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    Published on: June 5, 2009

    BENTONVILLE, Arkansas – Walmart is hosting its annual shareholders meeting and media days this week and MNB “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe is there to get a first-hand peek behind the curtains at the world’s biggest retailer.

    Thursday, June 4, 2009…

    8:16 a.m. After gathering to pick up credentials at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Rogers, Arkansas, we boarded buses to take us to our first stop – Walmart Distribution Center 6094, which is located approximately halfway between headquarters and the Northwest Arkansas Airport. We’ve been warned not to take any pictures or video in the distribution center, since much of what we will be seeing is proprietary.

    These guys walk the walk, by the way. No paper press kits. We all get a flash drive with all the information we need on it. Smart. More companies and trade associations should learn from this – they talk about being “green,” and then they give out press kits that must be responsible for the felling of entire forests.

    8:19 a.m. It is extraordinary how many languages I hear being spoken around me – Spanish, Russian, even what I think is Portuguese. (I’m cheating a bit here. I heard someone refer to people from Portugal, so I’m guessing that the language I don't recognize must be Portuguese.) There is a sense of anticipation here, like we’re on the road to Oz.

    8:28 a.m. We see the Distribution Center. It isn’t anything like Oz. For one thing, it is flatter. For another, Oz is smaller.

    8:30 a.m. The bus pulls into the parking lot, drives around a bit, and then leaves the premises. Either the driver took the wrong entrance, or this is going to be a colossal waste of time.

    8:32 a.m. It was the wrong turn. He’s trying a different entrance. I’m feeling better now. My first time in a Walmart distribution center.

    8:45 a.m. We’re gathered in a conference room being given some basic details about this Distribution Center. It is one of 147 owned by Walmart, and is dedicated to general merchandise and HBC. No grocery or fresh products here. It is 1.2 million square feet in size and contains 12 miles of conveyor belts.

    The DC generally processes about 400,000 cases a day, but is capable of processing 600,000 cases daily during peak holiday seasons. It is a 24-hour a day facility.

    We’re told that approximately 700 employees work here, and that more than 20 percent of them have been with the company for 20 years or more, and they make an average wage of $17 per hour. That doesn’t sound like a lot…but then again, Arkansas probably isn’t a wildly expensive place to live, and as many people make more than that as make less than that.

    8:53 a.m. We venture out onto the floor, escorted by Kevin Jones, a Walmart executive who’s been with the company for a decade, and has been working in the DC for a couple of years. He tells us that in a majority of cases, before product even arrives at the DC, it already has been allocated to the store for which it is destined. For the 60 percent of product, it actually is in the warehouse for just 30 minutes to an hour…essentially coming in one door and going out through one of the 120 docks, each one assigned to one of the 120 stores that are served by this DC.

    When things are working right, merchandise comes into the DC, goes out of the DC, gets to the store and is sold long before Walmart ever has to pay the invoice. Yikes.

    8:57 a.m. The requisite “corn factor” that one expects from Walmart: the staging area where the DC hosts meetings of employees is actually a platform that sits in front on a replica of the original Walton’s five-and-dime store. Actually, on second thought, it isn’t so corny…it actually is an impressive reminder of the company’s roots, and how far it has come.

    8:58 a.m. I ask one Walmart guy how come there are so many school flags hanging from the rafters. He explains that they are all schools that play football in the SEC conference…which apparently, if you are from Arkansas, is the only conference that matters.

    9:03 a.m. Lots of empty shelves in the DC. Somewhat surprising, but Kevin Jones say that this is a good thing. “Our goal is to have empty racks, because that means we’re moving stuff through,” he says. Okay.

    Also lots of aisles that seem dark. Also on purpose, Jones says. The lights are on motion sensors to both save money and reduce electrical usage; there’s no reason for aisles to be lighted up if there’s nobody in them. Makes sense to me.

    9:05 a.m. Interesting. Looking around, it seems as if there are almost as many Walmart people on the tour as members of the media. My first thought is that they don’t trust us. My second thought is that it really is me that they don't trust. But it actually seems as if a lot of these Walmart people are from out of town, and this is part of their ongoing education.

    9:12 a.m. Just noticed a big sign highlighting the ‘Sundown Rule”: every request gets responded to the same day that it is made.

    9:14 a.m. Jones says that stores get between one and five truckloads of merchandise each day, depending on the size of the store.

    9:15 a.m. In the break-pack area, where orders are pulled together that do not require full cases, there is a line on each and every box noting that each box costs 75 cents – an ever present reminder of Walmart’s relentless attention to detail.

    9:16 a.m. Just noticed that virtually every pallet in the place is from Chep. This is not a scientific study, just an observation. But it seems like extraordinary penetration.

    9:22 a.m. We’ve just climbed several sets of staircases to get to the upper levels of the DC, watching product fly over conveyor belts. Jones pulled off one box and showed us that it actually came into the DC at 9 a.m., and said that it was almost guaranteed to be on a truck ready to leave the DC by 9:45. Yikes.

    All I can think of is that it is hard to imagine how RFID would make this system move any faster or more accurately. But if it does, and Walmart establishes RFID as a differential supply chain advantage, that’s going to be a major problem for anyone competing with the retailer.

    9:32 a.m. Back downstairs now. Jones points out the non-conveyable freight…the stuff that just won’t work on the conveyor belts. Large flat screen televisions are sitting next to 40-pound bags of dog food.

    9:40 a.m. Watching the boxes of product fly across yet more conveyor belts, get scanned by a laser, and then get diverted onto one of 120 slots that are set up for each store served by the DC. There’s one guy there whose sole job seems to be to make sure that the bar codes are facing up. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like a very challenging way to make a living. On the other hand, if he screws up, the whole infrastructure falls apart and nobody gets the product they need. So maybe he’s worth $17 an hour…

    9:45 a.m. With some pride, Jones says that logistics is Walmart’s biggest advantage….and he points out that the company’s most recent CEOs – Mike Duke, Lee Scott and David Glass – all came out of logistics.

    9:50 a.m. not sure what this means, but just noticed that all the reporters seem to be taking notes using pens and paper. All the Walmart people are using PDAs. No wonder print journalism is dying.

    9:55 a.m. They just showed us the aerosol room, which is where all the aerosol cans are kept separate for everything else. It can be closed down quickly in case of a fire or explosion, and somehow they’ve engineered it so any explosion goes out, not in. That may be true, but I wouldn’t want to test it.

    10:05 a.m. Wow! We’re in the parking lot looking at two prototype trucks that Walmart is testing. One is powered by an Electric Hybrid engine, and the other uses reclaimed grease from the company’s food stores as fuel. (There’s the upside of the obesity crisis…the fast food that we’re all eating is going to kill us, but it’s going to create clean energy for trucking fleets. I wonder if the trucks go down the highway smelling like French fries. I’d ask, but they’d probably think I’m a wisenheimer.

    Interesting stats. Walmart’s trucks logged 800 million miles last year and delivered 161 million more cases of product than the previous year…but actually logged 87 million fewer miles than in 2007. I think that’s called a differential advantage.

    10:10 a.m. Elizabeth Fretheim, director business strategy and sustainability for logistics, tells us that Walmart is looking at every aspect of its fleet to find efficiencies – from hubcaps to tires to aerodynamics to “side skirts.”

    10:15 a.m. DC tour is over. Time to get back on the buses and go to a Bentonville Sam’s Club store.

    10:45 a.m. We arrive at a Sam’s Club. It is located behind a Neighborhood Market, which nobody seems to want to talk about.

    10:48 a.m. Off the bus, ready to get the tour. Uh-oh. The employees are lined up at the entrance, and they’re clapping and cheering. My east coast cynic alarm just went off. Have to try to control it.

    10:51 a.m. Cynicism episode over. Just talked to someone who reads MNB each day. These are wise and sophisticated folks.

    10:53 a.m. We’re being shown the aisle that used to be called “hardware,” and that used to carry power tools. No more. The aisle is devoted to so-called “home efficiency” products – ranging from a dual flush toilet to light bulbs – that can help people be more green in their homes and offices while saving green on their purchases. This is impressive. Never seen anything quite like this penetration of environmentally friendly products anywhere else. In most cases, they use signs to quantify the savings that each product offers consumers beyond the cost of the actual item. For example, the dual flush toilet can cut water usage by 16,000 gallons a year and save a homeowner more than a hundred bucks annually.

    11:04 a.m. Ah…we’re in the fresh section. Executives are explaining how Sam’s Club is being a lot more aggressive in finding products that are useful to its shoppers, no longer just funneling through the products that manufacturers want to sell. Real focus on home meal solutions. This section of the store smells great. My stomach is growling. Haven't had anything to eat since 5:30 this morning when I was finishing up MNB.

    11:06 a.m. Just sampled the crab cake and jambalaya. Yum…

    11:08 a.m. Tried the chicken salad made with rotisserie chicken, served on a fresh croissant. Nice and chunky, just the way I like it. Yumm…

    11:09 a.m. Uh-oh. Tasted the key lime cake made with strawberry and coconut. Also very good. Am caught on slippery slope…got to move onto another section.

    11:10 a.m. Just got a presentation on Sam’s Cooking Club, which seems like a very, very smart idea. Sam’s creates an infrastructure for people looking for meal ideas and money-saving tips. People sign up, and they get weekly menus and recipes that allow customers to work together to pull them together. Somebody does the shopping for items available at Sam’s, somebody does the cooking, someone else does the prep work and cleanup. Mostly branded products, but the service is free – it is an organizational idea that can drive sales through information and product. Like I said, very, very smart.

    11:20 a.m. Just tired some orange chicken and rice. Not bad.

    11:22 a.m. Ooooo…angus cheeseburger sliders. I’d eat a dozen, but there are too many members of the media around. I’ll just have two.

    11:25 a.m. It’s interesting that whenever Walmart execs talk about their consumers, it is always as “mom.” According to them, she’s cooking, she’s cleaning, she’s raising the kids, she’s getting them to school, she’s feeding them, she’s trying to help them lead healthy lives, and she’s trying to find ways to be beautiful and healthy herself while doing all this other stuff.

    I keep wondering, where the hell are all the men?

    11:30 a.m. Guy giving us a presentation on HBC trends just mentioned that incontinence products are moving fast because of aging baby boomers and caregivers. As an aging baby boomer, I really don't want to hear it.

    11:40 a.m. They’re giving us a chance to wander around and shop if we like. But I’m going to resist the impulse because whatever it is, I’ll have to figure out how to get it home on the plane. On the other hand, there was that ice cream sampling station that I passed before and tried to ignore…and maybe I could get seconds on the jambalaya.

    12:15 a.m. Time to get back on the bus. Everybody else is going to lunch, but for some reason, I’m not hungry. Besides, I have to get back to my room and start working on tomorrow’s MNB…which I have to do early today because a) I’m getting together with some local MNB readers tonight at the Bonefish Grill, and b) we have to get on the bus at 5:30 a.m. to go to the annual shareholders meeting.

    Later on in the day… Looking forward to the Friday shareholders meeting, which I’ve been told is a high form of theater. The rumors are that both Ben Stiller and Michael Jordan will be making appearances, but I keep wondering if Walmart might do something keyed to its plans to expand its Apple departments. He’s been on medical leave and is supposed to remain so until the end of the month, but wouldn’t it be something if Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed up tomorrow…it would give a boost to both Walmart and Apple, and would take some air out of the publicity balloon that has been helping the launch of Palm’s new Pre smartphone, which is being called legitimate and impressive competition to the iPhone. I’m just speculating…maybe even engaging in wishful thinking…but we’ll see….

    More to come…Monday on MorningNewsBeat…

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    Good piece in USA Today about why more and more retailers – from Target to Toys R Us – are stocking grocery products and other basic consumables.

    The reason can be summed up in one word: Walmart.

    Here is the rationale, in a nutshell:

    “Consumables weren't seen as a growth engine before,” USA Today writes, because “profit margins are much thinner in food than apparel or home furnishings.” But now, learning from Walmart’s success in an economic downturn that threatens to have long-term repercussions in terms of consumer spending habits, “merchants are realizing that if shoppers are going to keep spending less, stores need them to come in more frequently. Offering a greater range of necessities will help.”

    The big question – and it is one that probably cannot be answered with any certainty until the recession is over and some level of prosperity has returned – is whether in good times Walmart can keep the customers it has lured into its stores during hard times.

    That’s one of the challenges facing Walmart’s new CEO, Mike Duke, who has to find ways to retain upscale customers – something that has always been hard for the company to do. Forays into fashion apparel have been less than successful, but Walmart has done a better job in areas such as flat screen televisions; Business Week reports this week that it is expected that Duke will push Walmart into an expanded presence in computers and other high end electronics via alliances with companies such as Apple and Dell.

    Insiders, Business Week writes, say that Duke is “taking a big hand in moving Walmart upscale while continuing to emphasize its low-price mantra. Aisles are being widened, lighting improved, and shelves lowered to give the stores a more sophisticated feel. Even the well-trafficked corridor known as ‘Action Alley’ is no longer packed with pallets of random merchandise.”

    KC's View:
    Perhaps it is inevitable when a company is as big as Walmart, but in a lot of ways I think there are two very different companies. There are the stores operated by Walmart in the southern tier of the US, of which the units that I see in places like Bentonville are fairly typical – clean, bright, well-merchandised. And then there are the stores that they operate near me, in New England, which would not be described that way and will have a much harder time hitting the right notes in any sort of upscale movement.

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    CBS News reports that a new study by the Foundation for Childhood Development says that one of the possible impacts of the recession will be an increase in childhood obesity that could “virtually erase decades of improvements in American children's well-being.”

    According to the story, “Along with the direct impact of the decline in families' economic well-being, children will likely suffer from a range of indirect effects of the recession, the report forecasts. Obesity may rise from parents' reliance on cheap meals, behavioral problems could increase if adolescents who are not in school cannot find jobs, and state and local budget cuts could limit the availability of pre-kindergarten programs.”

    Which means, the Foundation suggests, that early childhood education and social programs need to be considered as a way of staving off these problems.
    KC's View:
    A lot of people, myself included, will respond to this challenge by asking where the money for such programs is going to come from. At some point, the spigot has to get turned off…hopefully before the well has gone completely dry.

    That said, the kinds of problems that the Foundation is projecting could occur also will have an economic impact. And so, I suppose, one has to figure out where money is best spent.

    Of course, it also would be nice if parents would actually be parents, even when money is tight and the economy doesn’t show promise.

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that Safeway employees represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have agreed to a contract extension that will keep them working under terms of the deal that expired early last month until June 26. This is the third extension as the two sides work to negotiate a contract that will prevent any sort of labor action.

    Unionized employees at Kroger-owned King Soopers and Albertsons are working without a contract at the present time.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that “amid the economic downturn and slow growth for retail and outpatient medical care services, pharmacy giants Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark Corp. are rolling out new specialized services at their in-store clinics, going beyond treatment of routine maladies.”

    The two retailers appear to be doubling down on their bets that in-store health clinics can be an effective and profitable way to address shortcomings that are seen in the nation’s healthcare system, making certain kinds of basic care both more affordable and accessible.

    According to the story, “retail clinic operators now are training nurses to do specialized injections for such chronic conditions as osteoporosis and asthma. In addition, they are offering treatments for advanced skin conditions that include removal of warts and skin tags or closing minor wounds. Care for minor ‘sprains and strains’ also is being offered at some retailers, and pilot projects are underway for breathing treatments and special infusions of drugs derived from biotechnology.”

    KC's View:
    The good news, I think, is that the clinics where such expansions are taking place seem to be working with physicians in developing such options…which means that perhaps some of doctors’ resistance to the existence of in-store health clinics may be subsiding somewhat. Many see them as a threat, but it seems to me that this is a kind of typical mistake – not realizing that the paradigm is changing, and being so locked into old ways that one is unable to adapt to new realities.

    This is usually the path to irrelevance.

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    In other Walmart news this week…

    • Wan Ling Martello, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Walmart, told the media conference in Bentonville, Arkansas, yesterday that the company is actively pursuing a global acquisition strategy, and that Russia is a likely candidate for the company to bring its low-price strategy.

    • Walmart has announced plans to go into business with “Hannah Montana” star Miley Cyrus, creating a new line of budget friendly fashion items that will reflect the star’s teen-oriented pop persona.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Procter & Gamble has decide to pull all of its Max Factor cosmetics line from US stores, saying that it just isn’t popular enough anymore to justify the investment. However, Max factor will remain a global brand; the Journal notes that “Max Factor ranks among the top brands in strategically important markets such as Russia and the United Kingdom.”

    • Coca-Cola flavored with green tea and containing antioxidants is due to reach store shelves in Japan next week, targeted at health-conscious women in their twenties and thirties.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    • BJ’s Wholesale Club said that its May sales were up four percent to $783 million, but that same store sales were off by 6.8 percent.

    • Target Corp. said that its May sales were down 2.3 percent to $4.46 billion, on same-store sales that were down 6.1 percent.

    • Rite Aid reports that its total first quarter sales decreased 1.2 percent to $6.506 billion compared to $6.586 billion during the same period a year ago; same-store sales were down 0.6 percent.

    During May, Rite Aid said, total store sales decreased 1.3 percent to $2.507 billion compared to $2.539 billion a year ago, on same-store sales that were up 0.6 percent.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    Actor David Carradine was found dead in a Thailand hotel room yesterday, and police said it was a possible suicide. He was 72.

    Carradine was perhaps best known as Caine in the seventies television series “Kung Fu,” and had seen a resurgence in recent years as the title character in Quentin Tarrantino’s “Kill Bill” movies.

    KC's View:
    My favorite Carradine performance, by far, was as Woody Guthrie in “Bound For Glory” (1976), the Hal Ashby-directed biopic. There were no gimmicks to the performance – it was just simple and honest.

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    We continue to get emails regarding programs being used by Daymon Associates and Brookshire’s to encourage and reward employees who use private label products; essentially, the companies have created “Publishers Clearing House”-style contests that have their employees sign up to have their kitchens inspected at random times, with prizes being given out based on how many private label items they have in their closets and cabinets. It all seemed harmless to me…but not everyone has agreed.

    One MNB user wrote:

    You mention that the employee has to sign up to be eligible, thus negating the Storm Trooper invasion aspect of the program. Just like the “Employee Free Choice Act” is not a free choice when a union organizer asks you to sign a card or NOT, when your employer initiates a program for which you have to sign up to be eligible, don’t you think there’s just a tad of pressure to sign up to show you’re a loyal employee? I can see where a manufacturer, say Coca Cola, expects its employees to use its products over rivals, like Pepsi, but this is a grocery store that carries many, many brands, all of which are paying that employee’s wages as well as the idiots who thought up the program. To put the pressure on the employee to financially support the private label brands, at the expense of the national brands, is just not right. It’s like the national brands aren’t contributing to the bottom line of that company. It’s just plain wrong.

    MNB user Craig Espelien wrote:

    The concept that Daymon and Topco are using to see what their employees are buying is not new – but has not been done with private brands before. The idea that this is a bit like Big Brother watching is a bit off the charts (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist). If you think of it from Daymon’s perspective, the only way they make money is by selling private brands – and if their own employees are not supporting that business, then perhaps they (the employee) should seek another field. In a former life, I encouraged my employees and challenged the in-house broker we used to assess their own usage – and to remember where the paycheck comes from.

    You would be surprised by the number of employees of some of the largest retailers who shop at a competitors store for the majority of their needs.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Maybe I’m too old, or just too old fashioned, but even with an incentive I would not want my employer looking through my home for private label products. We actually use many private label products and would probably make out pretty well if we were ‘inspected’ because we would have many items in our home, but I would pass on that opportunity out of privacy concerns. One of your reader’s comments noted that employees would feel compelled to buy private label products so they would be viewed as ‘loyal’ employees and I absolutely agree with that assessment. I support my company by making my grocery purchases at our stores and while I purchase many private label products, I don’t appreciate the pressure to buy private label products and wouldn’t sign up for this program regardless of the incentive.

    Just my opinion, but I give enough of myself to my employer at work and don’t need or want product inspections in my home. Last, is it any surprise that Daymon would be pushing this type of promotion within all of their customers? They get paid based on sales of private label products, so if they can talk their customers into playing the ‘Big Brother’ role with their employees to sell more private label products they reap the financial reward…

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Regardless of whether the two programs mentioned are voluntary or not, I believe it is a “slippery slope” scenario. The company I work for has been stressing to us the importance of shopping where we work. It has progressed from “friendly reminders” to now a demand for loyalty. While I agree in principle, the current reality of the economy dictates that I shop where I can afford. Unfortunately, the national chain I work for is not known in any circles as the low-price leader. As a single income family with 3 children, our budget is tight. I can save between $100-$150 a month by shopping at a competitor. The scuttlebutt here is that soon the company is going to be scouring sales via their loyalty card to determine which employees are shopping in our stores.

    My loyalty, first and foremost, will always be to my family; I will do what is right for them. But now I am looking at spending the extra $100-$150 per month on groceries, and not having that money to spend on other necessary expenditures. Cuts will need to be made in order to save my job. As I said, it has not come to that, but the writing has clearly been written on the wall. It is just a matter of time.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Why is the company wasting man hours and invasion concerns, when all they have to do is look at the reports from their loyalty (?) cards. A computer will tell you how many PL vs. Generic vs. Name Brands, I am buying, and even at what price points.

    MNB user John Bastone observed:

    Interesting that a retailer with a loyalty program would need to physically go to houses in order to tally up private label purchases, rather than simply looking within their own customer database. Consequently, the program as you described it would seem to encourage the hoarding of low-price point, shelf-stable products in a pantry, rather than consistent consumption of a wider variety of private label products. I think this is a lost opportunity to educate employees (and management) on the customer insights loyalty data can deliver, when coupled with a program that actually rewards loyalty to the Brookshire brand.

    Well, to begin with, just checking on purchases at Brookshire’s is a lot less fun. It also is somehow scarier to have management sorting through employees’ receipts to see what they’ve been buying. But maybe that’s just me being a conspiracy theorist.

    MNB user Patricia Berry wrote:

    I am truly surprised by some of the reactions to the program by Brookshire and Daymon. First of all it is voluntary and if the people are willing to have their employers in their homes that is their choice. My only question to all of these folks that are so against this program is - do you not voluntarily support your companies products by purchasing them at the store? It seems to me that if an employer wants to pay me a salary and I work for a company that is an honest business that supplies a good product, I should not have to be incentivized to purchase that product. I should be loyal without being paid an incentive to do so. Maybe this lack of support by employees to their employers explains why U.S. businesses are failing.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    These guys need to lighten up a bit. I read it like you did; the employee registered to be visited by the company. What is wrong with a company trying to give money to their employees and rewarding them for something as simple as buying the brands they stand behind. Seems like a great way to build on what should be a natural “community” already.

    MNB user Bill Stubbs, who happens to work at Bi-Lo, wrote:

    Daymon is our Private Label provider as well. And they have helped us implement this same program. It has generated great excitement and high morale here! Our Teammates LOVE it and many have expressed disappointment that their names were not drawn at random so they could collect the rewards. This is NOT a punishment. We do not penalize them for having OTHER RETAILERS brands in their homes. We simply wanted to increase the awareness of our very high quality Private Brands, generate some excitement, and reward the behavior that we all want to see - Employees who support their company by purchasing products from us.

    Rick Ellis, Sr. VP-CMO for Brookshire Grocery Company, offered the following thoughts:

    Thanks for “getting it” concerning the store brands program we are doing right now. Our partners (employees) are excited about this promotion, especially the guy last week who won over $700 just for buying Food Club! There is no coercion, threats, or otherwise any pressure to buy these brands---strictly voluntary.

    And Daymon’s Tim Davis chimed in about the MNB user who was so offended by the program that he said it “must have been invented by someone named Hitler, Castro, or Obama”:

    You are absolutely correct Kevin in that our associates had to “sign up” to be entered in the Prize Patrol sweepstakes. And to be honest many did not want to be included, and that’s fine. Maybe they didn’t want to be home on a Saturday or maybe they just don’t want people to see what they buy. But most did. I can also tell you that I was one of the Prize Patrol members who had the pleasure and privilege of going into the associates’ homes to check their pantries and these folks were very excited about us being there – in every case it was a festive family affair that included the kids, parents and excitement on the whole block. One interesting observation I made from the homes I went to was that their private label items were not unopened new boxes and packages just sitting on the counter as if they had just been purchased. They were half empty and were being concerned and they were front and center in the cabinets and refrigerators. People are not buying more PB because we are in a recession. They are buying more PB because these products offer comparable quality to the national brands at a lower retail. That’s just simple value.

    BTW – I take great offense from the reader who compared me and my company to Hitler. I respect everyone’s opinion but that reference was way out of line. What’s so bad about people endorsing and supporting the products represented by their companies – especially when they really see the great value?

    You should take offense at the statement. It was an offensive statement on all sorts of levels.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 5, 2009

    I don't often start “OffBeat” with a book review, but in this case I am going to make an exception.

    Go right now and order “The Scarecrow,” by Michael Connelly. And then prepare yourself for a long evening, because it is can’t-put-it-down great.

    “The Scarecrow” is a sequel of sorts to “The Poet,” a thriller about a serial killer that Connelly wrote more than a decade ago. It features as a protagonist Jack McEvoy, a newspaper reporter who (like Connelly before he turned to writing novels) specializes in the crime beat, and who finds himself tracking down, at great personal risk, a new serial killer who likes to torture and kill women and then stuff them into the trunks of cars.

    What gives ‘The Scarecrow” an extra bit of juice is that it is played out against the background of the collapsing newspaper business. In “The Poet,” McEvoy worked for the Rocky Mountain News which has since gone out of business; as “The Scarecrow” begins, he’s being laid off by the Los Angeles Times, where in real life countless reporters have been sacrificed by bean counters with no understanding of what journalism means. At the same time, the serial killer of the piece actually a technological wizard who revels in the cultural shifts turning newspapers and reporters into dinosaurs. So, there’s a lot of context and subtext to “The Scarecrow” – plus, it is a terrific read by one of the best novelists working today.

    Order it from Amazon. Download it to your Kindle. Or go down to the local bookstore and buy it the old fashioned way. But don't miss out on “The Scarecrow.”

    I cannot say the same, unfortunately, for the film version of Dan Brown’s best selling book, “Angels & Demons.” It is, unfortunately, eminently missable.

    That said, I had a pretty good time watching it. It is better, without any of the pretensions, than the film version of Brown’s other hit book, “The Da Vinci Code.” It has a tighter narrative, and the production values are wonderful (much of it takes place in the Vatican, which refused to allow director Ron Howard access because it believed that the book and movie were anti-Catholic; still you’d never know that it was shot elsewhere, that’s how good it is).

    Tom Hanks is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, and he actually makes the movie work better than it should because he’s utterly believable. “Angels & Demons” is like really good junk food…you can enjoy the experience as it happens, but never for a moment afterwards do you think that it was good for you or had any nutritional value.

    There was a piece in the New York Times that made a point that more companies should consider.

    Essentially, it argued that companies – especially retailers - need to be nice to the people who apply for jobs, even if they are overrun with resumes because of the recession. The reason? Job applicants also are shoppers…and they not only will avoid buying products from companies that treat them badly, but will spread the word about poor behavior at a time when retailers can least afford to have that happen.

    On the other hand, if they are treated with respect, they may actually become good customers, even advocates for a company.

    “Companies have much to gain,” the Times writes, “in talent, in positive word of mouth and in basic corporate responsibility — by bringing greater civility to their recruiting … Let’s hope that some basic human courtesy and kindness find their way back into recruiting. And, of course, when those of you who are out of work do land that next job, don’t forget what it was like on the other side — and be sure to treat your prospective employees accordingly.”


    Thanks to the folks at GS 1 US for all their hospitality and hard work in putting together the panel discussion that I moderated at their U Connect Conference this week. Great people to work with…and I had blast. Hope it was as good for them as it was for me…

    It is an interesting decision by Best Buy – to offer more than 5,000 albums on new vinyl (not used) through its online store.

    This isn’t a category with big demand. Unless you are a purist about such things, CDs and downloads simply remain the way to go.

    But there is a small and dedicated audience that believes in the purity of the sound that can come from a record turntable, and Best Buy is looking to satisfy them.

    This is, it seems to me, a classic example of the “long tail” – using the Internet to satisfy fringe customers, and to make available to customers products that they ordinarily might not be able to find because more and more stores only want to carry the 20 percent of products that do 80 percent of the business.

    Every once in a while, I get to taste something that is both delicious and a unique surprise. That happened last Saturday night, when we went to a little joint called Nicholas Roberts Fine Food in Norwalk, Connecticut…and I ordered something called crawfish beignets, served with a Cajun Aioli…and it was remarkable. Spicy and crispy on the outside, while soft and melt-in-your-mouth good on the inside. Just one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time…and it reminded me of the wonderful passions that great food can awaken.

    I have a wonderful wine to recommend to you this week.

    The Bodega Septima 2007 Malbec, which is delicious. The wine testing notes said that it had flavors of dark toast, bacon and coffee … which only served to make me feel completely inadequate, since I didn’t taste any of it. I just thought it was delicious, which is enough for me.

    And perfect, by the way, with crawfish beignets.

    Finally, I just want to give a big shout-out and thanks to the members of the MNB community who stopped by the Bonefish Grill in Rogers, Arkansas, last night…it was great meeting you, and it remains a privilege to be part of your mornings.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


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