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    Published on: July 21, 2009

    by Michael Sansolo

    Of all the columns in all the world, I can't believe I'm writing one about Oprah Winfrey and sex, but here I go.

    It started a few days back when I jumped on an exercise machine at my gym without taking the time to consider what was showing on the television opposite me on the wall. By the time I looked up, it was too late: Oprah was having a show about sex - specifically the female orgasm. (Let's pause here to welcome all the new readers who just discovered MNB by typing "orgasm" into Google.) I realized I had two choices: to jump off the machine and move to one near ESPN or to watch. Naturally, I watched.

    In fact, Oprah did a brilliant job on the topic, seeming to know exactly when to feign embarrassment, bemusement or whatever else her audience needed to get through the moment. I figured I would watch the episode and never speak of it again, when suddenly Oprah and her guest, Dr. Laura Berman, author of “Real Women, Real Sex” (and welcome again to more new MNB readers) discussed the 10-second kiss. At that moment, I realized I had a column to write.

    The 10-second kiss principle is pretty simple, according to Dr. Berman. Early in relationships, people kiss; in fact they kiss a lot and they kiss long. Then time goes on and the long passionate kiss has been replaced by a quick peck in the middle of discussing who took out the garbage, made the kids' lunch or fed the dog. The kiss goes missing as does romance and everything that built the relationship. Pretty soon, the relationship has slipped and all kinds of trouble follows.

    And that got me thinking about customer relations.

    When we first meet a customer, it's all about kissing and romance. We cannot do enough for them, cannot show them enough love and cannot turn our eyes away. For instance, a store in my neighborhood recently completed a long overdue remodel. Reopening day was like the start of a new romance. Sample were everywhere, employees were demonstrating the new self-scanners and there were even figures in costumes to show off new products and services.

    Sadly, we know this store can’t maintain that level of excitement. Having shopped there on and off for 15 years, we just know it won’t. (Prior to the remodel, this store had a well-deserved reputation for poor lighting, poor service, poor food quality and many reasons to go elsewhere. All it really has is a great location.)

    So just as Oprah and Dr. Berman said, the relationship will almost certainly get lazy. Sure it starts off great, but then the romance is gone, the kissing is missing and the shopping trip is just routine. The relationship, like it or not, is in trouble.

    As Dr. Berman explained, bringing back the 10-second long kiss helps restart the relationship. It brings back the romance and special feeling. And once again, I thought of customer service, which might explain why my wife threw something at me when I explained this column.

    One thing we all know is that it costs far more to win a new customer than it does to keep an old one. So for marketing purposes, we need our own version of the 10 second kiss. We need to keep staff mindful of the need to keep a little bit of that opening day magic every day, to romance our customers and keep them happy beyond delight.

    In truth, every day cannot be opening day. Every time someone buys a product cannot be just like the first time. It simply isn’t possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make every day special, every customer interaction something more than ordinary. It’s those little touches that make companies like Southwest Airlines, Disney and Stew Leonard’s special. It’s the little something that we should all strive to give.

    Just think the 10-second kiss…only skip the kissing!

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:
    I hope that was as good for you as it was for me.

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    Interesting piece in Forbes about what it calls “the locavore myth,” which suggests that while the locavore movement pushes for buying local in an effort to reduce the food industry’s carbon footprint, some of its assumptions may be incorrect.

    “Take a close look at water usage, fertilizer types, processing methods and packaging techniques and you discover that factors other than shipping far outweigh the energy it takes to transport food,” Forbes writes. “One analysis, by Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, showed that transportation accounts for only 11% of food's carbon footprint. A fourth of the energy required to produce food is expended in the consumer's kitchen. Still more energy is consumed per meal in a restaurant, since restaurants throw away most of their leftovers.”

    In addition, while the locavore movement supports local farmers, it also threatens to undermine farmers in places like the sub-Saharan region, which could have significant geo-political implications.

    And, Forbes writes, “Another chink in the locavores' armor involves the way food miles are calculated. To choose a locally grown apple over an apple trucked in from across the country might seem easy. But this decision ignores economies of scale. To take an extreme example, a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market. The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon.

    “The one big problem with thinking beyond food miles is that it's hard to get the information you need. Ethically concerned consumers know very little about processing practices, water availability, packaging waste and fertilizer application. This is an opportunity for watchdog groups. They should make life-cycle carbon counts available to shoppers.”

    Finally, Forbes reports, one of the best ways in which consumers can reduce carbon footprints is to stop eating meat: “No matter how you slice it, it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef. That difference translates into big differences in inputs. It requires 2,400 liters of water to make a burger and only 13 liters to grow a tomato.”
    KC's View:
    The one thing that this analysis does not take into account is the tendency for locally grown food to simply taste better than food that has been shipped thousands of miles.

    What this story underlines, however, is how difficult it is for consumers to do the right thing, or at least understand exactly what the right thing is.

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    In the UK, the Times of London reports on how discounter Aldi is challenging the big four food retailers – Tesco, Walmart’s Asda Group, Sainsbury and William Morrison Supermarkets – with an approach that minimizes the importance of choice.

    Paul Foley, Aldi’s managing director in the UK, says that by offering one SKU instead of dozens in any given category, Aldi is able to save people time and money…and make more money because those products are private brands.

    “It’s price that grabs you, but it’s quality that makes you come back,” Foley tells the paper, arguing that the recession actually has been a good thing for Aldi since it has broken down some people’s resistance to shopping there.

    And, the Times writes: “Tesco, at least, appears to be genuinely concerned. Last year it introduced a new own-label range to lay claim to being ‘Britain’s biggest discounter’. Asda is culling the number of product lines it stocks to cut costs, while Sainsbury’s has launched a ‘switch and save’ campaign to encourage shoppers to buy own-label goods.”

    They’d better take Aldi seriously. Foley projects that the company will grow from its current 467 stores in Britain and the Republic of Ireland to as many as 1,500 – and claim at least a 10 percent market share.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    Information Week reports that Walmart is instituting a new privacy policy that gives customers more control over the information they share with the retailer, allowing them to choose how they receive communications from the company and require an opt-in by the shopper.

    According to the story, the new policy may give consumers more control but it also will allow Walmart to more aggressively use text messaging and mobile phones to deliver their marketing communications, and share more information with trading partners. While consumers will have to give Walmart permission to use those venues, once permission is given the long-term upside for the retailer could be enormous.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has released a whitepaper that identifies more than 30 business benefits that grow specifically from using retailer-direct data in business planning and forecasting and says that “a growing number of retailers and manufacturers are sharing data directly with their trading partners and teaming up to analyze it themselves, saving money and enhancing performance through collaboration.”

    The white paper also says that “the volume of timely data being shared by retailers has never been greater. Among the supply chain and merchandising benefits trading partners are reaping with the use of retailer-direct data are reduced out-of-stocks, improved forecast accuracy and reduced merchandising costs at retail.”
    KC's View:
    Without casting any aspersions about the veracity of this report, it would have been supremely surprising if GMA had suggested that there weren't any business benefits when retailers share information with manufacturers, or if such sharing is in decline.

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Procter & Gamble’s recent acquisition of high-end The Art of Shaving is a long-term strategic investment that will give it new experience in retailing as well as an ability to learn more about the male grooming business.

    “Previous P&G ventures into the retail sector have been small, as the company tested the waters, and often pulled the plug on the experiment without expanding it,” the Enquirer writes. “A home laundry service started in 2001, for example, was ended, and a kitchen and cooking store called Culinary Sol closed in 2003. Compared to those short-lived experiments, buying The Art of Shaving is a quantum leap.”
    KC's View:
    The paper also notes that P&G’s interest in The Art of Shaving has one thing in common with previous retail efforts – they all have been up-market, as P&G works to better understand the premium end of the marketplace.

    Which is interesting right now, since the company also is coming out with a down-market version of Tide that won’t have all the bells and whistles of its mainstream versions of Tide. It is an interesting strategy that could lead to a lot of opportunities (though I remain a little concerned that the new version of Tide could end up hurting the brand’s equity).

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Walmart “plans to hold a farmers market on Saturday at the vacant site where it wants to build its second Chicago store, as it steps up pressure on the city to allow it to expand. The truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables, supplied by Wal-Mart vendors, are slated to be for sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and radio station WVON-AM 1690 will be broadcasting from the event.”

    Walmart’s continued pressing for a second Chicago store is opposed by local labor unions, and it is anticipated that the tensions could erupt into a public political battle…which wouldn’t necessarily help the city of Chicago’s image at a time when it is trying to land the 2016 Summer Olympics.

    • The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) announced today that a Wal-Mart store in that state has agreed to accommodate a Muslim employee's right to pray in the workplace.

    According to the announcement, “CAIR-MN said the religious accommodation came after its intervention in the case of a Muslim Wal-Mart employee who was reportedly fired for violating a new supervisor's ban on prayer during work breaks. A previous supervisor had allowed the worker to perform his daily prayers. Following discussions between CAIR-MN and local and national representatives of Wal-Mart, the Muslim worker was re-hired and allowed to perform his prayers during breaks.”
    KC's View:
    With the Muslim population in the US growing significantly, this is the kind of issue that a lot of companies are going to face…and tolerance really is the only policy that makes sense.

    That doesn’t mean that people should be allowed to prostyletize in the workplace…because that would, by inference, be intolerant of non-believers … who also happen to be part of growing demographic.

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    • The Greenville News reports that “Bi-Lo is expected soon to complete a five-year business plan that company officials say will be the foundation for the Mauldin-based grocer's emergence from bankruptcy as a new or rejuvenated company. The company disclosed in court filings that ‘preliminary discussions’ have begun with potential buyers or investors and ‘high-level discussions’ are underway with lenders regarding exit financing.”

    According to those filings, “company officials said their options include retention of all or part of the grocer's business, a merger or consolidation, and a sale or distribution of its operations to a creditor or other interested party,” according to the News. However, company executives aren’t discussing which option is most likely to be chosen.

    Bi-Lo went into bankruptcy protection on March 23, and is looking at a September 21 deadline for coming up with a reorganization plan.

    • Barnes & Noble reportedly plans to open its own e-bookstore, offering some 700,000 titles that can be read on a variety of devices, including the iPhone. The decision puts Barnes & Noble directly in competition with and its Kindle e-reader.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    • Bi-Lo announced that Anthea Jones, the company’s group VP for center store, has been promoted to be senior vice president of store operations.

    In addition, Bi-Lo said that Bill Nasshan has been named senior vice president of merchandising and marketing, a role that he previously held at Shaw’s Supermarkets.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    • Weis Markets said that its Q2 profit was up 19 percent to $15.2 million, compared to $12.8 million during the same period a year ago. Q2 sales were up two percent to $615.4 million, on same-store sales that were up 2.4 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2009

    MNB took note yesterday of an op-ed piece in the East Valley Tribune that contrasted “socially responsible” Bashas’ bankruptcy with the continued growth of Walmart, which often is characterized as being greedy and ruthless. Writer Austin Hill concluded:

    “It's simply not sufficient for a business enterprise to be ‘socially responsible.’ Being ‘socially responsible’ is great, but it's not enough to breed business success … And this points to another important truth: if Wal-Mart is ‘greedy’ and ‘ruthless’ in their business practices, so are most all of us in our consumer choices and habits. I actually don't think that Wal-Mart is greedy or ruthless. They are most certainly ambitious, aggressive and competitive, but that doesn't necessarily entail ‘greed’ or ‘ruthlessness’.”

    MNB user Tim Heyman responded:

    To state that Wal-Mart is not greedy or ruthless states in itself that you are “freaking clueless” to the subject.

    Well, then, I’m glad I didn’t say it. (The op-ed writer did…I was just the messenger.)

    But I think that the argument is that “greedy” and “ruthless” are value judgments that may be inappropriate…and that most good retailers are “ambitious, aggressive and competitive.” It just so happens that Walmart is bigger and better at it than most retailers.

    We also had a piece yesterday about an Advertising Age report that Walmart is pressing its suppliers to allocate a greater percentage of both their consumer ad budgets and trade promotion dollars to the retailer, and is “using a simultaneous push to clear underperforming brands off its shelves as extra leverage.” Walmart is looking for suppliers to fund co-branded advertisements and commercials as well as banner ads on its website and in-store television sponsorships.

    Lots of reaction to this one…

    MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

    This move suggests to me a change in direction for WM. Rather than being content to make their profit off margin -- based on lowest price -- could they be playing the game of making money off allowances? Kind of looks a lot like a way to go after a new income stream which probably has a far greater ROI than revenue generated from selling. Curious.

    MNB user John Gauthier wrote:

    Wal-Mart's insatiable appetite for vendor money bears a striking resemblance to the former Ford, Chrysler and GM policies of squeezing blood out of their suppliers' turnips. Taking cost out of a huge corporation is made less cumbersome and much faster with vendor dollars. The Big Three's practice ultimately eroded their supplier partnerships to adversarial relationships. The Big Three are now The Three.

    Seems to me that Wal-Mart is speeding down the same path the automobile companies did, doing it with mandated contributions from their suppliers - seemingly oblivious to the fact that suppliers, the suppliers vendors, and their employees, friends and neighbors are customers, too.

    And another MNB user chimed in:

    This should not come as a surprise based on the number of associates that Walmart has now in the marketing department as well as looking at who and where their CMO came from. Also this is just one of a three prong supplier attack. The other two being Sustainability and " pay to play". They want their share and more of manufacturers’ profits, feeling that they are the one that contributes the most to suppliers’ profits and these profits are used to subsidize other retailers.

    Till Mr. Quinn arrive from the PepsiCo group, marketing had little influence and staff. Now his budget and staff are huge. To maintain it they have placed a marketing person in each division making sure that manufacturers "stop by" and they get their share of the pie. Kinda defeats the Every Day Low Price concept and supports the "we’re like Target" position.

    Walmart under Fleming and Quinn leadership has manage to turn Walmart from a EDLP, variety-driven company to a under SKU'd, poor in stock, marketing-driven run of the mill retailer. The obsession with profit driven by their Vice Chairman and his background is quickly shrinking the price gap they once enjoyed. They new clean store image is costing them sales, in stock and dollar per square foot advantage that they once had over the industry.

    On the subject of Ukrop’s, MNB user Mike Julian wrote:

    Interesting comments to the news of a possible Ukrop’s sale. First let me respond to the approach that the Ukrop family has had for their business since 1937. Joe Ukrop set a standard on how he believed he should run a grocery store; his sons keep that tradition alive. Many people including this author had other thoughts on how they would run the business, and who knows, there are probably many successful styles that would work for the chain.

    However, one of the beauties of private ownership is you get to run your business as you see fit (within the law) and when the customers no longer accept your plan they vote with their feet.

    As a former vendor, Richfood, and competitor, Farm Fresh, I greatly admired what Jim Ukrop did with the family business and I for one would find someone else running those stores as a great relief. As far as who could be a potential bidder, for certain Harris Teeter but don’t rule out Publix (I know they would have to jump over NC). As far as Supervalu and Ron Dennis at Farm Fresh are concerned, it would make a great move for the new Supervalu retail push and I agree Ron has done a great job at Farm Fresh.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    I love reading the commentary on Ukrop’s. They appear to be well written and thought out. But they really do not understand the folks at Ukrops. I have never been in one of their stores and know very little about them. In the past I did have the opportunity to work for a multi-store retailer that dominated their market and was closed on Sunday. They could have very easily opened on Sunday. The push back from
    their customer base would have been minimal. It was a personal decision and a belief
    on part of the family that owned the stores. They struggled off and on during their
    years of operation, but chose to stand firm in their position.

    In the end they sold their stores, made a ton of money off of the sale and in the sale agreement mandated that as long as their name was on the stores they must be closed on Sunday. Now, 10 years later the stores are still owned by the same buyer doing very well, and have experienced great sales growth and profit. And they are still closed on Sundays.

    Sunday open/close has very little to do with profitability. Great organizations/people and great stores determine that. Could they do more business if opened on Sunday? Absolutely. It is still their choice, and from my point of view, it’s nice to see. Go Ukrop’s. Stay closed on Sunday and retain your values.

    I’m not sure it is entirely fair to say that there is no impact on sales and profitability when stores are closed on a day when some retailers do between 12 and 15 percent of their business. Sure, great organizations and a terrific store offering are important…but so is accessibility.

    But I agree about company values. If being closed on Sunday and not selling alcohol is a key part of a corporate culture, then a retailer should stick with it and let the chips fall where they may.

    Decisions have consequences.
    KC's View: