in the U.S. to recognize schools across the country that are taking active strides to create a greener, healthier planet. Entrants will have until May 1 to submit a 200-word essay, describing the eco-friendly activities that the school they are nominating has enacted in the past 24 months. The twenty finalists will each be awarded a $500 Walmart gift card and invited to compete for the grand prize: a $20,000 grant from Walmart to be used toward the continuation of the winning school's eco-friendly projects.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    • Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets in the western US said yesterday that in celebration of Earth Day, its stores will be giving away free canvas bags to customers on Wednesday, April 22nd when they spend $10 or more. This special giveaway is part of an effort to encourage customers to reuse bags and lessen their impact on the environment.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    • The San Diego Union Tribune reports that Stater Bros. is working with Coca-Cola and the California State Parks system to raise money so that one million seedlings can be planted at two state parks where woodlands were destroyed by forest fires last year.

    The goal is to raise $500,000, to make up for cuts in the state budget caused by the current recession.

    One interesting note in the story that some people might not know: Stater Bros. CEO Jack Brown was a firefighter in the Southern California forest region more than 40 years ago.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Stater Bros. has decided to sell its Santee Dairies business to Dean Foods. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Stater CEO Jack Brown said that Santee Dairies had limited prospects because his competition – Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons – refused to purchase milk from it because they didn’t want to spend money on a competitor.

    • PepsiCo has filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, charging that it its ads for Powerade sports drinks misrepresent the effectiveness of Pepsi’s Gatorade .

    • BJ’s Wholesale Club announced that it is expanding the acceptance of food stamps to all of its warehouse stores; previously, only 30 of its 180 stores took food stamps, but the recession prompted it to change the policy.

    • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) announced yesterday that it is suspending the publication of its GMA Forum/e-Forum properties, citing “current economic realities” that have had an adverse impact on advertising revenue.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    • Harry Kalas, the longtime broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies, died yesterday at age 73 after he collapsed while preparing to broadcast the Phillies-Washington Nationals game in DC. Kalas also was the longtime voice of NFL Films.

    • Mark Fidrych, the colorful and idiosyncratic pitcher who became nationally known when he played for the Detroit Tigers in 1976, died yesterday while working on his truck. He was 54.

    Fidrych, who won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1976, saw his career cut short by injuries.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    • Aeon, Japan’s second largest retailer, said that it had a $27.7 million (US) net loss for the just completed fiscal year – its first annual net loss in seven years.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 14, 2009

    …will return.
    KC's View: